Tag Archives: ukip

England toilet paper

Have we reached peak flag?

There are some days when I couldn’t feel more alienated from UK politics, and today is one of them. While we are still struggling to comprehend why the people of Rochester and Strood just re-elected an MP who is a virtual caricature of every worst Westminster character trait imaginable in what they seem to think is a defiant anti-Westminster rebuff, Labour opted to lose it completely. They sacked Emily Thornberry from the front bench for posting a picture of a house with three England flags in the window alongside in a way that might be construed as mildly passive-aggressive. Sacked immediately by an apparently furious Ed Miliband, we’ve been bombarded today by pictures of the house’s occupant, nicknamed “White Van Dan” riding around Islington in his van, which has now been covered by Sun newspaper stickers. Meanwhile, asked what he thinks whenever he sees a white van, Ed Miliband came up with the ultimate Thick-Of-It-ism by replying “respect“.

Hanging over all this is the spectre of Gillian Duffy, the pensioner from Rochdale who Gordon Brown unwisely called a bigoted woman while wearing a live microphone during the 2010 general election campaign. In both cases, the response has seemed as out of touch if less authentic than the original offence. In fact, the only thing less authentic is the manufactured outrage whipped up by the media and Labour’s rivals which caused the apologies in the first place.

Labour aren’t just the victims of this. Just yesterday, Labour’s new anti-Green unit had managed to get the Evening Standard to publish a story attacking Green Party leader Natalie Bennett for the apparently egregious offence of travelling across Europe in a comfortable train instead of the indignity of squatting in one of those flying toilets that passes for a RyanAir plane. As someone who did something rather similar last month, albeit mostly out of a desire for comfort rather than wanting to minimise carbon emissions, I struggle to understand what the fuss is about. I certainly struggle to understand why Labour thinks this is going to alienate potential voters from the Green Party.

Much of what I wrote about Norman Baker’s treatment following his resignation earlier this month also applies to this latest debacle. I’m growing increasingly despairing of politicians’ craven need to indulge every reactionary twinge, as long as it emerges from a housing estate. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is genuine concern for the poor and marginalised in society however; I have no idea if White Van Dan receives benefits or not, but under different circumstances he is exactly the kind of bloke that the Sun typically vilifies for being a scrounger, with Labour cheerleading behind it. If you’re poor, the political class hate you; yet if you say something like “it’s not racist to want to kick brown people out of the country”, you are fêted and patronised as the authentic voice of the working classes. Meanwhile, the under-25s are looking at having their benefits slashed regardless of whether Labour or the Tories win a plurality at the next general election. And despite housing being one of the biggest single causes of poverty and social immobility, none of the parties appear to be interest in doing much about it.

The thing is, as a strategy for marginalising the far right, it doesn’t work, at all, as Ukip’s surge in recent years and the BNP’s upswing before that has repeatedly demonstrated. We are fortunate in this country in that most of our far right parties are so venal that they tend to turn in on themselves as soon as they get a whiff of success (helped along by organisations like Hope Not Hate). The BNP and English Defence League both spectacularly self-destructed, as indeed did Ukip 10 years ago following Robert Kilroy Silk’s attempts at a takeover. And looking at the oddballs which Ukip got elected as MEPs this year, there’s a good chance they will self-destruct again.

But by not challenging the very thing they stand for, all the main parties have achieved is to grow the reactionary core vote. As parties collapse, new ones rise up and quickly take their place. If Nigel Farage does self-immolate at some point, you can bet that there’s another smooth talking, slimy public former public schoolboy ready to take his place.

As it is, when people say idiotic things like immigration is a taboo subject in British politics, the main parties all nod their heads sagely, despite knowing that it’s all they ever talk about. I’m hardly the first person to notice that “Ukip are right, don’t vote for them” has spectacularly failed as a political message. And while politicians are falling over themselves to come up with ever harsher anti-immigration policies, whilst straining to appear non-racist, immigrants themselves meanwhile are shoring up the NHS, the treasury and our cultural life.

With the vast majority of the public not willing to even consider voting Ukip, is it really that inconceivable to actually challenge their bullshit? I don’t mean in a mealy mouthed, apologetic way as Labour currently practices, but in a robust and pro-active way. It did not, admittedly, work particularly well for the Lib Dems during the last European elections, but their credibility has been shot to pieces. Imagine if Ed Miliband had decided to take Ukip to task at his party conference this September, instead of spending the last couple of months indulging them? He certainly wouldn’t be in a worse position than he is at the moment. I suspect that his failure to do so has more to do with the rise in Green Party popularity than any newfound concern for the environment.

