Back in the thick of it after the European Parliament’s summer break, it is time to take up this blog again. It is, indeed, a perilous time and I will be blogging on Syria later following a debate in the European Parliament which is due next week. Suffice it to say for the time being that I am in total agreement with the decision recently taken by our own Westminster parliament and intend to reflect that view when we come to vote in the European Parliament.
Even though the Syrian question is rightly currently dominating politics, there remain other pressing matters. Yesterday evening I was privileged to attend the launch of the Policy Network think tank book “Progressive Politics After the Crash” edited by Olaf Cramme, Patrick Diamond and Michael McTernan. The excellent debate on the pressing question raised prompted me to examine other material from the Policy Network.
This insightful piece by Michael Skey, Lecturer in Media & Culture at the School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia, gives us in the Labour Party pause for thought about the UK Independence Party. One of Skey’s most significant points is where he quotes research carried out by YouGov in February 2013 showing that UKIP supporters generally have less formal education and a slightly lower than average income, which means they are more likely to be in lower social groups (C2 and DE), rather than ABC1.
This is, of course, a really significant finding as it demonstrates that far from only attracting disgruntled, and affluent, Tories, UKIP is increasingly taking voters from Labour. I understand that some of the established Labour heartlands in the North of England have seen quite substantial shifts in recent local elections.
Many people no longer feel loyalty to one political party whom they support throughout their lives. Politics is becoming ever more volatile and fragmented, a situation which has allowed UKIP to gain ground. Their brand of “anti-politics” populism has flourished, to the point where over the summer UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom felt able to refer to Africa as “bongo bongo land”. The only comfort is that UKIP is not as strong as we are led to believe. They have only 202 councillors, many of whom are at parish level.
Nevertheless UKIP remains a threat to Labour, and we must take it seriously. And UKIP is not only an electoral threat. Their populism comes from the far right, which means, of course, that they will take more Conservative than Labour votes. However, partly by virtue of the amount of media coverage UKIP receives, which is far more than its size and number of votes merits, we are in danger of the political discourse and eventually the policies of all our political parties moving to the right.
I don’t want a small party made up of “racists, fruitcakes and loons” as David Cameron once graphically described UKIP to have any influence whatsoever on the government of the United Kingdom. As a nation we are worth far more than that.
Tag Archives: YouGov
There is a wise adage in politics that leaders, representatives and their parties should listen and respond to the questions the people, their electorate, are asking rather than matters which endlessly fascinate professional politicos but leave virtually everybody else (99.999 per cent of the population) cold.
Enter the torrid and seemingly endless Tory debate on Europe. Begun in earnest under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, the Conservatives remain in utter disarray over whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union. As Janan Ganesh of the Financial Times succintly put it, the Tory Party is suffering from “a single-issue neuralgia that knows no equivalent in any major party in the west”.
And nobody except professional politicians actually cares. Opinion polls consistently show that whether or not Britain remains a member of the European Union is not central to people’s lives. According to YouGov they are far more concerned about jobs and prices, schools and hospitals. Although it pains me as an MEP to say it, EU membership is little more than peripheral in terms of voters’ priorities.
All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that those Tories who fight in such a relentless and unremitting way to get Britain out of the European Union are not answering any question asked by those who voted for them. Instead they are reinforcing their own strange view of the world whereby the EU is seen as the source of almost all that is wrong with Britain and we would all be massively better off without johnny foreigner telling us what to do.
This could be understood and forgiven if it were just a few misguided backbenchers banging the drum. While this may have been the case prior to William Hague’s disastrous four years as Conservative leader from 1997 to 2001, the Tory tide most definitely turned during the first years of the 1997 Labour Government. Local Conservative Associations selected ever more anti-EU candidates while those already in Parliament gained ground. The only comparable episode in recent British politics was the Labour Party during the 1980s when Labour lurched to the left espousing causes such a unilateral nuclear disarmament which the majority of the British people did not want.
Yet the Tories in 2013 are very different position on EU membership. While Labour was in opposition in 1983 when the party wrote “the longest suicide note in history”, the Conservatives are in government, albeit in a coalition, the other part of which, incidentally, does not share their EU phobia. It’s one thing not to listen to the people when the only damage will be that the opposition party does not get elected. It’s quite another not to listen when in government and the party can make a difference to people’s lives.
