I was ecstatically pleased when Nick Clegg, our Deputy Prime Minister, challenged Nigel Farage to a debate about our EU membership. I was even more ecstatic (if that was even possible) when the gauntlet was taken up by the UKIP leader.
I thought that this may be the first time since the 1975 common market referendum that the issue of EU membership would be seriously debated in front of a mass-audience. I thought it would be the first time, in mine and many others lifetimes, that we would see two polarised opinions being broadcasted by two party leaders on the issue of the EU. I thought, naively, that the true facts would come out about both the positives and negatives of our membership of the European Union. But instead of these two men laying out their plans for the future in line with their respective arguments, we heard the same rhetoric we have had in the past.
In summary, Nigel Farage said the EU was an undemocratic and dangerous, centralised institution that allows an unlimited number of migrants to cross borders. I’ve heard people call anybody who has raised a concern about immigration as a racist or xenophobic. However, most people’s, including Nigel Farage’s, concerns about immigration relate to overpopulation of a country and the pressure put on low earners.
The EU was defended by Nick Clegg’s repetitive rhetoric of needing to work together and around three million people would lose their jobs should we leave it. This could’ve been predicted to be the arguments leading up to the debate as we’ve heard them all before.
However, I wrongly thought that instead of just hearing, “we have a complete open borders policy”, I had hoped Farage would give some estimated facts as to what would happen on hospitals, on waiting times in GPs practices, on school places should we pull out. I thought we may have had a counter to the ‘three million jobs’ argument made by Clegg; possibly an estimate of how many jobs would be created by setting up our own trade deals with the rest of the world.
So Farage failed on detail but his rhetoric was excellent. Nick Clegg, however, was just plainly out of his depth. Some of the stuff he came out with was cringeworthy, hypocritical and antonymous with the interests and views of a lot of people listening to those debates. Vince Cable, a fellow Liberal Democrat and UK Business Secretary, described Nick Clegg as having “a lot of bottle”. Well, that bottle must have been near empty of liquid because he was outwitted and outperformed by a novice at the top of Politics.
So, where do I begin regarding Nick Clegg? At the beginning I suppose, because that was where he made his first mistake. Unbelievably his first sentence was, “this debate is about you … and it’s really simple because it’s about your job”. I’m sorry Nick, but the debate was about the EU and although jobs are, of course, a part of the argument, you are wrong to claim that the whole EU debate is based on jobs when there are vital issues like immigration, democracy, control, principles, trade and law involved.
His opening argument was effectively asking those whose jobs, he claimed, would be lost if we left the EU to vote to stay in. If this transpired to be the case, he would lose the referendum by 3 million to 57 million. Hardly a well thought out idea. At one point, Nick Clegg said that he didn’t want to sacrifice one single job by leaving the EU. Well, I am of different thinking altogether. I don’t think that we should sacrifice one bit of our democratic power for any number of jobs. Because if you thought like Nick Clegg, that jobs are the be-all and end-all over democracy, then you would believe in a Communist, totalitarian government; a government that rules with tyranny but everyone is working. I do not believe in that and I believe principles of democracy should override short-term appeasement over jobs.
But who’s to say that we will even have fewer jobs if we leave the EU? I believe we’d actually have more. The gentleman who originally raised the figure of three million jobs, says they were linked with the EU membership and NOT dependant upon it so we would likely keep these three million jobs by continuing to trade with Europe with our own free trade agreements just like Switzerland successfully do. Not only that, Farage raised the point that we would be able to open up free trade agreements with the rest of the world, something we are restricted in doing as EU members. This would create more jobs as a result of increased trade with a vast number of countries as well as our ready-made global partners: the Commonwealth.
Clegg relied heavily on the opinions of big British businesses who have allegedly said that, “investment and jobs would be lost in Britain if we left the EU”. We have heard the same thing before, as Farage pointed out, when it was being argued that Britain should join the Eurozone. All I can say is that I’m grateful that we didn’t listen to big business on that occasion, because not only were they bluffing about pulling out investment, they were also horribly wrong about the Euro. To be clear, big business does not act in Britons’ best interests. In making the arguments that they do, they are scaremongering the British public into staying in an institution which grants these same big companies the benefits of being within a huge trading bloc, setting up in countries with the best infrastructure and then employing cheap, sometimes foreign, labour which has led to the decrease in real-terms wages by 14% since 2007. Big business has little care for our democratic rights.
Coupled with the global recession, an increase in the number of workers in the UK whom are willing to work for a lot less than Britons, as their earnings back home were up to nine times lower, meant that there was a deep undercutting of the British labour market. And it’s not the migrants who come to work and improve their lives you should be blaming. It is the mechanism, which we have no control over, that allowed mass movement of people from significantly poorer economies that is to blame here.
