On the 1st of May the Institute for German Studies, in conjunction with both the Graduate Centre for Europe and Europe Direct, hosted an EU Hustings debate featuring six potential candidates for the European Parliament. Each candidate was given two minutes to introduce both themselves and their platform followed by an intense question and answer session. The panel was chaired by Dr Isabelle Hertner, Lecturer in German and European Politics and Society and the Deputy Director of the Institute for German Studies.
Phil Bennion, MEP (Liberal Democrats) – Phil is a University of Birmingham alumnus. He is promoting a party liberal in economics and education policies aiming for a safer and greener Europe.
Will Duckworth (Green) – Will was a mathematics teacher for 30 years before deciding that there were just no political candidates he agreed with, so he decided he would have to get involved himself. He used his time to discuss the root issues brought up by recent UKIP propaganda. Particularly the first, second, third generation British citizens’ feelings of personal pain by the negativity directed toward immigrants. Will claims that even when the intention is not racism certain tones inevitably alienate and persecute minority groups. Green endeavors to support and value rather than merely tolerate.
Bill Etheridge (UKIP) – Bill spent 20 years of his life working in the steel industry, and for one year counted himself a member of the conservative party which he claims to now regret. He agrees that racism is never okay, but that immigration requires control. He feels the primary issue is overburdened state control both within the UK and particularly by the EU.
Neena Gill (Labour) – Neena aims to promote a sustainable economic growth platform. She has personally campaigned for the single, homeless and elderly. She served on the European Parliament for ten years and worked for a global multinational which have both contributed to her wider world view.
Anthea McIntyre, MEP (Conservatives) – Anthea is clamoring for three Rs – reform, renegotiation and referendum. The most challenging problem that she sees Europe facing is high unemployment due to a mismatch of skills training. She has pushed to cut the European budget and opt out of the euro bailout.
Nicole Sinclaire, MEP (We Demand A Referendum Party) – Like Bill, Nicole had previously belonged to another party, in her case UKIP. Nicole refused to sugarcoat her platform and directly claimed to have left UKIP because of their extreme racism. She has pushed public petitions to force debate in Parliament and strives to maintain a mobile presence in the streets meeting with everyday people outside of election seasons. She has worked for debt relief and food distribution.
Highlights from the Q+A
The question and answer session enabled students, academics and external visitors the opportunity to address the issues they wanted to know more about. The most pressing questions centered around the issue of a referendum and racism, a selection of which (including some of the answers) have been included here for further consideration.
Q.1. What is racism?
All participants agreed that racism was the discrimination against or mistreatment of members of another race (and in some cases, alternative religion and/or gender played factors in this discussion). However, most generally agreed that it wasn’t racist to debate immigration. Nicole advocated that silence on the immigration issue alienates voters and has cost Labour seats because they avoid the issues. Aiming to address this, Neena responds that debating immigration is not what is problematic but the manner in which this is done is crucial. She pointed out that UKIP addresses this issue by creating fear, uncertainty and blaming all problems on immigrants at the exclusion of other factors. Will ultimately concluded that the problem is engendered in the blaming of migrants (not just immigrants) and that the ‘issue of immigration’ is primarily a problem of poor government and governing.
Q.2. If there is a referendum regarding leaving the EU what happens with currency and the market, what are the trade implications and what will the UK do?
Will, Neena and Phil stressed that their parties did not want to leave the EU, that the aim should be reform not exit. Neena feels the single market couldn’t possibly remain accessible, and while Phil countered that access would be likely the UK would lose any say, lose out on trade deals and investments that create jobs and likely be impoverished within 20 years. Conversely, neither Nicole or Bill could possibly imagine staying and think that the UK will be better outside the EU. Nicole pointed out that leaving the EU is a two year process and that there would be time to transition, nothing would collapse overnight. Bill feels that the UK generally buys from rather than sells to the EU and that it is ridiculous to think that Europe would suddenly not want to sell after a referendum. If anything, leaving will open more doors for trade in Bill’s opinion.
Q.3. The UK is the fourth biggest group of migrants, generally benefits from free-movement and the majority of studies show that generally immigrants are not actually travelling to take advantage of the healthcare system. What are thoughts considering restrictions on those coming in but not on those coming out?
Bill generally argues that all nations, not just the UK should control their boarders and definite immigration qualifications. Nicole’s stance particularly on benefits immigration is that if this is not a motive for migration than there is no harm in legislation. Anthea similarly supports free movement so long as it is for work rather than to claim benefits. Neena claims that roughly the same amount of people leave the country as enter it and immigration is generally a positive workforce rather than a problem. Similarly, Phil points out that migrants generally pay much more in taxes than they ever draw in benefits and are a positive contribution to the treasury. Both he and Will tend to agree that people do not relocate their entire lives to a new country simply for benefits.
We hope you’ve found our few select event highlights of interest. Don’t forget the election will take place on Thursday the 22nd of May 2014. If you are an eligible and registered voter the GCfE would like to encourage you to remember to get out and let your voice be heard.