David Cameron’s unseemly haste to publish the EU Referendum Bill surely indicates that he, the Prime Minister, is not listening to the people. Instead he is putting what he perceives as his Party’s interest first, both internal – pacifying his rabid Eurosceptic backbenchers and external – doing something about UKIP. Cameron is running scared yet in incapable of showing leadership. He appears more like a headless chicken in a mire-filled farmyard than the world statesman he wanted to present during his visit to the United States and meeting with President Obama.
Tragically for David Cameron his strategy of appeasement – appease UKIP and they will not take any more Tory votes and appease the anti-EU backbenchers so that they will pipe down – is patently not working. He is our Prime Minister and as such he would do well to learn basic lessons. Appeasement does not work. Cameron should listen to the people rather than try and maintain an impossible position on something a large majority of the population does not rate as a priority.
Peter Kellner’s recent commentary on the polling YouGov has done for the Diamond Jubilee tells us that people show cheer towards the royals but pessimism as to whether life has really improved since 1952.
There appears to be some kind of collective nostalgia for the 1950s, which I believe is completely misguided. For a series of reasons, people choose to see the post-war years through glasses so tinted with rose they become totally opaque.
I was there. Born between Queen Elizabeth acceding to the throne in February 1952 and her coronation in June 1953, I attended primary school in from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. I suppose you could call these my formative years, and I have many memories of the way people lived then which I am very glad have changed for the better.
First and foremost, it was cold. The 1950s were still the era of the coal fire, which was fine for the room where the fire was lit. In cold weather going from one room to another could be like a trip to the arctic, as were the bedrooms. Heating upstairs was simply not done. We slept in the cold with extra blankets (duvets were still long into the future), bed-socks and even night-caps if you couldn’t bear tentacles like ice seeping through you.
While on the subject of cold, I remember icicles on the bedroom windows regularly in winter. At my primary school’s nineteenth century building the free school milk – one of the great benefits of the time – sometimes froze in the bottles as it was stored ready for us to drink at the morning break. The school lavatories also deserve a very dishonourable mention. Not only were they outside and therefore very cold for quite a lot of the year, they also lacked wash basins. As children at school, hygiene quite simply was not an option.
This takes me on to what I believe was the real scourge of the 1950s – poor health and illness. Killer diseases existed in large numbers. Children died of polio, and I remember seeing enough adults with disabilities caused by polio not to be surprised by them. Many serious illnesses for which there are now vaccinations were rife in the 1950s. I had whooping-cough, measles, mumps, rubella and, on one occasion, pneumonia. This was not unusual and I was not a specially sickly child.
These serious health problems should be looked at in conjunction with the low-level conditions which were suffered by very many people. Chronic bronchitis was everywhere as were other respiratory problems caused by the cold and the high levels of air pollution which caused smog. Small irritants such as chilblains brought on by the cold were universal. I challenge any young person to describe chilblains as they simply will not have seen them.
As if this were not enough, there were quite simply not the opportunities people have now. I was unusual in that my first trip to continental Europe was at the age of 11. Many never went abroad at all or did not manage it until their 20s or later. Neither was there the ability to travel in the UK we have now. Car ownership was much lower; my family did not have a car for some of the 1950s and early 60s. Although the train service was more comprehensive in terms of branch lines serving small places, it took a very long time to go any distance. The result was people stayed in their own areas, only venturing out for a summer holiday if they were lucky.
The YouGov poll shows people think Britain’s standing in the world was much higher in the post-war years that it is now. This is undoubtedly true, and maybe it’s this perceived loss of imperial power that is at the root of the problem. However, the huge advantages since the 1950s introduced almost exclusively by Labour governments – the National Health Service, the social security safety net, higher levels of equality in education and at the workplace, an improvement in the position of women – I believe outweigh the downside that Britain is no longer the world leader. We are still a world leader. I’d rather be slightly lower down the world pecking order and warm and healthy than right at the top with the risk of debilitating disease or worse.
This week saw the release of a YouGov survey where 43% of women in London have said they have been the victim of sexual harassment in the last year.