Free movement of people within the EU cannot work, either, when you argue that it is a liberal thing to do. In fact it is extremely protectionist and discriminatory against the rest of the world. I’m sure if we had less of an immigration wave from mainland Europe, we would be able to permit a higher number and calibre of people from the likes of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia.
To further criticise Clegg, he played the debate as a stereotypical modern politician would. Farage questioned, “if we’re members of the EU we have the complete free flow of people. Are you denying that?” To which Clegg replied, “Yes, it is not the case that anyone can move to this country and simply claim benefits.” You have to admire how he answers a question that nobody else had heard being asked. Inspiring stuff.
His hypocrisy was equally staggering. His claim that 7% of UK laws are made in Brussels in the first debate was changed to 7% of primary laws in the second debate. He had the audacity to point out that, “so many of the facts have been distorted for so long”.
He called out Farage for scaremongering and just a minute previous to that, he had claimed that the NHS would “collapse overnight” were we to leave. I mean the second debate was just staggering (that word keeps cropping up about Nick Clegg). He infuriated me numerous times by saying, ” we need to have a level-headed debate” – you’re in one so get on with it! And when our infrastructure was questioned, Clegg talked about tightening up on benefits. Again, that amazing ability of answering a different question raises its head.
He patronised the audience by introducing, “something called the Lisbon Treaty” as if no one had ever heard of it.
His analogies were baffling. This was a personal favourite when referring to a Britain outside the EU: “Billy ‘no mates’ Britain, Billy ‘no jobs’ Britain, Billy ‘no influence’ Britain.” The attempted humour with the Scotland to Orpington analogy was also bizarre as well as his attack on Farage by saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Nigel Farage soon tells us that the moon landing was a fake, Barack Obama isn’t American, that Elvis isn’t dead.” To be honest, in those exchanges he reminded me of a silly school boy (or girl) that you would have the displeasure of debating something serious in a Religious Education class.
He reminded me of this clip actually:
At times, Clegg hinted that he wanted reforms to the EU, yet he was also trying to defend it at the same time. He was in a difficult position, I grant him. So when the question, “what will the EU look like in ten years time?” came up, he said “I suspect it will be quite similar to what it is now”. His answer was met by this response from Camilla Cavendish on Question Time, “I thought (about Clegg) if you don’t understand the urgency of this question, if you don’t understand what people are worried about, it doesn’t mean they all want to walk away and it doesn’t mean they all think Farage has the answers … you’ll find that Nigel Farage wins every single time”. I agree with her completely.
Cavendish also said about Farage: “Farage puts his finger on something that a lot of politicians seem unwilling to really talk about which is that we have an over-centralised, bureaucratic, undemocratic EU which has actually, because of the Euro, made millions of people in Spain and Greece incredibly poor. It has not taken responsibility for that and it’s not taking any action.”
Having said all of that, I did agree with Nick Clegg on one thing: that we should have a referendum when our relationship with the EU changes. That moment came in 2008 with the signing of the Lisbon Treaty. That moment comes after every single law is made in Brussels which then passes over our heads into our laws without any debate within our own parliament. Clegg claims he feels strongly about that and he campaigned for a referendum in 2008. Well I say this to you Nick: We didn’t have our referendum in 2008 when the relationship changed, when we signed to give up more powers and since 2010 you have been in government. Why have we not had our referendum?
The issue with Clegg’s guarantee in law of a referendum is that he defines transfers of powers as “a treaty change”. Yet he agreed with Farage when he pointed out that the EU has gained more power on the Eurozone countries through non-treaty changes.
I also think the chairmen didn’t perform well either, especially Nick Ferrari in the first debate. One example was where he asked an email question which was, “what prospects will there be for young people if we pull out of EU?” He then added a comment in opposition to Farage saying, “what about if they want a job in Spain?” What are you talking about!? Spanish youth unemployment was a staggering 56.1% as recently as August 2013 so how the hell do you think any meaningful number of British youngsters would get a job in Spain. It was a ridiculous comment to make. It’s a shame that Farage didn’t reprimand him for that.
Too much time was spent discussing the credibility of the debaters as individuals, pamphlets, Putin and gay marriage and that is down to Ferrari and Dimbleby. Their job was to keep the topics relevant to the European Union and they failed.
It makes me think that if this subject were to be debated again, it should be done so by independent, well-orated experts who can argue the true facts for both sides of the argument without bias or a public history. Too much time was spent attacking Nigel Farage over his comments about Putin and the voting record of his party in the European Council, that there is a danger of one man’s record bringing down a very credible and worthwhile argument.
The high levels of rhetoric, lack of clarity in the detail and all the aforementioned points is why, I think, that these EU debates were nothing more than a sham. A sham, however, that has raised the profile of a very important issue.