In the build up to this year’s General Election, Dean Close received visits from all the Cheltenham electoral candidates who came to talk about the aims of their party at local and national levels.

The History and Politics Dept joined up with the Library to host the series which gave pupils a broad view of politics at such a critical time, just before the vote on 7 May. The series began with Martin Horwood explaining the core values of Liberal Democrat ideologies, and fielding some very sharp questions from pupils, with a warm and honest approach.

The next day was the turn of Alex Chalk, representing the Conservative Party. He arrived to a library brimming full of very keen – and very vocal – pupils. Alex began with a forthright and professional introduction to Conservative values, clearly demonstrating his former career at a barrister. Question time brought a plethora of questions and it was at that point that Alex showed his mettle with some detailed answers and some personal opinions.

The following week, Richard Lupson-Darnell came to talk about why he is running as an independent candidate. He spoke candidly about shifts in party political priorities, giving an honest, and at times humble, overview of why it is important to vote for what you believe in. Providing pupils with a fascinating counterpoint to party-nominated candidacies, and speaking of his reasons for running independent, the audience was reminded that just because you agree with some party views, that doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say. And that politicians are human beings, too!

Peter Bowman, who has historically stood as the UKIP candidate for Cheltenham, came to share UKIP’s points of view. There was an impressive turnout from pupils, including a grand showing from lower school pupils, who were very erudite in asking questions. Again, whilst the questions were challenging, our pupils did us proud in the objective and balanced questions asked. Before he left, Mr Bowman encouraged pupils to use the internet and other resources to carry out their own research to form their own opinions.

Paul Gilbert came to speak to the pupils about the values important to Labour ideologies. He talked about the Labour stance on key issues, and explained how political parties could share the same aims, but believes in different ways of achieving them. Mr Gilbert was open about how candidates belonging to political parties come to represent those party’s views, and clear in his beliefs on what is best for Britain. He concluded his talk by advocating pupils to vote for whom they believe in, and to look at the people as well as the party behind them.

Cheltenham’s Green Party candidate, Adam Van Coevorden, completed the set of visitors. He discussed local and national Green policies and the relevancies of his own Cheltenham upbringing, before deftly fielding what he described later as “Possibly the most thorough grilling of the campaign!”

Encouraging the audience to ensure they stayed true to their feelings and to resist the temptations of polarising their choices, Mr Van Coevorden renewed an understanding of our voting options. Commenting later on Twitter, he said: “The school’s doing a brilliant job by getting the candidates in and running a mock election. Great political/democratic education.”

All the talks were very well attended with large audiences from lower school to sixth form. They pulled no punches, asking some very pointed, astute questions and proving that young people today are just as politically keen and aware as previous generations wish them to be. It was an exciting couple of weeks which demonstrated that Dean Close pupils do have an in depth knowledge of the current political climate.

Dean Close School, Mock Election 2015: THE RESULTS

Some pupil views:

Jonathan Woods, Remove: “Though Martin Horwoodavoided some questions,generally, he seemedgenuine and experienced even though I am normally sceptical ofmost politicians.”

Patrick Bunker, Upper Sixth: “Alex Chalk performed strongly throughout, representing both the Conservative Party and, in particular, his own views, in a candid and engaging manner. He managed to avoid the dreaded politicians’ stereotype by directly answering a series of questions from pupils, which was a useful exercise in helping us to engage with the upcoming General Election.”

Matthew Hickey, Upper Sixth: “Martin Harwood made his case very well by getting across his stance on local issues and stood his ground in the face of some pointed questions. Alex Chalk seemed to mainly be sellinghis party at the national level in terms of the economic credibility of the Conservatives’ track record for the last five years, however I personally thought that the way he addressed some issues used terminology and conceptsbeyond most people in the room.”

Ruth Truscott, Upper Sixth: “In many ways it was refreshing to hear Richard Lupson-Darnell speak, especially as he wasn’t tied to any particular party – highlighting, for me, the apathy many feel today with the main parties. It was alsodifferent to hear thathe felt like standing was “something he was called to do.”Saying this, however, his polices were quite ambitiousgiven he had never worked a term in Westminster before. But his hopeful attitude and enthusiasm for the future was contagious and gave me, personally , a different and more positive outlook on independent candidates, and what they can potentially bring not only here to Cheltenham,but to Westminster as well.”

David Gibbons, Lower Sixth: “It was a shame the UKIP candidate wasn’t available, but Mr Bowman performed admirably, fielding many tough questions and presenting a strong case for leaving the European Union. He showed that UKIP isn’t a party of just one policy.”

Ian Hayes, Fifth Form: “Whilst I won’t be voting Green in the coming mock election, after seeing the evidence laid before me, I’ve no longer written the Greens off as “hippies with no clue”, but as a credible alternative to the old, grey, creaking establishment that is meant to be “the fine palace of Westminster.”