Last Tuesday evening, I had been invited by the BBC to take part in a debate on the EU, at the London School of Economics. It had a rather curious “asymmetric” structure. Sir Stephen Wall proposed the pro-EU motion, but was then faced with a panel of four more-or-less sceptical characters, who could put questions or challenge his points.
On the panel were George Eustice MP, one of the Three Musketeers behind the “Fresh Start” initiative in the Conservative Parliamentary Party; Mark Reckless MP; Dr. Helen Szamuely of the Bruges Group; and myself. Mark, Helen and I are avowedly in the Better Off Out camp. We want an In/Out Referendum, and we want to campaign for OUT. George and his Fresh Start Initiative have repackaged the standard Conservative position that we simply want to renegotiate our EU membership, because we want to retain the “benefits” of the Single Market (though as I have argued elsewhere, these benefits are highly debateable).
The programme will go out on BBC Radio 4 at 8:00 p.m. on August 8th, repeated later in the week. Needless to say, the substance of the debate is embargoed until the programme airs. But I may, perhaps, mention the audience.
In this case the BBC did not invoke the “balance” mechanisms which they use, I understand, for Question Time and Any Questions, to ensure that the audience represents a range of political views. They (or as I rather suspect, the LSE itself) invited an audience of 400 or so which, by accident or design, was overwhelmingly pro-EU. I would describe it as a left-wing, Europhile, Guardianista Rent-a-Mob. The event was introduced by the Head Honcho of the LSE’s European Institute, who is clearly a dyed-in-the-wool, paid-up, card-carrying €uro-luvvie.
They were balanced by a few stalwarts from the sceptic side, including the redoubtable Mick McGough of TFA and UKIP, and Rory Broomfield, the new Associate Director at TFA.
I am accustomed to audiences which hiss and boo when I mention “Ted Heath” or “Brussels”. This audience produced hoots of derisive laughter when I mentioned Margaret Thatcher or America. It was difficult to have a rational debate. But it was a salutary and character-forming experience.
I suspect that most of the audience also believed in man-made global warming. And perhaps the tooth fairy.
After the event, we were kindly entertained to drinks and snacks on the 5th floor. Pita bread, feta cheese, humus, olives a Greek yoghurt salad. A wit suggested that LSE’s Catering Department was on single-handed campaign to save the Greek economy. But I think it’ll take more than a few snacks.