The discussion turned deadly serious at a Warminster debate when South West Wiltshire candidates discussed the “existential threat” that Putin poses to the UK.

Labour Party candidate Evelyn Akoto, Conservative Andrew Murrison, Liberal Democrat Bret Palmer, Reform candidate Garry Irvin, independent candidate Thomas Culshaw and independent candidate James Ward were gathered in the Athenæum on Wednesday, June 20, to answer questions submitted by residents.

With the event live broadcast on Warminster Community Radio, the audience was told there would be “no tolerance” for disruption.

The first husting hosted in the Athenæum was in 1900.The first hustings hosted in the Athenæum was in 1900. (Image: Trevor Porter)

This rule was mostly respected, until it was asked whether 2.5 per cent GDP was enough to spend on defence.

Independent candidate, James Ward said: “I think it should be higher. I’m concerned about Putin, I’m concerned about China.”

He added: “If Putin decides that Ukraine is not going to be the place to stop, who is going to defend this country if Europe ends up in a war?

What happens if Trump gets in and says I’m not entering into this, you’re on your own.

“We need to have a military which is capable of defending our realm and at the moment we do not.”

The Conservative candidate, Andrew Murrison said: “I’m proud of the fact that my party at least has committed to a 2.5 per cent, £70 billion boost to defence.

“That actually has implications for this garrison town and if re-elected I would most certainly ensure that we have a slice of that action.”

He added “We do live in an uncertain world, it’s more uncertain than I can ever remember and I served throughout the cold war, but we have to face Putin down, he does pose an existential threat to this country.”

Although the audience applauded his statements, when he brought up that Keir Starmer had previously supported Jeremy Corbyn, known for promoting non-interventionism and nuclear disarmament, he faced an angry reaction from the crowd.

A woman shouted: “And you supported Boris!”

She then led a chant of “Boris, Boris, Boris” which was swiftly silenced by the host.

Liberal Democrat Bret Palmer said: “Yes, we need to fund the army, but we also need to ensure we have the troop numbers and all the equipment.

“It’s important that we have the ability to do that ourselves as it will stimulate, hopefully, the rest of NATO to also cough up.”

He added that history books might look back at this time and say the world was already at “a proxy war - Russia, China, North Korea, Iran versus the NATO alliance countries.”

Reform Candidate Garry Irvin said: “As a former soldier myself, I’m massively concerned at the degradation of the military capability of the British armed forces.”

He noted: “I would push for a greater increase and even an immediate injection in order to procure more ammunition, more armaments, more equipment.

He suggested this should partly be paid for by cutting foreign aid to countries that are “antagonistic towards the UK.”

When asked for examples, he listed China and India, whilst an audience member suggested: “Cornwall?”

Independent candidate Tom Ward argued: “There is a lot of tension on the global stage and diffusion is what we really, really need.

He also said: “Raising our defence spending above our NATO commitments is not defusing the situation, that’s readying for war.”

Labour party candidate Evelyn Akoto said: “The Conservative Party has cut the army to its smallest size since Napoleon, and they have wasted over £15 billion on bad defence procurement.”

She added: “We face external threats, both state and non-state actors and we need to make sure that we are ready to defend ourselves.

“There is nothing more important than defence.”

The full recording of the event can be found on the WCR website.

The candidates discussed several other topics throughout the lively debate.

Green Party candidate Fay Whitfield was unable to attend.

Labour sits just ahead of the Conservatives in the latest Electoral Calculus prediction for South West Wiltshire.