EU Hustings – A Deficit of Knowledge
The profound knowledge deficit was evident during the recent election hustings organised by The Exchange, the University political events society. Addressing a half-full auditorium, the panellists did their best to state their case, and answer questions submitted to them. hindered by the bizarre decision by the Exchange to have questions relayed from the audience to the panellists via twitter, then a text to the moderator.
Given that poor signal strength (the auditorium is in the basement of the SU) meant that many were unable to Tweet, the panel were faced with a series of broad questions that could not easily be answered, and did little to address the challenges facing Britain and Europe. Assuming that the Exchange committee had consciously dispensed with microphones, one can only presume that they wished to screen questions in order to avoid the airing of unsavoury opinions by audience members.
Joining two incumbent MEPs Linda McAvan and Edward McMillan-Scott (Labour and Liberal Democrat) was the Green Party candidate Shan Oakes. All three gave a good account of their personal political motivations, and the policies of their respective parties. The two incumbents spoke of their experiences in the European Parliament, and a taste of legislation they had worked on. The Green candidate gave a broad description of the issues she would focus on if elected.
The other panellists were notable by their absence. The Conservative candidate pulled out, and was replaced by a council candidate from Doncaster. Indicative of his contribution (or lack of) was the fact that he knew nothing of the Conservative Party EU platform beyond its desire for an in-out referendum, and repeated this numerous times: “Vote for us. Get a referendum,” he stated. It appears that a lack of knowledge of the EU stretches to those in politics as well.
The UKIP candidate Jane Collins was unable to attend due to traffic on the motorway, caught in torrential rain. She contributed to the debate via text message. No judgement will be made on the content of her texts here; other than to say that they focused purely on the issue of a referendum; that the departure of Britain from the EU would be the panacea that would solve all of Britain’s problems. “Out of the EU, and into the world!” was a notable rallying call.
Where were the questions that related to how the Yorkshire and the Humber (a region of the EU represented in its parliament) can benefit from the EU? How can impoverished communities in Yorkshire benefit from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) now that the regions regional development agency (Yorkshire Forward) has been abolished by the Coalition Government? How can the Finance Yorkshire initiative help the regions SMEs grow?
Its not surprising that no such questions were asked. The workings of the EU are unknown to the majority of people. Both incumbent MEPs challenged Nigel Farage’s claim that 70% of British laws were now made in Brussels, McAvan , both stating that the figure was much lower. Regardless of the exact number, a legitimate question to ask would be: “Which laws are those then?” As McMillan-Scott pointed out, many of those laws were enacted to protect our rights at work.
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, it is surely time that the British people were better informed as to the functions of the EU, what the country stand to gain from continued membership, and what it stands to lose if it votes to leave. If the public were better informed, then there might be an opportunity to hold more worthwhile hustings events that address the real issues. As it is, the debate is painfully narrow, dominated by arguments about our membership that are equally vague, and though the incumbents applied themselves well, Britain would be better served if candidates didn’t first have to justify the existence of the EU.
Written by Chris Olewicz, edited by Gregory Pichorowycz