DISCLAIMER: The following article is the opinion of its author and does not represent the views of the People’s Assembly or of any political party
In the forth part of my travels around Tyneside’s local politics ‘scene’ I found myself heading to Newcastle’s leafy (and I mean leafy; I got lost in the amount of trees at one point) suburb of Jesmond. Walking through the well maintained streets, I passed a collection of middle class student types (you know the ones) and people who looked like they had been the product of a forgotten lebensborn project.
I was there to attend a CLP meeting about the upcoming European elections; I had been invited by one of their local activists. It was being held in the closest thing a to social club a place like Jesmond has, a cricket club; I’ve got to think about changing the title of this series. The evening consisted of the panel of Labour candidates for the North East and North West regions respectively alongside an economist who has worked in the EU parliament since its inception. The audience comprised of local party members, including a few councilors and a parliamentary aid no less.
One of the key aims expressed by most parties in the meeting was to educate the electorate about the European elections; which don’t attract the sort of turnouts you get from general or even local polls. They all pledged to be more active and visible as they agreed that many people in their respective areas do not know who their current MEP is, never mind the individuals hoping to be elected next month.
This was added to by the economist who said we need to tackle the current situation of the right hijacking the EU debate, sighting that the only MEPs popularly known by the general public are UKIP leader Nigel Farage and BNP boss Nick Griffin. He highlighted UKIP and the BNPs poor attendance within parliamentary sessions and the fact that they are effectively halting the UKs progress within europe by not cooperating with other member states; which obviously is a deliberate move to strengthen their eurosceptic agenda. He went on to say that the Conservatives have very little interest in improving our relationship with the EU.
It was also stated that if the UK does leave the EU it would be bad for trade and business, something which this article explains. The North East would loose out big time if this happened along with the extra competition created by the proposed Scottish independence.
After the panel had their say the session was opened up to questions from the audience. A few members debated the finer points of our EU participation; my question towards the end of the debate focused on how we combat the rise of UKIP from my viewpoint of the recent South Shields bi-election where they came 2nd to Labour with 25% of the vote.
The general consensus of the panels replies were we need to broaden the debate outside of the right’s favorite issue of the moment, immigration (which which was campaigned on heavily in South Shields) and concentrate on what is good and not so good about our involvement in the EU how we can negotiate a better deal by working closer with our partners, something that our current government is not doing.
After the meeting ended I gave my cards out (I’m sure people will be getting sick of this now but I’ve just ordered a new batch). Compared to my local CLP meeting a few weeks ago, the Labour members in Jesmond were very forward thinking and I got almost universally positive reactions to the Peoples Assembly and the anti austerity movement in general. The economist who earlier effectively blew apart UKIP’s election strategy also had some game changing opinions on austerity (looking into getting him to speak at the North East Peoples Assembly in September).
I’ve been invited to a couple of Labour pie and pie suppers (the height of South Tyneside society) so I will see if there’s anything to gleam from them in the future.
This article is part of a series on local politics, you can find all of the other editions here