Posts Tagged ‘UKIP’

In or out?

May 24, 2016

With less than a month to go, I still haven’t made up my mind. One would think it should be simple. I spent five years working in Brussels, after all, and understand something of how the EU works. But the more I think about it the more I just don’t know. Maybe I should tick both boxes.

I think the problem is that we – the British people – are being denied a proper debate about the issues that matter. Which makes me a little mad.

We hear from the Nigel Farage camp that these foreign workers are coming and stealing our jobs. Probably want our women, too.

We hear from the Treasury that we’re going to be £4300 worse off – per year – if we were to leave the EU, with apparently not serious rationale for that number. I can invent numbers, too. Squiggledom. It’s twice a googleplex, so it’s pretty darn big.

So: in or out?

Immediately after my five-year stint in Brussels, I had decidedly made up my mind that we ought to leave this ill-fitting marriage. I firmly believed that the EU needed to be dismantled and rebuilt – and the only way to do that was for us to be out. But now I’m seeing so many more nuances.

Frustratingly, this trip to the UK has so far yielded no useful insights. I’m working in our London office at the moment, and one of my colleagues was handing out “Remain” bumper stickers today. When another colleague told him that he would probably vote to leave, the Remain colleague expressed surprised and said that he thought all financial correspondents would want to stay in Europe the EU.

If only it were that easy.

Here, then, are my meandering thoughts – from someone that really has not yet made up his mind.

Out

– We would be able to adopt our own policy towards immigrants, because to be quite frank the EU’s has so far been an utter disaster. This is not to argue for less immigration – as the dreadful right wing press often do – but just the fact that we would be able to control who comes to our countries, and therefore could make sure this is the right kind of migrant. Jobs are not finite – socialist France flirted with that idea, and to an extent still does, and it’s just blatantly wrong. Just ask Adam Smith. Except he’s dead. But those that come to this country should contribute to its well-being. This also goes for the refugees that we take. I firmly believe that we have a moral obligation to accept a certain amount of refugees fleeing from human rights abuses, but that should be on our terms and we should give them jobs as soon as we can.

– Our government should no longer be able to hide behind the ineptitude of the EU. There are actually things that the British government cannot do because the EU doesn’t allow it. This makes it much harder to hold them to account when they step out of line.

– The masterminds behind the EU project are a dishonest bunch. They were given very good advice that launching the euro currency when it was half-baked would result in a “Greece”. It could have been any one of the peripheral countries – that wasn’t known at the time – but they chose to ignore such advice because it fitted their own narrative. If “Greece” happened then that would be a very good reason to move towards more centralised fiscal control. Which may be a noble end in itself, but I’m not sure I want to place my faith in people that have to lie to get where they are going.

– When I was in Brussels, I lost track of the times I heard the European Commission express in all of sincerity that the EU was the reason that European nations weren’t still at war with one another. No! No! And no! The reason for the longest period of piece that we have had for millennia is globalisation, and the EU is a by-product of that globalisation. Not the other way round.

In

– Strength in numbers. It’s true that we are a small nation – the sun does now set on our noble Empire. So it’s nice to buddy-up to our European partners from time to time.

– We have more representation in Europe than people often realise. Although there is this huge gulf of democratic unaccountability – in the sense that we haven’t actually voted in most of the people that are making decisions for us – we do have a permanent representation to the EU and they are a pretty active bunch.

– Free movement of labour and free movement of trade – these are concepts I hold dear. I am, after all, a migrant worker. I wouldn’t particularly like it if Hong Kong suddenly chose to shut its door on my kind. And I like to think that I am contributing to their society – through tax and being a damn fine pillar of.

– We’ve pissed our European neighbours off a fair bit recently, by being so obstreperous. How about we now start to make amends?

– However you look at things it’s going to be expensive. Contracts will need to be renegotiated or updated, business deals will need to be done on a different footing, some firms may even decide to relocate. If you’re a lawyer, now is probably the time to cash in.

– What is going to happen if we leave? No one really knows. If we stay, there’s almost certainly going to be a relentless march towards greater federalism. And so perhaps that is what everyone needs. Better the devil you know, eh?

But, whatever the outcome of the referendum of June 23, it probably doesn’t matter as much as people think it does. If we stay, we carry on pretty much as before, with maybe a tiny bit more acceleration towards federalism. If we leave, well, it honestly isn’t going to be the end 0f the world that everyone is predicting. Do people honestly think that, after her initial hissy fit, Europe won’t want to engage with us?

