West Midlands EU Hustings – 2019

Considering this is an election that nobody wanted a lot of people turned up on a Tuesday night to find out what candidates were offering. An audience of ninety people is a good turnout for an election that could be either entirely pointless or quite important depending on your personal level of EU rage.

This is a peculiar election because it is a rarity for us to have a voting system that makes our vote count. Labour’s stranglehold on our local politics doesn’t give us a great deal of political say in anything. The D’Hondt system of voting uses lists which means in these elections we vote for a party and that party allocates candidates based on their list. If you want to know how this works in more detail than I can be bothered with, Jeremy Vine explains it very well here.

The hustings were chaired by Achim Jung, the Vice Chair of Kings Heath Forum. Like a referee called into a semi-final that nobody has any interest in Achim has got his eye on those national hustings that could drop at any moment. He did a good job, he didn’t answer any questions himself, shot down some pointless monologues from members of the audience and passed the microphone to the candidates like a pro. Hopefully, we’ll see some more from him the future.

There were only five parties represented last night with UKIP and The Brexit Party not bothering. Change UK, Lib Dems, Labour and Conservatives sent candidates whereas the Green Party sent a representative.

It was the usual format. A bit of an introduction then questions from the audience. Achim bravely encouraged candidates to try not to rerun the referendum in their introductions but he might as well have been trying to catch the wind in his hands.

Victor Odusanya (Change UK) – Victor is sixth on the Change UK list so is absolutely guaranteed not to be elected as an MEP. Victor is from Sheffield has a lot of brothers and sisters (seven in total but no breakdown on how that divides up on a gender basis). He’s worked in housing for years and been involved in politics for four weeks. He doesn’t like the extreme right of the Conservatives or the hard left of Labour and wants to make a change. He wants a people’s vote.

Phil Bennion (Lib Dems) – Phil was an MEP until 2014 and is a current farmer, from Tamworth. Phil is fuelled by his own biomass. This is either ecologically commendable or terrifying. His priorities in the EU are climate change, the single market, global security and Ireland. It should be noted that he can pronounce Xi Jinping’s name really well.

Liz Clements (Labour) – Liz is seventh on the Labour list so can only be elected if there were a series of political events so fantastic they are incomprehensible to humanity. Liz is a Councillor in Bournville, she wants to bring the country together. Her own brother voted Leave and it was awkward. She wants to implement Labour’s plan to leave the EU and if that doesn’t work keep the option of a referendum open. Oh, and austerity. Fair play to Liz, she could have kept her head down, read the room and gone with Labour’s nod and a wink referendum plan but instead, she chose to go full Corbyn.

Daniel Dalton (Conservatives) – You can say what you want about the anonymity of current MEPs but the people organising the hustings had made a sign saying his name was David. Handily that was crossed out in biro. Daniel is a current MEP and apparently inherited it after another MEP died. The EU list system is odd. Apparently, the Conservatives are the only party that can deliver our exit from the EU. That got the first laugh of the night. It’s the other parties that are all blocking it. That got the second and last laugh of the night. Daniel wants to respect the referendum.

Jonathan (Green Party) – Jonathan is not a candidate. I imagine there were seven other more important hustings going on in the West Midlands last night. His view is that everyone is fed up with negotiations. Which might be true but he’s not standing so it isn’t really clear what we are supposed to do with that information.

Then there were questions. Quite a lot of questions. I’m not going to go through all of them because most of them were the same question asked in slightly different ways.

If you represent a party split on Europe how can we trust you to do a good job in Europe?

Liz (Labour) – Liz didn’t accept the basis of the question, which is always a brave start to an answer. Labour candidates are standing on a manifesto and everything in that manifesto. If Labour MEPs are elected, they could, in turn, elect Frans Timmermans as President of the EU Council.

Daniel (Conservative) – Daniel accepted his party is split but it is important to deliver an exit from the EU that doesn’t damage the economy. Daniel is ranked 9th of all MEPs in….. I have no idea how the ranking is calculated but 9th does seem pretty good.

