Farage aligns with far right group to form a new bloc

Labour Party

I have written an article for New Statesman online analysing Nigel Farage’s attempts to set up a new political bloc (Europe of Freedom and Democracy) in the European Parliament.

I explain how he has in the past tried to appear principled about not accepting membership from those who have previously been members of the National Front or BNP, and suggested this was a reason not to align with Le Pen.

Nevertheless he has invited a group founded by white supremacists, the Swedish Democrats, into his new bloc. “Not only is it hugely hypocritical but it also shows the lengths to which Farage is prepared to go in order to ensure he gets to lead a group within the European Parliament,” I said in my piece. You can read the article in full here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Conservative MEPs vote against a Europe-wide initiative to provide aid for those struggling with food poverty. The £3 billion EU fund, known as ‘European aid to the most deprived’, would have sent £3 million in the direction of Britain. The choice to try and block the fund was made on the grounds that “It is not for the EU to dictate…how to help the needy. Individual countries must be allowed to decide for themselves.” It left the Tories among a tiny rump of MEPs voting against, making the Coalition the only European Government to oppose the fund.

With the Tories under pressure to address the explosion in the number of food bank users since they’ve been in office, their approach to Tuesday’s vote baffled many. It comes at a time when pressure is building on the Coalition to address the food poverty crisis, with religious and third sector organisations condemning the effect welfare cuts are having on UK rates of poverty. This week Richard Howitt, my Labour colleague in the European Parliament, called the Tories’ decision to vote against the fund “heartless and callous”.

Blocking European Aid is just the latest in a string of instances which have seen Conservatives adopting indefensible positions in the name of Euroscepticism. Before Christmas they blocked the Estrela report – a strategy to, among other things, end FGM – and they have also obstructed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a market-based solution to environmental challenges. They’ve done so on the grounds that endorsing such plans would represent a concession to the EU. This is despite the government’s Balance of Competences review so far finding that the weighting between EU powers and domestic autonomy is roughly right.

David Cameron’s increasingly hostile noises about the EU appear to have been taken by Tory MEPs as a license to indulge their most reactionary instincts. They do this irrespective of morality or the UK’s national interests. As a result we are approaching a state of Tea Party-style fanaticism among some on the British right in Brussels; a new and virulent brand of Euroscepticism. It’s vital that those of us who support the EU do not allow this self-defeating ideology to triumph.

Also this week, UKIP’s Spring Conference was overshadowed by the embarrassing revelation that Nigel Farage’s campaign slogan – “Love Britain: Vote UKIP” – was a rehash of a strapline used by the BNP. Nick Griffin’s far right party campaigned under the same banner in 2010, using the wording “Love Britain: Vote BNP”. The comparisons did not appear to end there, with Farage using his “Love Britain: Vote UKIP”-branded plinth to launch an excoriating attack on immigration, which he claims has made Britain “unrecognisable”. When the BNP link was pointed out Farage argued, bizarrely, that he’d been trying to ‘reclaim’ the slogan.

So far Ukip have resisted calls from the European far right to join ranks. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have both attempted, unsuccessfully thus far, to reach out to Farage, pointing out the common ground their respective parties share with his. But with UKIP MEP Gerard Batten’s ties with the far right attracting increasing controversy – not to mention Farage’s recent admission that he supported the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – the overlap between UKIP and the extreme right is becoming hard to disguise.

To avoid a return to the ugly politics and racial tensions of the 1970s Labour must contest UKIP’s narrative every step of the way.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Tensions ran high this week after Gabor Vona, leader of far-right Hungarian political party Jobbik, came to the UK to speak at a central London rally.  Despite 14,000 signatures being added to a petition to Theresa May calling for Vona to be banned, the leader of Hungary’s third-party was eventually permitted to speak. In a letter to May London Assembly member and former Labour MP Andrew Dismore wrote, “I think it’s very important to send the message that we won’t have hatred spread on our streets”, and as I wrote for Shifting Grounds earlier in the week, I believe we should not have allowed him to come.

Jobbik’s visit to the UK was designed to woo the 50,000 Hungarians currently living here. With elections approaching, Vona – whose party have 43 seats in the parliament there – is looking to win the absentee votes of Hungarian ex-pats. Jobbik’s policies are highly controversial, echoing the language and rhetoric of Fascist movements in the 1930s and 1940s. Travellers and Jewish people come under particular attack: “The integration of gypsies has failed. In most cases, segregation would be the most effective way of educating these people,” Vona is on record as saying.

