Tuesday, 20 May 2014

My final post on the European elections 2014, some thoughts on the answers

In the last of my European Election 2014 series, I want to summarise some of the questions and answers I receieved from the prospective MEPs. For those of you that read the intro blog and the posts about the Green party, UKIP, Tory, Lib Dem and Labour will know they drag on a bit, so I think here I want to pick up on some of the responses answers that caught my eye for being good or bad. Obviously I'm not including the Lib Dems as they didn't reply to my email unlike all of the other parties contacted and by most commentators have little to no chance in this neck of the woods and would be lucky to retain a single MEP across the UK on thursday. In case you haven't already read the reasons my party Mebyon Kernow- The Party for Cornwall is not standing are threefold. One Cornwall doesn't have it's own constituency, we have been slowly merged and centralised with the wider south west. Two this means Cornwall is about 10% of this 'region', despite a great result in Cornwall in 2009 for Mebyon Kernow, the rest of the constituency wasn't so good and ended up with about 1% of the vote over all. You can't simply campaign in Cornwall and expect to make headway in this large region. Thirdly unlike Plaid Cymru in Wales and the SNP in Scotland we wouldn't qualify for television broadcasts and fair treatment by the BBC, unless of course we stood across England. It's a shame to sit this one out but the futility is obvious to us.

 In my opinion my first and second questions were the most important. (What do you want to achieve as an MEP? and as a party?). It's all well and good going into politics with lofty ideals and leaflets full of rhetoric but that helps little when elected. Sure these things can guide you but without a clear plan and knowing the restrictions of your office it is pointless. Many politicians enter office with clear ideas of what they want to do at election time and end up floundering as they did not consider how they could be implemented. The answers to these questions were pretty standard and I think most lacked substance and a plan. UKIP predictably went with leave the EU, something which they've yet to with their MEPs, Labour with jobs and growth, Conservatives with advance and protect interests of the UK. Which is all pretty bland but I suppose to be expected. I'd imagine if any of them do get elected they'll probably try and do those things.

I was most impressed with the Molly Scott Cato's (Green Party) answer: "1. If elected as an MEP what would you most like to achieve in the next parliament? I am an economist and expert on finance so my main focus would be getting a grip on the banks where the green group have already made considerable progress example introducing a Bankers Bonuses. I would also seek to create jobs in the South West through more local food and energy production.

 2. What is your party's goal in this term of the parliament? So many goals as you will see on the website and in the manifesto if you catch that on the website once it's there. The priority is probably the Green New Deal to make the transition to more sustainable economy with many more jobs, that's stopping the TTIP secret trade deal and getting a global agreement on climate change in Paris next year. You also have various aims to do with making Europe more efficient and accountable and stopping corporate lobbying."

It was the longest answer and went some way to explaining something specific that could be changed. The third and fourth questions also can be grouped together certainly the candidates didn't seem to differentiate a great deal between them. They were roughly: Is the EU a force for good for Cornwall? Could the EU be doing more for Cornwall?. All of the answers concentrated on structural funding (i.e. Convergence) unsurprisingly. No real mention of how being part of the world's biggest free market helps Cornish exports and imports how lack of import and export taxes drives growth. Except for UKIP, Convergence is seen as a good thing by the respondents.

Tony McIntyre's (UKIP) answers again: 3. Is the European Union a force for good in Cornwall at the moment? Why or why not? When you have a club that charges you a large sum of money to be a member and then allows you to have some of it back to spend on projects that it dictates to you, as long as you match fund the projects, as has happened with a number of projects in Cornwall, how can that be the best use of your resources?

 4. Could the EU be doing more for Cornwall? Our own government should be doing more for Cornwall, rather than encouraging more developers to build more wind turbines with hefty subsidies.

What is good apparently nothing. Pros and cons of the EU aside this is a wildly jaundiced view. I think the answer to the second question is actually no, don't expect UKIP to be lobbying for Cornwall at the European parliament any time soon.

 Question 5: "If there is a referendum on the UK's place in the EU, would you campaign for or against UK membership?" I thought this would be an interesting one to throw into the mix. UKIP against membership, Labour for, the Conservative answer is a bit muddled and talks of a referendum and a new mandate but doesn't answer the question, Greens for but want a referendum to let the people decide. Question 6 is about Cornwall having a greater say in the EU, this is one of those 'open goal' type questions no one will respond with no you stupid pasty munchers (not out loud anyway).

