By Charlie Mole
AS THE LEADERS of the main parties took to the air in the second live debate, Manchester Withington candidates were put through their paces in front of a packed crowd in Chorlton.
More than 300 people turned up to watch all seven candidates slog it out on issues from electoral reform to the Trident missile system.
The main focus, however, was on John Leech (Lib Dem)and Lucy Powell (Labour) as they fought to win crucial votes in one of the country’s most marginal constituencies.
Watching from the audience voter Mathew Benham, 24, from Didsbury said: “It was great to see so many people attending a political hustings given the current anger towards politicians.
“I thought John Leech just edged it, so it really helped me make up my mind.”
In a fiery debate, both Mr Leech and Ms Powell clashed over the proposed change to the electoral system.
Dismissing Ms Powell’s pledge to support a referendum for a more proportional system, Mr Leech criticised the record of the two main parties.
He said: “Labour are part of the same old two party boys club as the Tories.
“They are not interested in fair system, they have had 13 years to bring about electoral reform and nothing has changed.”
The two candidates also clashed on all women shortlists, a policy supported by Ms Powell, who could be Manchester’s first female MP in 50 years.
She said: “There are a lot of very talented women out there and the selection process is very challenging.
“The Lib Dems have a much poorer record of selecting women.”
Withington, which is in the middle of Manchester’s university district has a large student vote, vital to secure for an electoral majority.
James McConnell a student from Manchester University was undecided before the debate, but has since changed his mind.
He said: “I thought Lucy Powell gave an excellent account of herself, getting very passionate in defending Labour’s record of NHS funding.
“I like John Leech as an MP, but I am now thinking of voting Labour.”
Elsewhere in the debate Green candidate Brian Candeland received applause for criticizing the main parties over the expenses scandal.