Yesterday I took part in this debate, organised by the Mile End Institute. Well, I say took part, I was only there as I had seen the event advertised, not one MEP had been asked to speak. So I settled down to ask questions at the appropriate time.
And there is the problem. The In/Out referendum is being based on Westminster think, not what MEPs think, do and say. We are at the coalface week in and week out. We see what happens there, the effect it has on our economy and sovereignty.
One academic in the first round of discussion was very defeatist about little Britain’s role in the world and indeed Europe (as distinct from the EU, but these academics don’t get that). She was incredulous that we were even having the conversation about how Europe (their word, not EU) has been so difficult for Britain and believed that we couldn’t live outside the EU. I find this approach very worrying from our cosseted and well-funded academic. She found time to laugh at her own self-satisfied jokes, which went down very badly in the audience.
At coffee, I spoke to the organisers and asked why MEPs hadn’t been invited. A blank look from one lady who quickly gathered her thoughts and said they had invited many politicians. Yes, I persevered, but did you invite MEPs? Er, she said, no I don’t think so.
After that, two of her more senior colleagues admitted that they just don’t think about MEPs. And that’s the problem. We are ignored by the media and the establishment because they only think inside their bubbles. They promised they would invite me to take part in future panels. Yes I will but only if they invite a wider audience, i.e. the public. As I pointed out to them, you cannot have this debate in your hallowed halls, get out into the wider world, you are paid by the taxpayer.
There are 73 UK MEPs and no one is asking our opinion on Stay or Leave, except for Nigel Farage.
Talking of Nigel, the expert panel, including pollsters Britain Thinks, were asked whether certain figures were toxic, from an historical point of view and in the current debate. They all nodded sagely, frowned and agreed to a man and woman that Nigel Farage was definitely toxic. Jeremy Corbyn was discussed with smiles and treated like a mad uncle they had to support and indulge because of his huge mandate.
No mention of the counter-polling which showed that Farage wasn’t toxic but integral to the debate. No mention either of Jeremy Corbyn being elected by a horde of newly signed up anarchists. At this point I was ignored at the Q&A session.
One journo from the Financial Times was very poorly informed and spoke about the 5,000 welfare cheats, sorry, claimants, that were poor British pensioners living in Spain. We had all their clever young things and all Spain gets are welfare cheats. Bit rich when you consider most of the Spanish bright young things can’t get work as there is 50% unemployment and the economy is a basket case. I wasn’t allowed to ask a question.
There were two highlights of the debate: Neil Kinnock and Business for Britain’s Alex Story.
I didn’t think Neil Kinnock would whet my appetite until I was allowed to speak and ask him whether he would share a Stay platform with David Cameron. Firstly he answered ‘I would support him’. I reminded him that I asked whether he would share a platform, let’s make it easier, a stage. Yes, he said I would – you heard it here first.
Speaking of Lord Kinnoch why does he need to behave in such an aggressive manner towards even the most mild-mannered critic? His apoplectic tantrum when questioned calmly by a female delegate who used to be a supporter and who had the audacity to inform him that many voters had turned to UKIP because of the sell-out of Labour to the gravy train of Euroland seemed to prick his sanctimonious stance and puncture the usual sycophantism he has come to expect.
His defensiveness suggested an inner discomfort- embarrassment even-that kind of gives the game away about the comfortable Eurocrat platform that politics has provided for himself and the lucrative positions in politics taken by other members of his lucky family.
When Lord Kinnoch was questioned about this rift from the needs of the traditional Labour communities that the lifestyle of an EU grandee, with all the trappings of privilege that British taxpayer cash provides, he offered no explanation but resorted to abuse of the questioner.
Says it all.
And lastly, the star of the show was Alex Story. Up against a couple of academics and the CBI, he shone. A businessman, heading up a business in Singapore, married to a German, he’s half Austrian, the list of his ‘foreign, non little Englander’ credentials is too extensive to list here.
He only had two fans in the room, my assistant and me. Go Alex, yes, the EU is not Europe, China doesn’t care who it does business with, they want to sell, they do not need restrictive trade agreements, it’s about who makes the laws for whom, and so he went on. Brilliant stuff, best performance all day – he is c.6’8″ and an ex rower, so easy on the eye too.
The academics didn’t like it when he said ‘businesses exist to make money’, lots of low murmuring, the frowns on faces said it all. One academic asked him and the CBI a question about making money and how dare business make the case for Stay or Go. As the academics had been discussing the business approach from the 1970s this was rather bizarre but then again I think academia is bizarre.
I was going to ask ‘who pays your wages, that it is the taxpayers who work in business so you can sit here and pontificate’, but I gave up at that point. Next up was David Liddington, Europe Minister, so we went for a glass of wine.