Saturday, 30 May 2009

Voting for UKIP

Listeners to the Today programme at 7.30 this morning will have been treated to one of the most blatantly biased pieces of political commentary I have ever heard broadcast. Europe editor Mark Mardell was given free rein to tell the nation what he really thought of the United Kingdom Independence Party, concluding with the thought that they were little more than "licensed court jesters" at the European Parliament. I thought Nigel Farage's response, that it was "grossly unfair", was remarkably restrained in the circumstances. It is a lazy cliché to complain about pro-EU bias at the BBC, but believers in the myth of the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation will have found much it Mardell's little rant to confirm their prejudices. He even regarded it as damning of UKIP that it has not fitted easily into the cosy consensus world of EU deal-making - when that, surely, is their whole point. It is almost as though the Beeb (or at least its Europe editor) is so panicked at the latest polls (suggesting that UKIP might beat both the Lib Dems and Labour) that it has jettisoned all pretence at balance and gone for UKIP's jugular.

I have a confession to make. I voted for UKIP in the last Euro elections. I did so fully aware of the amateurism and unrealism inherent then (and now) in the party, and that their chances of achieving anything practical were negligible. I did so despite, not because, of the fact that their most prominent candidate was the preening orange absurdity Robert Kilroy-Silk. I didn't expect them to implode. I hoped that the responsibility of having a substantial presence in the European parliament would force UKIP to get its act together, to become a more realistic and practical outfit, to work towards being more than a small protest party, even perhaps to begin reshaping politics at a national level.

It didn't happen, of course. UKIP proceeded to act rather like a lottery winner who has no experience of managing money and blows the lot in six months. There were splits. Kilroy stormed off to form his own vanity party - no great loss, admittedly. There were expenses fiddles shocking even by the standards of the European Parliament, which in one case has resulted in imprisonment. There were ugly internal wranglings. The initial cohort of twelve was depleted to nine. They have done little or nothing towards reversing European integration, which has proceeded apace, still less advanced their ultimate project of pulling Britain out of the EU entirely.

UKIP are not and never have been my ideal party. They remain, to an uncomfortable extent, a party of amateurs. I'm discomforted by the stridency of some of their anti-immigration rhetoric. Their policy of pulling out of the EU entirely goes too far. I would prefer a radical renegotiation, backed up by a realistic threat of withdrawal, with large areas of public policy returned to full national control. This isn't because I object to "Brussels", but because the way in which directives are arrived at and imposed on the different peoples of Europe is profoundly undemocratic. The EU directive has proved immensely useful to governments - above all, perhaps, the British government - wishing to get controversial policies implemented without proper scrutiny and without even taking the blame. The data retention directive, for example, under which the government is attempting to put into being a regime of all-embracing surveillance on the population, is disguised as "implementing a directive", despite the fact that it was a policy pushed by the Home Office and imposed against the reluctance of several other EU states. That alone is reason enough to ditch the entire rotten system.

The EU can never work as a fully integrated democratic state because there is no such thing as European public opinion, no single debate, and very little cross-recognition of politicians. All countries, elections to the EU parliament are fought on domestic issues. Integrationists of good will (such as, for example, Timothy Garton Ash) bemoan this, but there is little than can be done about it. History, and above all language, has made the peoples of Europe different nations. An EU that worked with, rather than against, that centrifugal instinct would be more in tune with people in all European countries. It would have less institutional power, but it would get more done. William Hague's old slogan, "in Europe but not run by Europe", is a realisable aspiration. And the Conservative party - ideally led in Europe by Daniel Hannan - remains the party best placed to deliver such an outcome. For one thing, they will probably form the next government. UKIP are unlikely to win a single Westminster seat.