Maybe I’ll just tick both boxes and let fate decide.

The case for out

December 17, 2013

You’d have thought that bashing the EU these days was a pretty easy thing to do and yet eurosceptics still manage to cock it up.

Over the past 40 years of die-hard eurosceptism, surely those making the case for pulling the UK out of this project would have learnt to say the right things. But it appears sometimes as though really they don’t realise that a) membership of the EU is a rather emotive subject, b) Brits aren’t as daft as the oft-espoused propaganda seems to suggest and c) that it’s a good idea to engage brain before activating voice.

I don’t feel it fair to name drop here. There are some very rational eurosceptics, and there are some pretty daft ones. Unfortunately, I feel that it is the daft ones that get most of the air waves.

Not long ago, I heard a prominent eurosceptic praise the “bravery” of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan for precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was of course using this argument to dispel the nonsensical notion that the EU was in some way responsible for this. But even before his words had stopped ricocheting around the auditorium, the come-back was obvious: Really? It was the bravery of Thatcher and Reagan? How about the bravery and tenacity of the East German people?

Of course, it was the europhile making this point that got all the cheers and the eurosceptic, whilst the logic underpinning his poorly-made comment was sound, looked rather foolish.

If this is the strength of eurosceptic argument, then Brussels has nothing to worry about. Hell, we’re definitely going to be staying in the EU.

There is a conspiracy theory that suggests that the reason the UK Independence Party is enjoying so much air time on the BBC, and so many column inches in pro-European papers, is because if this is all the British people hear, then they’re going to certainly vote with the stay-in-the-EU crowd. Listening to some of the eurosceptic viewpoints at the moment, this theory doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Just for the record, I am of the view that the UK should leave the EU. I used to be of the opinion that we should try and reshape the EU into something more democratic and less autocratic. But having closely followed European politics for the past 13 years, including five years in Brussels, I’ve come to the conclusion that this simply won’t work.

But it’s totally crazy to entertain the notion that nothing comes after Brussels. This is a point that eurosceptics must be making far more loudly than they are, and not allow the pro-European camp to falsely imply that we could be leaping into some sort of void with catastrophic consequences.

Thank God that we never subscribed to the euro, otherwise things could be far messier. (It’s true that many contracts by European companies are now written in euros, but that’s not going to change whether we’re a member of the bloc of not).

It’s crazy to suggest that, should we leave the EU, our European partners, are going to storm off in a hissy fit and not want to speak to us. We have a population of nearly 65 million. That’s a mighty lot of BMWs that the Germans can sell to us.

Nor do I think leaving the EU means that we have to close our doors to immigrants, which, despite what UKIP might tell you, have done us the world of good. It just means that we can let them come on our terms. Which is: come here, work, contribute to our GDP. Don’t live in the woods hunting our swans.

The UK may be a mere shadow of its former self, but it is still a formidable economy and the ridiculous idea that we suddenly couldn’t survive without Brussels, that we would suddenly be ostracised and treated as a leper, is laughable and should be countered, with all the might of the eurosceptic lobby.

Ten years ago, europhiles were insisting quite strongly that we should join the euro, even though some fairly prominent economists, both pro- and anti-EU, were pointing out some of the fundamental flaws in the project, which have still not been overcome (largely because politics and economics do not see eye-to-eye).

Over the past few years, sterling has done remarkably well in a sea of euro turbulence. It has fallen significantly over the 10 years, but that is only because Gordon Brown allowed it to over-inflate in the first place.

The British pound is one of the most-traded currencies in the world, largely thanks incidentally to our global financial services industry, which Brussels actually wants to curtail (as an aside, the socialist in me does still have reservations about how the British financial services industry is regulated, but that’s a separate issue and should be up for us to decide anyway). So, whilst Denmark, who also managed to keep its currency, has had to peg it to the euro to ensure stability, we haven’t had to. Doesn’t that suggest our comparative strength?

These are the kinds of arguments that the eurosceptics should be shouting from the rooftops.

So why am I only hearing them whispered in the shadows? Why are they being crowded out by all the other nonsensical eurosceptic rhetoric that crosses the air waves?

