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Further to the recent furore over the EU Inquiry not having an open public meeting in Cumbria, I wondered why the reply given to Nick about the breakfast meeting in Kendal on the 20 August neglected to mention one vital point.
The reply from Alwyn Strange of the EPP-ED Secretariat quoted:
"One such element is the fact that there will be a large meeting in Cumbria on the morning of Saturday 20 April (foreseen to take place at the Castle Green Hotel). 50 people from Cumbria will be invited to this meeting by the political groups - the total being divided up among the groups on the basis of their numerical strength in the Parliament. True, this is not technically a public meeting but the fact is that 50 local people who were affected by the crisis will be able to meet with the EP Delegation."
Mr Strange neglected to mention that the theme for this breakfast meeting is "the effects of the FMD crisis on the tourist industry". How will these political groups "choose" who to invite to this meeting or rather who is directing their decisions as to who will be suitable to come along? I suspect that it will not be 50 "local" people but rather 50 representatives and probably the same ones that turn up at every other meeting. A farmer's wife recently remarked about the Lessons Learned Inquiry meeting: "One of the problems is that the ordinary farmer does not know how to make a contribution. We thought it was an officials only event, exclusive to ticket holders."
Likewise the "public meeting" to take place at Gretna - which is in Scotland, not England, admittedly only just over the border. My reading of the programme suggests that there will not be much in the way of an open forum at this event, the public just being the audience to the chosen experts' statements. "First the experts will be given the floor, then the public according to the principle "catch the chairman's eye"". Do we know how good the Chairman's eyesight is or does he have a bad blind spot? Perhaps he'll be fitted with blinkers! Perhaps those who considered Gretna to be a "compromise" location thought it would be ideal as perhaps they mistakenly thought that as Cumbria is a large county, all the inhabitants were used to travelling reasonable distances. Unfortunately it is a well-known fact that most Cumbrians won't travel any further than they need to. In fact a survey some years ago determined that your average Cumbrian will not travel more than an 8 mile radius!
When is someone going to realise that to get the views, statements and evidence from the "ordinary" person who is frightened of officialdom, scared of big venues, terrified by public speaking and microphones, worried about saying something in front of authority or unions and concerned about repercussions on themselves or their families, you are either going to have smaller local meetings in pubs or village halls or find someone who they can all trust to visit them personally in their homes and obtain it that way. It will never happen and the truth will never be told. But then is there anybody who really wants to hear it?