Brighton and Hove councillor Alex Phillips is among dozens of candidates standing in the forthcoming European elections
Brighton and Hove voters are being asked to elect 10 MEPs – Members of the European Parliament – in just over a fortnight’s time.
Most voters will recognise few of the 100-odd candidates’ names on the ballot paper on Thursday 22 May. And few will know much about what the winners get up to in Brussels and Strasbourg over the coming five years.
Indeed a straw poll among a dozen people locally who have a strong personal or professional interest in politics found that even they could not name all 10 MEPs.
The top score was 6 out of 10 and most managed just 4 or 5. This is despite the fact that our constituency is represented by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and the former Brighton councillor and Green Party parliamentary candidate Keith Taylor.
One of those hoping to join Mr Taylor is fellow Green Party candidate and secondary school teacher Alex Phillips.
She is second on the Green Party slate. Her place on the list means that if enough people vote Green to re-elect Mr Taylor – the first choice candidate – and a second Green MEP, Councillor Phillips will win the seat.
At 28 years old she would be one of the youngest politicians in the European Parliament. But she has already served for five years as a member of Brighton and Hove City Council and worked for Green MP Caroline Lucas when Dr Lucas was an MEP.
Councillor Phillips said: “I have been working in politics since I was 16. Unusually I’ve garnered a lot of experience in Brussels working for Caroline in the European Parliament straight after university. I spent most of my twenties in a council chamber.”
She said: “Being able to speak French and German is a real benefit too. Seventy per cent of our legislation comes from Europe.
“The constituency (South East England) is vast. It goes from Dover to the Isle of Wight and up to Oxford, Reading and Milton Keynes.
“We need a 2.5 per cent swing to get a second person elected.”
If she is optimistic, she is not complacent. Perhaps her best hope of attracting votes from the left and centre of politics comes from the fact that the Liberal Democrats are widely expected to do badly.
In South East England the Lib Dems have two MEPs – Catherine Bearder and Sharon Bowles. Mrs Bowles, who has earned respect beyond her party, is retiring – as is the long-serving Peter Skinner, currently Labour’s only MEP for the area.
The Conservatives have five MEPs – one of them, Marta Andreasen, defected from UKIP. The journalist Dan Hannan is perhaps the best-known Tory. The pair are standing again along with sitting MEPs Nirj Deva and Richard Ashworth. The fifth, James Elles, is retiring.
What are the European elections all about? According to Councillor Phillips, it comes down to “What sort of country do we want to live in?”
“The main parties use immigrants as scapegoats for problems they didn’t create”
She said: “The EU does quite a lot around workers’ rights and holiday pay which the Greens gave been working on. The EU has brought in a cap on bankers’ bonuses. It’s a start.
“I see Europe as our insurance policy. Whatever government we have here, it guarantees basic rights. Labour has the same neo-liberal outlook as all the other main parties. The Tories aren’t the greenest government ever but the EU means they can’t discard everything.
“We are the only party that’s positive about immigration. As someone who is ex-Labour it’s embarrassing to see what was once a progressive party becoming just like the nasty party. Immigrants are people.”
She said that the main parties’ attitude seems to be: “It’s ok if you’re rich.
“But it’s the poorest who offer so much. The unfairness riles me. The main parties use immigrants as scapegoats for problems they didn’t create.
“I was on a panel with Nigel Farage not all that long ago and I made that point and it riled him.”
She added: “The European elections are the most democratic elections, with PR (proportional representation). UKIP may come first this year. In European elections people do vote differently.
“We’re the only party offering real alternatives in many areas. The door is wide open for UKIP and the Greens.”