Category Archives: UKIP

The consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy could be profound

I have a strong feeling that the atrocity at Grenfell Tower this week (and my sympathies are with those affected) will prove to be both another nail in the neoliberal coffin and the beginning of a sweeping Labour revival.

This I have thought not for a very long time, but the longer I ponder the prospect, the more convinced I am that it is correct. At least, this is what the signs point us to.

There is something going on in Britain. Sections of the population are mobilising in profound ways, workers are demanding action where their voices were once muffled.

Who knows where this renewed energy will lead? I hope not towards the violence we saw at Kensington Town Hall. The poor know better and can get their messages across in more constructive ways.

Corporate failure to provide suitable, non-flammable cladding has sparked intense anger. But the emotion provoked is about more than just that. It is being more widely aimed at four decades of neoliberalism.

Public mistrust of the private sector was certainly aroused in 2008 after the financial meltdown. There came a turning point for the west, which I believe has swayed slightly to a more Left-wing, interventionist economic consensus.

The neoliberal agenda is treated by the working classes with understandable disdain. It promotes individualism over the maintenance of a social conscience and has represented a sustained attack on democracy.

There is also an interesting parallel at play here. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and she introduced ‘right to buy’ (a form of housing privatisation), homelessness right across rural England soared.

This has been recorded quite brilliantly by my friend Anthony Clavane in his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy. Though Grenfell Tower is a wholly separate problem, it does reflect a certain disregard for the housing needs of the country’s poorest.

I noted yesterday, also, the scurried way in which Mrs May climbed into her convoy 4×4, choosing, perhaps understandably, to avoid the baying crowds demanding both answers and leadership.

I can of course imagine that such a situation would be nerve-wrackingly intimidating. Local residents, bereaved families and angry demonstrators do not make for the ideal public meeting after such a painful week.

There was, though, something slightly symbolic about the Prime Minister’s forced departure from Kensington yesterday. Mrs May appears weak and biding her time, and this crisis could be the beginning of her end.

That is not to say that Grenfell Tower’s blaze was her fault. I think there have been very cynical attempts by hard leftists to associate her with the deaths of, at the time of writing, an estimated 58 people.

The idea that Mrs May ought to be blamed for the fire is fanciful and unhelpful nonsense. Leftists who have genuine (and I think reasonable) grievances with corporate ineptitude will undermine their cause by engaging in this useless finger-wagging.

I have defended the importance of protest at this blog as an important avenue of expression in any democracy. But there can be no excuse for ensuing demonstrations to erupt into savage carnivals of violence.

I also believe that the Labour Party will win the next General Election, whenever it is called. If contemporary British politics tells us anything, it could be as soon as this autumn. There are a few reasons why I think this.

The first is that the myth and fakery of Tory strength and stability has been left helplessly exposed, both by the party’s incompetent leader and their throwing away of 21-point polling leads in one of the worst political campaigns in modern history.

The second is its potentially disastrous dealings with the Democratic Unionist Party, which could completely hollow out Tory support in more urbanised, metropolitan areas of the country.

Social and moral conservatism, but for occasional stirrings, has been more or less wiped out in Britain. The Conservatives have instead presented a more liberal agenda for many years.

This has been because they have no alternative. The Tories are electable if they mouth conservative sentiments but advocate liberalising policy. They are able to tap in to a wide range of the electorate this way.

Of course, there are setbacks. The popularity of UKIP over the last three years (though now decaying again) was a result of Conservative Party failure to address problems caused by mass immigration and Brussels-imposed attacks on our sovereignty.

Theresa May tried to pose as the rescuer of the party; the woman to restore the winning ways of the 1980s, but her personality-centric campaign only managed to reveal her fatal weaknesses.

The mess she now finds herself in, combined with negotiations with the DUP, who don’t subscribe to the Tories’ more liberal agenda, will cost her party dearly at the next election.

More progressive Tory members, voters and activists have already begun questioning their support for the party. LGBT Tories, many of whom I know, will be particularly uneasy with this unfortunate (and thoroughly unnecessary) alliance.

