EU Flag - CC / Flickr
EU Flag - CC / Flickr

Every other British political party has their eye off UKIP.

First of all the 4th June European Parliament elections are happening a year or so before a general election and UKIP are not a threat at national level. So as Labour, Tories and Lib Dems shadow box for the national poll, so UKIP can pour all their energies into the European elections.

This is all set against the backdrop of the 3 main parties having comprehensively failed to develop a narrative about the EU that is credible and comprehensible.

Even when it comes to the rise of smaller parties UKIP attracts less attention than the BNP (more on them and Labour here) and the Greens, both of whom can be a nuisance in local politics.

How could UKIP be effectively countered? A good start would be to look at their record in the European Parliament where, despite being a delegation of a reasonable size, they cannot point to any legislative impact. They just vote against things, anything at all. Even things like airline black lists that protect citizens from unsafe airlines, or against efforts to cut down unnecessary legislation. I cannot manage to find any substance on the UKIP website about what they have actually done in the last five years, other than chunter away about why the EU is always wrong. Putting pictures of Churchill on their site, and running campaigns to protect British pubs are pure populism – no clue how that’s actually linked to the European Parliament. But I suppose their voters won’t care.

Then there are the candidates UKIP assembled to stand in 2004 – Godfrey ‘clean behind the fridge‘ Bloom, and 3 odd balls that fell out of favour: Robert ‘Veritas‘ Kilroy Silk, Tom ’embezzlement’ Wise, and Ashley ‘benefit fraud‘ Mote. And that from 12 MEPs!

So how well will UKIP actually do this time around? Sadly I fear they are going to do rather well.

I find Nigel Farage slimy and untrustworthy, but he can at least communicate. The turnout at these elections is going to be horribly low, and the lower the turnout the better UKIP will do – if you’re paranoid that the EU is a conspiracy then you’ll turn up at the polling station. More on the polls from politicalbetting.com here. I’m absolutely sure they will get more than the 4 MEPs that Hix calculates with Predict09. Plus with all their parties with their energies focused elsewhere then Farage and co could be a force to be reckoned with once more.

(Oh, if you’re a UKIP voter reading this, or have seen my UKIP remix film: the line ‘the EU is more corrupt than us’ doesn’t wash, sorry. UKIP can gain by playing the politics of anti-politics, and hence snouts should be 100% out of the troughs.)

21 Comments

  1. whitmorereans

    Well done Jon. You and all other europeans on this blog have made me, an otherwise open minded floating voter, decide to vote UKIP. If you represent what it is to be ‘european’ then I want nothing to do with you arrogant, condescending fanatics.

  2. UKIP will do very, very well unfortunately – especially given the recent expenses scandal.

    We need to explain to people that the EU is the most democratic international organisation on earth, and that coordinated action can not only be generally good but that, in countless instances, the parliament and council have taken action against the narrow corrupt interests of our government: GM foods, hedge funds, environmental standards to name a few.

  3. “a codified constitution based on popular sovereignty is (in my opinion) the better option”

    Agreed.

    “…a public generally less well informed about their own country’s constitutional traditions”

    I can’t help thinking that this is one of the perceived benefits of our ‘uncodified’ constitution, on the part of the legal and political grandees. IMO the key function of a codified constitution is to set down what the executive, legislative etc are allowed to do, and thereby also what they are not allowed to do. Strangely no British government has thought that imposing clear limitations on its power was a priority!

    “A codified constitution would be good, though I wouldn’t be fond of enshrining the right to own a gun.”

    It’s not a popular view in the UK these days, but in the US Constitution, the 2nd Amendment is fundamental to the principle of sovereignty of the people – but I’ll leave that tangent alone – I doubt that it’s in the UKIP manifesto!

    “…only if you see democratic legitimacy from the popular sovereignty point of view”

    I do. The thing about arguing about democracy and other such terms is that they mean different things to different people, and democracy is often used to describe our current political system, and its faults are ascribed therefore to democracy. Whereas I see the word as almost a synonym of popular sovereignty, and when I read the Privy Council Oath, I get the very clear impression that the UK is far from democratic, at least in the legalistic sense. Nevertheless, politicians know they must appeal to the people (or the voters, as they would say!) and cannot afford to take them for granted. Seeing as our constitution does indeed function on the basis of “the largely custom-based boundries”, there’s nothing to prevent new customs developping and new precedents being set, such as holding a referendum on important constitutional matters, but I guess this is a way of avoiding a proper debate on our constitution, by releasing a head of democratic steam that might otherwise blow the gasket.

