Sorry gentlemen, Britain is Stronger In the European Union

Labour Party

Over the weekend I watched two household names dodge logic and truth and declare themselves for leaving the EU.

George Galloway, a perennial contrarian, stood onstage with Nigel Farage and, as in the Scottish referendum, invoked the glories of a long-gone Britain, standing alone against the might of fascism. Aside from his unprovable claims that he would have been first in line to defend the UK and the dubious historical accuracy of such a statement, his argument was essentially that we could become the great trading nation

we once were, that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would no longer be a reality.

Does he really believe that the Conservative Party, a party he proudly claims to have spent his political lifetime fighting against, will suddenly become all social-democratic and cuddly outside of the EU? That the workers’ rights, consumer rights and citizens’ rights that we have thanks to the EU will simply be untouched, treated as part of British culture? This is a party which has said it wants to repeal the Human Rights Act!

Additionally, his view of international trade is totally defunct. We always hear how nimble and agile the UK would be outside of the EU, making deals to suit us with the great powers of the world. Again though, Boris and George have both forgotten that we no longer have an empire, and we will soon be overtaken by growing economies. We are an island nation of 65 million people, with little manufacturing and a service-dependent economy, and we seek to trade with – as equals – China and India with more than 1 billion people each, and economies streaking ahead, the USA and Russia with 350 million and two of the largest and most developed economies in the world, putting up increasing trade barriers, not to mention the idea of a ‘special relationship’ with the Commonwealth.

Boris Johnson, standing outside his home in London and causing a headache for David Cameron, harkened back to the notion of sovereignty, a concept that a nation or people is free to choose the law which governs it.

Legally, Boris doesn’t have much going for him in a best case scenario. In a case called Factortame, a seminal case in British and European law, judge Lord Bridge reminded us that the sovereignty of the British parliament is still absolute, we have only chosen to relinquish it as long as we are members of the European Union. This logic has been picked up on by both the German and Italian Constitutional Courts.

Politically and economically however, he has no leg to stand on. As mentioned above, we live in a multi-polar world, in which we are confronted with growing economic and military powers. Sovereignty, as pointed out in the Economist, in the 21st century is always relative. We can’t impose our will on others, so why cut ourselves off from our friends and try to go it alone? Especially since, as I have mentioned before, the Out campaign doesn’t seem to have a clue what the UK will look like post-Brexit.

 It’s time to deal in hard facts, not just wishful thinking.

Ed Miliband is right to say that a Brexit would endanger lives

Labour Party

The spectre of the UK leaving the EU is, unfortunately, rearing its ugly head again. In a question and answer session last week, Ed Miliband draw attention to the many benefits Britain gained by its membership of the world’s largest trading bloc. Focusing on the downside of a British exit from the EU, Ed stated that “jobs depend on it (the EU), families depend on it, businesses depend on it…I just think we are much, much better working within the EU than not”. Speaking at Stevenage in Hertfordshire, Ed Miliband said that, economics aside, there are other drawbacks. “Just think about countering terrorism. We are much better working across borders to do that”.

In the light of this speech of Ed’s, it is worth reiterating that it appears the Conservative Party has not yet understood that in the 21st century terrorism, along with organised crime and trafficking, is transnational in nature, and shutting ourselves off from our neighbours and allies only serves to encourage the extremists and weaken our position. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the UK had the option to reject all the measures adopted prior to its entry into force.

The Tory-led coalition did, in fact, do this, and then selectively opted back into some of the provisions, meaning that law enforcement can rely on its European counterparts sometimes, and sometimes not. The Tories have determinedly kept us out of Justice and Home Affairs measures, weakening the opportunities of our police forces and security services to effectively neutralise threats. Once more the ideology has trumped the practicality, although this time with potentially fatal consequences.

As if that wasn’t enough, it has also meant that the other Member States are becoming more rigid in their attitude to our picking and choosing; meaning that the era of the UK having its cake and eating it is coming to an end.

