MEP Hustings took place at Quay Arts in Newport last night (Wednesday). For those unable to attend, but interested in what took place, our detailed report is below.
The event, organised by Islanders for Europe, saw six of the regional candidates on stage answering questions at the very well-attended and lively event.
The Hustings took place on the day it was announced by the Government that the UK would definitely be taking part in the elections for European Parliament just two week’s away, 23rd May (see list of candidates here).
The hustings were chaired by Joe Plumb, known for his Political Soapbox radio show on Vectis Radio during previous elections.
Candidates attending the event included:
- Judith Bunting (third on the list for Liberal Democrats)
- Rohit Dasgupta (fifth on the list for Labour Party)
- Stephen Harper (fifth on the list for Socialist Party of Great Britain)
- Vix Lowthion (third on the list for Green Party)
- Daryll Pitcher (third on the list for UKIP)
- Robert Rowland (third on the list for Brexit Party)
Change UK and the Conservative Party declined to send a candidate.
The evening opened with each candidate making a three minute presentation as to why Islanders should vote for their party in the Euro elections, followed by questions submitted in advance by the audience.
Rohit Dasgupta (Labour) claimed research has shown the South East would lose more than 50,000 jobs if the country leaves the European Union.
He received a big round of applause when pushing the need to go back to the people for confirmatory vote.
Brexit a distraction
Stephen Harper said The Socialist Party of Great Britain
(SPBG) believes that Brexit is distraction of the serious issues facing society, such as poverty and the environment.
Adding they’re neither for, nor against EU membership.
“A coup against democracy”
Robert Rowland (Brexit) said he believed the European parliament was a ‘decaying inward looking bloc’ and that the UK Parliament had declared war in the British people, with “a coup against democracy”.
He said that Prime Minister, Theresa May, was “entitled to humiliate herself, but not entitled to humiliate Britain”.
Look at who has been representing you
Judith Bunting (Lib Dem) asked the audience to look at who we’ve had representing us in the European Parliament for the last four years – three UKIP and four Conservative MEPs, with praise for Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine Beader.
If elected, she would fight for the working time directive and “carry on the cross border battle to fight climate change”.
Fighting corruption and tax evasion
Vix Lowthion (Green) said 2019 is already becoming a revolutionary year, highlighting the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the need for Governments to work towards net zero carbon emissions.
She received a large round of applause for saying that Green MEPs would be fighting corruption and tax evasion.
Brexit down to UKIP
Daryll Pitcher (UKIP) opened by saying he was a “fairly known source on the Island”. He explained that UKIP is the party of Brexit, and that the EU referendum took place because of UKIP’s pressure on David Cameron.
He added that the UKIP MEP’s voting records “are not as bad as people think”.
Isn’t democracy dead?
The opening question from the audience was “Isn’t democracy dead?”
Dasgupta said Labour were only party trying to “bring the country together” and wanted a “more progressive Europe” and that a confirmatory vote was direct democracy in action.
Pitcher said, “Yes democracy is dead.”
Lowthion said she was not as informed during 2016 EU hustings as she was now, and supported a people’s vote.
Rowland said he’d never seen so much engagement in his lifetime and that, “we’ve got to enforce the democratic will”.
Bunting said the issue is that the question has changed. A people’s vote would be a different vote, not a repeat vote.
A festival of reaction and xenophobia
Harper said it was a perfectly valid principal to have another referendum, but that he would oppose a people’s vote. He believes the EU referendum was followed by a festival of reaction and xenophobia.
After there was a call from someone in the audience that it was ‘rubbish’, Dasgupta highlighted the racist attack he had encountered following the vote in 2016.
Lowthion said there had been a rise in xenophobia and that we “cannot allow people with those views to have the platform”.
What about the youth vote?
Pitcher added the next vote should be Theresa May’s deal or No Deal, saying the public had already voted to leave.
The point about voters who have come of age since the 2016 elections was raised by a member of the audience, who added that it could put two thirds onto the Remain vote.
“How would you serve the needs of the Island?”
Nick from Cowes asked how, if elected, the candidates would serve the needs of people of the Island?
Pitcher said he had already spent many years working for the Island, and that he would have his constituency office here.
Rowland was asked by the chair whether he would serve in the EU Parliament if elected? “Yes,” he replied, adding that he’d given up his day job.
“The Island is vulnerable”
Lowthion pointed out the role would be to serve over eight million people in the region, but added the Island was vulnerable to climate change and a rise in sea levels, fishing policy, etc. andthat she was not happy with the Europe operates.
Harper said the Island’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty must be protected. He acknowledged the Island’s social problems and children living in poverty, but said he could not advocate making small changes or “managing capitalism”. He said he’d use the seat to advocate for socialism and nothing else.
