Call this a proper debate? oh do grow up

We’re used to pretty poor media coverage of political debates in this country but we’re barely a week into the  EU referendum campaign and  barrels are already being scraped.

‘all the interest, plainly, is in the intellectual and political battle  within the Tory party.’ declared the Sunday Times Leader today, if we needed any clue as to what our diet was going to be from the anti-European press for the next four months.

The Dave vs Boris sideshow may be light entertainment for political geeks and lobby journalists but to misappropriate The Smiths that Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.

Did the rolling news coverage of Boris’s ‘tussle with his conscience’ rather than his tussle with his hair leave anyone watching feeling more and informed about the forthcoming vote?

I’ve seen more serious discussion in the press about an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians than this crucial debate.

This referendum is about the future of our country, not the future of a divided Conservative party as Nick Clegg rightly said in the House of Commons.

If standing on a wet and windy high street in Yeovil on the #StrongerIN campaign stall has taught me anything, it’s that the vast majority of people  would rather contemplate their shoelaces than engage me in conversation about their views on the European Union.

Whilst I spoke to a good number of people who were keen to express their support for our campaign and there was the expected “We’re an island” from a few vocal outers they were all outnumbered by the disinterested, the unaware and the apathetic.

If the media continue with framing the debate as old school chums having a disagreement in the tuck shop then it’s hardly surprising we’re seeing the current levels of apathy,

Apart from a few notable exceptions,  the debate about whether we leave or remain in the European Union has  been dominated by old men which makes research by the LSE that Women are almost twice as likely to answer ‘Don’t Know’ in most EU referendum polls. self-fulfilling.

Hardly a day has gone by without another sexagenarian breaking his temporary silence to lecture younger generations that they know best.

Just picking a choice few from both sides of the media coverage, we have been treated to Nigel Lawson, David Steele, Michael Howard, Alan Johnson and Peter Mandelson giving us the benefit of their wisdom. That’s five men with a combined age of 361 given air time whilst at the same time millions of 16 and 17 year olds who will be affected most by the result are denied a vote in this referendum. The Nigel Lawson’s of this world can rest easy that they won’t be around to face the consequences of their misrepresentation.

With the media having a chance to finally present the British public with properly presented debate, if the last week is anything to go by they’ve blown it.

BBC Question Time is probably no longer a good benchmark for sensible debate as the producers seem more intent on developing conflict rather than reasoned argument 

‘I’m so glad we’re having a proper debate!’ Giles Fraser on Question Time on Thursday without spotting the obvious irony that there was no proper debate being presented.

He was joined by Julian Fellowes the creator of Downtown Abbey, himself an unelected member of the House of Lords and a man who makes a living selling shows about an England that hasn’t existed for over a hundred years, chimed in urging the audience to leave the EU over rules “we’ve never voted for”.

We have a long way to go in this debate. 116 more days to be precise.
Adam Boulton wrote in his Sunday Times column

‘The entire UK is being plunged into a referendum it never really an attempt to sort out a local difficulty among Conservatives.

 Judging by this week’s media coverage it will be up to those of us who are actively engaged in our communities to inject some reality  into this debate and to work to ensure that the voices of those currently excluded are heard and everyone exercises their right to vote in this referendum.

Nick was right this debate is about the future of our country and not the future of the Conservative party.

For the sake of the millions of ordinary people who will have to live with the outcome it’s up for us to effectively make the case for staying in the EU, online and offline, because the right-wing media definitely won’t.  


Loose talk on leaving the EU could cost jobs

EU debate 04.02 16

The debate took place on a chilly February afternoon in Westminster. 

A handful of MPs gathered in a two-thirds empty chamber on Thursday to debate not a minor hobby horse of an obscure backbench MP but something of genuine national import: the upcoming European Referendum, an issue that has divided the Conservative Party for over a century.

I studied the history of The Corn Laws at A Level, I know how this story ends.

The title of the debate: ‘Backbench Business: Parliamentary sovereignty and EU renegotiations’ sounded reasonable enough but at the list of people who spoke revealed merely the usual suspects: John Baron MP (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative), Sir William Cash (Stone, Conservative), Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot, Conservative), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall, Labour), David Nuttall (Bury North, Conservative)

With the exception of handful of Eurosceptic Labour MPs, it was another instance of the Tory party talking to the Tory party in a navel-gazing contest.

If these MPs were aiming to be heard by the country at large then they were mistaken. The country was at work, or doing something else more constructive.

The referendum on British membership of the European Union may have started life as an  obsessional Conservative disorder but the net result of that referendum will have a profound impact on people living in the UK, whether or not they are interested in that debate.

David Cameron, aware that the impression that his party gives too often that this is some kind of political parlour game in a private members club urged his own MPs to set aside the views of their local constituency associations to make their decision based on ‘what is in their heart’

His plea was met with howls of outrage this weekend from 41 Conservative associations accusing him of dismissing ‘the very people who secured his victory’ and urging him and his MPs to ‘listen to the views of the grassroots.’

Civil war in the Conservative party, on ice for a few years now beckons as their ‘grassroots’ deploy the same grasp of political reality for which they have been openly mocking Labour members who elected Jeremy Corbyn.

A party that looks inwards, listening to its own self-reinforcing echo chamber rarely speaks for the electorate.

For politicos and those of us still licking our wounds after dire General Election results last year the current Tory malaise might be amusing but for the country at large the results of this political shambles could be both economically and socially disastrous.

It may be timely to remind ourselves of some arithmetic:

  • the Conservative party has roughly 149,000 members
  • The UK population is roughly 61 million.
  • The CBI estimates 3 million jobs are dependent on our trade with the EU.

Once upon a time, the Conservative proclaimed itself the party of business.

More recently it has attempted to rebrand itself as the workers’ party pinching Liberal Democrat and Labour policies on raising the income tax threshold and  introducing the Living Wage. and presenting them as their own.

However, if its MPs are foolhardy enough to align themselves with the Leave EU campaign, they will be allying themselves with a plan that directly jeopardises British jobs and British workers.

MPs representing seats known for the high number of jobs linked to international trade such as Finmeccanica-Helicopters (formerly Agusta Westland) in Yeovil, where I am now living, should be especially careful about what they say.

When asked if he was concerned about the potential detrimental impact on employment within his constituency, the local Conservative MP said he was ‘personally, not too worried’ yet bizarrely in the same breath argued that current EU regulation should be preserved to preserve trade with the EU!

Alternative science and technology funding would also need to be found, he declared refusing to reveal how exactly this might be achieved outside the auspices of the EU.

When people elect members of Parliament they expect them to take decisions based on what is in the best interests of their constituents and the country.

We are being encouraged by Leave campaigners to think that EU withdrawal is as easy as pulling the plug with no consequences. But there will be consequences.

Leavers can dispute hypothetical future outcomes until the cows come home but the facts speak for themselves: as things stand billions of pounds are invested by the EU in technology projects like Horizon 2020 that directly benefit the UK economy and its workforce.

What is in it for companies like Finmeccanica to continue investing in their British subsidiaries if they are no longer part of the EU?

A clear case where loose talk by Conservative MPs on leaving the EU could cost real jobs here in the UK.