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Out of Europe?

Out of Europe?Once again to St Margaret's of Antioch in Rowsley Road, St Annes, for the now well established and popular 'Shrove Tuesday Debate'

We reported the first of these delightful events back in 2010 when the motion was "This House believes that Marxism is a Spent Force" and where, to our great surprise, the good people of St Annes voted overwhelmingly that it was not.

In the intervening years, we have enjoyed debates about the 'US / UK Special Relationship'; and about 'Private Education Being Socially Divisive' and last year about 'Scotland Having Full Independence'

This year's motion for debate was "This House believes that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Union'

We couldn't miss that, could we?

Although it's not something we bang on about a lot in counterbalance, we are a bit unusual in that we do regard this as the single most fundamental and important issue affecting our country. We see the arguments in terms of longer term national cultural identity, not in terms of short term business or financial advantage.

So we were really looking forward to hearing the debates.

St Margaret's always has a 'proper do' - That is to say the dress code is 'Evening, Formal or Clerical' and mostly people observe that with evening dress.

It's organised (to our great appreciation) by the Rev. Antony Hodgson of St Margaret's who works hard to pull together two teams of able and entertaining speakers to present the case for and against the motion.

In this, he is ably supported by stalwarts from the Church who work the sound system, or serve the champagne and nibbles, and those who run the raffle (which on the night raised over 300 for Trinity Hospice), and so on.

The costs of the event are met by the great generosity of the Lord and Lady of the Manor of Lytham. Mr and Mrs Hilton were able to attend the event with the Town Crier Colin Ballard, who announced all the guests as they entered (told you it was a 'proper do').

Sadly, Mr Hilton had been very ill in recent months and we hope he is soon recovered to his more robust health.

The debate is chaired by the Lord Suffragan Bishop of Lancaster whose avuncular but no-nonsense bearing makes him an ideal Chairman.

He is no stranger to humour himself. After introducing the team proposing withdrawal from the EU, he referred to the pro-European team (who had all taken part in previous Shrove Tuesday debates) as "On my right are the Old Lags!" - which produced much laughter.

This year, the teams assembled for the Europe debate were:

For the motion to withdraw from the European Union:

  • Dr. Steven Reid (Captain): new to the team and straight in as Captain, he is a well regarded GP, golf captain, and author
  • Rev. Paul Benfield: he's a former barrister and is now a member of the General Synod, and a vicar in Fleetwood. We've heard him in these debates before and thoroughly enjoyed his contribution. He can be brilliantly and wickedly acerbic.
  • Rebecca Crowe: is a Curate from Penwortham, having trained in Bristol, she is now under the watchful eye of Rev Hodgson who shepherds a charge of Curates

And speaking against the motion to withdraw were:

  • David Houston (Captain): is Director of Trinity Hospice, he previously spoke with passion in the Scottish debate.
  • Cllr. Richard Redcliffe: is a former headmaster now Fylde Borough Councillor. We've heard him before. He speaks very well and we think would be well able to muster arguments from any perspective.
  • Rev: Nancy Goodrich: is an Oxford graduate and now Vicar in Bolton-le-Sands having spent quite some time with St Thomas' Church in St Annes. Again we've heard her speak in these debates before when she has always made a witty and thought-provoking contribution - even if you don't agree with her.

Each of the three contributors spoke for up to ten minutes, with alternate for and against speakers - to keep the debate balanced.

During the first and last minutes of each speaker, there is what is known and 'protected time' - a small bell is rung to signal this period, and during this time no one may interrupt the speaker's flow. Outside these times it is allowed for the opposing side to interrupt with 'a point of information' (which may be accepted or declined).

No one used this 'sermo interruptus' technique on the night.

After the formal presentations come questions from the floor, to which anyone on the panels may respond, and this is followed by a summing up from the Team Captains which is no more than 5 minutes each, then a public vote using a show of hands.

And so the evening began.

In true and proper conduct, the first thing was the singing of our national anthem 'God Save the Queen' accompanied by trumpet and organ.