In the end Vona’s speech, which had been scheduled to be held in Holborn on Sunday, had to be relocated after Unite Against Fascism (UAF) gathered there and prevented his supporters from leaving the station. UAF’s Sabby Dhalu said Jobbik’s views “had no place in a modern society”, adding that “Wherever fascists have a presence, racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks increase”. Vona eventually managed to find a platform in Hyde Park, where he spoke for around an hour, addressing the crowd in his native Hungarian.

It is easy to associate Jobbik with a strain of Fascistic Eastern European politics which has no equivalent here in the UK. The BNP, after all, is a faded force which has never won a single parliamentary seat, let alone 43, and the EDL appear to have lost support. Yet we must not be complacent. The widespread scaremongering over Christmas about a Roma ‘invasion’ is just one illustration of how, in straitened times, dangerous myths can gain traction. With the issue of Europe acting as a lightening rod, those who oppose the EU and want a more insular Britain often play into people’s worst fears.

Vona himself eschews the traditional left-right perspective on politics, saying “The true division is between those who want globalisation and those who do not”. Just as UKIP are seeking electoral success off the back of an unholy coalition of white collar Eurosceptic Tories and blue collar voters worried about immigration, Jobbik have garnered their support from both ends of the political spectrum.

This is not to compare UKIP with Jobbik – although it is worth noting the number of UKIP representatives who have flirted with right-wing politics – but rather to point out the danger of allowing populist narratives to take hold. In a European Election year those of us on the left must engage with voters who feel alienated by globalisation, and make a positive case for why Britain does better by working with its neighbours.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, the trial of footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema began in France. The two players, who are accused of having sex with an Algerian-born prostitute while she was under 18, face prison sentences if found guilty. In a week where my prostitution report (which recommends the Swedish Model) went through the parliament, the Ribery-Benzema case illustrates the need for a change in how we tackle prostitution. The sad fact is that, had the woman in question been a year or so older, it would have been perfectly legal for two multimillionaire footballers in their late twenties to buy her body for sex.

Beware the ultra-right in Europe

Labour Party

As reported in the British press a few days ago, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, and Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, will attempt to launch a pan-European Eurosceptic movement.

This could indeed prove vexatious for Nigel Farage and UKIP, not least because Farage has ruled out joining his fellow ultra-right wingers. (Some would even call them fascists).

Unfortunately for the legitimate democratic parties, recent polling suggests that far-right or populist parties across Europe are threatening to create upsets in next May’s European elections. This is obviously the main reason for Wilders and Le Pen looking to form an anti-European alliance now. Le Pen will, in fact, travel to the Netherlands next month to discuss a joint campaign in the European elections with Mr Wilders’ PVV.

Yet the idea is not catching on across the extreme right in Europe. In addition to UKIP, the Northern League in Italy, Vlaams Belang in Belgium and the Democratic Party in Sweden have reacted coolly to the idea.

Interestingly, part of the problem is that the various populist or far-right parties in Europe are nervous of being associated with one another. I am tempted to ask what they have to fear and why they are so reluctant to be seen as part of the same movement. Maybe they still think that they can better hide their true colours by acting independently of each other. “Our party has not joined the alliance,” said Martin Kinnunen, the spokesman for Sweden’s Eurosceptic Democratic Party: “It is hard to say anything at this stage as we don’t know which parties will participate.”

Farage is the leader of the current Eurosceptic group in the Parliament, one that is dominated by UKIP. The Europe for Freedom and Democracy group (EFD) as it’s called, has been troubled with a good deal of internal conflict recently and it could be the case that a new political group will have to be cobbled together after the European elections.

Social Democrat and centre-left parties in Europe would do well to take note of the activity being undertaken by Le Pen and Wilders. It looks very much as if the extreme right, racist parties are mobilising in a more organised fashion than they have done before.

We need to be prepared to fight this kind of fascism with all our strength and at the same time get rid of the BNP at the European Parliament elections in May next year. Britain is fundamentally a decent country. Let’s make sure it remains just that.

From the Archive: Gerard Batten is Best, Forget the Rest

Labour Party

To continue with more of my previous blogs on UKIP.  This one is from November 6th 2009, a time when the UKIP leadership elections were taking place and Gerard Batten was hoping to succeed Nigel Farage.