Phil (Lib Dems) – During the referendum all of the Leave side backed membership of the single market. Phil even opposed the idea of a second referendum until December until he felt what had been offered in the referendum had been largely ignored.

Victor (Change UK) – If you started a business and the conditions changed then you would adapt to that change.

Jonathan (Green) – This is a chance to send a message to all of the main parties.

Democracy doesn’t always get it right, look at Hitler and Mussolini, don’t you want a right to challenge?

Daniel (Conservatives) – Daniel doesn’t accept the result of the referendum was purely down to fraud. Anyway, who has a right to tell the people they were wrong? Daniel would be happy to have another referendum but only after we leave the EU.

Liz (Labour) – The country was 50/50 which is why Labour is trying to negotiate a deal to leave. If that fails and there is a referendum, she hopes we will all come out campaigning with her. Though she didn’t say which side Labour would be campaigning on.

Phil (Lib Dems) – Phil wouldn’t say the referendum was based on fraud but it was based on lies, like all elections.

Why aren’t Remain parties campaigning together?

Victor (Change UK) – In practical terms it wasn’t practical.

Phil (Lib Dems) – It would have been good to register an umbrella movement and share lists but talks broke down.

Jonathan (Greens) – Nobody asked us. Which was sort of sad.

If Labour and Conservatives are convinced of Leave why are they afraid to ask the people?

Liz (Labour) – Labour aren’t scared, they want to negotiate a compromise and failing that fight an election on a “fantastic manifesto”.

Daniel (Conservatives) – The elite cannot annul the referendum because of dangers to democracy.

I don’t know if this question is any good, but I was watching David Attenborough’s Our Planet on Netflix and wondered why we can’t live in harmony with nature?

Victor (Change UK) – His daughter goes to Europe a lot and he personally needs to conserve energy.

Phil (Lib Dems) – These problems can only be solved at the global, local and individual level. He once tried to build a wind turbine, but his local MP stopped him.

Liz (Labour) – Labour is committed to making the EU take on more challenging emissions targets. From outside of the EU.

Daniel (Conservatives) – The UK is already a world leader on climate change

Jonathan (Green) – We need to fundamentally reorganise our economy so that it is more equal, and growth doesn’t impact the environment.

What would you do to champion the West Midlands?

Liz (Labour) – Under Labour’s alternative deal there would be frictionless trade. Labour will also develop a new system to replace EU development funds. Liz does recognise that people like artists will still need to work in the EU and hopes that Labour can create a way that people can move freely across borders. Perhaps they could call it free movement.

Victor (Change UK) – I reckon “for me, it’s about wealth creation” isn’t the best answer when trying to win a ticket on the EU gravy train.

Phil (Lib Dems) – Phil has done a lot to fight for Jaguar Land Rover to prevent them from being unfairly penalised by average manufacturer emission levels. Without a voice in the EU that wouldn’t happen. Phil has also stopped China dumping tableware in the Midlands. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds interesting.

Daniel (Conservatives) – Daniel thinks the single market is important and has also stopped threats to Jaguar Land Rover and Morgan.

What is the EU’s greatest achievement?

Victor (Change UK) – Peace

Liz (Labour) – Freedom and how it has allowed the people of Eastern Europe to move freely

Daniel (Conservatives) – The single market, the Holy Grail of international trade deals

Jonathon (Green) – How the EU is a guarantor of values

That was largely it. Nobody mentioned opening the railway line in Moseley. Actually, nobody mentioned Moseley at all.

Other things that weren’t really mentioned were immigration, Farage, sovereignty and unelected Brussels bureaucrats. It was a very positive look at the EU coming from four people that, whatever their parties are up to, seemed really enthusiastic about how we benefit from the EU.

Make sure you go and vote. Your vote genuinely counts in this election and it could be the last time you ever get to say that.

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