This was a point not lost on some in the audience who were grateful not to be 'treated' to the prelude to 'The Ode to Joy', the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. - the anthem adopted by the European Union and the Council of Europe. (And indeed as the national Anthem of Rhodesia from 1974)

This was followed by an amusing introduction from the Town Crier who concluded with a cricketing story, only to say that he had no personal interest in cricket but had frequently been regaled by a friend who was also a Cannon and present in the audience that evening. He then said, of the six speakers, "With cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them and cannon in front of them, the charge of the light brigade is on"

And so it was. The presentations began. First off was  Dr. Steven Reid  for the motion.

He began by saying he was not a politician and hadn't got a political bone in his body. He had no axe to grind and wasn't approaching from any particular angle. He said when he was bullied by Rev. Hodgson into accepting the invitation to speak, he had not been told which side he was on, and having thought about the motion from a neutral point of view he was pleased to find he was speaking for the motion.

He said he saw the country as being at a crossroads. We had all voted to join a European Free Trade Association also known as a 'common market'. That was what we had all signed up for. That was the basis of our joining, trading arrangements.

But he said it is no longer called the Free Trade Association, because it is no longer just about that. It's now the European Union who have their own aims and their own charter. They have common laws, common regulations, common responses to outside events, and we didn't sign up to this.

Using examples such as the classification of cabbages as a fruit (because the Portuguese made jam from them) and the Directive requiring cucumbers to be within a 10mm tolerance of being straight, the plan to sell eggs by weight and so on, he ridiculed a whole series of restrictions and regulations that emanated from Brussels.

He said for promoting itself, the EU spends "an unbelievable 2.5 Billion Euros" adding that "to put it into perspective, Coca-Cola's global spend on marketing was 2.45 Billion Euros and they have a product to sell, the EU just goes on a lot of hot air."

Using a string of facts and figures he showed how wasteful it was of our taxes, and how the Court of Auditors had been told by Herman Van Rompuy to tone down their criticism of the EU accounts. "what breath-taking arrogance" he said, adding "When the Court of Auditors has been expressing concerns about mismanagement and fraud and had refused to approve the EU budget for the last 18 years in succession."

Winding the audience up still further, he noted it was clear that Barbados was "the most important trading partner the EU has. It must be - because 44 diplomats are permanently based there."

He said our membership of the Free Trade Area had changed so much it was no longer in our national interest to remain members, and the Franco-German axis ran the show for their own benefit. He said Switzerland like us had little manufacturing capacity but still did lots of trade with the EU.

Concluding he returned to his opening remarks to say we were at a crossroads and had to decide whether we should be in or out.

Responding to that was the captain from the opposing team  David Houston .

He used cricketing metaphors to show he felt uncomfortable about the scale of the task before him. We thought he suspected he wasn't going to win, and set out for the sympathy vote.

Perhaps predictably, he argued that we were stronger as part of a bigger organisation than on our own (we wanted to take issue with him about the scale, competence and strength of the former British Empire but it didn't seem appropriate). He went on to try to identify what it meant to be British - was it cricket or cider or the village green.

He concluded that our main characteristic was that we loved a good moan, and we especially loved to moan about the EU. "Just look at that bunch of moaners over there" he said, pointing to the opposing team to prove his point.

He said many of the stories we heard about were nothing more than 'Euro-myths', adding that Jim Hacker would never have got to be Prime Minister had it not been for the spat about the re-naming of the great British sausage.

In a globalised world, the EU gave us prosperity, security, some sensible regulations, and the Eurovision Song Contest. He concluded by saying if we did leave the EU we should neither moan about it nor adopt that other great British tradition - that of nostalgia for the past.

Batting next for the motion was  Rev. Paul Benfield : He began "My Lord Bishop, in spite of what we've just heard, I am not generally a 'moaner'. The only thing I moan about is Bishops." This brought a wry smile to the face of the Bishop and much laughter and almost applause from the audience.

We told you he could be humorously acerbic.

He said his background was as a lawyer and he wanted to speak about the EU from a legal perspective, adding that for the purposes of the evening we must ignore the European Court of Human Rights which was independent of the European Union and so nothing connected with the Human Rights Act was relevant to the debate, despite it being "passed into UK law by Parliament under Tony Blair's Government - one of the may bad and unnecessary pieces of legislation passed by that Government".