    Anyway, sorry Jon, yeah UKIP, how well will they do… good question!

  4. “The United States is based on this principle but it sure as hell ain’t the case here. Those in power won’t give up sovereignty without a bloody fight.”

    I’m not saying that they will give up parliamentary sovereignty easily. I’m not even saying that they will, just that I think a codified constitution based on popular sovereignty is (in my opinion) the better option. It would not be so bad if those who held up the UK’s constitution and legal system as something to be patriotic about actually adhered to it, in their actions and rhetoric. I was also trying to point out how it leads to a public generally less well informed about their own country’s constitutional traditions – a fatal flaw in a system where custom is relied on to balance the ultimate legal power of parliament.

    ““a lot of the constitution is written down, it just isn’t codified into one document.”

    So I’ve heard, but I consider this to be essentially meaningless. The difference between the US Constitution and the British Constitution is like the difference a car, parked outside with a tank full of petrol, and the same, disassembled in a thousand pieces with a large manual explaining how to put it together.”

    If you’re talking about in terms of trying to understand it, then it can be a bit like that (though there are a small number of important Acts that could be pointed to which would give a good overall picture). In terms of effect, it works in pretty much the same way, except that a simple majority in Parliament can amend it – no court can disapply an Act of Parliament, just as no court in the US could disapply a provision of the federal constitution.

    A codified constitution would be good, though I wouldn’t be fond of enshrining the right to own a gun.

    “I don’t think so. There was no talk of such a referendum being binding in any legal sense, rather it would have been politically binding, because disregarding the result would have enraged the public.”

    That would still undermine Parliament as the sole source of political and legal power and authority. When the Chartists demonstrated outside Parliament in the 19th Century, PS was held up against them – Parliament was sovereign, not the people, and no other authority but Parliament is acceptable in the UK system (since Parliament is essentially standing in for an absolutist monarch). I hate it as a system, and I think that referenda can be good. What I’m complaining about (naively if I expect anything to change, as Jon said) is a lack of consistency when it comes to the constitution. I mean, the constitution – surely that’s something that shouldn’t be open to political manipulation?

    I’m complaining about the parties misusing the constitution and people’s perceptions for their own political ends. It’s especially annoying to see people champion the current system while mangling its basics. It matters because if people – and especially politicians/MPs – don’t either follow and respect the constitutional system or start a debate on a replacement, then the whole thing is open to being manipulated towards political ends.

    “I know you pro-EU people would rather forget about this, but I’m not going to, because it’s too clear an illustration of the lack of democratic legitimacy of our present system.”

    Technically, only if you see democratic legitimacy from the popular sovereignty point of view; there are models of representative democracy where parliamentary sovereignty is fully compatable, even when Parliament goes against the outrage/wishes of the public between elections – but I think we both back the popular sovereignty model, so this is a petty point for me to raise.

    I’m not condoning what any of the parties have done here. I’m not against referenda; I just think that, in a constitutional system that depends on the MPs respecting the largely custom-based boundries on their power, it’s dangerous to let them get away with manipulating the constitution for their own political ends, and that there should be (obviously becoming hopelessly idealistic here) a full debate on the UK constitution.

    (Really sorry Jon about how off-topic this is going).

  5. “In this day and age of popular sovereignty, etc.”

    The United States is based on this principle but it sure as hell ain’t the case here. Those in power won’t give up sovereignty without a bloody fight.

    “a lot of the constitution is written down, it just isn’t codified into one document.”

    So I’ve heard, but I consider this to be essentially meaningless. The difference between the US Constitution and the British Constitution is like the difference a car, parked outside with a tank full of petrol, and the same, disassembled in a thousand pieces with a large manual explaining how to put it together. Sorry if that’s a bit tortuous. I would certainly like to see a (proper) written constitution, although I fear it would not look the way I would want it to look (no second amendment I bet)

    “parties are spouting policies that go against constitutional theory”

    I don’t think so. There was no talk of such a referendum being binding in any legal sense, rather it would have been politically binding, because disregarding the result would have enraged the public.

    A commitment to hold a referendum was given by the main parties because it was popular with the voters and because it allowed the main parties to kick the issue of the EU into the long grass and thus avoid party in-fighting. If the Labour Party had not made a commitment, the Tories would have had one hell of a stick to beat them with in the last general election. Who can say what difference that would have made? It could have been all the difference in the world. Remember Enoch Powell voted Labour in 1974 because of the party’s commitment to hold a referendum.

    I know you pro-EU people would rather forget about this, but I’m not going to, because it’s too clear an illustration of the lack of democratic legitimacy of our present system.

  6. “So what if it does? The UK constitution? What joke is that? No one knows what it is anyway. It’s not written down anywhere, and can be paraphrased as ‘we, the Parliament, can do whatever the f*** we like’.”

    Eh, the term “unwritten constitution” is really just a catchphrase: “uncodified constitution” would be a better phrase since a lot of the constitution is written down, it just isn’t codified into one document. And parliamentary sovereignty is a changing concept – the courts have recently been modifying it: e.g. the limitations put on the doctrine of implied repeal by the evolving concept of constitutional statutes, and Lord Steyn’s obiter statement in AG v Jackson [2004] that P.S. should no longer be considered an absolute principle of the constitution, but a general principle – and the courts should be more willing to step in.

    There’s a lot of writing on the UK constitution – Dicey’s famous for it (well, as much as a lawyer can be famous).

    “Sure, that’s Parliament’s view, it’s sovereign and can do as it pleases. But history records what happens when a sovereign treats the people with contempt. I’m not suggesting the people are at the point of storming the barricades and carrying off the Speaker’s head on a pike, but nothing lasts forever.”

    I was trying to get a similar point across: parties are spouting policies that go against constitutional theory, and that’s dishonest when they claim to support the constitution and site the UK’s legal system as a baston of pride and identity. Mixing constitutional concepts isn’t good for citizenship either since it sows confusion over what is what in the system – so you’ve people mashing together some completely opposing ideas without giving the impression that they’re aware of the legal and political meanings and contradictions behing them.

    In this day and age of popular sovereignty, etc., the UK constitution needs radical reform. It would be far better for there to be a serious discussion on adopting a codified constitution. It’s not like constitutional monarchies haven’t done it before.

  7. “Also Churchill was undecided and conflicted about whether Britain should be in a European entity, like many post-war politicians.”

    I believe most (if not all) of the statements Churchill gave on this subject were during the Attlee government – i.e. when he was out of power.

    “I’ll repeat: you have no right to a referendum – it’s entirely at parliamentary discretion.”

    Sure, that’s Parliament’s view, it’s sovereign and can do as it pleases. But history records what happens when a sovereign treats the people with contempt. I’m not suggesting the people are at the point of storming the barricades and carrying off the Speaker’s head on a pike, but nothing lasts forever.

  8. Well at least Trooper is thinking rationally unlike most rabid, foaming europhobes.

    Governments, especially this NuLab one, break manifesto promises all the time. It’s disappointing but manifesto commitments aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, everybody knows that. I’ll repeat: you have no right to a referendum – it’s entirely at parliamentary discretion.

    This is also a minor breach, because they promised a vote on the constitution whcih failed. While Lisbon contains only the tweaks which are needed for institutional reform, the constitution tried to wrap that into a huge document encompassing all the other treaties and arrangements, superseding everything that came before and adding certain regalia and pomp to the whole European enterprise. A constitution is of a fundamentally different nature to an ameding treaty, even though the changes to the EU to prevent wholesale paralysis are the same.

    Also Churchill was undecided and conflicted about whether Britain should be in a European entity, like many post-war politicians.

  9. Dave,

    “UKIP should be reminded that it was Winston Churchill who advocated a United States of Europe.”

    Yes, but I don’t think his intention was for Britain to join. You forget we had an empire back then that Churchill wanted to keep hold of.

  10. Luke,

    “You have no right to a refererendum. Really, all this silliness about referenda.”

    The government was elected on the basis of a manifesto which promised a referendum. How is it silly for me, a member of the electorate, to call on the government to honour its promise?

    You can carry on with your ‘let them eat cake’ attitude, but remember that there is a limit to the forebearance of the public when their leaders show such contempt for them.

    I certainly oppose EU integration when it is against the will of the people, but the referendum was promised, and you should understand how furious I am that this was betrayed.

    Eurocentric,

    “it goes completely against UK constitutional theory”

    So what if it does? The UK constitution? What joke is that? No one knows what it is anyway. It’s not written down anywhere, and can be paraphrased as ‘we, the Parliament, can do whatever the f*** we like’.

  11. @ Jon – True, but it’s depressing that those who take such a stance are never taken up on it. And there are people who genuinely can’t see, or are unaware of, the contradiction, which is annoying. It increasingly seems as if people are being asked to believe in the wonders of the “unwritten constitution” without even knowing its basics. No wonder people are confusing and mixing concepts… It’s also dangerous that the parties don’t feel inhibited by constitutional tradition, since half the constitution depends on tradition and unenforceable custom.

    I’m unsure about UKIP’s chances because I hear very different reports on it – many reports point to the party fragmenting and there being infighting. Then again, the public probably aren’t aware of what UKIP’s been up to over the last 5 years (though this probably applies to the rest of the MEPs too) and the list system may mean that candidates aren’t put under that much scrutiny by the public – so UKIP may not do that badly (I almost wrote “if there’s a low turnout”… (!) ). With the parties focused elsewhere, like you said, the list system could become a significant advantage for them.

    I wouldn’t put money on any UKIP prediction.

  12. It’s not only that referendums aren’t a traditional part of British politics (there’s only ever been one in UK history), but it goes completely against UK constitutional theory. Parliamentary sovereignty, which seems to be invoked by British eurosceptics a lot, is a constitutional model that excludes referendums, whereas the popular sovereignty model is the model which permits referendums as it vests sovereignty in the people, not the parliament.

    If the Tories (and others calling for a referendum) were honest, instead of manipulating the constitution for their own ends, they would call for a new constitution that vested sovereignty in the people. I don’t know how the Tories can style themselves as the defenders of the constitution and still call for a referendum.

  13. Ah, sorry, one more point: apart from Tim also criticising Hix, no-one has actually replied on the substantive issue: how well will UKIP actually do? Have I overstated their support?

  14. @Eurocentric – you want consistency from the Conservatives? Not a hope…

    I had to chuckle last week when Alan Duncan was having a go at Labour for the UK having lost the DNA retention case in the European Court of Human Rights. How could the government be endangering civil liberties? That’s really rich from the Conservatives that are contemplating tearing up the Human Rights Act!

  15. ‘I want the referendum we were promised!’

    You have no right to a refererendum. Really, all this silliness about referenda. They are not a traditional part of British politics or that of any other European state. You voted for MPs, those MPs and the Lords decide. That’s how it works.

    Do you actually oppose the changes made by Lisbon (which make the EU more democratic and efficient, in my view) or do you generally oppose EU integration and are using this issue as some sort of vehicle?

  16. UKIP should be reminded that it was Winston Churchill who advocated a United States of Europe. I find that particularly hilarious.

  17. p.s.

    “This is all set against the backdrop of the 3 main parties having comprehensively failed to develop a narrative about the EU that is credible and comprehensible.”

    I don’t want a narrative – I want the referendum we were promised!

  18. Jon,

    I have no love of UKIP, but they’re the only party I’m likely to vote for in the Euro elections. Who else can I vote for? The three main parties are all in favour of ‘ever closer union’ (Daniel Hannan notwithstanding), which I oppose. I’m not voting BNP, because I don’t give a monkey’s toss about race, and I’m not voting Green (half of their policies I totally agree with, the other half I totally oppose), therefore there’s not much else to choose from.

    I don’t know if UKIP will do well, I suspect they won’t improve on their current position, but it gives me some satisfaction that there will be people in the European ‘Parliament’ who are against the ‘Grand Projet’.

  19. Hix?

    Well, yes, he’s the bloke who predicted that we’d go from 3 seats to none last time.

  20. The only redeeming feature of UKIP seems to be England Expects, which sometimes posts something of interest or (dubious) humour.

    But judging by the quality of comments by UKIP supporters you have received on your blog posts, the party seems attuned to the intellectual qualities to its potential voters.

    A credible narrative about the future European Union may not have emerged from the min British parties, but it is not about to issue from the member states’ governments either.

    The new storyline has to be developed outside the establishments, until they start slipping away to lead the parade.

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