UKIP remain slightly ridiculous (with, as the phrase goes, "questions to answer"), and Nigel Farage is far from being my ideal political leader. Nevertheless, I will probably be voting for them again. The implosion of the big parties - at least in terms of public esteem, at least for the time being - gives UKIP another chance to become a serious outfit. They look set to reap a good haul of seats - perhaps even more than last time. They are now older and, I hope, more experienced. All smaller parties go through a stage of amateurism, embarrassing personalities and weird obsessions. The Greens are now so respectable that the extreme radicalism of most of their policies is scarcely examined in the mainstream media (certainly not by the BBC). Yet it is not twenty years since they were represented publicly by David Icke. Labour, in its early days, was a fringe party. The Liberal party, once it fell from power, spent decades dominated by strange men with long beards. Yet the Liberal Democrats are now a serious political force. There is no reason why UKIP should not in time undergo a similar tranformation. It embodies, after all, a point of view that is held by a significant percentage of the British population. Whether right or wrong, it deserves to be represented in Brussels by virtue of that fact alone.

The possibility that they might beat Labour is almost a reason to vote for them in itself. And a good showing by UKIP would have the pleasing side-effect of keeping the BNP out, or at least down. It will break up the consensus, make mainstream politicians realise that the existence of their parties is, in the end, dependent on the public being prepared to vote for them. It is a relatively safe form of protest. And it is also a vote on the issues.

26 comments:

valdemar squelch said...

Fair enough - nobody is going to vote for an ideal party in the next few elections, if indeed they vote at all. Not voting at all does seem an increasingly worthwhile move but I suppose I will pop in on my way to work, rather than just walk by. If only 'None of the Above' were on the ballot paper in my particular bailiwick.

I'm not sure about one point. There's no European public opinion. Well, yes, but the impression that all the people of the UK 'think so and so' is surely in large part down to our pals at the BBC? No other media entity could claim to be in touch with the public in the same way - certainly no newspaper. And if the BBC consists of a bunch of leftie fibbers, well...

And is it necessary for the EU to have a collective public identity - in a traditional, nationalistic sense - for it to be a good, effective democratic entity? I think that's an untested assumption. At the moment the system is too bad to tell.

John B said...

Shorter this piece:
1) the BBC are wicked and biased for saying UKIP are clowns and jokers
2) UKIP are clowns and jokers
3) ...but the EU is such a bad thing that you should vote for them anyway.

I've no problem with point 3, but I'm not sure why you're sticking it to the Beeb for pointing out something that you acknowledge to be true...

Matt said...

I don't know much about politics and am not really interested.

But ever since getting a flyer through the door from Jean-Louis Pascual of "The Roman Party. Ave!" who wants to "build a bridge" (no more details given), I've been encouraged to look up the various parties and see who I might vote for, after all, I want to see if the booths have changed since the early nineties.

Problem is, in going to the websites of the various parties, it seems impossible to actually find any policies. All I read is whether a party is Pro-Europe or Anti-Europe (who cares? Countries are only social constructs - I care about governance, not the location of governance), and the ubiquitous anti-corruption statements (as if this tells me anything - it should be a given).

It really doesn't help me decide where I stand. I know I'm not a socialist (despite WML's assumptions) and I'm certainly not a conservative. The things I believe in have little to do with the things any of the parties talk about it seems. Watching 90% of political debates leave me no more informed or excited than watching an episode of Eastenders.

There are a few glimmers of things I'd care about in the literature:

"MEPs should be free to vote in line with the best interests of the UK and of
their constituents. They should not be required to obey party whips." (The Jury Party)

"Every law in Europe must be made by someone elected." (Libertas.eu)

"Referendums should be called across the EU whenever requested by 5% of the EU's electorate." (The Jury Party (not the details, but referendums are a good thing generally)

"Everyone having leisure time and easy access to facilities for creativity and recreation" (Peace Party)

But there's a whole heap of things I don't agree with for all those parties too. I'm an idealist, not a romantic.

Add stuff that changes the system fundamentally and I might get interested.

What we need LESS of is the emphasis on unsustainable growth, profit, shareholder-interest over customer-interest, "success" and prescribed ways of life. It's not that these things don't have a place in a free society, it's just that they are ALL OVER the place at the moment, dominating in areas where they shouldn't.

What we need MORE of is personal freedom to do what the hell we like (so long as that freedom doesn't impinge the freedom of another). For those that ignore this - harsh penalties.

I split the world in two - social construct, and individual reality. And I apply completely different politics to each.

Ultimately I like the bridge idea. I know where my vote is going.