There is also the question of Jeremy Corbyn, whose stock has changed significantly since last Thursday. He now looks the part, talks the part and oozes refreshing confidence.

Something resembling stability has returned to Labour over the last week. I am also convinced that Mr Corbyn’s party would have garnered many more votes from the electorate on June 8th had people genuinely thought he was within a chance of winning.

He should, though, refrain from overtly politicising tragedies of the kind we have seen this week. I don’t think he should, for instance, spend two minutes on Sky News berating cuts to local authority budgets and fire services without the causes of the fire being properly established.

If the election were held tomorrow, Labour would undoubtedly outperform themselves. Nobody believes that the Tories are adequately prepared for governing.

And nor are they in a strong enough position to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union effectively. No wonder there is such anger.

 


In the end it was the Brexit election, but not the one I expected

Well, I was wrong about two things at this election. I think a lot of us were. The first was the absence of a Tory majority, the second the absence of a Lib Dem fight back, which I wrongly predicted a couple of months ago at this blog. But yesterday morning told a fascinating tale nonetheless.

On April 19th, upon hearing Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap General Election, I wrote the following:

“This decision was fundamentally, and shrewdly, party political. But it could turn into a whole lot more than that. Since Brexit is now the hallmark of British politics, I expect the upcoming campaign to be a proxy; a second referendum of sorts.”

I think have been proved more or less correct by this statement, though not in the way that I expected. Before Thursday, and like most in the country, I predicted the securing of a comfortable Tory majority. I felt that Mrs May, hopeless as she is, had done just enough to remind Leave voters of what they voted for on June 23rd last year.

I thought that in appealing to the sensibilities of Brexit voters, especially with phrases like ‘respect the will of the British people’, the Conservative Party would enhance its electoral stronghold in Westminster and would win yet another General Election. How wrong and naive I was to the consequences of a poorly-organised political campaign.

It is true that the Tories managed 43 percent of the vote share, but voters ‘returning home’ made gaining a majority more difficult. After the shock of last summer, when support for parties was vastly more dispersed, voters thought it was safe to return to their traditional red and blue corners.

I thought that UKIP voters would rally behind Theresa May as she led the campaign for a so-called ‘hard Brexit’. This proved not to be the case, as I should have anticipated. I remember when I was a member of UKIP how many former Labour voters sat in local and regional party meetings. I knew that for UKIP, a Leave vote in the EU referendum was their self-destruct button, but I underestimated the ensuing flow of voters who returned to Labour. Perhaps many of them now have an understandable and instinctive mistrust of the Tory Party.

But this election did espouse many undertones of the referendum, which I now feel was a mistake (more on this soon). As results emerged, it became clear that many of the Remain-supporting pockets of the country had used the Labour Party as a means of diluting Brexit. In this sense, I would exercise caution over the notion that Corbynism has entirely hollowed Blairism out of Labour or its voter base.

Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise scooping of 262 seats, an increase of 30 on the total that his predecessor managed, reflected a number of different factors, but his desire to prioritise, for instance, membership of the single market over immigration and a Brexit focused on protecting consumer and worker rights will have appealed to many of the country’s supporters of EU membership.

These trends were noticeable mostly in England, where politics seems to be more tribal on the issue of the European Union. In Scotland, I was pleased to see, the Nationalists took the heavy hits I predicted and the colours on the electoral map are mixed once again. Ruth Davison deserves enormous credit for helping to turn nationalistic tides and reinvigorate support for the union. She has also shrewdly positioned herself as a potential future leader of the Conservative Party.

Mrs Sturgeon, on the other hand, whose position as leader of the SNP is becoming increasingly untenable, failed in her efforts to retain seats largely because Scottish voters are tired of her drive for independence, which was always a fake given her support for EU membership and which was rightly rejected in 2014. I also suspect that Scots saw her insistence on keeping Scotland out of Brexit as a constitutional danger and a cause of yet more political instability.