“A seat at the table”
Bunting highlighted the need to stay in touch with people she’d be representing. She believed the most wonderful asset of the Island is its biggest problem – crossing the water for healthcare, etc.
She added that she’d rather “work from the inside than sit outside”.
End of Erasmus?
Dasgupta highlighted the Erasmus Programme (more here) – which offers university students the ability to study in Europe – and how this could end with Brexit.
A member of the audience claimed that Switzerland and Norway, who are outside the EU, take part in the scheme. It was explained that was possible because those countries had deals in place.
“He’s not one of ours”
Island Labour spokesperson, Julian Critchley, asked UKIP candidate whether he supported the involvement of “Tommy Robinson” (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) and another candidate “who wants to rape Labour MPs” (details here).
Pitcher replied that Yaxley-Lennon is not in the party and standing as an Independent. “He’s not one of ours.”
He went on to say he does not condone the words used by Carl Benjamin.
Addressing climate change
The next question from the audience was about addressing climate change.
Harper replied that organisations and states are some of the biggest polluters – that capitalism necessitates more – and that the problem is not being addressed in serious way.
Bunting said Lib Dems would continue pressing for much tougher EU regulation on emissions and that they’d led charge on trying to curb climate change. She highlighted that this week was the first time since the 1882 that coal powered energy had not been used.
“Whether you believe it or not”
Pitcher said climate change was “an interesting thing” and added that he wasn’t anti-environmentalism, but later when on to question climate change. He said decisions will always have “negative local impact”.
Dasgupta said Labour MEPs would continue working with the socialist and democratic alliance. He said more fines were needed. The deprived London borough where he is a councillor has just joined others declaring a Climate Emergency.
Rowland said the Brexit Party did not have a specific policy on climate change and that he has no personal view.
15% of vote, but no representation
Lowthion said during the 1989 elections Green Party candidates got 15% of vote, but ended up with no representation. She said they would have taken the action needed then.
She also pointed out that she was the only candidate on the panel that had Guido Fawkes “writing lies about me”.
Freedom of movement
Whether freedom of movement was beneficial or detrimental to the UK was the next question.
Rowlands said. “We need to make our own decisions”. Going on to say, “We need to decide the laws and set what we need. We can’t have open immigration.”
Bunting said freedom of movement was important in both directions and urged the audience to make sure their children or grandchildren spent time in Europe. She added that being part of the EU has helped maintain peace since the Second World War (which got a big round of applause).
“Devastating and appalling”
Lowthion said the end of freedom of movement is devastating and appalling.
Dasgupta pointed to references in the media about the difference of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants. He said there is no difference simply based on earnings, as nurses, lecturers etc all earn below the minimum £30,000 figure.
Harper agreed with others that freedom of movement is beneficial. As a teacher he sees excellent European students worried about their future here.
“Freedom of movement is detrimental”
Pitcher believes freedom of movement is detrimental. He said the country does not need to be in trading bloc for its citizens to travel the world, adding that “temporary work visas worked perfectly well”.
He said his first job was getting hot and dirty picking tomatoes, but that he couldn’t get the same job now as the recruitment office is in Poland.
Engaged, passive or disruptive MEPs?
The penultimate question was whether candidates, if elected, would be engaged, passive or disruptive?
Rowlands said he tended to be very active.
An Austrian member of the audience asked for a statement on the “lies peddled by UKIP and Brexit ‘company’”, referring to the image of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage in front Balkan refugees.
Pitcher said he would vote in the national interest and has never conflated immigration.
Rowlands said people “should look at quality of candidates” and their backgrounds.
A member of the audience said over population of the world is the elephant in the room and that needs to be tackled.
He added that it is conflict that drives migration.
A “truthful good reason to leave the EU”
The final question came from Sheila in Newport who asked candidates for a “truthful good reason to leave the EU”.
Dasgupta said he voted Remain and could not find a good reason to leave the EU and wanted to see a confirmatory vote.
Rowland said “because it’s undemocratic” and referred to the unelected commissioners.
Fight for reform
Lowthion said she could not find a good reason to leave, adding, “If we don’t like way something is done, we don’t throw our toys out of the pram, we fight for reform.”
Bunting said, “You stay inside the tent and work hard. Amend policies and have democracy.”
Pitcher said the MEPs don’t generate legislation and that the EU is “not interested in reforming”.
Politicians “done a good job of stoking tensions”
Harper said he couldn’t think of a good one reason, but added that too much store was given to the question. He explained that before the EU referendum was announced, polls found that only 4-5% of people considered EU membership a significant issue.
He ended by saying he believed Politicians and national media had done a good job of stoking tensions.
The Hustings came to an end after two hours of lively and engaged debate.
For more information about political issues affecting the Isle of Wight see our politics archive.