The student run Policy, Politics and Economics (PPE) pre-election debate with Steven Brookes, UKIP representative of Selly Oak occurred last week. He joined the University on March 12th.
PPE students have previously hosted the PPE pre-election debates, but on this occasion a teaching staff member, Dr Chris Allen, hosted the event instead.
The session began with Brookes outlining his incitement to join the party in 2010, and UKIP’s policies. This introduction speech lasted significantly longer than the other party candidates at the debates so far.
Brookes stated he joined UKIP after suffering disillusionment with other major parties, such as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Selly Oak candidate believes others are also joining UKIP with the same sentiment towards the current political parties. Brookes further stated his belief that ‘UKIP is about freedom of speech’, and the party is a ‘voice for these people’, who feel that the current main political parties of Labour, Conservatives and the liberal Democrats are disillusioned.
Throughout his introduction speech, Brookes touched upon UKIP’s policies regarding education, immigration, the EU, and the economy.
Regarding UKIP’s stance on education, Brookes stated the party are of the opinion that the current educational system is letting people down. Specifically, Brookes told the audience that UKIP don’t agree with the high tuition fee or the 50% target of University attendance. Instead, the party are in favor of alternatives to higher education such as apprenticeships. They oppose the perceived negative stigma surrounding those in ‘non-academic’ careers.
In addition, Brookes discussed the controversial topic surrounding UKIP: immigration. Part of UKIP’s proposal is to control and manage the UK’s borders as the party has stated that they recognize the benefits of limited immigration. Brookes persistently declared UKIP to be a non-racist party, and reiterated the party’s belief that ‘immigration is running at a very high level.’
In reflection of UKIP’s proposed part-time visa policy, Brookes commented, ‘I don’t blame those who want to come here, but we don’t have to let everyone in if we don’t need them’.
In response to this discussion on immigration, the audience were keen to understand UKIP’s definition of multiculturalism, since the party state in their 2015 manifesto that they have a value on an ‘overarching, unifying British culture.’ However, the Selly Oak candidate struggled to define what this British culture is. Audience members, in response, questioned Brookes on his lack of definition. Brookes was asked how can UKIP promote such immigration and cultural policies, when a local representative is unable to define multiculturalism.
As the audience persevered with again with this topic, Brookes defended UKIP’s policies by stating ‘I’m not saying diversity is a bad thing at all’, but there ‘is a point at which [people who come and practice entirely their own culture] has to stop.’
Moving on from this discussion led to the issue of the Europe and UKIP’s stance on Britain’s involvement in the European Union (EU). Brookes commented, that ‘as a party we want to leave the EU, I think we turned our backs on many friends in the world and we need to get back out there and trade.’
Students in the audience picked up on the idea of trade and pointed out to Brookes, that his comments on trade and the EU, questioned the stability of such a policy considering 55% of Britain’s trade is with the EU. Brookes responded with the following questions: ‘what does it say about our relationship with Europe if we were to be punished for leaving the EU?’ and ‘if the EU is such a good idea why doesn’t everyone do it? For example the US?’ A student reminded Brookes of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and how the US does trade within North America.
However, Brookes affirmed UKIP’s notion to leave the EU; ‘I think that Britain have not made the effort to trade outside of the EU’ and if we were to leave the EU the country would be very ‘capable of doing so [trade elsewhere].
Next, the conversation moved on to the UK’s economy. When blaming the previous Labour government for the economic recession, Brookes said they ‘failed to see what was coming.’ If elected, UKIP say they will reduce the budget administered by the Foreign Office. ‘We spend £12 million on foreign aid’, which Brookes thinks should be spent elsewhere.
Other topics discussed included UKIP’s plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a New British Bill of Rights, the authority of the party members since they are not professional politicians, and the environment. Brookes’ comments on the New British Bill of Rights are featured on the Redbrick live blog from the event.
Before the debate concluded, Brookes discussed his own stance on UKIP’s competition in the upcoming May election. The Selly Oak candidate is of the understanding that ‘people vote to take another party out, rather than voting for a party they believe in’. He explains UKIP’s need to ‘overcome the hurdle of people seeing the party as a protest vote’. Finally Brookes urged that UKIP are ‘not trying to exclude anyone’, yet he was unable to answer the question of ‘what can UKIP do for Britain?’.
After the debate had concluded, Steven Brookes spoke with Redbrick. Brookes said he found the experience of the PPE pre-election debate ‘very interesting’ and ‘was pleased to be invited’. Brookes hoped that people found the debate useful, regardless of whether or not they agree with UKIP’s policies. Regarding student voting in the general election, Brookes stated, ‘I think it is important that people participate in our democracy, but ‘I don’t think we should force people to vote.’
Brookes informed Redbrick that it was his first time participating in a student event like the PPE debate, but he sees ‘no reason why young people can’t see something in UKIP to vote for us’.
UKIP plan to become more involved in student events and UKIP’s youth wing is becoming more popular as the party is becoming more popular. If Steven Brookes was to be successful in the general election in May, he stated he would carry forward UKIP policies and become a ‘stronger voice’ to hold the council to account for their actions.
The next PPE debate is on the 19th March with Joy Warmington, representative of BRAP (Birmingham Race Action Partnership) from 5.30 to 7.00pm in Muirhead tower. Room 417.