As I have stated before on this blog, the almost schizophrenic stance of the Tories leads to unpredictable results, lengthy court cases and difficulties in practical enforcement. It will be interesting indeed to see how they justify this to the British people in the run-up to the general election.

From the Archive: Nigel Farage accused of being Stalinist and anti-women

Labour Party

This blog comes from February of this year at a time when Marta Andreasen MEP was thinking about quitting UKIP.  Well for any of you who don’t know, she did quit in the end and is now a member of the Conservative party and is part of the European Conservative and Reformist group.  Seemingly the bullying, sexism and general chauvanism that characterises the UKIP delegation in the European Parliament became too much for her.  I think I probably disagree with Marta on a good many things, but on this I can feel nothing but sympathy for her; having to work with the likes of Farage, Bloom, and Batten can’t have been easy.

Nigel Farage accused of being Stalinist and anti-women

Political aficionadas, not to mention geeks, may remember when UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom told the world way back in 2004 that a woman’s place was cleaning behind the fridge.

Incredibly, UKIP misogyny has just got much worse. Marta Andreasen, their only woman MEP, has launched a searing attack on Nigel Farage. “He (Farage) doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom.” she told the BBC.

Marta Andreasen, who represents South East England in the European Parliament, has said she is unlikely to stand as a UKIP candidate next year. Andreasen, who worked for the European Commission before joining UKIP and being elected in 2009, told the BBC that “if things don’t change” within the party “she can’t imagine a way to continue”.

Andreasen continued by telling the BBC that she had been openly criticised by her party leader and other MEPs, suggesting that this amounted to bullying. “I’ve been bullied, in private situations, for decisions I have made by Nigel. I have been accused of being disloyal, breaching confidence and breaching my contract with the party. There’s an attitude that either you keep silent about everything that’s been going on in the party or suffer the consequences.” Ms Andreasen said she believed Mr Farage – who was re-elected as leader in 2010 after standing down a year earlier to contest a Westminster seat – “did not like women”.

Farage’s views on women are not, apparently, the only problem. Ms Andreasen told “Under his (Farage’s) leadership – and I have questioned his leadership obviously a number of times – the party (UKIP) has become a dictatorship. This is a Stalinist way of operating and he doesn’t care about the membership or the grassroots.”

Andeasen says she plans to stay in the European Parliament as a UKIP representative until the end of the current Parliament in 2014, to see out her mandate and “look for ways I can continue to represent the membership”. She may consider standing as an independent next year.

It’s worth remembering former UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire, a lesbian, who won a sex discrimination case against her former colleagues on a default judgement at Exeter Employment Tribunal after UKIP failed to lodge a defence. Sinclaire claimed UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom had called her “queer”.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This has been a bad week for George Osborne with attacks on his austerity measures coming from all sides. It has become clear that a majority of people believe that government’s economic policies are damaging the economy rather than helping, a new poll reveals, as the coalition government begins an internal war over how to stimulate growth.

George Osborne has ten days until he delivers his crucial fourth budget, and an Opinion/Observer poll shows almost three times as many voters (58%) believe the austerity drive is harming the economy as those who think it is working (20%).

The findings will add to pressure on Osborne to change course as the UK hovers on the brink of a triple-dip recession. Given Osborne’s form when it comes to changing his mind in the face of overwhelming evidence, I don’t have much hope that he’ll do what needs to be done.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility rebutted claims by the prime minister that the government’s deficit-cutting strategy was not responsible for choking off growth, stating that austerity had knocked 1.4% off GDP in the past two years.

In the first two years of the coalition, most polls showed solid support for the government’s hard line on the spending cuts, though the Tory lead over Labour on economic competence has narrowed in recent weeks.

The stark poll findings come as home secretary Theresa May appeared to make a pitch for the leadership of the Tory party, arguing in a speech to a ConservativeHome conference that the Tories must govern for the whole country, not just sectional interests. May said: “We’re at our strongest when anyone and everyone can feel that the Conservative party is for them.” The speech, resembling a leader’s party conference delivery in its scope and tone, was seen as an attempt to raise her profile at a time when many Tories are losing faith in Cameron’s ability to remain as leader beyond the next election.