How to reinvent a party

May 4, 2013

When I embarked upon my journalism career, a good 12 or 13 years ago, I shared an office with Nigel Farage, who is now head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Well, ‘shared’ is perhaps a rather big word. Since he belongs to a party that chose not to recognise the legitimacy of Brussels, he rarely turned up at the European Parliament. When he did, we’d share a jovial bit of morning banter, eyes watering from the tobacco smoke that suddenly engulfed the room (this being before the European Union banned smoking in its buildings and then in much of Europe).

The one piece of advice that everyone seemed to be giving me at the time – even the eurosceptics – was: “If you’re serious about a career in the British media, be careful not to get too close to UKIP.”

This was at a time when UKIP only had three MEPs [Members of the European Parliament], and a definite reputation for being part of the loony fringe. The following European election – in 2004, I think – the number of UKIP MEPs jumped up to 11. They didn’t become any more normal, and they didn’t show any greater willingness to turn up for the turgid parliamentary plenaries.

This was at a time when people like Robert Kilroy-Silk, the rather pompous and blatantly xenophobic former BBC chat show host, were being drawn to the party. His invective against the Arabic world – “We owe Arabs nothing”, he spluttered, and then proceeded to explain why they should show some gratitude towards our puny island – grated with what might be considered mainstream voters. His obvious vanity – “I cannot hide my tan, or my looks and I don’t intend to, and I am not ashamed of either” – also didn’t sit well with the regular Joe Bloggs.

He was only the highest-profile member of what was, on the whole, turning out to be a rather nutty lot.

The problem with a party like UKIP, which was founded around the single premise that the UK should withdraw from the EU, has always been that it attracts nutters. Like the British National Party (BNP), UKIP was a perfect platform for xenophobic bigots to air their populist and hate-inspired views.

This was one of the main reasons why the more rational wing of the UK’s eurosceptic movement disliked UKIP so much. All one ever heard of the eurosceptism in the UK seemed to be: “those nutty UKIP folk are at it again”. It prevented a proper debate taking place about why leaving the EU might actually make sense for the UK. It didn’t go down too well with our European partners, and was probably one of the reasons why the then-British ambassador didn’t get invited to more sauerkraut or bouillabaisse soirées.

On Thursday, UKIP won an astonishing 147 local council seats in the England, 23% of the total seats available. Before the election, they just had 7. This surprised even Farage, who optimistically predicted they would get 100.

David Cameron, our PM, has been forced to eat his words, having previously dismissed the party as a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies. Gaining so many seats across the country, and in many areas that have not been traditionally UKIP territory, makes them seem anything but insane.

The march towards Thursday’s result started some time before the election, though. The past couple of years has seen the party’s leader, Farage, appearing everywhere. I’ve been absolutely astonished by the extent to which the BBC seems to have been embracing UKIP, portraying the party not as a fringe entity but as a serious force to be reckoned with. But then Farage always knew how to use the media.

Farage is a terrific orator and, whatever your views about Europe, when you listen to him he really seems to make sense. When he talks about the UK’s immigration policy, he really touches a chord with ordinary people. Of course something needs to be done about the UK – and the EU’s – daft and schizophrenic immigration policy; but few people tackle this issue. And few could tackle it with the aplomb that Farage has mastered. In silver tones, he repeats and repeats again that we’re not against foreigners, just those foreigners that are not going to contribute to society.

And who can argue against that? It’s positively seductive.

I’m not a huge fan of Farage. I knew him briefly – and always enjoyed our smoke-asphyxiating morning conversations, filled with humour and joviality – but I think he deserves tremendous credit for turning the party around, and positioning it squarely alongside the other three main parties.

This is even more astonishing given that UKIP, as noted above, was initially formed as a single-issue party. And I’m still not entirely sure what else it stands for. Nor, I imagine, are most of the electorate. Getting across this message will be the challenge for Farage over the next couple of years. And I’m certain he is up to it.

I’d just like to leave you with one further thing that the footage from the BBC news reports yesterday reminded me of. By Jove, the head of UKIP can really down a pint. Maybe that’s why the great British public voted for his party.

The Greenpeace Conundrome

October 26, 2008

When I initially wrote this entry, the strength of response I got was surprising. Forget writing about Al-Qaeda, the credit crunch, Islam or why Darfur should not be classed as a genocide. If you really want to get your blog noticed, just try and take on Greenpeace.

