Already hailed as the most exciting event in recent Sutton history since the fire alarm went off in Boots, the quiet town of Royal Sutton Coldfield played host to a fantastic debate on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Organised and chaired by Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton, the proposed motion was ‘Sutton Coldfield Would Leave the European Union‘ — and judging by the Vote Leave presence in and around the building, they might just.
It was a fantastic turnout, which hilariously would’ve been even bigger if it were not for EU regulations, according to Mitchell!
A local political event of this kind would have been of sufficient interest in itself, but the presence of leading and distinguished voices on the debating panels lent a slight sense of celebrity importance.
Nigel Farage, the country’s loudest tub-thumper for leaving the EU, was joined by Gisela Stuart, chair of the Vote Leave campaign. Representing the Remain side was Paddy Ashdown, former Liberal Democrat leader, and Michael Heseltine.
In a spirited gesture of youth inclusion, the motion was proposed by Tim Clark, of the local Arthur Terry school, and opposed by Isabella Copplestone, of Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls (or “Sutton Girls”, to reveal its colloquial name).
Both eloquently acknowledged their youth and the vital importance of the impact of either a Brexit or Bremain on their lives, with clear overviews of selected issues and arguments.
Depressingly, the over-40s massively outnumbered them in the building.
With Andrew Mitchell thanking them for kicking off the debate, the floor was first opened to Nigel Farage, thanks to an EU directive stipulating that anyone who has married a European can go first in a debate.
Nigel nearly knocked the table over in leaping to his feet to begin an energetic decrying of the terrors of the EU.
Sadly, he didn’t whip his passport out like in the recent ITV debate or Question Time, thanks to an EU directive, but hardly pausing for breath, made an impassioned case for the motion.
“I have always regarded myself as pro-Europe”, began Farage.
“But those old men in Brussels have hijacked the word Europe. I want us to vote for Brexit so other countries will follow our lead!”
Awarded huge cheers early on, it started to become obvious what the majority wanted.
Farage continued bemoaning the changes in the EU since the original vote to join it.
“My mum and dad feel pretty angry about that vote in 1975, because they feel they were lied to!”
For a man repeating the same message for 100 years before ‘Brexit’ was even a thing, Nige seemed even more enthusiastic and fired-up. Maybe he was desperate for a ciggie?
The EU has become a big-bad political union that — among a shitlist of other woes according to Garage — has left our own (really, really popular) Parliament unable to make most of its laws. Thinking of the Bedroom Tax, is that a bad thing?
He goes on.
Exerting expert-bashing expertly for Brexit, he pointed out the previous bad form of some anti-Brexit-so-called-professional-economic-know-alls — the Institute of Fiscal Studies, no less — who recommended we join the doomed single currency back in the day.
These, and others, he points out, all failed to spot the 2008 economic crash until it had already happened, so one would think twice before listening to them.
Some may think twice before listening to someone who has never won a majority, but Nigel’s unrelenting, near-barking energy brushes this aside.
A wonderful moment of comedy occurred when mention was made of previous EU-centric debates with Nick Clegg, with an audience member shouting “Who?”, prompting laughter. Here’s hoping Farage’s political career doesn’t have the same trajectory as Nice Nick, even if he admitted he’ll sacrifice his MEP job for the greater good when he said “I’m the turkey who’s voting for Christmas” on Question Time.
Now there’s a thought: what would Nigel Dressage stand to gain from Brexit? Gove and Boris want the PM’s job, the PM wants to… hang on to his job. Is it endearing or suspicious that there isn’t a discernible hidden reason why Farage is pushing for this? For all the down-to-earth bluster, he is, lest we forget, a politician. Now read on.
Next came Paddy Ashdown, almost casual and conversational but no less compelling. Leaning on the lectern like it was a bar, a quick laugh was won by congratulating Farage’s speech and admitting he himself knows it rather well as he’s heard it all before.
Turning to NATO and the Commonwealth, Ashdown claimed that external support for Bremain is huge around thosse parts, before turning to the ominous figure of Vladimir Putin, apparently a focused Europe-dismantler of several years.
“Vote Brexit and it’s not what your friends want you to do, but what Putin wants you to do!”
By this point, a steady under- and over-current of loud chuntering was coming from the audience, albeit with a larger number shushing them.
But mere shushing was not enough as, possibly after conducting an internal referendum, Andrew Mitchell decided to Brexit his chair and remind everybody that:
“We are Sutton Coldfield, and we will respect our speakers.”
At this moment a Question Time-esque semicircular table may have been better for the speakers and a twelve-bore shotgun suitable for those who were, unbelievably, unable to sit and listen in a civilised manner, possibly having mistaken the event for a debate on the European Onion.
On the subject of those troublesome regulations causing our previous speaker so much ire, Ashdown turns it over by celebrating the voluminous exports from Germany as a prime example of success inside the EU.
