With just under three weeks to go to the EU referendum, St Helen and St Katharine, an independent girls’ school in Abingdon played host to a stellar ‘shall we stay or shall we go now’ panel for BBC Radio 4’s iconic Any Questions? programme on 3 June.
“We were delighted to welcome Lord Heseltine; Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Birmingham, Edgbaston and Chair of the Vote Leave campaign; Caroline Lucas, Green MP and board member of the pro-European Britain Stronger in Europe campaign and Julia Hartley-Brewer, journalist and broadcaster, current morning presenter on talkRADIO and vociferous Brexiter” says Head, Rebecca Dougall. “There was a great air of expectation, although the colourful array of questions selected at random by the producers from a 300-strong audience, including three from our students, added light hearted punctuation to what could just have been some routine soapboxing.”
Following a question about the amount of control we may or may not have if the UK leaves the EU, concluded by a comment from Caroline Lucas on the value of inspiring people about everything that is positive about EU membership, the question selected from sixth former Florence Wiggins could not have been more appropriate.
“Why weren’t 16 and 17 year-olds being allowed to vote in the forthcoming referendum?” she asked. The exchange included Julia Hartley-Brewer commenting wryly that: “Cameron is now wishing he’d extended voting rights as polls suggest more 16 and 17 year-olds would vote stay.” Florence articulated her position that this was about the future of the UK and that the impact legacy of the decision on 23 June will be on her generation, citing the previously temporarily lowered voting age for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
Impressed by the balance and maturity of Florence’s composed response, live in front of over half a million listeners, with a further 1.5 million on the Saturday repeat, Heseltine complimented Florence by saying: “I may not want to give the vote to all 16 year olds, but I would certainly give the vote to you,” which was greeted with a mighty cheer from the 300-strong audience.
A year 10 student, Alekzandra Auton raised smiles by asking: “What are you more worried about on 24 June (the day after the referendum), the results, or Donald Trump visiting the UK?”
“I’m more worried about Boris being in Number 10,” joked Caroline Lucas, which caused a ripple of applause in the audience.
“Donald Trump will hopefully be gone the next day” added Michael Heseltine, and with a note of caution: “but the long term effects of the nation’s decision the day before will impact upon the UK’s destiny forever, so let’s not destroy all the good work we’ve done…”
On a lighter note, Julia Hartley-Brewer concluded with: “I think we should all stand at the airport, waiting for his plane and when he gets off, we should just all point and laugh. He’d hate that!”
Although off air, the audience were treated to a great response to the question: “What do you think Winston Churchill would have thought of his face on the new plastic £5 note?” Without skipping a beat and to spontaneous applause, Michael Heseltine launched into a spot-on Winston Churchill impression: ”Never!”