Nevertheless the Tory Julie Girling avoids the question but does talk of Convergence being continued to be administered by the LEP, if that counts? UKIP answer with the UK has no say therefore Cornwall doesn't. I have two favourite answers here, Jude Robinson's first, pretty much because she obviously got carried away and wrote Vote Labour at the end, in my mind she probably punched the air at the same time, anyway made me chuckle. Also she has a great point about representatives not turning up: 6. Should Cornwall have a greater say in the EU, how might this be achieved?

 We elect MEPs, I think people forget that. Perhaps it is because some of our current MEPs do not work hard enough to be accountable, to build links with Cornwall and to feed back? A Labour MEP, if elected, would be active here and be clearly accountable. It is such a waste of time electing Ukip MEPs, who don't want to work in Europe for us and have poor attendance records. Vote Labour.

 The answer of Molly from the Greens, which for obvious reasons the devolution/ subsidiarity principle I adore, not to mention the Cornish Assembly: We believe that society should be taken seriously so that power is exercised at the lowest appropriate level. In the case of Cornwall this means an assembly and powers should be devolved from the EU not just the Westminster but to the regions as well.

Question 7 is a subject close to my heart it concerns the Common Fisheries Policy. As a child I remember the Canadian and Cornish fishermen pulling together in opposition to the Spanish fleet and the government looking on bemused. The Cornish vessel Newlyn being seized by the Spanish. Of course those car stickers that were everywhere with the Cornish and Canadian flags side by side, what was the slogan Cornish and Canadian fishermen standing together? sadly don't see them any more.... Nostalgia aside the issue of the CFP, quotas, undersized catches and discards is a huge one. It always has irked me that fisheries ministers travel to the EU arrange quotas then come down to Newlyn afterwards when they should come before. Not to mention Nigel Farage who is on the Fisheries Committee but rarely turns up. I think as an MEP an issue to really get hold of.

 The question was: 7. Do you think Cornish fishermen get a good deal from the Common Fisheries Policy? What aspects of the CFP would you defend and which would you change? Conservative MEP Julie Girling's answer was this:

  Regarding agriculture and fishing, these are two portfolios I have worked on in detail over the last five years and I have worked hard to ensure all areas of the South West benefit from the reformed Agricultural and Fisheries Policies. 

Molly Scott Cato answered: I met the Cornish Fisherman in Newlyn year ago and they were not particularly negative about the new CFP. If the fish disappear then the fishermen also disappear so conservation is in everybody's interest. Greens have long argued that local fisheries should be governed by the people who fish them and live nearby. The discard ban is a good thing that we need to learn to eat more variety of fish. 

Tony McIntyre: The Cornish fishermen get a lousy deal from the the CFP. The CFP is specifically set up to benefit the larger fishing fleets of other European countries. 

I think there's perhaps some truth in all of these answers. For me the right answer is that the Cornish fishing industry needs to be better listened to. These people live and breath the ocean they know more of the industry than any of us. So I was heartened to see Molly had spoken to people in the industry and I sincerely hope this wasn't one of those usual politicians tricks of turning up getting some photos taken and never bothering again. I appreciate the UKIP answer and it does have some resonance but I think the nature of the Cornish fleet is in parts large. There are indeed still inshore fishing boats, catching small amounts on short trips. But there are also offshore fishing boats from ports especially Newlyn. I think twenty, thirty years ago when large Spanish (and indeed Russian) factory ships were harvesting large catches in Cornish waters, that argument had more resonance. We have to bear in mind that Newlyn is the third grossing port in the UK and is far from a cottage industry. I think the real issues are things like discards, catch limits and quotas and the often disconnect between how the fishermen view stocks and how the scientists do, and who is listened to in the corridors of power.

