Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

I managed to catch up with some of yesterday’s Andrew Marr show yesterday. It was great to see two women MP’s sitting on the sofa doing the newspaper review. Yes there was at times a political edge to it, but in my opinion it gave some more context, additional insight and depth to the stories they were discussing. You can watch the paper review here.

One of the things they discussed was an article in the Independent on Sunday in which the Tory education secretary, Nicky Morgan, admitted poor children face soft bigotry.

She told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) that Children from poor backgrounds are still being written off as low achievers by their teachers because of the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. She said more needed to be done to stop children being held back. The article didn’t go into exactly what a conservative government would do but Labour has promised to put an end Westminster’s “alpha male” education reform culture.

The shadow education secretary,Tristram Hunt, speaking at the same conference, promised to call time on the “exam factory” approach of recent years and offer in its place greater autonomy for teachers and school leaders.

Hunt said: “The cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see everything through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.”

“Change must come from the bottom up,” he said, adding: “through giving teachers and school leaders the freedom and autonomy to deliver an exciting education”.

He also said the existing model of school improvements simply didn’t work: “The existing model of school improvement is creaking at the seams. The idea that if we just raise the targets, stamp our feet and demand a bit more, then every child will fulfil their potential is now, surely, approaching its end stages.

It is a scandal, that three quarters of children from one area (in this instance Trafford in Greater Manchester) achieve five good GCSE passes while just a 30 minute drive away in Knowsley only 35% of children get the same number of passes.

The ASCL’s general secretary also spoke and warned that the government’s continuous reform of the curriculum was impacting negatively on students because it made it impossible to measure how well England’s schools are performing, in addition parents and employers found it difficult to understand what qualifications are worth.

Meanwhile in France, the far right group led by Marine Le Pen, the Front National failed in its bid to come top in France’s regional elections, putting the party far behind Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP. The UMP secured 30% of the vote in the first round of elections against the FN’s 26%.|

This was an interesting development as polls had suggested that Le Pen’s party would come top. Perhaps following an initial surge in interest voters who had previously considered voting for the far right group can see what the Front National party really stands for and are therefore not prepared to give it the support it requires.

Hitler-defenders and misogynists – UKIP’s new allies

Labour Party

Nigel Farage has struck a deal with a far right MEP in order to save his political group the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) in European Parliament.

The Polish MEP, which Farage has invited into his political grouping to save it from collapsing, belongs to the Congress of the New Right and its leader, also an MEP but who is not joining the EFDD, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, has questioned the Holocaust and made offensive remarks about the right to vote being taken away from women.

He has also made some terrible remarks about the difference between rape and consensual sex, claiming that “the difference is very subtle”. On the issue of the Holocaust he claimed that Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”.

Korwin-Mikke even made remarks about the British national minimum wage claiming it should be abolished. And when he refused to withdraw and apologise for racist remarks he made he was fined 10 days allowance by The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

President Schulz said of the incident, in a statement: “As Members of the European Parliament, we are particularly obliged to respect and protect the fundamental values of the European Union. This includes the principle of non-discrimination and respect for human dignity.”

The EFDD would have disintegrated had Farage not invited the Polish MEP, this is because any group wishing to form must have a minimum of 25 MEPs across seven different countries in order to be considered. Farage lost the support of Latvia MEP, Iveta Grigule, who quit the group meaning Farage lost the minimum number of people required to form the group.

The EPLP referred to the party as: “Hitler-defenders and misogynists” and called them “UKIP’s sickening new allies”. Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in Europe, said: “Nigel Farage’s desperate attempt to resurrect his group has seen him sink to an all-time low. The views expressed by his new allies are sickening even by UKIP standards.

Farage was clearly so desperate not to lose the kudos, power, prestige, extra funding and speaking rights that he has taken this drastic and very worrying step of aligning with a far-right party whose leader has made these dreadful remarks.

Even Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Front National, refused to form an alliance which included Korwin-Mikke on the basis that his political views are “contrary to our values.” It says rather a lot about Farage and his morals if he is willing to align with a member of a party who has such disturbing views, and which even other far- right politicians refuse to have anything to do with.

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.

The end of the EFD could severely diminish UKIP’s profile

Labour Party

Interesting news as we gather for the start of the new European Parliament mandate.  The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are the biggest party, could be finished.

Being the leader of a political group has been important to UKIP over the last five years as it has given them access more funding from the European Parliament and allowed Nigel Farage a good deal of speaking time in the plenary chamber. UKIP is now facing a real challenge in getting enough MEPs to form a political group in the European Parliament. To do this they need to hold on to MEPs who may already support them and attracting new one.

