ELECTION 2015: The Great Debate - the aftermath

Great Debate: David Morris, host Greg Lambert, Matthew Severn and Phil Chandler.
Great Debate: David Morris, host Greg Lambert, Matthew Severn and Phil Chandler.

GREG LAMBERT writes...Hosting an election debate is exhausting and demanding but a privilege and ultimately, really good fun.

As the day dawned of our live Great Debate, we were joined by three Morecambe and Lunesdale candidates: Phil Chandler from the Greens, David Morris from the Conservatives and Matt Severn from the Liberal Democrats.

They arrived at The Visitor and Lancaster Guardian office in good spirits and we briefed them on the format.

My role as ‘David Dimbleby’ was to introduce the debate, encourage readers to interact on-line, put the questions to the candidates and try, as inconspicuously as possible, to maintain order and keep the discussions flowing while giving everybody a fair say.

I was determined to host the debate in an independent and politically neutral manner befitting the policy of our newspapers. Hopefully I achieved this.

The debate began with all candidates giving an opening statement to camera.

Labour candidate Amina Lone, who was unable to attend in person, will supply a video statement to be used on-line.

When the first question was asked, about how each party would engage voters, sparks flew almost from the off.

Phil Chandler and Matt Severn took David Morris to task on his refusal to attend a public debate at More Music earlier in the week and also his decision not to visit Morecambe Bay Foodbank.

Mr Morris defended himself and matters quickly became heated.

Mr Chandler and Mr Morris also butted heads on the issue of a third nuclear power station at Heysham during discussion on fracking.

During a debate which lasted an hour and three quarters, candidates also engaged in lively disagreement over topics as diverse as care allowance, zero hours contracts, the Bedroom Tax, and even argued over where they live!

The debate was the first time The Visitor and Lancaster Guardian team has ever attempted such an ambitious, digitally interactive concept.

It was also the first live on-line streaming of an election debate by any Johnston Press title in the North West.

The Visitor and Guardian team put a lot of thought, time and effort into putting on this debate after first sitting down to discuss the idea in mid-March.

Our mission was to get as many of the Morecambe and Lunesdale General Election candidates together as possible, then ask them questions about the issues most important to you.

Our intention was always to do this by filming the debate to broadcast it through the internet, backed up by our social media channels.

This would give as many people as possible access to the debate and encourage them to interact with us through twitter and our live blog.

In the days preceding the event, we gathered your questions through our newspapers, email, Facebook and Twitter.

One of the biggest challenges was finding a day when all the candidates were available and one which didn’t clash with reporting deadlines for our two newspapers.

We offered the candidates a choice of four dates and then we chose the one when most said they would be available.

Unfortunately this meant some candidates were unable to attend and this was a shame, as we would have loved them to be there.

We seem to have had more success in finding a mutually suitable date for next Thursday’s debate with the Lancaster and Fleetwood candidates so hopefully this will see a higher turn out.

The Lancaster and Morecambe Newspapers team on the day was myself as host, Adam Lord in charge of live blogging, Nick Lakin and Gayle Rouncivell live tweeting, Gemma Sherlock timekeeping and taking photos, with Stuart Bannerman and Colin Ainscough our hardy camera operatives. Chris Hatton, who was here on work placement, also got involved and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Maybe the debate will affect your voting decision when we go to the polls on May 7, maybe it won’t.

But for certain, it all made for some great TV and hopefully was interesting and informative for those of you who watched.

It was certainly enthralling from where I was sitting - right in the middle of it!

All candidates had plenty to say, were prepared and gave as good as they got, which made for exactly what it said on the tin, a Great Debate.

You can re-live the debate on our blogs HERE and HERE

A full video of the Morecambe and Lunesdale Great Debate is coming soon to www.thevisitor.co.uk and www.lancasterguardian.co.uk