Ouch!

"But questions about Mr Blair and his Government and how he was probably the worst Prime Minister of the 20th Century are for another day"

Wonderful!

Turning to the more serious aspects he spoke of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which set up the 'Common Market', and noted it required "that where there was conflict between European law and the law of a member state, then European law must prevail. So when in 1973 the UK joined the EEC, we handed over the sovereignty of our Parliament to Europe. We became subject to the law of the EEC, and that was without any referendum of the British people"

He went on to say it was "true that in 1975 we did hold a referendum to decide whether to remain in the EEC, and 67% of us decided that we should. So from that date, our membership had some democratic basis. But since 1975 the EEC has been changed by further treaties. Most notably the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. We had no referendum on that Treaty, yet it made fundamental changes to the common market. Changing it from what we had originally joined - a trading partnership - into a political union - The European Union."

He noted that the Scots were to have a referendum on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom, yet none of us have had a chance to vote on whether we wish to give up yet more UK sovereignty to thing called Europe.

He outlined how secondary legislation made by the European Parliament, The European Commission, and the Council of Ministers. He said the Parliament sounded democratic enough, and we were represented there. "We have eight members there and that sounded all well and good, but those eight members cover the vast constituency of North West England, which covers the whole of Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire. The eight are elected from a List System we are forced to use by European Law, and this favours minority parties. And so it is that Nick Griffin, Leader of the British National Party is one of those eight, elected on just 8% of the vote"

Rhetorically, he asked if we were happy to be represented by such a person, elected by such a system. And whether we were happy that we belong to an institution whose rules make it not only possible, but unduly easy for him to be elected to the Parliament.

This was devastating stuff. We thought it simply destroyed any of the arguments made in favour of staying in.

Turning to the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers he said that the Commission operate on a complicated qualified majority voting procedure, under the Treaty of Nice for the moment and under the Treaty of Lisbon from October this year. (And, of course, he noted we hadn't had a referendum on those treaties).

He noted that originally, when the Common Market was smaller, decision had to be unanimous, but now it has become so much bigger, this wouldn't work and at first sight it seems a good idea to prevent one small country frustrating the will of the others. However he said in some situations it only takes four countries to stop something all the others want, and that brought us back to the EU's obsession with tiny minorities, the same obsession that allowed Nick Griffin to become elected to the Parliament.

He said that using a combinations of Regulations - which restrict what you can do, and Directives which set out things you must do, the European Commission requires its decisions to be incorporated into UK law and we, as a law abiding country do so, but many of the others simply ignore them and carry on as before, because the EU doesn't enforce it.

He went on to say that in terms of structures, instead of creating a pan-national structure, we had allowed the creation of a Federalist structure - The United States of Europe and asked who would wish to be part of such an entity which he said would lead to us taking part in wars which did not serve our national interest, and living under laws which were alien to our way of life.

"I do not want to be a member of a United States of Europe" he said, "and I do not believe that you do either".

So he urged the house to support the motion that the United Kingdom should leave from the European Union.

His speech had been absolutely brilliant. Its tone, content and delivery were superb. First class oratory. Passion without anger.

This of course made it all the harder for  Cllr Richard Redcliffe  to take the next slot. We know him to be an able speaker, but it was a bit like Eric Morecambe turning to Ernie Wise and saying "Get out of that then". Mission Impossible.

He had obviously prepared well and considerably, perhaps trying to cram too much into the allotted time (He over-ran a bit). He began by saying he took part in the Scottish debate the previous year and now argued to stay in the European Union, adding "I like a challenge!"

He said we were already more European than we cared to admit. We had al-fresco eating in St Annes Square. Our High Streets have a veritable cornucopia of European goods; we *did* enter the Eurovision song contest. And now we are joined to Europe by a tunnel, he wanted to know if we could really be considered an island any more.

Supporting David Cameron's position on a European referendum he said at least people would be able to have their say - adding that (- perhaps in a humorous but slightly oblique jab at the Fylde Civic Awareness Group who prompted Fylde Council to hold a local referendum on changing to the Committee system of governance) after all, he said, "local people will have a taste for referendums by then, I think there's one on how Fylde Borough Council should be run."