 The Common Agricultural Policy was the 8th question, this was a big one for me. 40% of the European Union budget in 2013 went on the CAP. If a prospective MEP has a poor grasp on this then it really doesn't bode well for their understanding of economics of the EU and the farming sector. The CAP is controversial in itself, there are various subsidies for various things and although the over all principle of subsidising food production is a good one and supporting that vital industry. There are tales of landowners with vast estates, that don't even really produce food, flitting between one subsidy and another and claiming hundreds of thousands of Euros. There are other debates about whether upland grazing subsidies are very beneficial to wildlife and the effect of losing wild moorland causes flooding problems down stream. So it's a huge budget, there are controversies and a good knowledge is essential. I was therefore a bit dissappointed that there was a lot of talking around my question: 8. Do you think Cornish farmers get a good deal from the Common Agricultural Policy? What aspects of the CAP would you defend and which would you change? The Tory answer is already quoted above, there are reforms, presumably reform is inherently good as why is not explained. UKIP offer that:

  Cornish farmers do not get a good deal from the CAP. UKIP has stated that it would retain the subsidies that farmers receive if we were to leave the EU, it business terminology, it makes sense to cut out the middle man (Brussels). 

There are three fundamental problems with this answer, the election (despite the Lib Dem v UKIP toing and froing) is not a referendum on EU membership it is about representation in the European Parliament. 2 what aspects would you defend or change? completely ignored. 3 To a bit harsh UKIP will never be in a position to decide what would happen if the UK left the EU as they'll never form a government in Westminster. The Green answer I admire focuses on how the CAP needs to benefit smaller farmers not huge landowners. Labour's Jude Robinson probably presents the best knowledge of the CAP and has a detailed answer which touches on some of the issues of efficiency and transparency in spending (see my earlier post).

 Question 9 (nearly at the end dear readers), has EU money Convergence, Objective 1 been a success how should funding change. Sorry I'm dragging on a bit here but in short my view: big projects Eden Project, Heartlands look great are great have they helped? should EU money have subsided govt spending A30, university, should they have just done this anyway freeing up EU money for other things? Cornwall is least economically productive part of UK despite that funding, surely a sign things need to change? The quicker answer to talk about is the Tory one "positive impact on local communities".

UKIP offer this: "If Cornwall county council had the funds to develop Cornwall, it would be better than officials in Brussels making the decisions for them. Local people know what is best for them and they also have a better idea of what will work."

I don't know even where to start with that, perhaps Tony has never heard of the RDA or the Cornwall Development Company, thinks there based in Brussels or didn't understand the question. Labour's Jude offers effects yet to be felt fully, university is good so are innovation centers. Green offers better local needs more recently environmental stuff better. I'm not entirely convinced by any of the answers but I'm from a different political party than all of them so maybe I never will.

 Last but very much not least question 10: The Cornish have recently been recognised as a national minority. Is this a good thing? How does this apply to an MEP? Both Tory and UKIP have similar answers didn't see how it effected the role of an MEP.
Molly gave a really good answer:

Again I think we should move towards an EU where regions within nation-states are better represented. It is cheap for politicians to recognise ethnic identities but as Greens we would give real power to the people who live in Cornwall regardless of their ethnic origin.

 But far and above in my opinion was Jude Robinson's answer, I was going to give my view the topic as I've done with others but as a short and accurate description, I don't have any disagreement with this 10/10:

Yes, it's a good thing and I signed up to the minority report. It is a European status and any MEP in the South West must have regard to it and to proper consultation and acknowledgement of the status when discussing and deciding on policies that affect Cornwall. 

I don't know if these questions above should influence how you vote. I know voting comes down to a number of factors for a lot of people, which party they are loyal to, which party they'd never vote for. Also the huge factor of whether they like or indeed dislike the candidate. I saw research earlier that said only 11% of people could name one of their MEPs, certainly other than Jude Robinson I wouldn't recognise any of the above or other Euro candidates in the street. Presumably people don;t vote on an MEPs personality? A fundamental problem with the European parliament and democracy is that, people don't know who their MEPs are. People also don't know what the EP does and doesn't do. I lot of the issues I talk about above are barely mentioned by the media, political parties or political commentators. The disconnect with the EU is not hard to fathom, there never has been a connection to become uncoupled, this has created a vacuum that has allowed the far right to do well in Euro elections. It's important that people vote on thursday, it's always important to vote, there is a tendency to generally abstain from voting but especially with the European election. I hope people read my 10 questions and their various answers and even if they would have posed different questions, come to realise that these issues are important. That some of the respondents have a very poor knowledge of key areas of the EU. I hope people have a better knowledge of who they might vote for or who by the end of this week could be their MEP. Vote wisely on thursday.

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