by Sally Churchward.
The BBC has confirmed that the televised leaders’ debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson, which was scheduled to take place in Southampton tomorrow (December 6) has been moved to an undisclosed location.
In a statement, they said: “The programme will no longer be held in Southampton because of operational reasons. We will not be disclosing the new location until Friday.”
However, as In Common reported previously (read the story here) members of the public who had been selected by a third party agency to be part of the audience were contacted almost two weeks ago and told that the debate would be moving to Maidstone in Kent. Some also report being offered their travel expenses to attend the new venue.
Agency Take Part in Research has also emailed some of those who applied to take part, stating that the debate will be held in Kent, and offering a disturbance fee of £50, in addition to travel expenses for those who attend. The email also notes that while the event itself will last around three hours, a further two hours will be required for check in and security checks.
There is speculation as to the reasons for the move. There were a number of events being planned to both welcome Jeremy Corbyn to the city and to protest against Boris Johnson in Southampton, where Labour MP Alan Whitehead held his seat with a comfortable margin at the last general election, while Conservative Royston Smith retained his with just a 31 seat majority over Labour’s Simon Letts. With Southampton Itchen being such a marginal seat, there has been a great deal of electioneering activity in Itchen, with Labour targeting the seat and the Conservatives striving to maintain it. Meanwhile, Maidstone is a Conservative stronghold.
Many Southampton residents expressed frustration that the debate has been relocated out of the city. Francesca Lambert, a carer and public sector employee said that she thought the planned demonstrations were the reason for the move and questioned the BBC’s motives. She said: “This has been moved specifically to avoid any demonstrations against Boris Johnson, and the cruel Tory government.”
Andrew Godsell, an NHS employee from Southampton added: “It is disappointing for people in Southampton who were wishing to attend that the debate is being moved at short notice. I am concerned that the BBC have suddenly announced the event is being switched to another (secret) location. Why the announcement today, when people locally read that decision was apparently made two weeks ago to move to Maidstone. Southampton Itchen is a key ultra marginal seat, but Maidstone has two safe Tory seats.”
One possible location for the debate, if it is held in Maidstone, is at the Maidstone Studios. Some social media users have noted that the site appears to have sufficient space around it for the leaders to arrive by helicopter, should they be in a hurry or wish to avoid any potential crowds.
The BBC were contacted for comment but have not responded.
The BBC have confirmed today (Friday, December 6) that the leaders’ debate will be held in Maidstone Kent.
Maidstone and The Weald Labour Party are reporting that Jeremy Corbyn will be arriving at Maidstone Studios at 3.45pm but will come outside for a meet and greet between 5 and 6pm. We have not heard of similar plans by Boris Johnson.