"Populists have one message - fear and separatism", says MEP | Muhammed Hussain

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Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat Member of European Parliament. At the European Parliament, Catherine is a member of Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for EuropeCatherine Bearder MEP was first elected in 2009 and represents South East England. 

Catherine Bearder MEP offered an exclusive interview to Student Voices. In the interview, Catherine spoke about Brexit, the prospects of the Liberal Democrats and fake news. Additionally, she offered advice to young people, revealed her biggest political mistakes so far and gave a sneak preview of her plans post Brexit. The MEP also spoke about diversity within the Liberal Democrats. 

What motivated you to participate in European Politics instead of domestic or national politics?

Politics wasn’t a career I planned, I was a mum, local WI president, school governor and councillor in Oxfordshire as well as working for local charities well before I got into politics with a capital P.  I cut my campaigning teeth as a Parliamentary candidate for Banbury 1997 and Henley in 2001 against Boris Johnson. The motivation for me to stand stemmed from my concern for the environment and to fight human trafficking, both issues where we must work internationally. I realised that if I wanted to make a real difference in these important areas then that would be as an MEP.

Do you think Brexit can be stopped at the present moment or reversed in the near future?

Yes, as more news emerges about the disaster Brexit will be, as the economy suffers and jobs go, it will be clearer. Support is growing for a vote on the final deal. People were lied to in a poorly run referendum campaign and generally they still don’t know the enormity of Brexit, and it appears neither does the Cabinet.  Only when the voters know what the deal is on Brexit will they really be able to make an informed decision.

In your opinion, who is to blame for Brexit?

David Cameron, he gave in to a Tory party hemorrhaging votes to UKIP. Instead of facing nationalists down and making sure his party stood on their principles he tried to placate them with a referendum.   He expected the people to vote remain, and when they didn’t he abandoned his position and his country.  The leave campaign is also culpable, at a speech on the EU referendum Professor Michael Dougan a Liverpool University academic expert on EU Constitutional law described the leave campaign promises as “lies on an industrial scale”. Where is that £350million per week for our NHS?

What has been the biggest mistake of your political career so far?

Like many women, I didn’t believe in myself. I never really believed I could be elected as an MEP, so I was the ripe old age of 60 when I first entered the European Parliament! Most people start winding down at this point in their career!

Why has there been a surge in right-wing populism in the West, especially in Europe and USA?

Populists have one message - fear and separatism. They don’t waste time fixing things or making the world a better place.  Whilst they preach their hate-filled messages mainstream politics is getting on with the day job and lazy journalism finds it easier not to face nationalists down. The new media platforms don’t help, it is sensationalism that attracts readership and often lazy journalism polarises between ring wing voices of nationalism and Euroscepticism.  We have been letting them get away with their messages of fear without championing the good things that we have achieved in Europe like human rights, safer employment, foods and products, peaceful cooperation, travel, environmental protections and so on.

Are you optimistic about the future of the Liberal Democrats?

Yes, the party of the centre is attracting new members. The remainers from whatever political side are realising that we are the main party fighting Brexit. Labour will not be forgiven for its pro-Brexit stance and the Conservatives will rightly take the blame for Brexit. The Liberal Democrats continue to receive the third highest share of the votes at general elections. However the first past the post voting system does not show a true representation of votes by MPs elected to parliament. With a fair voting system of proportional representation in place the Lib Dems would have MPs that reflect the numbers of votes cast.

Is the media to blame for the rise of ‘fake news’? Or is this irresponsible behaviour on behalf of some politicians to avoid proper scrutiny?

Fake news has always been around, but we used to call it lies or propaganda. The term ‘fake news’ is now linked to the rise in rapidly accessible news through the internet and social media platforms without the filter of objective journalism. Some politicians like Trump and Farage use ‘fake news’ as political propaganda, they exaggerate the truth, lie and blame others for their own political gains.  We need a well-balanced commentary by those who can fact check and hold the decision makers to account.  We don’t always get that from the mainstream media perhaps in the way that we used to.

Women and ethnic minorities make up a tiny proportion of the Liberal Democrats - Do you think the Liberal Democrats have an issue with diversity?

The Liberal Democrats take the issue of diversity very seriously. In 2016 the party elected to adopt measures to increase diversity. The Lib Dems have campaigned for Gender balance and wish to promote representational balance at all political levels. But we are not as good as we should be, policy and constitutional changes doesn’t necessarily reflect what is happening at grass roots.  We are currently bringing this to the attention of all members following the independent Alderdice report.

At the 2017 general election we gained a more diverse representation, a third of Lib Dem MPs are female, one of whom is Layla Moran - Britain’s first MP of Palestinian decent, and we also have Stephen Lloyd a disabled MP. Additionally to this the party runs a series of training days for potential women parliamentary candidates and underrepresented groups.

I am in favour of a quota system, but so far we have not won that argument in the party.  The evidence from around the world is that without quotas women and minorities do not get elected.  It’s hard to be sure why, but maybe it’s the fact that politics is very much a ‘boys game’ and until we have better diverse representation it won’t change.

What’s your advice to young people who are disenchanted and alienated by politics and politicians?

Don’t get angry, get active! If you don’t like the way things are run, do something to change it.  Every little step you take emboldens you and you learn what works and what doesn’t. Make yourself known, make your opinions and views known, talk to other young people, write to your MPs and local media, let them know what you care about, what you think is wrong and how you think you could help make it better. Not everyone is on the front line, but more could be.  Any army needs all skills to work well, find what you can do, what you like doing and get stuck in. The future is yours to grab and mould.

Do we require piece-meal change or structural change to solve contemporary social problems in the UK, such as issues with the NHS, overcrowding in schools and a broken housing market?

The services available in the UK are good, but funding is a huge problem. The drive to reduce taxes has inevitably led to tighter public spending. Fair taxation with open spending on building a well-educated, healthy population will lead to a stronger economy.  We don’t necessarily need wholesale structural change, we need more investment. We should have respect and trust for those with the skills and knowledge to deliver that future such as teachers, nurses, doctors engineers and scientists etc.

Your seat in the European Parliament will be nullified in 2019, so what are your plans after Brexit? 

Will you continue to participate in front line politics or will you adopt a career change?
I am hoping that we may still turn Brexit around, so it isn’t inevitable that there will no longer be British MEPs, but I won’t be standing.  I had decided that I would retire in 2019 even before the referendum.  The issue that I am most concerned about is biodiversity loss and what we are doing to the ecosystems of the planet.  I hope that I will be able to still contribute to addressing this in some way with an environmental agency somehow after I retire from front line politics.  I will also be spending time painting, reorganising my garden and I may even return to throwing things at the TV when Question Time is on again!

Muhammed Hussain is a writer for Student Voices and a student at the University of Roehampton. 

"Populists have one message - fear and separatism", says MEP | Muhammed Hussain "Populists have one message - fear and separatism", says MEP | Muhammed Hussain Reviewed by Unknown on 21:45 Rating: 5

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