Q&A with Sarah Newton: we discussed UKIP, the EU, and the Maintenance Grants cuts

Nicola Elson reports on last week’s discussion with MP Sarah Newton.


On Friday night as part of FXU’s ‘Give It a Go’ week, Truro and Falmouth’s MP Sarah Newton met with FXU Conservative Future for a Q&A on the latest hot political topics.

First year history student Liam Munt kicked off the session with much debated EU referendum, asking Sarah’s opinions on which direction England should go. The referendum, which David Cameron has promised to hold before the end of 2017, will decide whether the UK should stay or leave the European Union. Sarah seemed overall very confident in the nature of the debate, insisting that whilst she has her own views the most important role that she will play is to ensure that the debate is respectful, fair, and civilised, where people can have honest differences of opinion. She did confirm that she is pro-EU, but only if it is reformed, stating that she was unhappy with the ‘democratic deficit right at the heart of the European Union’, where ‘most of the decisions are made by unelected and unaccountable commissioners’. Furthermore, she approached the subject of immigration and free movement with the EU; ‘the EU is under threat because we can’t seem to manage our borders and we can’t seem to manage immigration, we can see it putting huge pressure on public services and housing. We need limits on free movements within the EU.’

The conversation then moved to the very controversial UKIP, as Sophia Graham-Francies took the opportunity to ask Sarah her opinions on the party for her second year politics module. Sarah was quite obviously very anti-UKIP, and during her rant Cornish Nationalism took a hit too. ‘I can’t abide nationalism because I think it’s divisive, it focuses on what divides people rather than what unites people. A lot of them are very negative, and I’m pleased that people didn’t vote for UKIP just like I’m please they didn’t vote for Cornish Nationalism’. She did praise the party’s local campaign during the elections, but she believed that their failure was due to a simple public dislike. ‘People underestimate the sense of the British public! UKIP just don’t appeal to people, they didn’t want them running the country.’

A few smaller discussion topics popped up during the hour – Jon Stokes, second year CSM student, asked Sarah her opinion on the legal age of voting – whether it should be dropped to allow 16 year olds to vote. Sarah said that she just did not see the demand for it, that the vast majority of young people are content with it the way it is, and do not care particularly for it. Climate change was also discussed, and Sarah expressed support for the methods that the current government are using, that we are looking towards a carbon-free future, and that ‘nuclear and fracking should be invested in, because although not everyone agrees with them, they are bridging technologies to when we can come up with renewable technologies’.

However, the session ended with a hot discussion on the suggested maintenance grants cuts – something very close to the heart of university students. Whilst many people are against the cuts, particularly if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, Sarah put forward a very fair and understanding argument:

‘Someone’s background should be no barrier at all, and despite increasing student fees we’ve seen that more people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to uni than ever before. What’s very important to me is that we make these changes and we make sure that people are not put off going to university; moving from the maintenance grant system to a system of loans, plus scholarships and bursaries from the universities themselves, will enable students to get decent sums of money which they actually need to be able to finance themselves through university. I think that it’s fundamentally fair – I don’t think that people who choose not to go to university, people who pay tax, should actually have to subsidise those people that do go to university. It’s only right that people who are going to benefit from their education all through their lives should actually (to the extent to which their earning power will let them) contribute to that. Fundamentally I support the changes.’

Sarah concluded the Q&A with the promise that she will continue to work closely to the students on our campus, putting focus on tackling Islamophobia in Cornwall alongside the Islamic Society, and looking to work on ‘unscrupulous landlords’ in order to ensure decent student accommodation for everyone.