A huge number of women in London, it turns out, have had to endure intimidating and unwanted attention from men, much of it coming whilst they are travelling on public transport. According to the poll 31% of women aged 18 to 24 experienced unwanted sexual attention on public transport and 21% of 25- to 34-year-olds. Overall, 5% of the women surveyed had experienced unwanted sexual contact on public transport.
The accounts have ranged from the creepy and unsettling to the genuinely terrifying. More worrying is how much these crimes seem to go unreported and are not generally discussed. The fact that it took one offender, Lee Read, to attack an eleven year old girl before he was apprehended is very worrying; this was despite the fact that he been filmed harassing several other women on the tube previously.
Fiona Elvines, of South London Rape Crisis, said it was rare to meet a woman who had not suffered street harassment. “Women manage this harassment every day, in their routines and daily decisions – but it has an impact on their self-esteem and body image.”
These statistics are worrying in and of themselves, but I was also troubled by how some of the media reacted to them as well. Many felt that the intimidating behaviour that many women have been subjected to with alarming regularity should not be considered sexual harassment.
But that hasn’t deterred people from standing up against harassment. Instead, End Violence Against Women wants an awareness campaign, but the fact is when Hollaback, the anti-street harassment group, set up a UK operation two years ago, the idea that women would shout out when the victim of sexual harassment was unheard of. Julia Gray, co director of the organisation, said: “I was told, ‘good luck with that’. The wider community will never believe that women should speak up for themselves.” Since then there have been many stories in which women have publicly shamed alleged abusers.
Another year has gone by without a single woman being nominated for Palm d’Or at Cannes. After suffering two weeks of fierce criticism, the organisers admitted that they needed to make a concerted effort to increase the number of female film-makers competing for the prize. Festival president Gilles Jacob said: “I am sure that next year the chief selector, Thierry Frémaux, will look more carefully to find films by women.” He went on to say that it was a “shame” that only one female director, Jane Campion, had ever won the festival’s top prize. I hope that we will see at least one female director considered for next year’s prize.
Jack Straw appears to be the latest prominent politician to jump on the EU for what he perceives as its “democratic deficit”. He even went as far as calling the EU a “system of political elites leading people by the nose that worked when it delivered jobs and welfare” at a seminar organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday, as reported in the “Guardian”.
Much though I respect Jack having worked with him as Shadow and then Home Secretary while I was General Secretary of the Chief Probation Officers’ Association, his views on the EU have always been towards the extreme end of the spectrum.
His main contention at the IPPR seminar was that the European Parliament should be abolished in order to help put right the EU “democratic deficit”. If democracy in the EU structures is not as healthy or as representative as it could be, it strikes me as peculiar to recommend doing away with the only directly elected body.
Straw does not stop there. Once the only truly democratic institution, the European Parliament, has been consigned to the dustbin of history, it will be replaced by an assembly of national parliaments. I defy anyone to make a case for an indirectly elected body over an elected one. Indeed, I truly believe the EU has become much more democratic since the role of the European Parliament has been augmented and the Parliament now has equal decision making powers with the Council of Ministers over a range of legislation.
There is, of course, the problem that people do not believe their voice counts in the EU. As Straw said, only eight per cent of the population think they are heard. No-one can deny this. However, the answer surely is better communication and accountability for the democratic institution, the European Parliament, not its abolition. No-one knows better than me how tough a nut this is to crack, and I fully accept that we are not there yet. But you don’t get rid of something simply because parts of the way it works are not up to scratch. What you do is hang on in there and work to make it better.
Sadly Jack Straw shows woeful lack of knowledge about how the EU functions when he says, “the EU should not be involved in issues like the working time directive, health and safety and so on” while at the same time calling for the completion of the single market. The EU legislates on issues to do with work in order to ensure a level playing field across Europe for the single market. It is about time Labour politicians in the UK understood this basic fact and stopped spouting the Tory rhetoric on employment legislation. The Tories do not like rights at work per se. Labour stands up for fairness and proper working conditions. It’s as simple as that.
Finally, polling evidence at the seminar from YouGov showed people do actually want more EU co-operation on terrorism and national crime, climate change, poverty and immigration. Let’s concentrate on these important issues and stop attacking the EU as an institution and its only directly elected arm, the European Parliament.