Matt said...

Oh, and if only they had candidates here, I'd vote for The Pirate Party without a doubt. I have NO time for the behemoths of yesterday on that one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party

david cameron's forehead said...

Might I ask which region you live in, or is it not for us to know?

Martin said...

No European opinion? Nor will there be if the record is stuck on rejection or not. What will UKIP do in the committees? What representation will they bring? There is no discussion of there performance in Brussels.

Actually, there is plenty of connected opinion, particularly across the Euro zone. This is because there is less ignorance of affairs in other countries and perceived common interests. No one, for example, is calling for dismantling the Euro.

There is no point in bemoaning a lack of democracy if there is scarcely any national engagement and discussion. This is the case in the UK. It seems as though the parties are vying with each other for who can supply the weakest voice in Europe.

All the talk about a referendum is driven by the increasing voice of those who wish to leave the EU. Such a referendum should happen. The fractured relationship with the EU, disenfranchises the UK electorate and is a drag on the EU. It is a boil that needs to be lanced.

Complaints from critics of the EU about a lack of democracy are nothing compared to their complaints at any proposal to enhance EU democracy.

The fact is that if you want an open trade area, there have to be rules and checks and balances to make sure it is fair and not abused. I think such administration should be democratic and open to scrutiny. Of course if you want GB to 'go it alone', then good luck, but large as the UK economy is it already has to kow tow to US trade policy, it would also be in hoc to EU decisions without any ability to resist supranational government or business organisations.

Matt said...

South-East.

Bizarrely for me, I read an interesting old book on the subject of European integration recently; "Europeans" by Luigi Bargini. It was the only vaguely interesting book that was available in English at a lovely little book bazaar in Lille.

As I say, it's not a subject I know much about, but that book actually left me feeling quite pro-European, in principle at least.

The Heresiarch said...

@ John B: It's OK for me to say that UKIP are "clowns or jokers" (some of them, anyway) because I don't have a legal obligation to be impartial at election time. The BBC does. Mardell's piece this morning breached the BBC charter.

@ DCF: One of the southern ones

@ Valdemar: Is it necessary to have a strong collective identity to be a functioning democracy? I think so, yes. Even the Swiss and the Canadians have a national consciousness. The test is simple: what do you think of politician X (a French socialist, say). Do you think of him primarily in terms of being French, or in terms of being a socialist? If most people see him and think, "that French bloke", then almost by definition you're not going to get proper politics. (You might even say that one of the problems the present government in Britain has is that so many people look at Gordon Brown and think, "that Scottish git".

@ Matt, "Watching 90% of political debates leave me no more informed or excited than watching an episode of Eastenders."

You watch Eastenders? From your description, you sound half-libertarian and half-Green, a very strange combination.

Libertas is potentially quite a good idea, but a Europe-wide party attracting hardly any support in equal measure across the continent isn't going to get very far. If there were such a thing as European popular politics the parties and the debate would be cross-border, and it clearly isn't. The Jury Team is misconceived, I think. I would never vote for someone purely on the basis that they're "independent".

I too like the idea of a Roman Party. But why isn't Boris Johnson leading it?

@Martin: "No one, for example, is calling for dismantling the Euro."

Actually, some people are, especially in Germany. You shouldn't confuse politicians with people.

cabalamat said...

"[UKIP] were little more than "licensed court jesters" at the European Parliament"

I'd regarfd that as fair comment. Of their 2004 intake, one went off in a huff because he couldn't be leader and founded his own party, Vanitas.

Another want to prison for benefit fraud.

Another is being investigated for embezzling the European Parliament and had to pay back EUR 40,000 of expenses.

It's not a brilliant record, is it?

Matt said...

OK, you got me. I don't actually watch Eastenders, so am analogising from a position of ignorance. It's possible that it would leave me +more+ excited and informed than 90% of political debates. *grin*

"I too like the idea of a Roman Party. But why isn't Boris Johnson leading it?"

There can only be one emperor, and as much as I like Boris, Jean-Louis Pascual, bus driver and potential bridge builder, is clearly the man.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

It is terribly unfair on court jesters, who were intelligent, hard-working, professional types to compare them to fraudsters who are little more than the BNP in blazers.