As the election campaign got under way, I had convinced myself (I now realise stupidly) that the Liberal Democrats would prove to be a significant force. But their night was surprisingly underwhelming. Even prominent figures like Nick Clegg lost seats, and in many seats the party failed to garner even 1,000 votes. This is perhaps a good example of a lack of translation between membership surges and votes.

Had the Lib Dems ditched plans to offer a second referendum, which would ransack the population of its faith in and enthusiasm for politics, and instead fought loudly and clearly for an exit centred around keeping Britain in the single market, they would indeed have gained more than 12 seats at this election. All we are missing now is a party that advocates holding a referendum on whether we should have a second referendum. Don’t hold your breath.

Remain voters quite clearly had their say at this election. Most shocking was the Tory-Labour switch in Kensington. I think our departure from the European Union has been compromised and cannot bring myself to trust Theresa May to negotiate our exit. And the price we pay at home? A minority government doomed to failure and backed up by the DUP. There is no other way to see it. This is a national embarrassment.

 


This election is oh so depressing

I am profoundly jealous of anybody who found an excuse not to watch yesterday’s pitiful TV debate between five of the country’s most uninspiring party leaders. I didn’t watch it expecting to be anything other than dismayed at the growing pile of political deadwood we now have in Britain.

It is made infinitely worse by how similar they all look. Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas are as irritating as they are indistinguishable from one another. They all, as far as I can see, have exactly the same beliefs.

They all sneer at the prospect of Britain being a self-governing, sovereign country once more. They all despise grammar schools whilst refusing to acknowledge the kinds of selection brought about by the massive and failed comprehensive experiment in education. They all support mass, uncontrolled immigration and the egalitarian wonders of multiculturalism.

But there is something else that unites them all so glaringly: none of them are even remotely electable. I am still surprised that broadcast time was allocated to them, given that the total number of MPs in England represented was 10 and neither of the two major parties took part.

Paul Nuttall, mediocre and paling in comparison to the charisma of Nigel Farage, stuck out, but that was to be expected from a UKIP candidate. It is time for their members to accept the now painfully obvious fact that they are no longer a purposeful or serious electoral force.

As always with these totally overhyped and underwhelming affairs, we were treated to two hours of spin from the Public Relations industry, whose agencies write the scripts and formulate the annoying slogans and soundbites that the live and televised audiences are showered with.

That, added to the fact that we already know which party will be victorious on June 8th, only helps to make this whole thing so utterly depressing. I now see the logic behind holding a snap General Election more clearly. The mobilisation of the non-blue parties was forced and feels so rushed and obligatory.

I wrote a few weeks ago that this election was a second referendum in disguise. I still hold that view, but I can’t describe myself as unsure about the result. Like readers, I know what will happen. The Conservative Party will expand on its majority, by perhaps 50 seats, the country will forget about the fraud it was proven to have committed during the 2015 General Election campaign and Theresa May will lead the country into its third post-war political era, whatever it hopes to look like.

(More on Theresa May very soon.)

The Tories, of course, don’t need to participate in meaningless debates, which I actually disagree with on the grounds that they reflect presidential systems and the UK’s localised, parliamentary format. I may not even feel it necessary to vote for them, since my constituency (Bexleyheath and Crayford) is both Leave-supporting and a relatively safe Conservative seat. After toying with this election for a few weeks, I now realise that there is simply no real need for me to vote.

For Labour, the principle target now ought to be to convince as many of its traditional voters as possible not to jump ship or abstain. Their defeat in June is inevitable, but a turnaround in the coming years (as we saw back in the 1990s) is more than possible. Much will depend upon who succeeds Mr Corbyn as leader later this year, provided of course, that he agrees to step down.

This election is a realisation of three things. Firstly, the neo-liberal consensus has been irrevocably altered. Secondly, the Conservative Party are embarking upon their second era of parliamentary dominance in the last forty years. And thirdly, that Brexit is now a Tory plaything; a policy they have total control over in Westminster and almost no yearning for in Brussels.

