Monthly Archives: February 2007

A Grand Left Wing Conspiracy

Nigel Farage is going around telling anyone who’ll listen that there is an (presumably euro-philic) establishment conspiracy to shut down the Electoral CommissionUK Independence Party, based on the ‘trivial’ fact that they have been in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds of illegal donations.

Far be it for me to gloat. Well, okay, I can’t resist. Because the truth of the matter is that all parties have been sweating cobs on this issue for months now. But for all that, none of the other parties have fallen foul of such an open-and-shut case as this one.

My own feeling on the Michael Brown case, which I said back when it was first raised to the Lib Dem Federal Executive’s attention, was that it would have been eminently avoidable if we had simply refused to accept the donation unless he gave the money as a personal donation and registered to vote in the UK. The fact that he refused to do so should have raised alarm bells (or at least bigger ones). But at the very least it is undeniable, and accepted by the Electoral Commission, that Cowley Street worked hard to ensure that it was legal. If it is eventually declared illegal it will be because the donation languished in a grey area that no-one can claim was obvious. The problem was, at the time and under pressure, there were too many unknown unknowns. So, while I might question the political decision to accept money off the twerp, I’ve never questioned that the party was scrupulous in how it dealt with the cash.

By contrast, the UKIP case suggests that they weren’t taking the most basic steps in confirming that major donations were, in fact, legal. UKIP, of all parties, would be the first to cry foul if a party accepted money from a foreign donor by some backdoor route or, worse, gross negligence. If Alan Bown was such an upstanding British citizen, how come he couldn’t even bring himself to vote for the very party he was bankrolling?

Anyway, here are a few quotes from the UKIP website that might serve to provide Mr Farrago a bit of perspective:

16 April 2006:

Financially the Conservative Party is a mess. Today less than six per cent of the Tory Party’s money comes from subscriptions and they therefore feel the need to bring in the high rollers. Legally donations cannot come from foreigners and have to be public, whereas loans can be anonymous and come from anyone.

However, the names of lenders were given to the Electoral Commission, and we put a public interest inquiry in to reveal those names. Worryingly for Dave it is looking like these loans were on such good rates the lack of interest payments could easily be defined as gifts in kind, numbering up to hundreds of thousands of pounds and thus donations. It was when he was
questioned about our request that he lost his cool. The dodge he and Blair have come up with to excuse their possibly illegal acts is to say, “we cannot be trusted to raise cash legally ourselves, the only answer is that you, the taxpayer, will have to subsidise our activities”. This is wrong. The only benefit for party leaders is it gives them taxpayers’ cash with which to reward cronies and buy silence from internal foes.

23 September 2005:

The Electoral Commission last night confirmed it was conducting an inquiry into whether donations from 5th Avenue Partners had complied with laws banning political parties from taking foreign money.

If they find against the Lib Dems the party will be forced to return the money, triggering a financial crisis.

Michael Brown, the owner of the company, told The Times yesterday that he felt “totally let down” by the party.

He said it had failed to make more than cursory checks before taking his company’s money. “If the people who handled my donation were elected to run the economy, I would not be happy — it would be disastrous.”

In correspondence with party chiefs, copies of which he has given to this newspaper, Mr Brown complains that his company has been subjected to media scrutiny and the donation to the possibility of legal challenge.

“As a donor, I rely on the party to verify that the donation is proper. In the case of the donation made by my company, very little due diligence was undertaken,” he said.

Ner ner ner-ner ner!

Tony Blair backs Jedi Rights

I knew the Downing Street epetition service was good for something:

The Government has no overarching role in regulating or recognising personal belief or faith. The UK has a long held commitment to freedom of worship and belief, and people are free to form religions and free to follow their own practices and beliefs provided they remain within the law.

May the Force be with you.

Next stop, the Charities Commission!

Lords Reform Day

It’s all go around here…

Dear supporter,

LORDS REFORM – THE BIG PUSH

Lords Reform Day has been tentatively scheduled as 7 March 2007: this is the day that, following two days of debate, MPs will be given a free vote on composition of the House of Lords.

Elect the Lords and Unlock Democracy have set up Lords Reform Day to help build up a caucus of reform over the next few weeks. We are asking supporters to help us by emailing their friends, promoting the site on their own website or blog and adding their name as a supporter.

In particular, we are extremely keen to encourage people to write to their MPs over the next few weeks – even if you already have done before. With the vote now just weeks away, every letter sent to your MP will help to concentrate their minds. To look up your MP’s voting record on Lords Reform, and write to them online, please follow this link: http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/lrd/write.php

We are also supporting the Rally for a Democratic House of Lords, which will be held in the House of Commons Grand Committee Room on Monday 26 February from 7pm. Chaired by Chris Bryan MP, Neil Kinnock, Charles Kennedy and Ken Clarke have been invited to speak.

If you are able to get there, I do hope you will attend. Please email info@electthelords.org.uk to let us know you will be coming.

Finally, we are hosting a meeting with the Canadian High Commission on the recent Canadian experience on Senate and party funding reform. Places are filling up now, so please remember to book your place.

Best wishes,

Peter Facey
Director, Unlock Democracy

“Thanks – you’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”

Once again my allergic reaction to nationalism has resulted in my blog coming out in a nasty rash. The nats are swarming, clogging up my comments and while, to tell the truth, they aren’t causing me too much discomfort, they are certainly causing me some embarrassment. So I thought it was time I stopped dabbing on a few bits of creme here and there and try to get to the root of the problem (and if that isn’t a contorted metaphor, I don’t know what is).