The rules in the European Parliament state that you need at least 25 MEPs from 7 different member states to form a group. As it stands the EFD have enough MEPs but from only four member states. What’s more, the Tories with their European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group voted to last week to accept applications from a handful of  new parties, including the controversial Danish People’s Party and The Finns, both of which sat in the EFD last term.

What’s more, Marine Le Pen is currently assembling a new far-right coalition that will include Lega Norda, also previously in the EFD. Farage has ruled out forming a coaltion with with Le Pen’s Front National, citing the parties anti-semetic past. Perhaps the bigger consideration for him though would be losing his position at the top of the group to Le Pen.

So we could be seeing less of Farage insulting national and European leaders. Since so many MEPs and their national delegateions seem not to want to do business with UKIP,  Farage could also find his support in the European Parliament greatly dimished.

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.

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.

Marine Le Pen loses immunity as MEP

Labour Party

The far right leader Marine Le Pen has had her right to immunity from prosecution removed following a vote in the European Parliament yesterday.

She will now face prosecution after she compared Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation of France during a National Front (FN) rally in the French city of Lyon in 2010.

The far right leader of the FN, Le Pen, was accused of ‘incitement to hatred and discrimination’ in 2011 when the chief prosecutor’s office in Lyon opened a case against the MEP.

In the speech she made at the rally, which was broadcast by French media, she said that first France had seen “more and more veils”, then “more and more burkas” and “after that came prayers in the streets… I’m sorry, but some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the occupation, so let’s talk about occupation, because that is what is happening here… There are no tanks, no soldiers, but it is still an occupation, and it weighs on people”.

Responding to the vote yesterday, I told the BBC: “Quite rightly, Marine Le Pen will now face prosecution following today’s vote. It’s taken a long time, but she must now defend her actions in a French court and follow the proper legal procedure which almost nobody else in France has immunity from. She is not above reproach.”

Immunity from prosecution means MEPs are effectively covered from any opinions they express within the parliament and this is written into the European Parliaments rules.

However, the rules clearly state that “immunity cannot be claimed when a member is found in the act of committing an offence and shall not prevent the European Parliament from exercising its right to waive the immunity of one of its members”.

From the Archive: UKIP provide further proof of their far-right leanings

Labour Party

UKIP have proved time and time again that they are a great deal more extreme in their politics than they would have you believe as these archives blog seem to be proving.  This blog was originally posted last year when a number of MEPs joined UKIP’s European Parliament political group the Europe for Freedom and Democracy party.  The most worrying among them is Slavi Binev, formerly of the Hungarian political party Attack, an extreme right wing organisation.

UKIP provide further proof of their far-right leanings

This morning in the plenary chamber Martin Schulz announced that two MEPs have joined UKIP’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) political grouping.  

The first of these is Mike Nattrass, though he is actually rejoining after quitting the group in June 2010.  Mr Nattrass left the group because, as he said, he did not want to sit with MEPs “who do not wish to leave the EU and have very odd views on many issues which are incompatible with my own”. He also said that by remaining a member of the EFD he “would be condoning this progressive destruction of our cherished institutions” and would be ‘far more effective’ as a non-attached MEP.

Perhaps more intriguingly, the newest member of the EFD is Slavcho (aka Slavi) Binev from Bulgaria.  Mr Binev was elected in 2009 as an MEP for Attack, a far-right nationalist party, that he has since left.  The Attack party has been involved in a number of scandals, most notably in 2006 when then leader Dimitar Stoyanov made racist and misogynistic remarks about another Bulgarian MEP.  What’s more Mr Binev was named in a 2005 US diplomatic cable on organised crime as heading the MIG entertainment group whose ”criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking stolen automobiles”.

UKIP are a strange bunch with stranger friends and this acceptance of Slavi Binev is further proof.  It’s worth remembering another person who felt the need to leave the EFD, Nikki Sinclaire who resigned from the EFD citing her displeasure at what she claims to be some of the racist, extremist parties that belong to the group.  Sinclaire was subsequently expelled from UKIP for refusing to be part of the EFD group, but went on to win an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against them.

Farage may be feeling confident after UKIP’s showing in the recent by-elections, but he should show a bit more care about his public perception.  I have already spoken about Godfrey Bloom’s sharing wine with fascist leader Marine le Pen and now Farage has decided to campaign against gay marriage in order to steal votes from the Tories.  Farage, it appears, is well on the way to exposing the extreme-right and bigoted character of UKIP.

