The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
On the 16th of May 2019, the University of Kent hosted a debate for candidates in the South East Region EU elections. Seven parties attended and topics discussed mostly centred around Brexit, students and the climate crisis. O
f the seven candidates, InQuire hosted short interviews to four: Anna Firth, John Howarth, Antony Hook and Liz Phillips. Unsurprising, Brexit was the main topic of discussion, but it would have been interesting to hear more about their policies and stances on social issues.
Anna Firth - Conservative
Anna Firth made it very clear that she was not in favour of remaining in the European Union. She repeatedly stated that the United Kingdom would be fairer, more competitive and more prosperous in the long run outside of the EU. This was coupled with her strong view that holding a second referendum would be a blow for democracy. She made a good point when stating that politics should move on from Brexit and focus on more important issues; however, this was not backed up with anything. Firth made it clear that she knew her opinion was unpopular but was one she genuinely believed.
John Howarth - Labour
Whether Labour wanted a second referendum or not was unclear in the debate. Howarth demonstrated that there was no support for Brexit, stating ‘Brexit has failed.’ However, he also said that those candidates expressing support for a second referendum were making false promises. This presented labour as impartial, something that isn’t necessarily a good thing in politics. Howarth suggested that that he didn’t believe Brexit could work but that Labour would try and make the best of it. This doesn’t exactly evoke confidence in the voter and seemed to let the party down, failing to demonstrate what Labour would do if elected into the EU parliament. When asked what a ‘good deal’ looked like for Labour, Howarth responded that it didn’t look like the current deal – without offering any suggestions for change.
Antony Hook – Liberal Democrats
Antony Hook made it clear that ‘a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit.’ He highlighted the issues that Brexit will bring to the UK and its negative effects on jobs, student opportunities and EU citizens in the UK. Arguing that the UK needed a first referendum that was fair and gave the people all the facts, Cook also presented his view for fair rights and protection of EU citizens and a move away from the hostile environment of current politics. Hook upheld a strong stance in the debate and responded well to other parties’ attempts to argue with him.
Liz Phillips - UKIP
Liz Phillips expressed her view on how UKIP can often be stereotyped; providing humour in her introduction by explaining that nothing is further from the truth than such stereotypes. She believed that ‘democracy has been denied’ so far and was a firm advocate for Brexit. Her policies seemed very one-sided; where other leave parties made it clear that Brexit may cause short-term issues, she seemed to have the strong opinion that Brexit would be beneficial from the get-go. When interviewed about the climate emergency, she believed that issues surrounding climate change depended on which side of science you are on, and that the climate has changed before and will continue to change forever.
Alexandra Phillips - Green Party
The Green Party, who have seen support increase after the 2016 referendum are one of the parties aiming to stop Brexit. In her three-minute introduction Phillips explained that the Green Party would fight for freedom of movement - working towards stopping the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. She also gave an insight into the ambitious planet plan; promising a ‘green new deal’. One of her best points regarded EU citizens living in the UK that were denied a vote in the referendum; she advocated a fair system that treats people equally and a move away from the hatred that has been building within political parties.
Andy Thomas – Socialist Party
It was evident that Andy Thomas wanted to move away from the issue of Brexit and focus on other issues, repeatedly seeming to do so during the debate. He made it clear that the Socialist Party don’t advocate Brexit or No Brexit. Thomas seemed to have a very idealistic view on how the world should be, rhetorically asking, ‘can you see the borders from space?’ and suggesting that anybody should be allowed to move anywhere. Once again, however, no backing was given to this and no explanation on what he would actually do if elected. He seemed to keep out of the fire of the debate.
Richard Ashworth – Change UK
Richard Ashworth introduced his party with three priorities: care for the country, care for its children and a passion for remain. He made it clear that the UK had two choices, either take the easy option and accept Brexit or actually do something about it. Explaining how Change UK was a new party combined of people from many different parties, he stated that the arguments and “bickering” needs to stop before anything can be achieved. Although his policies sounded good from a theoretical stance, there was no evidence to suggest that what they presented would be achievable.
Overall, the debate gave the audience an interesting discussion regarding the issues surrounding the leave or remain campaigns. Brexit was the main focus and even as the discussion began to stray away it was quickly brought back to the UK’s departure from the EU. No party is perfect, and this is what the debate made clear. Unfortunately, politics seems to be a case of bickering at the moment, with no real decisions or discussion being made. The number of head shakes and eye rolls were high and, like most debates in politics, the candidates often irritated one another rather than simply debating an issue. Despite the impression the debate gave, it is important to note that the vote on Thursday is a vote to make candidates Members of European Parliament – not a vote for leave or remain.