So, first of all, a mea culpa (yes, I am capable of them from time to time). I shouldn’t have capitalised the Ens in “Scottish nationalist” and “Cornish nationalist” in my post on nationalism yesterday. It’s clearly caused some confusion, so let’s clear that up straight away. It wasn’t my intention to suggest that the SNP resort to such practices, merely that such practices do exist and are documented. Nor are members of other political parties immune to stupid nationalistic behaviour.

Secondly, the SNP launched their 2005 election campaign in Dundee, not Stirling, and the memorable claymore wielding incident took place beside a rather anonymous actor playing Robert the Bruce, rather than a statue of a famous anti-semite playing William Wallace. Other than that, though, the incident is true. It took place on 6 April, which was both the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath and the day in which the SNP launched their campaign. My point that it was a deliberate press stunt designed to send a specific message, along with a specific subtext, remains (frustratingly, I can’t find an online photo of this incident, but there is a lovely one of Salmond gazing adoringly at his mighty weapon available on Empics if you have access, ref EMP.2319661). I will be interesting to see what he does to mark 6 April 2007.

What Scots need to appreciate is that it isn’t Scottish nationalism I have a problem with, it’s nationalism. Various commentators have sought to distinguish between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism, and I assure you I do understand the difference. My position is however that all too often the former strays into the territory of the latter.

Nationalism is a bit like the mogwai in 80s classic Gremlins. It comes in two types: cute and cuddly civic nationalism, and the nasty, violent, murderous ethnic version. To prevent the one from transforming into the other, you have to rigidly obey certain specific rules. There are no grey areas here; you can’t feed Gizmo at 00.01 and expect everything to be fine. Break the rules and, after a gestation period, all hell breaks loose.

That is why I am so intolerant of that claymore incident. It simply isn’t good enough to employ that sort of violent, backward-looking, ethno-centric imagery when launching an election campaign. The fact that so many Scots Nats commenting here simply do not see it as a problem, speaks volumes to me. This is tantamount to watching the mogwai being chucked into a swimming pool with a shrug of the shoulders.

I’ve spent much of the past two years working in SE Europe and with SE Europeans. I’ve seen what happens when people allow their sense of proportion slip when it comes to nationalism and it ain’t pretty.

People here have rightly alluded to incidents by other party politicians. I should disabuse new readers who may be under the impression that I’m some kind of blind party loyalist. I absolutely condemn the Lib Dems in Burnley for flirting with the BNP. Ross Finnie was incredibly foolish to call Digby Jones an ‘English Prat’. I also don’t agree with the Scot Lib Dem line on independence (personally I think they should neutralise the SNP by pledging to introduce a general system of citizens initiative and referendum) or, for example, local income tax (a policy which the SNP foolishly share).

All I’m really looking for is an acknowledgement that when dealing with issues over national identity, you have to be doubly careful about not pandering to racists and ethno-centrists. But all I’ve had over the past 24 hours is, at best, shrill displacement activity.

The bottom line is this: English Nationalists, still small in number, are on the march, and while they too like to call themselves civic nationalists, they’re obsessions are invariably national anthems, flags, immigration, Witangemots and Perfidious Alba. It’s on the rise partly because certain politicians in England are indulging them, while others are resisting the very real need for greater decentralisation and self-determination. The question I would ask the SNP is this: is your sense of civic nationalism so robust that it won’t begin to crack if a nasty strain of English Nationalism starts to cause a stink south of the border? I have my doubts.

SNP: Lib Dems should apologise for stating the bleeding obvious

Full marks to Danny Alexander for making a factual statement which, too often, people like to hide away from in politics these days:

“Nationalism is about building up barriers between people, liberalism is about breaking those barriers down.”

Apparently, Alex Salmond is now demanding an apology from Danny, and from Jamie Stone for saying the SNP are xenophobic.

Why should they? There are clear ideological differences between the SNP and the Lib Dems – Danny’s quote above sums it up perfectly.

The bottom line is, nationalism is an extremely ugly thing, whether it is Cornish Nationalists “confiscating” English Heritage signs or Scottish Nationalists chucking faeces through English people’s letterboxes. Alex Salmond may like to pretend that nationalism has an “acceptable” face, but it’s fundamental features are a belief that your ‘people’ are both superior to another group and permanent victims at the same time.

Salmond launched his 2005 General Election campaign by swinging a claymore around his head outside the statue of Mel Gibson William Wallace in Stirling. That single image is more significant than a thousand assurances that the SNP regards anyone who happens to live in Scotland as “Scottish”.

Back again

Apologies if you’ve noticed my blog acting rather strangely this evening. What I thought would be a five minute upgrade job turned into a total nightmare thanks – I think – to the rather unreliable wireless network I’m reliant on these days. There are still some odd glitches, but I’m not sure if they are due to missing files or the latest version of WordPress being rather glitchy. Anyone else had any problems since moving to 2.1?

Casino Boyale

David Boyle has written an illuminating article in Lib Dem News about Black Hawk, Colorado where gambling has been legalised for more than a decade now, and advises people to visit their website as a taste of what might be to come for Manchester:

We might point out that if you visit Black Hawk, leave your children at home. Blackhawk is not a friendly place to people under the age of 21. If you want to take your children, or have no choice, we recommend Central City or Cripple Creek. Blackhawk can really party! But beware, they have a police force that strictly enforces Colorado DUI laws.

It sounds like a dreadful place and I fear he may have a point. But I have to admit, my main reason for writing this post was so I could write a post with that title, above. 🙂

At least I didn’t use “Black Hawk, Down”.