On top of this, a key plank of the chancellor’s plans to reform Britain’s banks in the wake of the financial crisis and the Libor rate-fixing scandal is “wholly inadequate”, MPs have warned as they reopened the debate on breaking up the banks.

The parliamentary commission on banking standards said the government’s proposal for the regulator, the Financial Policy Committee (FPC), to review the strength of the ringfence between high street and riskier investment banks was little more than the regulator “marking its own examination paper”. It said the government should include a specific provision to consider a full, industry-wide split-up of the banks if the ringfence was judged to be failing.

So the Tories look like they are singularly failing to do anything right when it comes to the economy.  And with senior Conservatives stepping forward with not so subtle hints that they might challenge Cameron for the leadership, we might be on the brink of political civil war, where the only real losers will be the British public.

Osborne should be embarrassed about the loss of Britain’s AAA status

Labour Party

As predicted Britain’s credit rating has been downgraded from AAA to AA1 by Moody’s Investors Service.  According to George Osborne the economic significance of this is not huge.  What Osborne would rather not acknowledge is that the symbolism is highly significant.

As I pointed out in a previous blog, being downgraded by one or more of the credit rating agencies is not the end of the world.  It happened to France and the United States without any real impact on the cost of government borrowing.  So this development is by no means an economic catastrophe, but we should not ignore the fact that it may be portentous.

Since Friday there have been no troubling signs in the market related to the downgrade, except, perhaps, the continuation of the pound’s decline in value.  Never the less, this is an important moment politically for George Osborne and the Conservative Party in general.

David Cameron, George Osborne and the Conservative party have for a long time stood on a platform of restoring economic stability, reducing our country’s debt and getting our economy going again.  In fact, Osborne stated that losing our AAA rating would be a humiliation, and as Ed Balls said in the Commons on Monday:
“The chancellor needs to get out of denial and get a new plan that will actually work on growth, jobs and deficit. Or else the prime minister will have to get a new chancellor.”

The downgrading is a further nail in the coffin of the Chancellor and this Government’s economic credibility.  It has also damaged Osborne’s increasingly shaky standing within the Tory party. The Chancellor’s decision before the 2010 election to make Britain’s triple A status a measure of his success is now seen as more evidence of poor judgment.

The Financial Times yesterday had two damning quotes from Tory backbenchers:

 “It was rank inexperience – foolhardiness verging on stupidity,” said one of his colleagues. “He would be OK if growth was ticking along at 2.5 per cent, but it’s not,” said another senior Tory, as he questioned whether Mr Osborne had the skills to cope with the persistently weak economy eroding his political capital. “

Cameron has made it clear that Osborne will remain in the Treasury until the next election, despite this latest in a long line of mistakes.  This is bad news the UK, as our economic outlook goes from bad to worse.  The credit rating downgrade might just be an embarrassment for Osborne right now, but it could also be a portent of things to come if he doesn’t come up with something to help stimulate growth.

Labour should prepare to fight UKIP on Europe

Labour Party

The time has come to revise what is becoming Labour’s conventional wisdom on UKIP, namely that UKIP is to be encouraged because they take Tory votes.

David Cameron’s long awaited speech where he pledged that, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next election, there will be a referendum on a yet to be negotiated re-jigging of our relationship with EU, with rejection of the new deal by the British public resulting in our exit, seems to have calmed some of the problems with his party – for now.  Ed Miliband did the right thing by saying that we would not support an in/out referendum, though a Labour government would retain the law meaning that any future EU treaty changes would be put to the British public for approval.

After this was made clear, Nigel Farage published an article in the Mail on Sunday stating that Ed’s position on Europe meant that UKIP would now be coming after our votes.  He said:

“Perhaps it will please the Conservatives to hear that we are also targeting the Labour vote. For what we represent is the voice of not just disgruntled, disenchanted Conservatives but everyone in Britain affected by the loss of sovereignty and power that comes with being a member of the EU… We will, in the county council elections in May this year and through a national advertising campaign in our major urban centres, target traditional Labour voters in a way UKIP has never done before.”