I’m not a fan of nationalism, but I will confess that some people seem to be capable of practising genuine civic nationalism, and I respect them for it. In the run up and aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum, I came across dozens of examples of it campaigning for Yes. As someone who has always been quite dismissive of SNP claims to be this generous form of nationalism, as opposed to the defensive, hateful kind, this has represented something of a challenge for me (for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not suggesting that all SNP supporters are twinkly civic nationalists; far from it).

The Anglo-British political class however seem to be reacting to the nationalist challenge by adopting an equally reactionary form of nationalism. Throughout the Scottish independence referendum campaign, my twitterfeed seemed to be dominated by No campaigners and English politicos talking about how a Yes vote would force them to erect a border between Scotland and England – not to keep the nationalists out, you understand, but all the dreadful immigrants that the SNP was going to be willing to accept into the country. Self-defined lefties, progressives and Europhiles were talking about Schengen in increasingly shrill tones. This seems to be all that British nationalism has to offer; togevverness in the face of the awful outside world, and nothing but spite for Scotland if it chose to go its own way. As someone who simply doesn’t understand why I should treat Scots as any more or less comradely than the French or Danes – or Liberians for that matter, I found it weirdly alienating.

The Ango-British are really bad at nationalism, not least of all because no-one seems to be able to decide whether to wrap themselves in the English or British flag. I don’t doubt the integrity of people like Billy Bragg wanting an English civic nationalism, but even he isn’t very good at articulating it, and no-one is really listening to him in any case. Instead of trying to invent something that isn’t there, the progressive, civic nationalist thing to do is to simply not worry too much about it, and instead focus on values such as mutual respect and solidarity. Those ought to be our starting points, not a concern about alienating people who have become intoxicated with nationalist lies.

There’s a possibility that Labour might actually realise this over the next couple of months and respond accordingly, but I’m not going to be holding my breath. If they don’t however, I suspect that all we’ll see is a further fragmentation of the Labour vote as haemorrhages between the Greens and Ukip. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing – the collapse of the established political order is looking increasingly inevitable. But while it might be a positive thing in the long term, in the short term we are likely to just see British politics adrift on a tide of racist and hateful effluent.

Remind me how the gagging law will prevent a UK “Koch Brothers” again?

UKIP Billboard from 2004One of the common arguments by the supporters of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill is that it will prevent the UK equivalent of the Koch Brothers from being able to buy the political process for their own nefarious ends.

So it is with good timing that Paul Sykes has re-emerged, promising to do “whatever it takes” to get UKIP to become the largest UK political party in the European Parliament after the elections next year.

Paul Sykes, for those with short memories, was a Conservative donor who switched sides in the early noughties. The billboard campaign he funded in 2004 had a direct effect on the result, in which UKIP leapt from 3 MEPs to 12. Even without his intervention, it was looking distinctly possible that UKIP could become the largest party in 2014, with the Tories’ popularity being dented due to being in government, and the BNP collapsing. Now it is looking like a very real prospect indeed.

This sort of intervention by a Eurosceptic millionaire is hardly a new thing in British politics; it’s been an ongoing saga since the Maastricht debate shot Europe up the political agenda 20 years ago. And while it’s true that they have occasionally dipped their toes into non-party campaigning with causes such as the disastrous (in terms of its impact compared to the amount of money that was reportedly spent on it) IWantAReferendum.com, they have predominantly sought to exert their influence via political parties rather than pressure groups.

All of which makes shroud-waving about what might happen when “Koch UK land here” seem rather odd; their tanks are already on our lawn. The policy solution is of course to limit what individual’s can donate to political parties, an issue which the coalition paid lip service to but have now walked away from even after we saw progress made on alternative, revenue-neutral funding mechanisms and the Labour Party shifted ground significantly in terms of their own trade union-led opposition to the idea.