I left the party for a reason I am now sharply reminded of. I just can’t bring myself to trust them.


Reflections on railway renationalisation and a Tory Brexit

My apologies, firstly, to readers for the general inactivity at the blog since the middle of April. This has been down to juggling work at a new job and the completion of my journalism dissertation, which I submitted on Thursday evening.

My hope is to achieve the 2.1 that will allow me to continue my studies into Masters level, with my eyes currently set upon an MSc at Royal Holloway in ‘Campaigns, Elections and Democracy’. I should now hope to return here frequently for the foreseeable future.

In my absence, this year’s General Election has gotten under way. A portion of the Labour Party’s manifesto has been leaked, and thanks to pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and energy sector, has been described as taking the UK ‘back to the 1970s’.

It may be worth remembering for a moment that Germany, a modern and well-run country, operates nationalised rail and worker-run energy co-operatives. Northern Ireland, too, (incidentally a part of the UK) retains public control of its rail system.

For the record, I don’t support renationalising Britain’s energy sector, but local, energy co-operatives, similar to those that exist on the continent do not sound like such a bad idea. I do admit to succumbing to the appeal of democratic ownership of utilities and co-operative privatisation (worker control of industry) of Royal Mail may be popular amongst postmen and women.

As far as our railways go, the ongoing debate around public and private ownership would seem to me to be a secondary issue. The primary issue is upgrading infrastructure and investment, and cancelling the vast amounts of money we seem keen to spend on vanity projects like HS2, which stands only to increase London’s workforce and damage the rural environment of the midlands. Any strong government ought to, by now, have scrapped such madness.

Britain’s rail infrastructure is predominantly Victorian and not entirely electrified, much to our national embarrassment. The billions put aside for HS2 should be re-directed towards modernising track and signalling, and towards investing in more medium-speed, medium-distance inter-city railway lines. London is too often used as a connecting city for long-distance travellers making their way across the country (and often finding themselves paying extortionate amounts).

The question of who owns rail services is made less important still by the fact that there need not be one single system of ownership, as demonstrated by the state operating of the East Coast mainline until March 2015. Britain’s rail system is not only franchised, it is regionalised, which means that, with very few exceptions, services are all co-ordinated independently of one another. The state can retain ownership of some lines whilst allowing for others to be run privately, depending on factors like performance and quality of service.

Immediate renationalisation would not make the running of rail services particularly cheap. As I have said, it is the cost of maintaining infrastructure, due to its age, that sets the cost of British rail travel above that of the rest of the continent. Upgrades to infrastructure ought to be at the centre of any debate about Britain’s railways and present a far more pressing concern than discussions over ownership.

I will not vote for the Labour Party on June 8th, but the aforementioned leaked manifesto content doesn’t look to me as if it will take us back forty years. This is merely dishonest Tory propaganda, no doubt aided by the incompetence of figures like Diane Abbott, who do nothing but discredit the Left and its labour movement.

Meanwhile, the Tories sit firmly in the driver’s seat of this election. They are rightly standing on a platform of seeing out the Brexit process, but of course, they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Many of them do not support out withdrawal from the European Union and thoroughly resent last summer’s referendum result. My vote for them in June (if I bother or indeed remember) will be more out of obligation than anything else.

I am at least glad that the Liberal Democrat leader this time around is Tim Farron, and not a young and fresh Nick Clegg, who managed to sweet talk the country into voting for him seven years ago. Thanks to Farron’s confusing position as leader of a party with which he has profound moral disagreements, the Lib Dems are not quite the force they could be.

Knowing that I was an adamant leaver, some readers might think that I am relieved the Tories are in poll position to win this General Election. This is not quite so. Something about the party’s (and indeed the Prime Minister’s) track record over the European question is cause for concern in my mind.

A couple of days ago, David Cameron made a comment that sparked some degree of doubt in my mind. He said that Mrs May needs a big majority so that she can “stand up to the people who want an extreme Brexit, either here or in Brussels.” It is a shame that UKIP can no longer muster the strength that it did back in 2014.

