Poetry and rodents feature in Banbury EU hustings

European election candidates attended a Banbury town hall hustings
European election candidates attended a Banbury town hall hustings

Like it or not the European elections are happening and like them or not, nine candidates vying for the South East seats visited Banbury last night to put forward their respective positions.

The hustings, held at the town hall, became a microcosm of the Brexit debacle with candidates going against party lines, a Conservative representative who voted to remain now campaigning to leave, outrageous contradictions, little in the way of policy and an independent candidate reciting poetry.

The non-partisan event had been organised by the Banbury for Europe group with all parties contesting the May 23 elections being invited.

Nine candidates, representing every party except the Brexit Party, were given five minutes to outline their European position before the floor was handed over to the well attended audience for a Q & A session.

Despite opposing views on Brexit and the manner with which the UK should leave the EU, there was quite a lot of common ground with climate change being universally recognised as a serious and imminent threat.

The candidates in attendance were, Heather Allen, Change UK, Juliette Ash, Conservative and Unionist Party, Larry Sanders, Green Party, Duncan Enright, Labour, Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Liberal Democrats, Mike Foster, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, Pacelli Ndikumana, UK European Union Party, Daryll Pitcher, UKIP and Jason McMahon, Independent.

The five minute pitches were pretty much as expected with Brexit dominating every pitch apart from Larry Sanders for the Green Party. UKIP were leave at any cost, Conservatives reiterated the need to leave and respect the referendum, the Labour candidate Duncan Enright wanted a confirmatory public vote/second referendum with stay as an an option, Liberal Democrats are firmly remain as were Change UK and the newly formed UK European Union Party.

The one stand out was Jason McMahon, Independent who ended his short pitch with a self penned poem.

Divisions became apparent during the Q & A session. In total, nine questions were put to the candidates ranging from 'do you support a second referendum' to 'do you think the UK will break up after we leave the EU?

Candidates were limited to one minute responses but consistently ran way over time and even further off topic. Juliette Ash, Conservative, managed to weave a tail of rodent salvation in Wales, due to an EU environmental protection grant, and conflate it with the closure of youth centres which, by all accounts, have been made due to years of Conservative government austerity.

On the question of a possible UK break up UKIP candidate Daryll Pitcher, claimed it unlikely due to the complexity and financial relationships between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland despite claiming that a UK withdrawal from the EU could be done by tomorrow afternoon.

The majority of questions were slanted with a remain premise but the final question came from a leave advocate who asked how can the UK and its infrastructure cope if the 580 million people living in the EU arrived on our shores.

Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Liberal Democrats, stated that it was theoretically possible for everyone in Newcastle to move to Banbury next week but net migratory levels tend to even out, a trend supported by most of the other parties. UKIP, however claimed that a third of all Latvians born since the mid 1990s now live in the UK.

Matt Hodgson, chair of Banbury for Europe, said, "We are extremely grateful to all the candidates who came along to contribute to the evening and to those who couldn't and sent their apologies.

"We hope that the hustings provided people with the extra insight they need in order to make an informed decision in the EU elections. And the winner of the evening? Democracy."