Page last updated at 06:49 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 07:49 UK

Election: Surf, sand and soapboxes for Cornish debate

By Gavin Esler
Presenter, BBC Town Hall debates

The beach at Newquay
The Tories hope to gain seats in south-west England, a Lib Dem stronghold

This week's BBC town hall debate comes from Britain's "surf city", Newquay in north Cornwall.

And there's no doubt about the stars of the debates so far - the audiences.

In our first two debates, in Bolton and Stirling, audience members proved that whatever we may think of individual politicians, there is real concern over the future of our country.

In Bolton we heard arguments for and against immigration - both cases passionately and articulately argued.

In Stirling there were calls for the Trident nuclear weapons system to be allowed to fade away or be scrapped, plus other impassioned calls to keep up defence spending, whatever cuts lie ahead.

In both locations we also heard from first-time voters, some of them 18-year-olds who are still at school and wanted to know about university finances and, of course, jobs.

One of the candidates in Stirling mentioned to me that the winner in these debates has been democracy itself.

At a time of great cynicism about politics and politicians, I think that may be right.

Churchill's old adage about democracy being the worst political system known to man, except for all the others, springs to mind.

And so what can we expect from Newquay?

Well, south-west England has been one of the Lib Dem strongholds, but it is also an area where the Conservatives have great hopes of picking up seats.

UKIP also did well here in the 2009 European Parliament elections, which complicates the picture, especially for the Tories.

And there is also a Cornish nationalist challenge, in an area where some local people feel priced out of housing by those who suddenly discover that lovely Cornwall might be the place they want to buy a holiday home.

Tory targets

This is, of course, home to surfing, fun, great beaches, the Eden project, and a place to play.

But it also has its share of social problems including binge-drinking, anti-social behaviour and unemployment.

The China Clay industry now employs a little more than 2,000 people, a fraction of the workforce 100 years ago.

As with our other debate towns, Newquay is a key Conservative target.

To take it would require the kind of swing that David Cameron seeks to put him into Downing Street.

The Eden project
The Eden project has become one of the major landmarks in Cornwall

Can he do it? And, after the first two prime ministerial debates, how confident are the Conservatives?

How about Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems? And should Labour voters vote tactically if they believe their party cannot win the seat?

I am not sure what we will find in the last of our town hall debates, but I am fairly certain that the Newquay audience will be as engaged, articulate, and, sometimes, enraged by politics as voters were in Bolton and Stirling.

And I can't wait to find out about the location for the debate. In Bolton we were in Westhoughton, in a building known as the Carnegie Hall.

In Stirling we were in the magnificent building known as the Albert Hall.

I've always wondered how it feels to play the Carnegie Hall and the Albert Hall. Now I know (sort of).

So what can our venue be in Newquay? Sydney Opera House? La Scala? We'll see.



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