Anyone who votes for such racists should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Heresiarch comes over like those Germans who voted for Herr Hitler despite their misgivings over his attitude to Jews because they didn't like the Weimar Republic.

Wasp_Box said...

WML,

"Anyone who votes for such racists should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves."

Sounds a bit woolly to me. What's your evidence that UKIP are a racist party?

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

I don't often have anything good to say about David Cameron, the author of the all-time nastiest Tory Election Manifesto, but we share a dislike for the UKIP.

When he described them as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly" my only slight dissent is over 'closet'.

Evidence for this is not in short supply. The founder of the UKIP, Dr Alan Sked himself, described them as 'racist' and 'infected by the far right'.

To anyone who has seen their election billboards or heard their rhetoric this is as much of a surprise as being told that the sun rose in the east this morning.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

The Heresiarch may have a point, Mardell should not have called the UKIP 'jesters' he should have called them 'racists'. The BBC should remain neutral of course, people have a right to be fascists, communists or racists after all.

Out of interest did Mardell actually say they were 'court jesters' or something similar such as they were 'looked upon as court jesters' which is subtly different and could be seen as being consistent with the BBC's duty of impartiality.

Is it worth checking the precise words he used?

McDuff said...

UKIP proceeded to act rather like a lottery winner who has no experience of managing money and blows the lot in six months. There were splits... There were expenses fiddles shocking even by the standards of the European Parliament, which in one case has resulted in imprisonment...

Nevertheless, I will probably be voting for them again... There is no reason why UKIP should not in time undergo a similar tranformation.
.

I recall talking to a Texan who justified his vote for Bush in 2004 along very similar lines. I believe Einstein had something to say about doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.

And the Conservative party - ideally led in Europe by Daniel Hannan - remains the party best placed to deliver such an outcome..

Daniel Hannan? I suppose if we want blustering publicity-seeking oafs who badmouth our country representing us in Europe, you can't do much better, but I'd prefer someone who actually liked other people and wasn't a twat.

It embodies, after all, a point of view that is held by a significant percentage of the British population..

Well, yes, but these people are known as "Daily Mail Readers" and I'd rather gouge my eyes out than give them any more reason to believe they actually represent the whole of the country. Just because a "significant percentage" of the British Population are racist ignoramuses doesn't mean we should put them in charge.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

Cameron appears to be intent on honouring his crazy pledge to remove the Conservative from the influential mainstream centre-right grouping in the Euopean Parliament and march them off into the wilderness to sit with the loonies. Or, increasingly, one has to say the other loonies given the presence of Daniel Hannan and his ilk among them.

I'm old enough to remember the days when the Tories were the pro-business party and therefore pro-EU and Labour were the anti-business and therefore anti-EU. I think it was Tony Benn, in a rare moment of lucidity, who used to denounce it as a 'capitalist club'. For once the old Trot got it right but as always he then drew the wrong conclusion.

The Heresiarch said...

McDuff: Well, yes, but these people are known as "Daily Mail Readers" and I'd rather gouge my eyes out than give them any more reason to believe they actually represent the whole of the country.

Even they wouldn't think that they represented "the whole of" the country. But they do represent a sizeable constituency. I know it's annoying when people you don't agree with have a point of view, but it's called living in a democracy. Get over it.

@WML If I had any reason to think that UKIP was inherently racist then of course I wouldn't vote for them. The fact that there are racists in it does not make it a racist party. And I note that some of the more racist elements have recently defected to form their own splinter-group. There are racists in the Tory party, if you look hard enough; not so long ago, there were plenty. I'm hoping that UKIP will evolve in the direction of being a sensible party. But this election does represent their last chance.

Wasp_Box said...

@WML,
So Sked says they are racist (it took him 7 years from his retirement as leader in 1997, when UKIP were thrashed in the election, until he claimed they were racist in 2004) and Cameron says they are racist and that’s about it really! You might add that Mr Tango himself, Kilroy-Silk, also said they were racist – but not until after he had lost his leadership bid.

