Having sold out the first venue in a matter of days, the York People’s Question Time found a new venue, the Conference Suite at the Royal York Hotel, following some searching by one of the organizers, but this similarly reached its capacity of 410 after a very short time. The interest all came by word-of-mouth and social media and no formal promotion. This all happened to a background of the Leaders Debate, arranged at the last minute, on TV the same evening.
However, at 7 pm on Thursday 2nd April the York People’s Question Time took place to a packed and mixed audience containing large numbers of young people, in a central York venue comfortably placed for some of the speakers to catch their trains home afterwards.
The speakers were:
- Owen Jones columnist, author and commentator
- Mark Steel, columnist, author, comedian and broadcaster
- Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level, director of the Equality Trust
- George Arthur, activist, South Yorkshire Freedom Riders
- Sam Fairbairn, national secretary, People’s Assembly Against Austerity
The panel was chaired by York People’s Assembly member Emily Park and close on a hundred questions had been submitted by those booking tickets, but in the end only five questions were able to be tackled by the panel in the two hours available. These ranged from someone asking why people weren’t rioting about the current economic and social state of the country, how would the panel remove the need for foodbanks, whether they would call the Labour Party a socialist party (and if so why then were they following austerity), what they thought about academies and education, their thoughts on the budget for mental health and saving the NHS, and finally whether strikes and protests would still be needed whoever won the election?
The panel gave thoughtful and encouraging responses to the questions, and memories of and quotations from the late Tony Benn were frequent. There was much agreement about the need for people to come together and that whilst it was stated that we’d won the arguments we needed to convince others and give them the confidence that injustice, inequality and stigmatization can be ended. The evening concluded with some strong words about keeping the pressure on the businesses, politicians and trade unions, whilst Kate Pickett emphasized the need to “treat one another with kindness and respect”.
On a final note people were encouraged to attend the national demonstration against austerity in London on the 20th June and contributions towards funding a coach were being collected at the door.
Overall an appreciative audience and panel made a great evening that will hopefully have imbued people in York with fresh vigour to maintain the fight against austerity and for equality.
A video of the evening (approaching 2 hours) is available on YouTube.