Gratifyingly the government have now – for a short period at least – agreed to pause the legislative process, to allow more time for ministers to listen to the concerns of civic society organisations. We can thank organisations such as 38 Degrees for helping to win that respite. Hopefully it will lead to meaningful engagement and at least some of the scrutiny that the bill should have got before being read in parliament. Optimistically, it might even lead to a more robust legislative framework to regulate the role third parties can play in elections. But be under no illusion whatsoever that it will do a thing to remove the dominance millionaires have over the UK political system.

Michael Brown donation: we got lucky

So the Lib Dems won’t be handing back the £2.4m donation from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd after all. Yay.

I do hope however (against all the evidence?) that this won’t now result in large numbers of Lib Dems crowing about how the party’s actions have been vindicated and that the was never any question that the legitimacy of the donation was ever in doubt. The simple fact of the matter is that we cocked up, we got lucky and the law is deeply flawed.

Reading the case summary, it would appear that the party has been saved by the fact that Michael Brown has been found guilty of fraud. The question rested on whether 5th Avenue Partners Ltd was acting as an “agent” to siphon money from Michael Brown or his German company 5th Avenue Partners Gmbh, both of which could not legally donate directly. But because it emerged that the money came from investments made by 5th Avenue Partners Ltd’s clients – i.e. Robert Mann et al – then it is legitimate. Of course, Robert Mann and the Fraud Squad might demur from the word “legitimate”.

Now, the party had no way of knowing the extent of Michael Brown’s deception. Nor can it be denied that it went out of its way to establish whether there was anything out there to suggest Brown was not a man they should be doing business with. But the fact of the matter is the world is a big place and with the benefit of hindsight it is clear the party was looking in the wrong place.

Fundamentally, it has never been clearly established who took the decision to accept the donation. Treasurer Reg Clark resigned shortly before the first donation in circumstances that have never been made clear. The party’s federal executive was not involved, nor was the finance and administration committee. And you don’t need hindsight to tell you that accepting £2.4m from a man who comes out of nowhere, who isn’t resident in the country, whose company hasn’t yet filed its first set of accounts to Companies House and whose donation has come so late you can’t properly spend in the general election anyway, is an unacceptable risk. But then I suppose Lib Dem politicians were as goggle eyed with the glamour of the hedge funder as all other politicians at the time, and had lost all perspective. Exerting caution only makes sense if you aren’t wined and dined by city wideboys on a weekly basis.

Suffice to say, a law which lets one party off on a technicality like that, while forcing another party to repay hundreds of thousands of pounds simply because a donor dropped off the electoral roll for a couple of months, is an ass. And an Electoral Commission which takes so long to establish such technicalities has deep organisational problems as well. We need a system which doesn’t potentially force political parties to go bankrupt because of the mistakes of a couple of officials by allowing parties to get the Electoral Commission to clear large donations in advance.

And so we turn to Michael Ashcroft and Bearwood Corporate Services Ltd. Here again, the Electoral Commission have been dragging their heels for months. On the one hand, things look precarious for the Tories because, on the face of it anyway, it does not appear that Ashcroft has been defrauding any UK investors. But if the Electoral Commission have managed to conclude that 5th Avenue Partners Ltd was trading legitimately then I wouldn’t hold your breath. As for what is really going on, that’s anyone’s guess.

Note: I was a member of the Lib Dems’ Federal Executive from January 2003 until I resigned in November 2005. I was a member of the Federal Finance and Administration Committee from February 2005 until my resignation from the FE.

Tory Dog Whistle Politics is Back! (did it ever really go away?)

I’ve been travelling back from my short break in North Yorkshire today but I have a headache. Tories have been blowing into dog whistles all day and the tinny noise has been reverberating from as far away as Whitby.

For years now, this blog has been reminding readers that the problem with Cameron is not Cameron per se but the fact that he doesn’t have any control of his party; indeed, the party has control of him. And that party is, to put it politely, out of control. As it stands, even when the CCHQ says one thing, there are enough hints and suggestions out there to make it clear that it simply isn’t going to pan out like that. I offer you two (and a half) bits of evidence from the past 48 hours:

Firstly, this John Bercow business. There is an interesting debate to be had about how the Lib Dems should respond*, but for the Tories their recourse should be obvious for four reasons. Firstly, Bercow is a Tory MP, for good or ill. They didn’t kick him out and he didn’t defect – in any respectable party that has to count for something. Secondly, as the party which has always positioned itself as the defender of Parliamentary convention, to oppose Bercow would be to politicise the role of the speaker to an intolerable level. Thirdly, allowing UKIP a foot in the door to the House of Commons will have consequences that the Conservative Party would be better off not having to live with. Broadly speaking, the Tories can afford to triangulate the anti-Europe right in General Elections for the simple reason that they have nowhere to go – just as Labour has successively triangulated the far left for two decades now. Once UKIP start getting MPs however, this all changes. Fourthly, as Farage himself happily acknowledges, he is the king of sleaze.