Looking at their electioneering material, they take a robust view on immigration but I cannot find any overtly (or covertly) racist statements (unlike the BNP). Maybe I am missing something. While it would be true to say that racists might find their policies on immigration attractive, it is not true that holding such policies makes you racist – there are other perfectly honourable reasons why one might consider a curb on immigration sensible. It always seems to be the political activists who have reason to fear UKIP’s success (Cameron, for one) who throw the term racist at them. I don’t, personally, support UKIP and I suspect they do attract some unsavoury types who find their immigration policy attractive but I dislike the use of the term racist as a smear without sufficient supporting evidence.

DocRichard said...

OpenEurope has published an important league table of MEP performance here: http://www.openeurope.org.uk

MEPs have been ranked using two main categories:
‘Transparency, openness and democracy’ and ‘Fighting waste and misuse of EU funds’.

I have gone through the data for UK Greens, Con, Lab, LibDem and UKIP and summated their scores, then divided by the number of MPEs. The lower the score the better.

Here are the results :

Greens - 51

LibDem - 116

Conservatives 152

Labour 205

Ukip 343


This survey is vitally important for the electorate. People are understandably angry with the three Westminster parties, and at the moment, due to deficient information, UKIP is the main beneficiary of the disaffection, polling 10-16% at the moment. This research shows that voting UKIP in protest at MP expenses scandals is to jump from the Westminster frying pan into the Brussels fire.

John B said...

"I know it's annoying when people you don't agree with have a point of view, but it's called living in a democracy. Get over it."

Eh? That's conflating two very different propositions:

1) people I don't agree with shouldn't be allowed to have a point of view

2) people who have particularly stupid opinions shouldn't be allowed anywhere near government

Anyone who believes position 1 is a fascist; but position 2 is perfectly consistent with living in a liberal/constitutional democracy (where the whole point of the independent judiciary, constitutional law and so on is to stop really stupid things being done because they're popular amongst the idiots of the electorate).

& on the BBC charter thing, pointing out facts is not in breach.

The Heresiarch said...

@John B: "the whole point of the independent judiciary, constitutional law and so on is to stop really stupid things being done because they're popular amongst the idiots of the electorate".

I wholeheartedly agree. Democratically elected politicians have a regrettable tendency to do stupid, illiberal and popular things. New Labour, with its ghastly procession of home secretaries, has been a particularly notable exponent of illiberal populism. However, on the particular question of Europe, there are, like it or not, large numbers of people who don't like the way Europe has continued to develop during the thirty odd years since a very different sort of common market was accepted in a referendum. To go on pretending that their views don't really matter is profoundly undemocratic, and before UKIP arrived on the scene all the main parties - even the Conservatives - were doing precisely that.

I don't know if you heard Mardell's report, but it went far beyond stating the facts towards blatant editorialising. He wouldn't have dared make such a piece against one of the larger parties.

@Doc Richard: thanks for that. As I said, there are severe problems with UKIP as a party, and with some of its members. But I'm not sure about your conclusion. Partly because my support for them at the moment is purely tactical. One of the consequences of a UKIP breakthrough would be an immense shock to the system, which would head off a return to "business as usual". If they beat Labour, it will quite likely finish Brown off for good, which is reason enough. After all, however much power the European parliament now has, the impact of Britain's MEPs is quite negligible - only a tenth of the total.

McDuff said...

Even they wouldn't think that they represented "the whole of" the country. But they do represent a sizeable constituency. I know it's annoying when people you don't agree with have a point of view, but it's called living in a democracy. Get over it..

What a specious argument. I could live in a country where 90% of people thought that vaccines caused cancer and that evolution was a liberal plot to discredit Christianity and this wouldn't make me sit back and say "oh, I guess that's alright then, this is a democracy after all." As it happens, I *am* long resigned to the fact that I have to share this country with fact-shy idiots who will vote a party ticket or lumber off to put in a protest vote for a fascist every five years. I don't expect us to have decent government. But I forget the part of living in a democracy where I'm not allowed to heckle.

