Saturday, 27 June 2009

Can't Understand, Won't Understand

I returned home to Bridlington this week for the first time since before the European elections to the disappointing sight of an opinion piece in my local newspaper recommending people not vote.

Anonymous columnist, Paper Clip, had written ahead of the elections asking people not to vote because they don't know what it is MEPs do, because MEPs probably have outrageous expense claims, and because MEPs don't know much about Bridlington.

Paper Clip is a regular column sounding off on whatever comes to mind, usually a local issue, and features on the Letters page every week.

Now bear in mind this is in East Yorkshire, as in Yorkshire and the Humber, where Andrew Brons of the BNP was elected as an MEP on June 4th, and you’ll realise how disgraceful such advice is.

In the latest issue is a reader’s letter pointing out as much. On the other side of the page was Paper Clip's response, in which they defended their actions by suggesting MEPs do nothing for the town, and said that it wasn't their fault the BNP got elected.

This is bollocks, basically, and completely irresponsible for a member of the local press to advise people not to vote.

So I’ve waded into the argument myself. Here’s the letter I’ve just sent:

Having recently returned to Bridlington for the first time since before the European elections, I was utterly appalled to see Paper Clip recommend to readers that they needn’t bother voting in the elections, for a raft of flimsy and conjectural reasons.

First of all, Paper Clip reveals their sheer laziness:

"Could you name one of our current MEPs? Nor me. Do you actually know what they stand for or what they do? Nor me."

Here's a suggestion. You go on the internet and find out. Even better, as somebody with the privilege of guaranteed column inches you do something to help inform the rest of us. As a member of the local press, you have a responsibility to resolve this problem.

In the second column, last week, Paper Clip says they are not responsible for the BNP getting voted in:

“I'd suggest that is the fault of the main political parties and the people who did put an X next to the BNP. Simple as that.”

This is true, to an extent. The number of votes for the BNP in our region actually fell; it was apathy towards other parties that let them in, as you touched upon. However, there were also parties aside from the mainstream, the Greens, the Socialists, Independents etc. I know in the interests of impartiality you can't tell people to vote a particular way, but if you feel let down by the mainstream parties then why not consider the alternatives?

Nor does blaming those who did vote BNP wash with me. Why didn’t you try to engage in conversation with these people, find out why they felt compelled to vote BNP, rather than telling other people not to vote at all?

All of this comes down to a veil of ignorance. Ignorance of what the BNP stand for, ignorance of the issues at stake and ignorance on behalf of the main parties to address the electorate’s concerns. But this ignorance is fuelled by the media, who don’t offer enough coverage or tackle issues with the vigour and attention they deserve. You are just as much to blame.

Furthermore, in their riposte, Paper Clip reveals what appears to be the true nature of their ire; the ‘fact’ that MEPs have nothing to do with Bridlington:

"MEPs are not going to get the potholes fixed in your street or save our local hospital and I doubt any of them have even been to Bridlington in the past year."

Maybe not, but in case it escaped your attention, there's a harbour a few hundred yards from the Free Press office. Much of what these fishermen do is regulated by the Common Fisheries Policy, and guess where that comes from?

Similarly, drive a few miles in the opposite direction and you'll find yourself amongst farmland in the countryside. Does the Common Agricultural Policy mean anything to you?

Both come from Brussels. MPs and local councillors have little say over what form these policies take, MEPs however, do.

The EU also negotiate in other international treaties and agreements that have repercussions at home and abroad. To denigrate the work of MEPs and effectively tell people not to care about things beyond Bridlington is staggeringly small minded and symptomatic of the attitude which prevents the global community, which we are a part of need I add, from reaching a fair deal for all.

If you genuinely feel that no candidates support your interests, then spoil your ballot and let it be known publicly how you feel, but to refuse to vote because you simply don't know enough about what they stand for is a complete cop out.

And if it's because you’re a Eurosceptic, and want nothing to do with Europe, then you still have to engage with the system. Confront the problem, don't simply ignore it. Even the BNP recognise that.

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