He went on to give examples of where the UK had influenced EU policy and said that was better than continuing as a small fish in a very big pond. (He too seems to have forgotten about the Pink Bits on the global map). He genuinely believed we were better off in the EU, by associating together and meeting collective needs along with the other 27 countries working in a global economy.

Using his background in education he gave examples of families of schools that perform better than single ones by sharing experience and knowledge.

This was, in essence, a globalist presentation arguing that a body the size of the EU was necessary to compete in such an environment. He accepted that we were net contributors to the European economy, but that was a small price to pay. If we came out jobs would be lost, exports would be subject to tariffs, and we would lose out. Membership was fundamental to our interests. We should stay in Europe.

Next was  Rebecca Crowe . We've not heard her before and waited for her presentation with anticipation. She began by saying that "the EU thought its member States had a strong sense of their European identity, is that what we want?"

She had obviously thought about the matter and came from what seemed at first (to us at least) to be a strange angle, but as she progressed, we warmed to her descriptions and by the end were won over by them.

She said the UK was actually not in the EU, it was "in a 'halfway house' and the traditional use of a Halfway House was as a refuge for mental patients, convicts, or recovering drug abusers or alcoholics. It was said to be a transitional environment between confinement and a return to society. (You can see what we thought it was a strange analogy).

She said this was relevant because if we think back to why and how were in the EU - (or as it was originally, the EEC) - it was formed in the aftermath of WW2 with the idea that countries that traded together and became economically interdependent, and more likely to avoid conflict with each other.

Perhaps you could say this idea had worked - Europe had not been at war with itself - or not in the sense of WW2 anyway. But the problem lay in the treaties that have reshaped the EEC to the EU. And the problem, she said, was the halfway house where people temporarily resided trying to overcome an issue.

She went on to illustrate examples of issues that divided the constituent countries, such as defining what a 'European' sausage was when differing countries had their own versions of it.

She argued that leaving the EU - or the halfway-house as he called it - would allow us to continue to trade whilst maintaining our own identity. She didn't like the EU Flag being "plastered all over our driving licenses and passports" seeking to destroy our national identity, just as the EU anthem was in its route to make us all citizens of the 'United States of Europe.'

In a parallel with the other United States (of America) she said it might prove a model for how Europe could develop, adding "after all, everyone in the USA is fat, lazy, obese, literally restricted, goes on vacation to Florida, is obsessed with celebrity, addicted to plastic surgery, racist, uneducated, destroys the planet, materialistic, geographically ignorant, and sticks their nose in where it doesn't belong"

Phew!

But unabashed, she continued the invective...

"In parallel in Europe, we have our Austrian lederhosen wearers, waffle eating Belgians, Bulgarian beasts, quarrelsome Croatians, bullfighting Spaniards, the rude and onion wearing French, fish eating Norwegians, tall blonde slim Swedes, stoic and cycling Dutch, humourless Germans, chatterbox Italians, Polish vodka drinkers, radioactive Ukrainians, vampire Romanians, goulash eating Hungarians, and superstitious Serbians. Do we want to be classified as drunken humourless, stoic, radioactive, chatterbox, lederhosen wearers - No, I think not"

By now we were feeling a bit uncomfortable and wriggling in the seat (as, we suspect, were many others). But of course that's just what she was doing, she didn't *actually believe* what she had just said, but cunningly she had tapped directly into subconscious stereotypes with their associated fears and concerns that rarely surface in our civilised conversations.

This was, we reflected, a brilliant example of how advertising (intentionally) messes with our minds - though usually for a different reason.

We wondered if she came from a background in expertise in subliminal marketing.

Before we could gather our thoughts, she continued, saying we had to "decide our identity. Are we European or British? Do we want to dispense with our rich heritage, the unique identity of our Monarchy, our cultural and historical identity?"

"We're an island. There may be a long tunnel that joins us, but that only joins us to a land that we're not physically connected to. We've already said 'No' to the Euro. We need to decide if we're in, or out.