The aforementioned conventional wisdom, I have to say, backed by recent polling data, says that even with a concerted effort on the part of UKIP against Labour, the Tories will still have more to fear than we do.  On a constituency by constituency basis, the Tories lose seats to us, or fail to gain seats from us and the Lib-Dems, by margins that can be almost solely attribute to an ascendant UKIP.  Current trends suggest that UKIP won’t win any seats, but will do enough in the popular vote to cost the Conservatives.

But there is still no room for complacency, polls can change rapidly and there are still two years to go.  For all its vagueness, Cameron’s speech has meant that the Tories have gained some ground on the issue of Europe. Farage is, I think, recognising that UKIP may find they have less and less to use against the Tories.

We could, therefore, see a drift towards either an official, semi-acknowledged, or completely unofficial electoral pact between the Conservatives and UKIP come the next election.  This would mean UKIP leaving Tory areas and gunning for us.

The best way to combat this is to start tackling the Tories and UKIP on Europe now.  Ed Miliband was right to shun the idea of an in/out referendum, but now our party needs to start talking about why Ed is right, and how much damage Cameron’s proposal, even if it never comes to fruition, could do.  Let’s not wait for a referendum to start talking about why the UK needs to stay in the EU, let’s do it now and show UKIP and the Tories how wrong they are.

Cameron’s shilly-shallying on Europe is not good for the country

Labour Party

The Tories are well and truly getting themselves in a twist on the EU.Europe, as we all know, was always their Achilles heels, a fault line which is getting deeper by the day.

By wading into these turbulent waters, big beast Eurosceptic Dr Liam Fox has heightened their problems and shown us an even more divided party. But it’s not just the Conservative Party in the frame. Since they are the leading part of the Con-Dem Coalition Government, this is something which affects the British people as a whole.

In a speech given tellingly to the right-wing think tank, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Dr Fox, according to ConservativeHome defied “the wisdom of the Conservative leadership by arguing that if we are not able to renegotiate significant powers back for Britain, we should leave the European Union”.   

It is, of course, bad enough that a former Cabinet Minister should attack his Party’s leadership in this way. It’s made even worse by David Cameron’s utter ineptness. Does he support a referendum or doesn’t her?  Liam Fox and 100 other Tory MPs think he doesn’t while others believe he might.

If it weren’t so serious, I would say that brewery and a lot to drink come to mind. Britain’s relationship with the European Union matters very much to our country. I can do no better than quote Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander writing in the Guardian on Saturday: “My fear is that the shambles over the last few days reveals more about the prime minister’s weakness in the party than the strength of his convictions about Europe. Whatever your view on Britain’s relationship with the EU, we all want the government’s approach to an issue this significant to start from only one place: consideration of what is best for Britain. I regret that this prime minister seems to be more concerned with managing party interests than governing in the national interest when it comes to Europe.”

Our national interest is at the very minimum to have a clear and well thought out strategy for Europe. It does no harm to repeat that the EU single market is the UK’s largest trading bloc taking 40 per cent of our exports. This involves more than simply getting goods there. As Douglas Alexander said in the same article: “…the single market is not just about “free trade” as the Eurosceptics misleadingly imply. It’s about far more than that: removing barriers behind the borders – and that requires common rules with a commission and court to enforce them. And where we have shared goals – from tackling climate change to cross-border crime and human trafficking – in an era of billion-person countries and trillion-pound economies – we cannot afford to give up on ways that help amplify our voice and protect our interests.”

It beggars belief that the Prime Minister is playing party politics with such an important matter. The real problem is that Cameron has not really “detoxified” the Tory brand. He hasn’t had the courage to do what Neil Kinnock achieved for the Labour Party in the 1980s. The British Conservative Party now has more extremists than before the 2010 general election.

