The view from the roof gardens of Google’s London headquarters is more impressive, in my opinion, than that from the Monument in the City. This is because most of the buildings in its proximity are lower so the observer is less hemmed in by competing designs made real.
It is possible to see all the way to Alexandra Palace to the North. The most imposing building looking North-East in the cityscape is the University of London’s Senate House. All of the other tall buildings are postwar. In the 1930s, this building, which was home to the wartime Ministry of Information, must have dominated the landscape for miles around. It is no surprise that George Orwell was informed by its architecture and function to use it as his model for the Ministry of Truth in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. His wife Eileen worked in Senate House for the Ministry’s Censorship Department.
I was at Google UK’s HQ to participate in the Daily Telegraph and Huffington Post‘s EU debate as a member of the audience. I bumped into Tim Stanley and Juliet Samuel of the Telegraph and we chatted for a short during the wait for the event to start. They were there to report and I hope I did not affect their output by delaying them doing so.
The auditorium was packed. Although my views of the issue were not canvassed when I was invited, there seemed to be an even division of opinion. There were ten or so people from the audience whose questions formed the framework of the debate but other members of the audience could pitch in. Of course the proposition for the referendum is leaving the EU, so the argument for change was explored in greater depth than remaining, which would simply be business as usual.
The politicians were Liz Kendall, Priti Patel, Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond. The debate was moderated by Aasmah Mir, a radio presenter.
The debate itself was quite energetic, but Aasmah Mir acquitted herself in preventing grandstanding and keeping the discussion on the rails. Were there any new revelations? Did either side fire the magic bullet to win the argument hands down? Was there any misplaced Kinnock-style triumphalism by either side? Not really, but that does mean that the major areas of disagreement and public concern appear to have been accurately defined and as such this implies that the voters are being reliably informed of the issues at stake. And also that Neil Kinnock was not there.
The gentlemen provided the histrionics, while the ladies were more composed. Certainly Liz Kendall’s quiet reasoned determination and Priti Patel’s sincere advocacy were in contrast to Alex Salmond’s bombast, especially when he moved on to personalising the debate by referring to Boris Johnson’s ambitions, although this had been raised by an audience member as well.
I managed to ask a question of Alex Salmond. I asked him that, given that a Scottish person can vote against the SNP in a Holyrood election should they dislike a policy of the current Scottish Government, and the same person could vote against the Conservatives should they dislike a policy coming from Westminster, who can they vote against if they dislike a policy coming from Brussels?
It is a mark of a good politician that they should always have something ready to say in all eventualities, especially at a live public meeting or live broadcast media. The spontaneous coughing fit that temporarily debilitated Natalie Bennett of the Greens when she was asked how she would pay for her party’s policies was a poor way to deal with awkward interrogation and is the mark of an amateur.
Alex Salmond is a professional. So he was able to respond immediately. And he may not know it, but he actually provided a straight answer.
“Can I say that the key decision-making body is the Council of Ministers, the elected heads of government of 28 countries. Boris talks about these five presidents. Well, if we take Jean-Claude Juncker, who’s the President of the EU Commission, or for that matter Donald Tusk, who’s the President of the Euro Council, these are effectively the Cabinet Secretaries of these decision-making bodies, in the case of the European Council, which is elected heads of government of 28 countries.”
Alex Salmond then went on to suggest that the 800 members of the House of Lords should be sent to Brussels for lessons in accountability. Where that idea came from and what exactly it had to do with my question, I still do not know. It was bewildering. I was thus bewildered. And filmed while being so.
But, to his credit, Alex Salmond did actually provide a straight answer to a straight question. Who do I vote against? It’s the Council of Ministers, abetted by the ‘Euro Sir Humphries’ in the form of Juncker and Tusk. Thanks, Mr Salmond.
Of course, the Council of Ministers have never stood for election in this country. Of all of the ‘elected heads of government of 28 countries’, I am unable to vote against any of them. In fact I can only vote for a local MP for Westminster. Should the elected MP be part of a party large enough to command a majority, the leader of that party, who has only been elected leader by the party’s membership, will become the head of government. Voting for or against my MEPs seems to have no effect on EU policy.
In fact, the one and only opportunity for people in the UK to sack this Council of Ministers and the EU policies they create is to vote Leave is this referendum. And that’s it.
Of course, Alex Salmond did not say that part, but it is the only possible inference from his answer.
Voting Leave on the 23rd June is the first and last opportunity for people in the UK to vote against EU policy.
It’s not just me saying this. The Right Honourable Alex Salmond MP of the ‘Remain’ campaign said it as well. More or less.