Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell grilled by Nelson and Colne College students

Students and college principal Amanda Melton with Azhar Ali and John McDonnell.
Students and college principal Amanda Melton with Azhar Ali and John McDonnell.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell fielded questions from "bright as a button" politics students at Nelson and Colne College.

The Labour Party heavyweight was in Pendle where he was backing the challenge of local county councillor Azhar Ali, his party's candidate in next month's general election.

Round table discussion with Azhar Ali, Amanda Melton and assistant principals Morag Davis and Fionnuala Swann.

Round table discussion with Azhar Ali, Amanda Melton and assistant principals Morag Davis and Fionnuala Swann.

Mr McDonnell told the students of his close links with Burnley and Pendle, having worked at Mullards in Padiham and studied A-Levels at Burnley Technical College. In fact, he also posed next to a photograph on the walls of the college of his grandson Fintan, a recent former student.

Speaking to the Express/Leader Times after fielding questions from the first year politics students, Mr McDonnell said: "The students were magnificent, they were bright as buttons and very knowledgable.

"There has been a big push in recent weeks to encourage people to register to vote. I am pleased this has been very successful with many under the age of 35 registering. I think this will definitely benefit the Labour Party because a lot of our policies come from having discussions with young people.

"We want our students to be able to afford to travel to college and university and not be saddled with debt. The last 10 years of austerity have also resulted in massive cuts to local youth services which we will overturn."

Mr McDonnell had earlier been asked by one student for his views on 'universal basic income', a philosophy of a periodic payment delivered to all on an individual basis without means test or work requirement.

The staunch socialist admitted that there had been mixed results where it had been implemented elsewhere, mainly in terms of cost.

"If elected we would run pilot schemes that would iron out any problems. Sheffield and Liverpool have already expressed an interest," he added.

"There is a lot of inequality and poverty which I am ideologically oposed to. We have had 10 years of horrendous austerity. Last year 700 people died on our streets, 4.5 million children are living in poverty and the disbaled are the hardest hit.

"UBI would offer more security and allow people to be more adventurous. People's life chances are quite narrow in the system we have now. I can't cope living in a society where people are dying on our streets. We have a poverty of existence now."

Mr McDonnell was also asked a difficult question about the much-publicised issue of perceived anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

He said: "Anti-Semitism infects all parts of our society. We have had a tiny number of our party who have been kicked out for being anti-Semitic but I accept we haven't been quick or hard enough in the past in dealing with it. Education is the key."

Speaking generally about the North, Mr McDonnell said the region had been left behind by previous governments and that England was one of the most regionally unequal countries in Europe.

He added: "We will learn from the failures of the Northern Powerhouse. The Government has got to give more resources and powers to regions so that decisions can be made locally. We plan to relocate parts of the Treasury to the North where local decisions can be made.

"That is also why we are proposing a National Investment Bank on the German model to work alongside regional banks which could allocate funding."

During his visit, Mr McDonnell also spoke to local WASPI women (Women Against State Pension Inequality) in Colne about Labour's plans to compensate them.