Gerard Batten is Best, Forget the Rest


Fellow London MEP Gerard Batten is apparently campaigning to succeed Nigel Farage as leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The site set up to support him is interesting to say the least.Yesterday there was a post arguing that Gerard Batten’s attempts to cover up fraudulent spending of European Union monies did not matter, and there was no need for an investigation. An unusual position for a party which claims to be against the misuse of EU monies.However, like Ashley Mote and now Tom Wise, Gerard does not consider that laws apply to him. Gerard is a man who does not believe it is in the British character to play by the rules, and pay your taxes. He is refusing to pay his television licence.

Let’s return to his campaign website which reads a bit like the diary of Adrain Mole aged 55 and 3/4. Schoolboy politics might provide a slogan like  “Forget the rest and vote for the best.”   In the unlikely event of a Batten victory how will Gerard create a leadership team of all the talents other UKIP MEPs?

Gerard’s leadership blog certainly likes a bit of Viz style humour, commenting on the recent Exeter UKIP leadership hustings, the verdict is juvenile:  Pants to the rest, Gerard is the best!

Let’s hope this blog is written by an over enthusiastic supporter of Gerard’s.

Looking at his official website there is no mention of his campaign for Leader. Google “Gerard Batten” and Leader in news, and you find that the BNP have been writing to Gerard as the kind of person they think would like to donate to them. Why would this be?

Look at Gerard’s website, it is a place where a BNP supporter would feel at home.  Let’s start with his article “The Myth of Multiculturalism” which starts

“THE MYTH of multiculturalism depends on the belief that completely different cultures, and indeed contradictory world views, can peacefully co-exist within the same geographic and political space.”

Gerard represents London, he doesn’t seem to have noticed there are people with lots of differents beliefs in London. We all manage to rub along together. Londoners are pretty tolerant people, we even manage to put up with UKIP MEPs.

How about Gerard’s views on immigration? He’s written a 4 page pamphlet on the subject with the title “Enough is Enough“?

Then there’s his article in Freedom Today The Islamist threat to freedom where he talks about his regard for far right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (who Gerard is pictured with above).

You can begin to see why the BNP might consider Gerard Batten would want to support them. Let’s turn back to the intellectual masterpiece that is the “myth of multicultalism” article. This says in language strikingly like something Nick Griffin might say: “The British political and intellectual elite have not only thought that multiculturalism is highly desirable but they have spent the last fifty years actively bringing it about.”

Who could Gerard mean? How about current UKIP leader Nigel Farage? He’s married to a German. Yorkshire UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom? He’s married to a Pole. Even the Queen married a Greek. That’s right Gerard lots of British people are marrying foreign people, and I think love is wonderful, but you want to stop it?

Often when I write about UKIP members misbehaviour I receive notes from UKIP members complaining that they are decent people, and are unlucky to have so many people of bad character in UKIP. The other possibility is UKIP attracts people of bad character, discuss.

Looking at Gerard Batten’s record shouldn’t UKIP be investigating him rather than considering having him as a party leader?

Now that Tom Wise has admitted his guilt to expenses fraud, shouldn’t questions be asked as to why Gerard Batten defended him and tried to excuse Tom Wise’s fraudulent misdemeanours?

Surely any mainstream political party expects their representatives/leaders to pay taxes like the television licence fee?

Homophobic Nick Griffin may face European Parliament sanctions

Labour Party

Labour Members of the European Parliament have formally reported Nick Griffin’s controversial tweets to the President of the European Parliament. The BNP leader faces possible sanctions under Parliament rules.

On Thursday last week, British National Party Leader Nick Griffin, MEP for the North West of England, tweeted the private address of a gay couple, inviting his supporters to ‘give them a bit of drama.’.

Griffin disagreed with a county court ruling that refusing the couple to enjoy their B&B reservation because they were gay was discrimination.

The couple’s house was placed under police protection, and Griffin’s aggressive tweets are now investigated by the police.

Michael Cashman, Labour MEP for the West Midlands, who represents Labour on LGBT issues commented: “I brought this to the attention of the President of the European Parliament, who should act swiftly and officially.

“Under European Parliament rules, MEPs’ conduct ‘shall be characterised by mutual respect, and be based on the values and principles laid down’ in EU treaties, including respect for minorities’ dignity. Nick Griffin certainly failed those values when he incited his followers to give a gay couple ‘a bit of drama’.”

