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UK Politics

Voters vent their anger on <i>Independent</i> soapbox

Voters vented their anger at Conservative jibes about Gordon Brown in Newcastle during yesterday afternoon's Independent soapbox hustings. Audience members were annoyed after Tory candidate Nick Holder quoted a Labour party member in an ill-advised joke about the prime minister's track record.

Mr Holder's assertion that "even the Labour party are now recognising that Gordon Brown is the worst prime minister the country has ever had", was met with a chorus of boos and jeers. After he again attacked the Labour government's record in the North East, one man stormed to the front of the crowd and, jabbing his finger toward the Conservative candidate, demanded to know: "Who closed the mines and steelworks?"

And he continued to berate the Tory candidate, shouting: "It was not Labour. Don't come here and call Gordon Brown the worst prime minister because we don't believe it. We have already had a worse prime minister: Margaret Thatcher." The man's invective was met with loud cheers and applause from a crowd numbering more than 200.

They were drawn to Newcastle city centre by the fine weather and the chance to hear the candidates for the seat of Newcastle Central set out their policies. They were fielding questions as part of this newspaper's campaign to ensure politicians face voters in the run-up to tomorrow's general election.

After suggestions his party would not make a switch to proportional representation a condition of any coalition government, Liberal Democrat candidate Gareth Kane insisted electoral reform is required. "Standing here under the statue of the great reformer Charles Earl Grey, it would be remiss of me not to call for reform, we need to change the voting system, absolutely," he said.

The Labour candidate Chi Onwurah, who is running in her first election, admitted that she was inexperienced but claimed that would strengthen her campaign. "There is a movement against career politicians. The fact that I am from the city and that I am an engineer by trade makes it easier for me to speak to local people.

"I am less experienced than some and I cannot always produce a perfectly polished answer but I know that I could not represent the people as effectively if my only experience was in politics," she said.

She also defended her party leader after a Labour candidate Manish Sood called him the 'worst prime minister ever', saying: "maybe some peoples' senses of humour do not come across very well."

But Mr Holder said he had spoken to other voters in Newcastle who had praised Mrs Thatcher because, they said, they been able to buy their own homes under her government. "I do not think that man who shouted out reflects the views of the majority of the North East," he added.