Cameron seems to think appeasing the Eurosceptics will get him off the hook. Such misplaced judgment defies all historical precedents. Cameron has isolated the UK by pulling out of the European People’s Party, the centre-right group which also happens to be the largest political group in the European Parliament. Having annoyed his natural allies, Cameron now thinks he can renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU. Total and utter pie in the sky for reasons explained in some detail in other posts on this blog, and rather pleasingly put forward by Andrew Neill on the BBC Sunday Politics programme.

Cameron targets women as he seeks to slash benefits

Labour Party

David Cameron’s desire to cut welfare benefits is as predictable as it is appalling. There is always something deeply distasteful, not to say enraging, when a Prime Minister who has enjoyed every privilege our country has to offer seeks to reduce the meagre resources provided by the social security system to Britain’s poorest.

David Cameron’s proposal to take housing benefit away from the under 25s and his glib throw-away line that they can live with their parents, shows just how arrogant and out of touch he is. Supposing the parents are unemployed? Has he thought that it may be one rather than two parents. They, or she, may live in over-crowded conditions. Even worse, the young person may have left for personal reasons.

I am tempted to ask what planet our Prime Minister lives on when he says, “For literally millions, the passage to independence is several years living in their childhood bedroom as they save up to move out while for many others, it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work.”

On the figures from the Department of Work and Pensions which show that, out of the 385,000 under-25s claiming housing benefit, 204,000 have children, Cameron takes a predictably unsympathetic view which takes no account of the children involved. He believes it is necessary to look at the “interaction of the benefit system with the choices people make about having a family.”

I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad that this housing benefit proposal and the others in the package announced yesterday seem to be Cameron’s own, not those of either the Conservative Party as a whole or the Government.

There is, of course, more. Equally appalling is the idea that people on benefit do not receive assistance for children if they have more than three. It is no exaggeration to say that this attempt to police fertility smacks of China’s one parent policy and campaigns in India to forcibly sterilise women.

These are just two items in a much longer list. Cameron is not only harking back to the Victorian dark ages when to be poor was the worst possible sin. He is also covertly targeting women. Since women bear the major responsibility for bringing up children they will be disproportionately hit if Cameron’s ideas come to fruition.

Cameron is attacking all people on benefits, branding them scroungers with seemingly no thought for the overwhelming majority who wish to work. Thanks to the policies of his Government the rate of unemployment is over eight per cent. Women have lost their jobs at a faster rate than men. Many would like to work again but are unable to find a job. That’s the stark reality not Mr Cameron’s idea that all those who claim benefits are either scroungers, feckless or both.


Nigel Farage gets too much air time (continued)

Labour Party

As shown on this blog last week, UKIP’s performance in every British election in which they have fielded candidates other than those for the European Parliament has been woeful in the extreme.

Yet their problem not only lack of electoral achievement. Prominent UKIP members hold sexist, racist and homophobic views as well as maintaining unacceptable right wing positions such as rioters should be shot on sight.  I am indebted to Political Scrapbook for this analysis of UKIP’s newest recruit, former Tory MEP Roger Helmer.

Women share blame for rape: Backing Kenneth Clarke’s controversial rape comments, Helmer took it upon himself to distinguish between “stranger” and “date” rape: “In the first case (“stranger rape”), the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case (“Date rape”) the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.”

Everyone speeds, why shouldn’t I?: Deciding that he operates above the law, Helmer commenting on speed limits claimed, “No matter how fast you are going, you get people passing you.” It was later revealed that Helmer had recently been caught speeding with his Jaguar – driving at 38 mph in a 30 mph zone. Tut tut.

“Dumb” seal cubs “deserve” to die: Back in 2006, Helmer thrust himself into controversy with an unsympathetic email to a 17 year-old animal rights campaigner. In the email, Helmer told the teenager that, he thinks “it’s mawkish, sentimental and unhelpful to adopt a Bambi attitude to animals.” Before telling the teen “save your concerns for people rather than them.”

Climate change is a total lie: Wading into the debate on climate change, Helmer labelled it the “Great Climate Myth”. Going onto criticise wind farms, he suggested he spoke for all people who were “hopping mad at the imposition of useless, ugly, ideologically-motivated industrial-scale structures close to their homes and villages.”