Michael, and all Labour MEPs, hope the European Parliament will take serious action. Griffin’s appalling behaviour is a sad reminder of the homophobia and violence LGBT people still face.

Labour MEPs lambast European Parliament funding for the BNP

Labour Party

To their utter shame, the committee which oversees European Parliament business recently agreed that an alliance of seven European extreme right wing political parties (including the British BNP, the French Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik) would qualify for €289,266 of EU money.

The Bureau of the European Parliament took this decision on what they considered to be the appropriate interpretation of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, specifically the activities and legal situation of the political groups. The relevant paragraph states that European Parliament political groups shall carry out their duties as part of the activities of the Union. The political groups shall be provided with a secretariat on the basis of the establishment plan of the Secretariat, with administrative facilities and with the appropriations entered for that purpose in Parliament’s budget.

In what was a very narrow and quite disgraceful reading of the European Parliament rules, the Bureau took the view that the newly formed extreme right group, the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements, qualified for funding in the same way as the other mainstream political groups.

However, the Bureau completely failed to take on board the very essence of the European Union, the values on which the EU is founded. Just to recap, these are respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the Member States and the societies of the Member States are characterised by pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination.

When the possibility that the European Parliament may fund extreme parties such as the BNP is given just a short moment’s thought, it becomes clear that such funding is a non-starter. The BNP and other extreme parties quite clearly contravene the EU’s fundamental values. Indeed the BNP’s political programme and campaigning is against equality and respect for human rights, to name but two of the values mentioned above while there is no way they respect pluralism, tolerance and non-discrimination.

Labour MEPs never accepted the inevitability of BNP funding. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) went into action forming alliances with like-minded MEPs to halt the current payment and stop any payments in the future if this was democratically possible.

After a passionate appeal to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament (equivalent of the Speaker), he assured EPLP Leader, Glenis Willmott, last Wednesday that he would check whether any initial payment to this ultra-right alliance could be reimbursed on legal grounds.

Furthermore, agreement has now been reached across the political spectrum of European Parliament political groupings (the Greens, the Liberals, the Centre Right as well as the Socialist and Democrat Group where Labour sits) that a “committee of wise persons from outside the European Parliament” will be set up under the European Parliament’s rules to see whether this new pan-European alliance conforms to European values.

I am sure we all agree with Glenis Willmott when she said, “The BNP cause violence and hatred wherever they go. The tolerant don’t always have to tolerate the intolerant. We’ve worked together so this is not just a socialist alliance against the far right, all parties across the spectrum are agreeing with us. The budgets committee of the European Parliament are not happy for this money to go through either. We’re happy to debate and fight our corner with anyone who disagrees with us, but we can only argue with democrats.”

The Wiffen of Racism from UKIP in London

Labour Party

The Chair of UKIP in London Paul Wiffen has expressed these views on multicultural London:

“You Left-wing scum are all the same, wanting to hand our birthright to Romanian gypsies who beat their wives and children into begging and stealing money they can gamble with, Muslim nutters who want to kill us and put us all under medieval Sharia law, the same Africans who sold their Afro-Caribbean brothers into a slavery that Britain was the first to abolish.”

UKIP’s usual  different standards of conduct have been applied. Paul Wiffen has been temporarily suspended as Chair of London, but remains their Parliamentary candidate in Ilford South and also a candidate for Redbridge Council.  One can only imagine what he says in private. I love UKIP’s logic here, he is suspended from expressing his views to fellow UKIP members, but they are quite happy for him to talk to ordinary voters.

 Paul Wiffen is not the brightest tool in the shop. The 2001 census showed that 55% of the Ilford South electorate was non-white. Paul Wiffen has “worked closely” for UKIP London MEP Gerard Batten making videos for him. (He is pictured with Gerard Batten, Paul is on the left  with Gerard Batten third from left). Gerard has made no comment so far. Would that be because Paul posts adoring twitters about Gerard?

On 3rd March he wrote “Express reports immigrants will do anything 2 get 2 UK http://bit.ly/cNisCn but #UKIP MEP Gerard Batten has the answer.”

Not keen on multicultural women too on December 13th 2009….”What exactly r Paula Buonadonna’s qualifications 2 b on The Politics Show? Not her dancing! Multi-cultural female-only shortlists @ BBC now?”