Yet this doesn’t appear to be happening. Jonathan Calder offers a good summary of the initial bloggers’ reaction to Farage’s decision to oppose Bercow yesterday. But the support seems to go much higher than just a bunch of rabid bloggers. Tim Montgomerie reported this morning that someone from CCHQ had effectively given a green light for Tories to support Farage, claiming that because Bercow wouldn’t be an official Tory candidate CCHQ would turn a blind eye. Eventually an official statement from the party contradicted this but it took them six whole hours to put it out.

Clearly the people that Eric Pickles likes to call the “boys and girls” at CCHQ have been feeling conflicted and decided to leave Bercow on the dangle for nearly two days before lending him his support. Conservative Home’s new poll suggesting that 64% of Tory members would prefer Farage over Bercow. If two-thirds of Labour members in 1997 had said they’d like a chance of electing, say, Arthur Scargill you can bet the Tories would have made something of it.

Secondly, we have Dan Hannan’s mysterious promotion. It is one thing for Cameron to try to disown Hannan as an eccentric on the fringe of the party, quite another if just weeks after causing him so many problems Hannan gets a fat reward. Hannan flexed his muscles this summer and it was Cameron who flinched, just as we saw back in 2007 when for a time the only thing resembling a Conservative Party policy on education was support for something called “grammar streaming.”

And my “half”? Well, I’d like to cite Kit Malthouse’s extraordinary intervention claiming to have taken control of Scotland Yard, except that, like Jonathan Calder, I’m struggling to see what the fuss is about. I’m very sceptical of the Tory idea of elected police sheriffs and if what Malthouse was suggesting was that they have effectively imposed this in London I’d be fearful. But what we have is a Police Authority and I’d rather see that have control over day to day policing than the Home Office.

With all that said, if Malthouse and Johnson want to claim responsibility for the Met over the last year, then they are the ones we have to blame for the appalling behaviour of the police back in April. If this is the sort of policing we are to see under a Tory government then we have good reason to be fearful.

All in all, what we are looking at is a Conservative Party that is very different to the one being projected by David Cameron. This is very different to the situation in 1997 when we faced a New Labour government with a firm grip on the remaining Old Labour rump. The electorate might think it is voting for a warm, fluffy, “progressive” party but what it will get is a fairly ravenous beast. The clues are all there, the headbangers are telling anyone who will listen and the Tory leadership are frankly indulging them in a hope that they don’t get their heads bitten off. The problem is, Labour has done such a poor job over the past couple of years, and the Lib Dems have failed to spell out enough of an alternative, that to a large extent I suspect that enough of the electorate is in the mood to vote the Tories in now and repent at leisure.

* I’ve given this some thought today and while I think fielding a candidate is certainly not something I would automatically rule out, I’m not currently persuaded that it would be a good idea. We could never afford to target it to the extent that UKIP will be able to (we’ll have considerably more target seats) and a half-hearted campaign will only serve to make Farage more credible. Things might change – if Bercow really looked like a dead duck we might have to reconsider – and I certainly agree that any party which supports democratic reform shouldn’t be too deferential to existing Parliamentary conventions (the existing convention couldn’t operate under a PR system in any case), but at the moment there seem to be far more cons than pros.

How to make UKIP look good…

Well done Buster Mottram for handing Nigel Farage a bit of a propaganda coup:

UKIP says it has “unanimously rejected” an offer from the British National Party for an electoral pact at next year’s European elections.

It says ex-tennis star Buster Mottram, a UKIP member who claimed to represent the BNP, made the “astonishing offer” at a meeting in London on Monday.

Under the deal the BNP would fight seats in the north while UKIP would focus on the south in the elections.

Who is Buster Mottram? Well according to the Observer, he’s their second “worst sportsman in politics” – after that well-known moderate Idi Amin – who is quoted as saying:

‘I hope Enoch Powell will never die, just as his namesake in the Bible never died.’

