WATCH: Labour candidate heckled by school children over anti-Brexit rant
Cheers and applause for a pledge to “get Brexit done” – it’s probably not the response you expect to hear from a room full of schoolchildren.
But that was the case at the Beacon Hill Academy in Sedgley, as would-be MPs took part in a Question Time-style general election hustings event.
Students aged between 11 and 16 put forward questions on Brexit, tuition fees and reducing the voting age to the politicians who are standing to replace Ian Austin in Dudley North.
WATCH: The hustings event in full
Footage: Black Country Radio/YouTube
They quizzed a panel made up of Labour candidate Melanie Dudley, Lib Dem Ian Flynn, the Green Party’s Mike Harrison and Conservative Sedgley councillor Shaun Keasey, who stepped in for Marco Longhi, who was unwell.
And it appeared to be a strongly pro-Brexit crowd, with groans greeting Remain-supporting candidates as they attempted to explain their positions.
Ms Dudley was heckled when she said she could not support Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, claiming it would have a negative impact on jobs in the town.
And Mr Harrison was also given short shrift as he attacked the “lies” spread by the Leave side in the referendum, referring to the £350m for the NHS quoted on the side of a bus as evidence.
Mr Keasey said that both the Remain and Leave sides ran the “worst, most negative” campaigns he had ever seen. He said he wanted to bang his head on a table as the prospect of a second referendum was raised and he promised the Tories would deliver Brexit.
“Leave won and we’ve got to leave the EU. We can change our minds in 20 or 30 years but not in three,” he said. “If Remain wins should we say best of three? Best of five? Best of 10? Where does it end?
“Labour won’t even campaign for the deal they negotiate – it’s ridiculous,” he added.
Other issues up for discussion included mental health support offered to youngsters.
Ms Dudley called for more intervention – suggesting that treatment was only there when someone was thinking about suicide, before clarifying that the school had advice and groups on offer to help tackle the issue.
Tuition fees were the next subject to be raised, with the Lib Dem candidate facing a grilling over his party’s pledge in 2010 to scrap them and then reneging on the promise.
BBC presenter Adrian Goldberg, who mediated the panel, was quick to highlight the backtrack.
Mr Flynn immediately shifted the blame across to the Conservatives but insisted not “everyone is happy” with the decision – with the candidate stating: “I don’t think we should make our young people pay for tuition.”
Councillor Keasey disagreed with the plans to scrap the fees, insisting not everything “in life is free”.
Labour’s Ms Dudley said her party would scrap them but was forced to explain further about people paying more tax.
It led to the Conservative councillor to ask if there was a “magic money tree, or forest” available.
Votes for 16-year-olds – another decisive topic – was discussed as student Molly Jarrott said young people were allowed to “die for their country” but not vote.
All candidates, apart from the Conservative representative, backed lowering the voting age – with Ms Dudley saying “people who voted for Brexit will not live to see the consequences – you will live to see the consequences.”
And Mr Harrison was left disappointed after there was no time left for the climate change question.
In a show of hands over who the audience would vote for, he did not receive any support, although he faired better than Mr Flynn, who was booed.
Councillor Keasey fared better, with a quarter of the audience backing the Tories, while Ms Dudley was the big winner, with the largest show of hands.
Unfortunately for her, none of the students attending the event at the school, formerly known as High Arcal School, will be able to cast a vote next week.