 On November 18th 2009 he expressed the wish “2moro have 2 decide if I will still stand in Ilford Sth @ GE or switch 2 Barking & Dagenham (500yds down road) 2 give Griffin a bloody nose.”

I can see why Paul thought he was best placed to take the racist vote away from the BNP’s Nick Griffin!

 I predict he will lose his deposit, but UKIP should immediately remove him as a Parliamentary and Council candidate and kick him out of the Party.

Chris Grayling for Europe portfolio?

Labour Party

I hope you had a good Easter break. I took the opportunity to do a little spring cleaning and clearing out.

One of the blasts from the past I found was my first newsletter as a MEP in Spring 2001 before  Labour’s second landslide. After 9 years it is strange how little things have changed. My headline article said…

“Tory MEPs Forge Links With Far Right

UKIP the UK Independent Party has been behaving even more erratically than usual in the last few months. With the defection of one of its MEPs and the unprecedented criticism by its founder, Alan Sked in the Spectator recently one would think that the Conservative Party would at least wish to be seen to distance themselves from a Party whose published aims include trying to woo BNP supporters.

Yet the Tories seem unconcerned by this, demonstrated by attempts to bribe UKIP into not standing candidates in seats where this would be detrimental to the Conservative Party. More worrying is the behaviour of 11 Euro sceptic Tory MEPs who are forging links with Italian extreme nationalist party Alleanza Nationale.”

How little some things change. UKIP erratic, that’s situation normal after a decade of seing them in action. UKIP losing a MEP, that’s become such a  regular event I sometimes wonder whether UKIP members hold sweepstakes on who is likely to leave next with Nikki Sinclaire the latest departure.

What strikes me now as naive is my thinking “that the Conservative Party would at least wish to be seen to distance themselves from a Party whose published aims include trying to woo BNP supporters.” Over the last decade the Conservative Party in Europe has moved steadily rightwards and this has culminated in them leaving the traditional centre right European Peoples Party to found their own ECR group with various far right parties across Europe. The 11 Eurosceptic MEPs have won

With the election called Europe should be a bigger issue. The Conservative record in Europe demonstrates a record that deserves the “nasty party” label. When Chris Grayling was caught out on gay rights he was only expressing views that Conservative MEPs in Europe tolerate on a daily basis. (Incidentally I stayed in a wonderful gay owned Bed & Breakfast for Labour Party Conference at Brighton last year – I wonder what happens when the Conservatives come to stay, do they have people checking out on the first night?) David Cameron has been allowed to say nothing when he should have sacked or demoted Grayling. The Conservatives still treat gay people as second class citizens. If Chris Grayling had been supporting the rights of Bed & Breakfast owners to not allow black people to stay he would have been instantly vaporised politically. Gay people, oh we’ll just ride that out say the Tories and hope it goes away. The obvious job for Chris Grayling has to be the Europe Portfolio, you just know that Chris Grayling would feel so much more at home with the Conservative Party’s Polish partners homophobic views.

The Conservatives will be keen to keep Europe off the General Election agenda. Despite a vocal minority, whenever Europe is voted on in General Elections the majority of British people consistently support pro-European parties. They recognise we live in a complex interdependent world and want to work with our European neighbours, not isolate themselves. I predict that the majority of the popular vote will favour pro-European parties again.

Excellent Result in Glasgow North-East

Labour Party

The result in Glasgow North-East can only be interpreted as a massive endorsement for the Government – there is quite simply no other way of looking at it.  Just in case you missed it, here is the actual result:

Labour – 12,231 votes (59.39%)

SNP – 4,120 votes (20%)

Tory – 1,075 votes (5.22%)

BNP – 1,013 votes (4.92%)

Solidarity – 794 votes (3.86%)

Lib Dems – 474 votes (2.30%)

Total votes cast – 20,595

Voter turnout – 32.97%

Although I didn’t manage to get to Glasgow, I did do a couple of stints at telephoning canvassing from London.  It always looked as if we would do well, as indeed we have done.

There is, however, one downside – the turnout.  Despite the well documented fact that turnouts in by-elections are notoriously low, 33 per cent is poor.  I gather from BBC Women’s Hour today that the number of women participating was much lower than that for men.

This is deeply troubling.  Our democracy requires engagement and women will only really make inroads in terms of improving their lives if they take part in the political process.  I hope the Labour Party will now undertake a serious analysis as to why the turnout among women in Glasgow North-East was so low.  We need some answers so that women in future are more encouraged to go out and vote.