The halfway house that we're trying to operate at the moment, is confusing."


This was a 'lightbulb moment' for us. What she was saying was that we're not really in Europe anyway.

For lots of reasons, not least because we did not join the Euro, we are only halfway in, and, as she said, we need to decide if we're in, or out.

We saw, and appreciated, the halfway-house argument with clarity. It had been well made and executed superbly.

Finally, it was the turn of  Rev: Nancy Goodrich  to speak against the motion urging withdrawal.

We're very fond of listening to this lady. She is a very able and accomplished speaker, who can no doubt match her style to her audience - and in this environment, (compounded, we think, by the fact that she knew she was on 'Mission Impossible') she came across as something a bit softer than usual, seemingly hoping to draw you in, and that you will support her.

She began by shooting a glance at the Bishop and said, with exaggerated emphasis "As an Old Lag..... in these debates in previous years I have always tried to be light-hearted and entertaining" before going on to criticise the use of stereotypes and inviting you to agree with her that "in this day and age, stereotypes have broken down"

But in a feat of mental ju-jitsu, she then introduced the concept of differences between a European Heaven and a European Hell.

She said "In a European Heaven, the French are the cooks, the Germans are the mechanics, The Italians are the lovers (though with Berlusconi maybe I'm not so sure), the English are the police, and the Swiss organise it all. Yes! European Heaven. So in a European Hell, the English are the cooks, the French are the mechanics, the Germans are the police, the Swiss are the lovers, and of course, the Italians organise it all."

She said despite some reasons to leave, there were two very good reasons to stay, and the two reasons were money, and power.

We needed the power of being inside the EU to be able to influence it and make a difference. Trade brings prosperity and peace, and one of the founding principles was exactly that, and it coincided with unprecedented levels of prosperity in Germany, France and the UK. And peace.

She said "Free trade brings prosperity, but free trade is not always fair trade. European protectionism has cost farmers in the developing world dearly, and being in the EU Britain has the power to make a difference, and has been at the forefront of encouraging the EU to think about fair trade. We are in Fair Trade Fortnight, and because we are speaking about bananas tonight, please, buy Fair-trade Bananas"

This has us completely flummoxed (northern for 'bewildered'). Here she was, advocating membership of an organisation whose stated and founding purpose was dedicated to protecting and preserving trading and commercial advantages within its boundaries, only to call for a reversal of this policy in order to give commercial advantage to those outside the club.

We thought that using a coat of commerce but having a petticoat of morals showing beneath it didn't sit too well when your aim was to advance the cause for European unity and power through internal exclusivity of trade benefits.

So far as the money was concerned, she said her previous life as an accountant had showed her that importing and exporting within the EU was a doddle, but outside, it was a disaster as all the different countries had their own regulations and requirements. She said if we leave the EU it would put up costs, put up prices and reduce competitiveness.

She said the EU mattered to trade, and it would be madness to withdraw from the EU, adding that we have world class research facilities and cutting edge work, and if we don't maximise it somebody else will. Withdrawal would harm our global competitiveness. The People of China want our lunch, and the people of India want our supper, and they will work to get it.

She concluded by asking the Audience to do two things, first to vote against the motion and, secondly, to buy fair-trade bananas.

We don't think she saw the dichotomy between these two proposals at all.

So the formal debate was ended and three or four questions came from the floor and were disposed of by the speakers.

Then it was time for the vote.

In the event it was

Votes FOR withdrawing from the European Union: 74

Votes AGAINST withdrawing from the European Union: 35

There might have been a couple of abstentions, we didn't see exactly

Two to one for withdrawal.

Even those arguing to stay in knew they were not going to win.

The quandary for someone like our Prime Minister is how he can stay in Europe when twice as many people disagree with him as support him.

Another 'Mission Impossible'.

But locally, we have to say it was a brilliant evening.

The speaker we enjoyed the most was the acerbic Rev. Paul Benfield, but the speaker who made us think the most, who most made us see things from her perspective, and whose words stayed with us the longest, was Rebecca Crowe.

We think that's a lady who will go far.

Dated:   14 March 2014


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