The idea behind the Euro Husting was to get as many candidates as possible, for the forthcoming European elections in May, in front of bikers, and give them the opportunity to present their motorcycling manifesto's, and answer as many motorcycling related questions as possible. Bikers are voters, and wouldn't you want to vote for someone who has motorcyclists interests at heart !!!
Seven Wakefield MAG members met at Redbeck on Saturday 26th April for the ride-in to the planned Euro Husting meeting, at the West Leeds Sports and Social Club in Armley. It was a poor turnout overall with only 35 bikers in attendance at the meeting venue, despite all the publicity beforehand (and it was all the usual MAG members you see at all these events - largely Reps, other local Yorkshire MAG officers, and committed local activists).
The meeting started out with an introduction from each candidate, and their overall stance on how they embrace bikes etc etc.
Despite the low turnout, there was still lively debate with questions from the floor, being posted to all 5 of the MEP candidates for Yorkshire, in the forthcoming EU elections, all being facilitated by Lembit Öpik, MAG's Director of Communications and Public Affairs. Lembit then offered each candidate the opportunity to answer the questions, and put forward their parties stance. Each candidate was given the same time slot, and in a rotating order, so everyone got the opportunity to be the first to answer. The first question asked did waste a bit of time as it was car related, so not really a biker topic / concern, nor an issue for political debate / legislation. However, many other pertinent motorcyclist related questions were posed.
The low turnout does give a bit of a poor impression of MAG, especially as we claim to be a major political lobbying force, so one wonders what the prospective MEP candidates thought (although they all knew the results would be relayed to many more members through the local group & regional network; and to be fair, discussing European politics is hardly the most exciting thing that could happen on a Saturday evening !!!).
Here is the snap summary of each of the candidates comments / performance:
Mentioned that the highly respected MEP and MAG Supporter, Roger Barton (now retired) was a Labour MEP, and his influence was still felt. Lost credibility when he mentioned that motorcycle accident stats are increasing (quite incorrect, they have actually decreased by 17%). However, quickly backtracked to admit they were decreasing, but at a lesser rate than other modes of transport. Also, had no real response to what did he think about the huge decrease in people taking their bike tests, as a direct result of the European 3rd Driving licence directive, that Labour supported and endorsed.
Strong start by mentioning that one of his first political experiences was working with MAG, and how it inspired him to get involved in politics. He also responded to a question about what can we do to get more people on bikes, that the Conservatives would actively promote biking through campaigns and advertising etc. Later however, lost the plot when he claimed lots of people are involved in accidents on bikes over 250cc, yet no one gets killed on 50cc bikes !?!?!?!?
UK Independence Party
Strong start and seemed quite switched on and realistic, especially mentioning that a claimed campaign by the conservatives to encourage people onto bikes was utter rubbish, and that no political party would ever spend money on that (sadly true in all likelihood). However, turned into a major dig at the other candidates and a bit of a rant at the end, so again, lost the plot a bit
A decent chap, with some good answers and ideas, but you couldn't help feeling he was a bit of a one-off, and didn't necessarily reflect the party line on motorcycling, which isn't overly positive. However, he did win cheers from the crowd when in the discussion about independence and devolution, he mentioned that Yorkshire should be independent (and indeed, thought it already was).
We all agreed that the Green Party candidate was a very sensible, pragmatic and realistic political candidate. He openly admitted that motorcycling was not an area of his expertise, and to answer 'off the cuff' comments would be ill-informed, so his strategy would be to work with the subject matter experts, like MAG. A politician who wont bulls**t, is fantastically refreshing !!! He had some very sensible answers and was very in touch with grass roots opinion. Also, from a green perspective, he was well aware that bikes have strong environmental attributes, so, as personal powered transport, were to be encouraged.
Despite most of the candidates not having a good knowledge of motorcycling, Lembit asked all the candidates whether they would be prepared to actively work with MAG to help forge European motocycling legislation, to the benefit, and not the detriment of UK motorcyclists - all were extremely positive that they would , which is very encouraging.
All in all, a very interesting evening. The party candidates fielded were not the first choice, for any of the parties, for the MEP vacancies in Yorkshire. They ranged from 2nd, to 4th placed. The Euro elections are based on the principle of proportional representation, and with 6 MEP vacancies across Yorkshire, parties with lots of votes can actually end up with several candidates, which is where the order comes in, the 1st is obviously automatically elected should their party win enough votes, if they have significant amounts of votes, their 2nd, 3rd candidates etc can also be elected etc. Lower placed candidates, can also take MEP 'slots', if existing MEPs step down mid-term, etc. So, the performance of the party candidate in the Euro Husting meeting, is not necessarily a reliable indicator, as they may not be the candidate who actually represents you, should the party be elected. So, as a reliable indicator of who to vote for, in the forthcoming Euro elections, well, it's probably not best done on the performance and personalities of the lower placed candidates. However, it certainly helped change our perception of certain parties, and their overall motorcycle policies.
I got chatting to the Labour MEP candidate afterwards and asked how best to lobby MEP's on motorcycle issues, given there were 6, and all from different political parties - he advised all of them, as they are all effectively in competition with each other so are eager to please and help. Excellent advice which will come in handy for the future.
Lembit was very entertaining, and showed a strong liking of our fellow Europeans, especially Romanians (Cheeky !!!) - he said he would get that comment in before anyone else did. He also mentioned that he was the MP who ensured the British Pint in Pubs was retained (top man !!!).
A shame that more bikers didn't attend, but 75 branch points to the Seven Wakefield MAG members who gave a strong showing from the branch - especially impressive, as several had also been on the ride-out earlier in the day and hadn't been home yet.