A vote for UKIP will have the real, practical effect of keeping more insane racists in power, and perhaps putting more insane racists in power too. Moreover, the funny thing about "tactical" voting is that you don't get to mark that on the card. Your vote for UKIP looks exactly the same as your idiot neighbour who genuinely believes that the EU is Zombie Hitler's last plan to take over our sacred Christian Isle. A vote for UKIP is a tactical vote inasmuch as you're telling a bunch of lunatics "I believe the Daily Mail is telling the truth!" So, y'know, good luck with that strategy. I'll be over here heckling and voting for Chris Davies. Bet I end up happier with my chosen MEP than you do with yours.

However, on the particular question of Europe, there are, like it or not, large numbers of people who don't like the way Europe has continued to develop during the thirty odd years since a very different sort of common market was accepted in a referendum..

I'd be willing to wager a considerable sum of money that if you took that group and asked them simple questions, fewer than one in ten would be able to give you a correct answer about any aspect of the EU and its interaction with the British Parliament. However, we'd get a lot of Mailite claims and anti-immigrant rubbish. I generally view UKIP or BNP voters as having the same level of intellectual curiosity as your average homeopath, particularly as browsing their own website leads one quite quickly to the conclusion that they don't know how the EU works either!

Huge public ignorance coupled with general low-level grumbling does not a cohesive argument for withdrawal make, I'm afraid. But then, I haven't actually seen a single cohesive argument for withdrawal ever. Not a statement about the form it would take, about how we'd deal with increased regulatory costs importing and exporting to the mainland common market, about which specific EU policies and regulations we would remove and which we would keep supporting ourselves, etc etc. The CAP, for example, is a shocking waste of money, but we'd almost certainly keep subsidising our farmers. On the other hand, the people who witter on blindly about the EU in the editorial pages of their daily newspapers also spend a lot of time denouncing the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, so that might well be the first thing to go in a brave new post-European world. And it's worth noting that the ECHR is the only thing that's kept Blunkett, Smith et al in some vague semblance of check this past decade.

I don't have any real problem with the Daily Mail crowd casting their utterly ignorant votes - as you rightly point out, sharing our ballot boxes with mouthbreathers is one of the necessary burdens of democracy. But I'd no more believe that one of the more incompetent, incoherent and corrupt parties getting more votes is a "good thing" to "shake up the system" than I believe that about the BNP winning elections in Burnley and Oldham.

Wasp_Box said...

"I could live in a country where 90% of people thought that vaccines caused cancer and that evolution was a liberal plot to discredit Christianity and this wouldn't make me sit back and say "oh, I guess that's alright then, this is a democracy after all."

It's always nice to see carefully constructed strawmen.

McDuff said...

What's strawman about it? Did you misunderstand the meaning of the word "could"?

Large numbers of people believing things is neither proof that they are correct nor proof that when they get their fair democratic representation that we won't be better off. But as Mencken said, Democracy is the belief that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

In the meantime, as well as posting spurious anti-EU nonsense that's largely exaggerated if not entirely made up, the Mail gives space to creationist columnists who think Global Warming is a conspiracy. Nevertheless, while I admit I didn't throw the illustrative example particularly far from its point of origin, it nonetheless remains an illustrative example. I don't live in a country where 90% of people are creationist denialist whackjobs, I live in a country where around 30% of people are creationist denialist whackjobs. I could live in a country where 2% of people are whackjobs. The numbers do not change the whackjobbiness, nor would I feel especially well done by democracy were they to enter parliament en bloc and start putting forward legislation banning the teaching of evolution and burning huge piles of coal in the countryside "to show the lefties who's boss".

I think it would be a strawman if I had claimed that, say, UKIP were a bunch of corrupt tossers without the first clue about how the EU really works or a sensible plan explaining what "withdrawal" actually means in real terms if this was unrepresentative of the larger party. Think I'm safe though.

valdemar squelch said...

Lay on, McDuff! (In a good way.) If Euroscepticism is so wonderful, let's see some numbers on what withdrawing from the EU would mean for dear old UK PLC. Anybody got a few pointers?

david cameron's forehead said...

Today I had occasion to be driving around a very rural, very affluent part of South Cheshire. Every house seemed to have Tory posters put up by the roadside. You don't get any of that at home!

I'd been having a really nice day until then.