Keegan jokes about needing new job next week as pupils stage mock hustings

Schoolchildren at a mock election hustings quizzed Gillian Keegan on what job she would do if she was not an MP, to which she replied: “I might have to answer that question next Friday.”

Parliamentary candidates faced a grilling by Chichester Free School pupils on Friday after being invited by children who are taking part in the school’s own election, with their ballots to be cast on July 4.

Around 100 children ranging from Year 3 to Year 10 sat in a packed hall to put questions to Education Secretary Ms Keegan, Labour candidate Tom Collinge and Liberal Democrat Jess Brown-Fuller.

Questions ranged from what makes a good leader and what Parliament is like, to what the candidates would do to improve the Chichester area with £100,000, and how they would help the school secure land for new sports facilities.

Mr Collinge was asked if he ever feels stressed and overwhelmed, and he replied: “Yeah, all the time.”

He said campaigning is “pretty full on” and he spends a lot of his time in the car driving and drinking energy drinks.

General Election campaign 2024
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan chatting to pupils at the event (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Asked what one thing he would change about politics, he said he would encourage “everybody to listen to each other”.

Ms Keegan was asked what election day will look like for her, and she said it will be an early start to thank volunteers at polling stations and encourage people to vote.

On the period when election results start to come in at 2am or 3am, she said regardless of the result: “I’ll probably have to do a speech because I’m Education Secretary.

“By that time, I’ll look pretty old. I’m pretty old but I’ll certainly look it.”

Asked about the role of social media in politics, Ms Brown-Fuller said it is “not the most effective tool sometimes” and “it can be quite a scary place for politicians”.

Instead, she said leafleting and knocking on doors to speak to people face-to-face is how the Liberal Democrats are campaigning, and while social media plays a part, it is “not the most important”.

Tom Collinge sitting down as he speaks to pupils
Labour candidate Tom Collinge explained his views to the pupils during the event (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Year 10 pupils had been assigned a political party to campaign for over the election period, with campaign posters visible around the school and pupils wearing their party’s rosettes on their uniform to the event.

Sam, 15, who was given the role of Conservative Party candidate, came up with the idea to invite all the Chichester candidates to the school to take part.

He told reporters: “I’ve always been into politics. I love politics and I felt at school at the moment, especially since Reform have sort of come to light, that it wasn’t talked about enough in schools and people didn’t know about the policies, and often they only really knew the names of the politicians who have been on social media.

“People have been coming up to not just me, but the other leaders of the parties in the corridors and at break time and they’re actually engaging in the policies now they are asking questions about the policies and they’re sort of second guessing themselves, because a lot of people in our school, I think, only knew Nigel Farage because of social media.”

“I never thought it would happen on such a massive scale, so many people have signed up for it. I think it’s incredible that so many people are interested.”

After the event, candidates posed for selfies with the children and were taken on a tour of the school.

On next week’s contest for the Chichester seat, Ms Keegan told PA that the polls were “all over the place”, adding: “I have never taken anything in my whole life for granted.”