I don’t object to critical comments, and am happy to publish them, but a lot of what was said showed a misunderstanding of what I had written. Naturally, the blame for this lies with the writer; therefore I realised that I needed to tighten up my writing a little, remove all flippant comments and eliminate anything ambiguous in what I am trying to say.

First of all, this entry wasn’t supposed to be about Greenpeace; it was using Greenpeace as a way of illustrating some fundamental problems in certain NGOs. Maybe it was wrong to use Greenpeace for this example, but I am going to stick with it, since most people can relate to the idea.

The Greenpeace Conundrome is a very simple concept whereby organisations exist because there is a problem in the world. If this particular problem ceased to exist, so would the organisation.

For example, if the world’s environment was in tip-top shape, there would be no need Greenpeace. Similarly, if Britain was no longer a member of the European Union, then there would be no need for the UK’s Independence Party (UKIP).

Now, I am not suggesting for one moment that workers with Greenpeace are sordidly sitting round a table, rubbing their hands and gleefully plotting how they can orchestrate the next oil spill. My flippant comment that Greenpeace workers want more oil spills was irresponsible. Of course they don’t. Most workers within the organisation are committed to fighting to clean up the environment. But the point remains – without these environmental catastrophes, and without people seeing on the TV poor seal ions coated in sticky tar fighting for breath, Greenpeace would be out of money and these people would be out of a job.

Now, here in Khartoum, I meet NGO and UN workers on a daily basis. The vast majority, I would say, are diligent and committed to the work that they are doing – but in many cases delude themselves that they doing the right thing. Other workers, I am ashamed to say, have no real idea what is going on in the country; you talk to them about Darfur, where they spend much of their time, and they don’t even understand how the conflict started. Still others, and this is a real tragedy, know full well the shady dealings going on within their own organisation – but doing nothing about these, because it would jeopardise their own privileged position in Sudan. I speak largely about the UN here.

I read an interesting interview with Richard Dawkins, author of the God Delusion, the other day, whilst I was thinking of rewriting this entry. For the record, I don’t have a great deal of time for the author – he sensationalises atheism to make a quick buck. Nevertheless, he made an interesting point, when asked why he always sounded so strident and hysterical? Well, he said, it is difficult to sound otherwise when writing critically about religion – because it is still considered very much above criticism.

The same might be true of NGOs in Africa. Africa needs our help, these NGOs are doing a great job, often in very difficult conditions for not so much money – how can you possibly criticise them?

One of the misunderstandings in my last entry was that I was criticising the people that work for the NGOs. I am not. I am criticising the way that NGOs, and in particular the UN, organises itself. The way that there is no co-ordinated effort to help this country. The way that the top people in many NGOs and the UN command a ridiculously high salary, disproportionate to the amount of work they are doing (I am not, here, talking about the diligent volunteer of previous paragraphs ago). Yet, if you confront them about the salary and what they are doing here, they will get all defensive and swear that Sudan needs them. Of course, Sudan remains a developing nation and still needs some help to repair the wounds of the past; but all I am saying is, instead of focussing on one’s own salary and privleged position within the country, perhaps there is a need for everyone to think: are we being as efficient with other people’s money as we possibly can be?

As an addendum, I’d like to dwell briefly on the UN, an organisation I remain fiercely critical of. Laying aside the inherent corruption within this organisation (which will fill the pages of another blog entry), I am highly sceptical that Sudan needs such a large force. There are 2,500 UN workers in Khartoum alone! The streets of Juba are chocka-block with four-wheel drive UN vehicles, racing through the streets at half past five to get to the nearest watering hole. You ask most people at the UN why the organisation is here and they can’t actually give a clear answer. But they are being paid four, five, six thousand dollars each month to stay here.

The UN is so entrenched within Sudan that it is unthinkable it will ever leave. The money people earn through the UN is ridiculous, for the amount of work that they have to do. And no one seems to question it’s presence here. It is all “oh, but we need the UN – there’s genocide going on here, and they’re the only people that can help!” A little like Danger Mouse.

Of course a UN presence is needed here, and there continue to be bad things going on here – but 2,500 personnel in Khartoum? One argument I have heard made quite a bit here, and one that I am inclined to subscribe to, is: without the UN, the government would have to shoulder much more of the responsibility for the Darfur crisis. And then we might really start to see steps taken towards peace.

See, there really was very little in this entry about Greenpeace.