Totnes Town Hall was the setting for the first of seven South Devon Primary events which have the aim of selecting a progressive candidate between the Lib Debs Caroline Voaden and the Green Party’s Robert Bagnall to fight the Conservative incumbent Anthony Mangnall for the newly renamed South Devon seat at the next general election. The Labour Party still don’t have a candidate.

The afternoon was chaired by Guardian journalist George Monbiot and the 280 free tickets were snapped up in three days.

In addition to those in the room, there was another group numbering around 160 gathered in a neighbouring pub who were also given a vote.

Reflecting on the fact that the constituency had been Conservative for 101 years George Monbiot said: “This is an artifact of our first-past-the-post political system which deprives us of genuine democratic power and genuine democratic engagement.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Voaden tried to mobilise the crowd by saying: “I do not want to be standing there on election night on that platform by Anthony Mangnall’s smug face because he has won this election by a thousand votes. Visualise how that will feel.”

Speaking about South Devon Primary last year Anthony Mangnall said: “It is disappointing to see a group of people attempting to restrict democracy across South Devon by denying residents a wide field of candidates.

“While I applaud anyone for getting more involved in the democratic process, I think this campaign might be at odds with the wants and needs of South Devon residents.

“In the meantime, I look forward to continuing my work delivering for South Devon and helping all those in need.”

Votes from the Totnes meeting and the following six meetings, using ranked-choice voting, will be added together and the winning candidate will be elected as ‘People’s Champion’ and take on Anthony Mangnall and possibly others at the next election.

People attending the events won’t just be encouraged to vote for the winner but to go out and campaign for them to create a buzz.

Labour have been invited to join the process if and when they name a candidate and people voting do have an opportunity to vote for Labour.

Residents are only allowed to attend one meeting and vote one but they can watch the other meetings streamed on YouTube.

Questions began with a lady who called Roberta who wanted to know if the candidates would be in favour of raising taxes and what would they be spent on.

There were also questions on how to reduce bed blocking in hospitals, whether social care should be integrated into the NHS, whether the two speakers were in favour of assisted dying (both were provided there were appropriate safeguards), how to stop our rivers and coastline being polluted.

One issue that received plenty of support in the room was the inability to find an NHS dentist.

John’s dentist stopped accepting NHS patents and the nearest he could find that would was in Southampton. There were then some quick-fire questions on subjects including housing (a subject Caroline Voaden said was probably the most important in this area) touching on Gaza and new developments. A question about defying the whip brought laughter from the audience given that the Green Party currently has only one MP. Robert Bagnall commented that it would be ‘a nice problem to have’ whilst Caroline Voaden said getting her party to follow a whip was like’herding cats’

At the meeting attended, both speakers gave good accounts of themselves and their parties’ policies.

There was also much common ground between the two. There some national interest as I was sat next to a reporter from The Times Newspaper.

A second event will be held on Wednesday evening (March 6) in Paignton with a third on Thursday (March 7) at Modbury Memorial Hall, Kingsbridge Community College on Saturday (March 9), Dartmouth

Townstal Community Hall (March 10), South Brent Village Hall (March 11) and concluding at Brixham College (March 16).

At the time or writing the South Brent event was full, Kingsbridge had around three seats left but there was still availability for the other events.

Many meetings are already fully booked but you can find out more at: