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Posts tagged with: UKIP

What shock will finally break the cosy Westminster consensus?

ukipA friend on Facebook pointed me towards an article in GQ about the Wythenshawe & Sale East byelection. I’m not a regular GQ reader, but the headline – Running On Anger: on the campaign trail with UKIP – and the content of the piece are worth reading.

The tactics employed by UKIP are their normal ones at a byelection – work out where the discontent is to be found (in this case, with Labour), and then explain why their populist solutions are worth voting for, and if fear and bending of the facts help, then why not do that too? In essence in Wythenshawe and Sale East they hoover up the anti-politics vote, and they are effective at it.

The problem as I see it is that the British political system is uniquely badly placed to deal with a movement like UKIP. The party could get 15% or more at the 2015 General Election and still fail to gain any parliamentary representation, and 2nd-place finishes in byelections in Eastleigh, South Shields and Middlesbrough contribute to that impression – that the system is keeping UKIP out.

Now while I loathe more or less everything UKIP stands for, I am nevertheless, above all, a democrat – a party with that sort of base deserves parliamentary representation.

The reactions to UKIP’s rise are generally inadequate. Some complain that Farage in particular gains disproportionate media coverage for a party with no MPs, but for me this holds little weight as it’s the electoral system, rather than a lack of support, that keeps UKIP out. Other complain that UKIP has no answers to the political problems that the UK faces, and while I agree that this is the case, it is not as if the three main parties of the political mainstream in the UK have many ideas either.

It is this last part that merits further debate and analysis in the UK, and the analysis needs to go beyond the “they all look the same” or “none of them have experience outside the politics”.

Take, for example, Ed Miliband’s party conference announcement to cap energy prices. This was described as a “game changer” if you were on his side, or “the return of Red Ed” if you were not. Both responses are wrong. The policy would make a small change within the well established confines of the UK’s dysfunctional energy market, and that’s it. Putting it another way, Miliband was playing to the narrow audience composed of the Westminster political class – and that includes the vast majority of the journalists of the broadsheet press – but that class, and indeed the people that report on it, are increasingly missing the connection to the grassroots. This is the post-democracy that Colin Crouch has so compellingly and depressingly described. Representative democracy in the UK is becoming more and more hollowed out, a shell, but the system still protects the mainstream parties, for the moment at least.

So back then to UKIP, and Wythenshawe and Sale East. Part of me wonders what would happen if UKIP were to actually win there? How would the UK’s three main parties react? I fear the reaction would be turn up the critique of UKIP still further, rather than actually take a step back and better develop their own visions for the future of the UK.

Yet the Wythenshawe and Sale East case, this problem of pent-up anger in British politics, is not about to go away. Would a UKIP byelection victory be a big enough shock to the cosy Westminster consensus? Or would something larger – like Scottish independence, or leaving the EU – be needed to make a lasting change? Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but I fear something is going to have to break in UK politics before things start to get better.

What percentage of cars manufactured in the UK are exported to the rest of the EU?

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 20.40.03I’ve been deluged with a load of bile on Twitter today about exports of cars manufactured in the UK to the rest of the EU (see here, here and here). There is even the line that “sales to the EU are so low“. I do not deny that there has been a slump in registrations of new cars in the EU in 2012 (see this for example), but Europe’s economies (and, hell, the UK’s too) have been hit with a pretty major economic shock since 2008.

But anyway, I want an answer to a simple question: what percentage of cars manufactured in the UK are exported to the rest of the EU? So what’s the answer?

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 20.11.07







This table comes from Page 16 of this PDF from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Even with registrations of new cars in the EU at a 17 year low in 2012, 51% of UK car exports went to the rest of the EU. Yes, more than the rest of the world put together. Throughout the 2008-2012 period in total, 60.72% of British car exports were to the other EU 26 Member States.

So then, is that “so low”, folks?

UKIP, the Lernaean Hydra of British politics

UKIP Logo HydraIn Greek mythology the Lernaean Hydra is a monster with many heads, and every time one head is removed two more grow in its place.

So too, it seems, is the case for the UK Independence Party just now.

Yesterday there was a new (and, for UKIP, rather predictable) media furore about a council candidate in Crowborough who denies the holocaust. This follows candidates with BNP links, and one that said that gay adoption was unhealthy. UKIP, as it has sporadically done in the cases before, suspended the Crowborough candidate from the party.

But while all of this is going on, UKIP is gaining councillors from the Tories – those new heads of the Hydra to replace the ones cut off.

Farage was even forced to admit on The World At One that there are some candidates he would “rather not have” in the party, but I am actually left wondering: does this actually matter? The limit for Farage seems to be to exclude people who are hardline racists, but beyond that not worry too much. Also look at the Olly Neville case – when UKIP tries to do traditional style party discipline and candidate control it blows back at them, internally.

Further, while the liberal press and lefty bloggers are jumping up and down about the Crowborough candidate, the people who might end up voting for UKIP do not probably care that much, and are not going to be the people reading those papers or blogs anyway. And in the meantime the party, with a lot less coverage, keeps building strength.

The only way for the mainstream to deal with all of this is to go for the body of the Hydra, for Farage himself, and for the mainstream parties to put up compelling politicians who can rival him. Until that is done all we will be doing is cutting heads off the Hydra.

[NOTE: the logo is my adaption of the official UKIP logo, and the high resolution version of my adaption can be found here. The Hydra heads are adapted from this CC/Flickr image by RailBlue of a train called Hydra. Feel free to use the logo for your own purposes, with credit.]

How a Labour victory in 2015 makes the UK leaving the EU more likely

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.44.20Two separate conversations in Brussels this week, both with Brits, but with people of very different political persuasions, led me to the odd conclusion summed up by the title of this blog entry – Britain leaving the EU is more likely if Labour wins the UK general election in 2015 than if the Tories win it. Here’s why.

What happens if, against the odds, the Tories win a majority in 2015? This will have been achieved with a nominally pro-EU leader (either Cameron or a successor, but even a successor would be bound by the coalition until 2015), and to have managed to succeed in 2015 will return optimism to a more moderate view of Conservatism. The party will have committed to an In-Out EU referendum in 2017, will make some minor renegotiations with Brussels, and the referendum result will keep Britain in. Most of the Labour Party, in any case weak due to an election defeat, will also be arguing to keep Britain in, with a coalition of lefty unions and UKIP arguing the case for out.

What about Labour? The danger here starts perhaps 6 months before the 2015 election. While Ed Miliband has an anti-referendum position now, if the polls remain reasonably close prior to the 2015 election, will Labour really resist calling for such a vote and matching the Conservatives? In the end Labour wants a return to power, and while the party is nominally pro-EU, most of the party just doesn’t care much about the European Union. Win an election, or stick to a position on an EU referendum is no contest – the former wins.

Then what happens? If the Tories lose the 2015 election then they will replace their leader (if it’s still Cameron until 2015), or if it is someone else and that person survives the response will be to move towards UKIP – look at what has happened since the Eastleigh by election. At best the Tories in opposition would be split on the EU issue, at worst they could even end up with the leadership being in favour of the UK leaving the EU.

Labour in government will be lumbered with an EU referendum it did not really want, and will not fight it with gusto. If the party was worried enough about the polls prior to 2015 to call such a referendum, it is not going to be in a strong position in government from 2015 onwards. Furthermore, referendums fought early in a parliamentary term tend to be more likely to go the way the governing party wants. The longer the wait, the more likely a perverse result.

To put it another way: a weak Labour government facing a referendum in 2017 or 2018, with the Tories being more hardline on EU matters than they are now would be the worst possible combination of circumstances to ensure the UK stays in the EU.

Now of course all of this must still be considered unlikely. No party might win an overal majority, and might have to work with the nominally more pro-EU Lib Dems. Labour might hold its nerve and not demand a referendum, or it might campaign with gusto on the issue. A compelling pro-EU campaign might keep the UK in the EU in any case. But a Labour victory in 2015, with a commitment to hold a referendum made before the election, increases the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU through carelessness.

On UKIP and legitimacy

Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 12.11.16Alex Andreou has had a go at UKIP on the New Statesman website. It’s a detailed, but relatively standard, attempt to critique the party – that they have no coherent, let alone costed, policies, and that many of the people in the party or associated with the party are either nasty or mad or both. I do not disagree with either of these broad points, but I wonder whether attacking UKIP in this way actually works as a means of opposition.

For UKIP this sort of critique does not matter. They are the anti-party party, and while Alex’s critique appeals to someone like me who reads the New Statesman, or the sort of political pragmatists who will already vote for the mainstream parties, such a critique is not going to really do much good to stop UKIP’s rise.

Another recent example made me reflect further about the sort of dilemma when dealing with UKIP.

In a debate last month in the European Parliament after François Hollande had spoken there, Nigel Farage stated that he was opposed to European military action in Mali. How and why can this be so, people wondered, because UKIP has been critical of islamic extremism in the past?

The answer is, I think, that before the pragmatic intervene-or-not question is even asked, a different question is asked by Farage and UKIP first and foremost. This question is essentially: how does a Mali intervention fit our world view? If it’s ‘Europeans’ doing military things, when military matters must be a matter for the British people, then whatever the intervention, it is going to be wrong.

To put it another way, you have Farage arguing for something on the basis of his interpretation of the legitimacy of the process, while everyone else is arguing about the grindingly pragmatic matters of whether to launch a military intervention or not.

Extrapolate this example to UKIP’s approach in general and you then begin to see why arguments against UKIP tend to fail, or at least not gain traction. The party’s view, in its essence, is that the European Union is to blame for a lot of the problems the UK faces – the economy, immigration, foreign policy etc.* – and vague policy pronouncements flow from that. The policies themselves may be unworkable and not pragmatic, but the way UKIP (and especially Farage) argues is often consistent and somehow ideologically driven. Meeting those arguments with a “your policies don’t work” response, or with a “well, politics is a the complicated matter of governing and compromise” doesn’t really cut it, because those are typically pragmatic, political class sorts of answers that in the current environment in the UK resonate less and less.

* – this doesn’t always work. I have no idea how opposition to gay marriage stems from that. That’s probably just pure populism.

Sod what Olly Neville said. It’s what it says about UKIP as a party that’s interesting.

Young_IndependenceYes, most of UKIP are opposed to gay marriage. The party is largely composed of right wingers, people with conservative values. We knew all of this. If, like me, you support gay marriage, then UKIP’s position is wrong.

This evening, with the chairman of Young Independence (UKIP’s youth branch) Olly Neville seems to have been ousted because he expressed a view in favour of gay marriage, and he also said some critical things about the European Parliament elections (at least according the screenshot in this tweet from @MShapland supposedly of an e-mail to Neville from Party Chairman Stephen Crowther). The reaction on Twitter has been rather predictable – ooooh look at UKIP – they are so malevolent to be kicking people out as a result of their prejudice!

But what do other political parties, those mainstream parties so disliked by Farage and UKIP, do to their rebellious youth branches? The Tories have twice – in 1998 (The Young Conservatives), and 1986 (Federation of Conservative Students)* – abolished their youth wing, a point that seems to have been missed by Louise Mensch. Labour, most recently over top-up fees, has often viewed Labour Students as a pest. So UKIP, this anti-party party, is behaving like the mainstream they claim to hate.

It was only yesterday in The Guardian that Nigel Farage was saying he would “rather have a party of eccentrics than bland, ghastly people”. Presumably that’s only eccentrics that obey the party line, Nigel, is it?

* – thanks @mk270 for pointing this one out to me on Twitter

“We’re standing up for Britain” or “We’re all in this together” – ways to explain the EU budget

A tweet by Emma Burnell pointed me towards this blog post by Tracy Hill about UKIP, and the threat they pose to Labour. You can read the whole blog post to look at the stuff about UKIP, but there is one paragraph I will highlight, for it shows the problems the EU poses Labour, let alone UKIP posing a problem to Labour. This is the paragraph – emphasis in bold is mine:

Labour MEPs work hard in Europe, engaging with the system and negotiating for a better deal for Britain. By promoting British interests actively in Europe, Labour can secure better terms for British businesses and push for reform where it’s needed. Labour MEP Derek Vaughan recently secured a real-terms cut for the 2013 budget of the European Parliament and other EU institutions, by restricting administrative expenses. The public will respond to evidence that their representatives can change things positively in Europe, and we need to find ways of communicating this evidence.

This is rather standard fare when it comes to explaining the EU in the UK. It’s about going off to Brussels and getting our way! Standing up for the country!

Only actually it doesn’t work this way.

First of all, what are Labour’s values? They are the values of compassion and social democracy, that we’re all better if we work together. That means that we should be emphasising a centre-left vision for the budget, not the notion that there is a British interest in the budget and that Labour is working for this. Less CAP money for rich landowners, and more for investment in the EU’s poor regions is more of a Labour line than “restricting administrative expenses”.

Second, Labour has been playing a tricky game on the budget for years anyway, where MEPs vote along S&D Group lines in the EP on all amendments, and then vote down the budget as a whole to make a symbolic point to the UK media that they were ‘tough’. Take a look at the 2013 budget vote that Tracy mentions – here is the vote on Votematch. Filter this for S&D Group and UK, and you will see that only Derek Vaughan, the Labour MEP, voted in favour (because he was rapporteur), while all his UK Labour colleagues voted against. But there was still led this press release from the EPLP about Derek’s work, welcoming the decision. If you can work out what Labour is actually trying to do in the EP on this then you’re more clever than I am.

Third, the idea that you can in any way communicate this sort of weigh-up-the-pros-and-cons approach to the EU is rather fanciful anyway. This is the way pro-Europeans have been trying to do it for decades in the UK already, and look at where it has left us. People vote according to their values, not according to a raw analysis of the facts or policies, and Labour has no values-based approach to the EU. Even if Labour thinks it needs a tough approach, no-one is going to believe that Labour can out-tough UKIP or the Tories anyway. And then there’s the deep distrust of UK and EU politics that Labour has to contend with.

So it’s time for Labour to ditch the “standing up for Britain” line, because it can’t work for the party. “We’re all in this together” might be a better way forward.

Lazy Daniel Hannan MEP

I suppose drafting polemics takes time, or perhaps there is another reason for his deficiency. For Daniel Hannan MEP, European poster boy for the Tory right, seems increasingly to be neglecting the very work he is supposed to be doing – representing his constituents from South East England in the European Parliament, and playing his role as a legislator in the EU’s parliament.

First there are the records of meetings between lobbyists and Conservative members of the European Parliament, published for the period 1 January until 30 June 2010 [PDF here]. Hannan is one of only 2 MEPs (together with Robert Atkins) who states zero meetings with lobbyists. Continue Reading