But are we Germany? How much of a leap is it before we can be readily compared? Perhaps, with fewer speakers and a me-to-you style format and more time, key details like this might be able to be fleshed out.
This is still fascinating stuff, mind.
“The Euro is broken, and the European Union is a creature of the last century.”
Don’t be shy, tell us how you really feel.
Returning to the case for Brexit, Gisela Stuart continued the downward slope from Farage’s frenzy to more measured tones.
David Cameron comes under fire for becoming a Bremaindeer barely five months ago. I’m not sure if a Bremaindeer is protected wildlife under EU regulations, or something else entirely. But still, we move on.
Seizing the still-burning-hot potato of immigration, Cameron’s reforms are dismissed as “Not worth the paper they’re written on”, to loud cheers.
Stuart then forecasts diminishing influence in the event of a UK-Stay (there is an abundance of godawful buzzwords thankfully too crap to reach further circulation): we would be marginalised, she says.
Reassuring Isabella Copplestone’s earlier concern about negative effects on young person’s cross-Europe travel, Stuart advised that in the event of a Great British Fuck Off, this kind of travel would not be hindered. “Try telling that to the young unemployed of Greece and Spain.”
“[The EU] controls our borders, our laws, our taxes and our security.”
A sweeping statement, and demonstrably false, but a heck of a soundbite.
Surprisingly tall and headmasterly in tone, the venerable Lord Heseltine wasted no time in clarifying who our so-called ‘unelected commission’ are: they are, in fact, representatives democratically elected.
Praising Nigel Fromage’s impassioned slagging-off of unelected EU commissioners, light sass emanated when Tarzan said:
“This would be excellent for getting the blood coursing through the veins… if it were true.”
Naming past examples of elected EU commissioners, he then sallied forth with this one:
“Neil Kinnock was selected to go to Brussels by the elected government of YOUR country”.
The remainder of Have-A-Go-Heseltine’s piece gravely warned of Britain having no real say in global affairs and no seat at important councils.
Margaret Thatcher, he reminded us, secured us the great EU rebate, evidence of Britain having its fair share of clout in such things.
“How would she have done that, if all the power was in Brussels?”
Going further, he listed examples of Britain standing up to the EU.
“And to those of you who think nothing can be done about it – well, why aren’t we in the Euro? Because the British government said no!”
Compelling as Heseltine and Farage both undoubtedly were, are their selected good/bad examples of the EU in action (or inaction) symptomatic of it as a whole?
“This idea – that there is nothing you can do – has all the validity of a government spokesperson in this country who puts the whole blame on Whitehall and the civil service. They are the convenient whipping boy.”
Speaking of the blame game, talking about previous Tory governments was something of a minefield: when pointing out that last year 188,000 of the approximate 300,000 migrants to Britain were from outside of the EU, and whose presence thus couldn’t be blamed upon the EU, many angrily retorted with David Cameron’s failures to meet his own migration targets. Whoops!
Finishing on the oft-discussed subject of sovereignty, Heseltine declared that as a concept and practice it is:
“Becoming inadequate to deal with some of the great challenges we face.”
Depressingly, after already throwing a dart at the sacred cow of nationalistic sovereignty, a sentence that begins “We have total control of our borders…” is immediately met with boos and jeers.
“…over those who smuggle drugs,” it finished, and hopefully some of the jumpstarts in the audience shut the hell up.
Another historical example – the IRA – was cited as an example of success through being ‘in’.
Lamenting how our security would be at risk without the co-operative intelligence networks with whom we readily share, um, intelligence, no reference was made to recent terrorist attacks and the ramifications of those on the status of our security.
Even a slight chin-stroking passing comment, given the admirable political-historical knowledge on clear display, would have addressed a serious issue of the whole shebang.
“It’s not just about immigration, it’s about racism”.
Splitting the room like a political Moses, Heseltine pointed to the likes of Donald Trump, Marine le Pen, and, yes, Niggle Faridge himself.
Hilarously, people leapt to his defence.
“He didn’t insult you!” spits a woman with a face like a novelty pencil-sharpener.
Undaunted, Heseltine holds up a copy of today’s Telegraph with a piece from Farage contained within, and contained within that, like a Russian doll, evidence of apparently racist attitudes.
Overall, Michael Heseltine drew upon an impressive range of historical references that slightly outweighed more contemporary ones. Learning from history is essential, but what about detailing the changes in circumstance since these historical examples? Looking at them from the year 2016, to what extent are they still wholly relevant?
With Heseltine returning to his seat, Andrew Mitchell thanks all those interested and flips the bird at those who weren’t. (OK, he didn’t, but perhaps it might have helped youth political apathy). Pointing the crowd to the nearby Royal pub, stragglers later convene and much hand-shaking occurs with the speakers and Mitchell himself.
Not a lot happens in dear old Sutton, but this was undoubtedly one for the history books.