BBC Sunday Politics Euro-debate
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th April, 2014
Yesterday afternoon BBC1 hosted a debate between lead candidates in the European elections: Syed Kamall MEP (Conservative), Richard Howitt MEP (Labour), Sarah Ludford MEP (LibDem) and Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP). It was rather odd of UKIP not to field an MEP, but given some of the extraordinary things some of them have come out with, perhaps wise. Andrew Neil moderated the debate with commendable fairness, asking equally penetrating and sometimes uncomfortable questions of each of the four. The tone was at times abrasive, with two or even three speakers shouting over each other, which may not have impressed some TV viewers who are less used to political rough and tumble. Syed Kamall had the difficult task of trying to put forward a coherent Tory policy on Britain’s membership, finally declaring that in any future IN/OUT referendum, he would vote to stay in, providing David Cameron had negotiated sufficient concessions from Brussels, though he couldn’t specify what those concessions might be. Richard Howitt was mild-mannered and in fact very close to the LibDem line on several things, only more sotto voce. Sarah Ludford had the advantage of arguing from a clear, united party position and got in some good points about the benefits of UK membership of the EU and of labour mobility. Patrick O’Flynn not surprisingly found himself being attacked by all the others, but having played the role of UKIP spin-doctor for some time he was no particularly fazed by that and one fears that some of his populist rhetoric will have struck a chord among viewers who are only too happy to view the EU as some giant foreign conspiracy. The Greens will be furious at having been excluded from the debate, and indeed from the opinion polls would appear to be on course to lose both their current MEPs. But opinion polls can be deceptive and I wonder really if any of the four speakers in yesterday’s debate actually converted anyone to their cause. More likely, they will have reinforced people’s exisiting positions.