Psychiatrists should “turn” homosexuals straight: Posting on Twitter: “Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to ‘turn’ a consenting homosexual.”  Thankfully Helmer’s attempt at philosophical thought challenged nobody and angered everybody.

Gay marriage wrong on all counts: Taking the classic approach before delivering an offensive remark, Helmer painted himself as a liberal, tolerant of homosexuality, with gay friends no less. Before clearing the way for his outdated views on gay marriage. Stating that he was, “opposed to the concept of homosexual “marriage”, on both semantic and social policy grounds.”

Homophobia is propaganda and a myth: Not happy with one set of offensive comments, in the same blog post, Helmer called homophobia a “political agenda”: “I have yet to meet anyone who has an irrational fear of homosexuals, or of homosexuality.  So to the extent that the word has any meaning at all, it describes something which simply does not exist.”

Shoot rioters and arsonists on sight: As Scrapbook revealed at the time, in the midst of August’s riots, Helmer shocked the blogosphere, left and right alike, when he posted on Twitter suggesting arsonists and looters should be shot on sight. Helmer later rejected the opportunity to back away from these comments, stating that if rubber bullets didn’t work, “tougher measures were called for.”

Badger cull will reduce price of shaving brushes: Referring to opponents as “po-faced manic bunny huggers”, mustachioed Helmer said that the Government’s controversial cadger cull would be a good idea because it would bring down the “exorbitant” cost of shaving brushes.

The British media must be challenged as to why they give UKIP leader Nigel Farage so much attention, air time and column inches when UKIP members hold such vile views. While I believe in free speech speech, I do not find it acceptable for the media to promote a party which is so obviously on the right-wing political fringe.

Nigel Farage gets too much air time (continued)

Labour Party

Following last Friday’s blogpost, there is, of course, more to say about UKIP’s disproportionate media coverage, exposure they would never get with virtually any leader other than Nigel Farage.

UKIP is a fringe party in British politics. They have no MPs at Westminster. The House of Commons is a UKIP free zone, in contrast to the Greens who have managed to secure Caroline Lucas’ election in Brighton. Greens 1, UKIP 0 graphically demonstrates the attitude of the British people towards the UK Independence Party. When it comes to the crunch UKIP are absolutely nowhere.

The number of votes cast in the 2010 general election shows just how far away UKIP is from any kind of breakthrough in returning MPs to the House of Commons. The three main parties polled as follows:
Conservative – 10,703,654 votes
Labour – 8,606,517 votes
Lib-Dems – 6,836,248 votes
UKIP gained a derisory 919,471 votes, 9,784,183 behind the Tories and 7,687,046 fewer than Labour.
UKIP a major political player? Give us a break.

UKIP do, of course, have seats in the European Parliament. At the last Euro elections in 2009 seats gained were:
Conservative – 26 (includes one from Northern Ireland and excludes later defections)
UKIP – 13 (this again takes no account of subsequent defections)
Labour – 13
Lib-Dems – 11
It is worth pointing out that the European Parliament elections are conducted under a system of
proportional representation which improves the showing of smaller parties.

When we look at local election results, the minuscule nature of UKIP’s appeal becomes even
more apparent – 139 councillors, mostly in parishes and just 21 at district level. UKIP is not a
Party with mass support, or indeed much support at all. They are, in fact, nowhere at all.

This is certainly not reflected in the national media coverage UKIP receive. Indeed there are times
when you may be forgiven for thinking Farage’s rump of a party was up there with the
Conservatives on over 10,700,000 votes, Labour with 8,600,000 and the Liberal-Democrats who
polled 6,800,000 in the May 2010 general election.

Both the broadcast media and newspapers should review their treatment of UKIP in the light of
the facts outlined above. Since the problem is mainly with television and radio to a lesser extent,
they should be the first to change their ways.

Broadcasters must understand that the fact that Nigel Farage is a good media performer does not
make him representative. In the interests of the impartiality so proudly espoused by the BBC, and
others who aim to follow the Beeb’s example, UKIP deserve much less of the cake than they are
currently gobbling up.