A former member of the National Front, one has to ask how come UKIP accepted him as a member in the first place?

Why Gordon Brown will wait for a May 2008 General Election (UPDATED)

I could be proven wrong here, but I’ve been coming to the conclusion that there is no way Gordon Brown will call a snap poll. What’s more, it has increasingly come to my mind that he might have a rather devious plan up his sleeve.

First of all, he won’t do it for several reasons. Labour’s skint and the unions are being finnicky at the moment. Labour is also lazy – more so than either of their main opponents. They’re activists need more signposting than the competition before they’ll get off their arses. A snap poll is tough to manage in the most ideal of circumstances, and this will not be the most ideal of circumstances.

We should also remember that British Summer Time ends on 28 October after this point, it will be getting dark in late afternoons. That makes campaigning tough and getting the vote out even tougher. Differential turnout will be key, and Tory supporters are notoriously better at coming out than the others.

He could, of course, call it for 25 October which was widely speculated on during the summer. Personally speaking that would be disastrous as it would be on my birthday, but I somehow doubt that Gordon will consider my social calendar to be a factor either way. He is however likely to be wary of calling it a week after the start of the IGC in Lisbon to finalise the EU Reform Treaty. That would mean 4-5 days in which the EU will be in the headlines and a whole weekend in which he’ll be out of circulation at a crucial time. It would be completely unpredictable – it might go well, it might end up a total disaster. It would be a total gamble, and a reckless one at that.

On the other hand, Brown has to neutralise the Treaty issue in such a way that makes it a non-issue for the voters and (preferably for him) seriously distracts the Tories.

If I was in his position, this is what I’d do. I’d come back from Lisbon proclaiming that I’d negotiated a couple more token concessions. I’d reassert that it was for Parliament to ratify the treaty but that in the interests of having a wider nationwide debate I will declare that the ratification won’t happen immediately. Instead, there’ll be a period of reflection of, say 7 months. Promise lots more citizens’ juries.

This will of course send the rightwing media into a tizzy. Cue months and months of them denouncing the treaty and calling for a referendum. This will of course bore the vast majority of the public to tears. The exception will be the hardcore UKIP/Tory supporters who will get extremely agitated. Cameron will come under sustained pressure to do a Hague, something he will resist at all costs but this will disappoint a lot of donors and activists whose support he can ill afford to lose. UKIP by contrast will be on a roll.

Then in April 2008, when most of the public are one Sun front page comparing Jose Manuel Barroso to an unfortunately shaped vegetable away from fetching the rusty razor blades and running a warm bath, Brown will call the election. He will declare at the start that he will seek a mandate to ratify the treaty but other than that will spend the entire time going on about bread and butter issues. Cameron will be torn between pissing off his core support and alienating everyone else. Another disaster for them awaits.

That’s my theory. Anyone want to tell me what I’m missing?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention another reason why I don’t expect him to declare the election this week. On the second day of his Premiership, Gordon Brown announced plans to invest the Royal Prerogative power to declare an election in Parliament. It would be absurd for him to then bypass Parliament completely. Still, on the other hand, I could just be being naive here. We’ll know in 48 hours.

UKIP and Blair feel the heat

It just doesn’t seem to get any easier for UKIP, with today’s papers revealing that a) the party had already investigated Tom Wise, found problems and then sat on it and that b) one of their NEC members is an associate of BNP leader Nick Griffin – and a donor.

Establishment plot to discredit them it may be, but if you don’t want to be discredited, a good rule of thumb is to not be quite so disreputable.

Meanwhile the story over the Attorney General’s Injunction against the BBC continues. The theory du jour is that the email in question was leaked by Downing Street in an attempt to derail the process.

It’s fair to say that this theory has some merit – it does seem hard to believe that the police would blag this so late on in the investigation – but this is real down the rabbit hole stuff. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that Jonathan Powell, Ruth Turner et al would leak an email which allegedly incriminates themselves, gambling on a mistrial due to a technicality. On the other hand, if they know they’re going down what do they have to lose?

The Conspiracy Continues

The vast establishment conspiracy against UKIP now includes 3 of their own MEPs and disabled people.

I particularly loved this nice bit of spin:

“The association’s definition of a full candidate is someone who knocks on every door or leaflets every single house.

“Their definition of a paper candidate is someone who can’t do every house because it would put too much pressure on them.”

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!