From the Archive: UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom MEP “I share a glass of wine a few times a year with Marine le Pen”

Labour Party

This blog was from December of last year, when it emerged that Godfrey Bloom was involved with the European Aliance for Freedom (EAF) that includes the far-right French MEP and former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, among other nationalist politicians.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves of just how right wing UKIP are now. We shouldn’t forget that many UKIPers lean more towards the extreme end of the political spectrum. A case in point being Godfrey Bloom.

UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom MEP “I share a glass of wine a few times a year with Marine le Pen”

At the start of December, Yorkshire & Humber MEP Godfrey Bloom wrote an article defending his involvement with the European Alliance of Freedom (EAF), a pan-European political party which includes far-right parties from across Europe. Despite Bloom’s active involvement in the EAF, UKIP has a policy of not joining pan-European political parties. He argued that the party, whose executive include the French Front National, Belgian Vlaams Belang and Austrian Freedom Party, are solely united by their euro scepticism.

However, he then admitted to sharing “a glass of wine a few times a year with Marine le Pen” saying she was a ‘protectionist and socialist’.

Marine Le Pen is the leader of the Front National in France, and the daughter of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of racism of inciting racial hatred at least six times. In 2010, Marine Le Pen compared Muslims praying in France to Nazi occupiers, and when challenged said “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis.”

Godfrey Bloom was chair of the EAF until last month, when a new board was announced at a press conference in the European Parliament. The new chair is Franz Obermayr from the Austrian Freedom Party, and Marine Le Pen and Belgian MEP Philip Claeys are co-Presidents. Fellow board member is Kent Ekeroth, an MP for the Swedish Democrats.

The leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, was roundly condemned in August this year for posting a cartoon on Facebook similar to anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. A former FPÖ official is currently facing criminal charges for campaign literature with the slogan “Love your home country instead of Moroccan thieves”.

Kent Ekeroth is currently ‘taking a break’ from the Swedish Democrats, after footage of him and several key Swedish Democrat politicians on a drunken racist rampage was leaked to the press.  The Swedish Democrats also hit the headlines for recently sending a schoolboy a web link showing decapitated bodies in response to a request for their views on Islam.

Philip Claeys is a member of Vlaams Belang, a Flemish separatist party established after its previous incarnation, Vlaams Blok, was dissolved in 2004 for violating race hatred laws. Recent Vlaams Belang campaign literature included a picture of a white sheep kicking a Moroccan Muslim sheep out of Europe.

Bloom appears to have closer views to his fellow EAF members than he admits.  He referred to ‘dim-witted Johnny Asiatic’ in a recent article on trade tariffs on Chinese pottery, and was ejected from the parliamentary chamber for shouting Nazi slogans at a German MEP in 2010.

Bloom also stood for UKIP in Humberside for the Police & Crime Commissioner elections in November, coming fourth with 16.06% of the vote.

UKIP provide further proof of their far-right leanings

Labour Party

This morning in the plenary chamber Martin Schulz announced that two MEPs have joined UKIP’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) political grouping.  

The first of these is Mike Nattrass, though he is actually rejoining after quitting the group in June 2010.  Mr Nattrass left the group because, as he said, he did not want to sit with MEPs “who do not wish to leave the EU and have very odd views on many issues which are incompatible with my own”. He also said that by remaining a member of the EFD he “would be condoning this progressive destruction of our cherished institutions” and would be ‘far more effective’ as a non-attached MEP.

Perhaps more intriguingly, the newest member of the EFD is Slavcho (aka Slavi) Binev from Bulgaria.  Mr Binev was elected in 2009 as an MEP for Attack, a far-right nationalist party, that he has since left.  The Attack party has been involved in a number of scandals, most notably in 2006 when then leader Dimitar Stoyanov made racist and misogynistic remarks about another Bulgarian MEP.  What’s more Mr Binev was named in a 2005 US diplomatic cable on organised crime as heading the MIG entertainment group whose “criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking stolen automobiles”.

UKIP are a strange bunch with stranger friends and this acceptance of Slavi Binev is further proof.  It’s worth remembering another person who felt the need to leave the EFD, Nikki Sinclaire who resigned from the EFD citing her displeasure at what she claims to be some of the racist, extremist parties that belong to the group.  Sinclaire was subsequently expelled from UKIP for refusing to be part of the EFD group, but went on to win an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against them.

Farage may be feeling confident after UKIP’s showing in the recent by-elections, but he should show a bit more care about his public perception.  I have already spoken about Godfrey Bloom’s sharing wine with fascist leader Marine le Pen and now Farage has decided to campaign against gay marriage in order to steal votes from the Tories.  Farage, it appears, is well on the way to exposing the extreme-right and bigoted character of UKIP.