UKIP formed the ideal barricade against sentiments of this kind within the Conservative Party. There are many who call themselves conservatives, despite their continued existence that Britain should not govern itself and control its own affairs, who are fanatically supportive of the European project and of ceding parliamentary sovereignty.

When these people (Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne to name a few others) use the expression ‘extreme Brexit’, they demonise the reasonable belief held by large sects of the country, including especially much of the Tory grassroots, that the United Kingdom should control its own trade, borders, lawmaking and judicial process, no matter the difficulties which undoubtedly lie ahead.

Mr Cameron’s comments reminded me that placing complete trust in the Tories and giving them a free hand over such an important issue might not be advisable after all. We’ve heard ‘Theresa May’s hard Brexit’ quite a lot in recent months, but increasingly my fear is that when it is all said and done, Britain will no longer be halfway in the EU. Instead, she may find herself perching halfway out in what will look like an especially embarrassing position.


The pro-immigrant case against mass immigration

Finally, a workable, coherent plan on immigration has emerged. Lord knows that Britain has been longing for one for the last two decades. I ask readers to note that it is thanks to our leaving the European Union that it will be possible to execute one at all.

Obviously not being a part of UKIP has had a liberating effect on Steven Woolfe, whose ‘Leave means Leave’ report, published earlier, calls for a five-year ban on unskilled immigration to help bring net migration down to below 50,000 per year.

At last, the country is beginning to act as if it is sovereign again. Of course, we aren’t yet, but positive signs are beginning to show. We dare to dream once more about things we spent years having absolutely no control over.

The issue of immigration was always going to be the acid test for Brexit. Mr Farage told Faisal Islam a few months ago that it would be regaining control of our territorial waters, but I think he only said this as a reminder to the government.

Immigration was the largest single issue within the subset of arguments for leave, and for good reason. Our politicians sat idly by whilst working class communities were left bitterly divided thanks to unprecedented levels of (particularly unskilled) immigration.

The poor were more seriously affected, as with all failed policies, and men and women all over the country began to feel isolated in the towns and neighbourhoods that they once knew and loved.

This isn’t, crucially, a condemnation of the migrants who arrived. Rather, it is a critique of the notion that a historically unique sample of different peoples and cultures can peacefully and successfully be imposed upon a society and encouraged not to integrate.

But, what we don’t consider often enough are the effects on those who migrate. I believe that there is a powerful but buried pro-immigrant case for limiting immigration. It ought to be discussed more seriously.

In 2013, a British social attitudes survey revealed that 77% of the British public favoured a reduction in the level of immigration. The percentage of people who preferred the numbers to be cut had increased substantially from the late 90s, when the Blair government embarked upon its ridiculous policy of opening up the doors to most of Eastern Europe.

So the first significant impact on the country since this radical project was introduced has been to promote strong anti-migrant sentiment. Cities and demographics changed rapidly and mass immigration sparked, as it always does where tried, a burgeoning resentment.

By radically reducing the number that come (starting rationally with those less skilled), we can stem the tide of sentiment that can have a profound impact upon the quality of life of those who come here. We can also give our one million unemployed young people an even break in the jobs market.

It can’t be understated: strong borders do more to suppress racism and promote social cohesion than any government initiative, charity or think tank ever could.

By definition, strong borders allow only the highest quality immigrants to enter a society. They give settling immigrants a more positive reputation, and incentivise the existing, national population to be more tolerant and welcoming.

I mention quality of life above deliberately. It is perhaps the most crucial aspect to this whole debate. I only wish Leftist liberals could understand that it is not he who wants the highest number to come, but he who wants the best life possible for immigrants that can truly claim moral authority in this argument.

Especially (though not limited to) for those, like me, who live in the South East of England, the pressures on public services have never been more intense. For my generation, housing has floated almost comically far from affordability.

Only those born into wealth or lucky enough to have bagged a fantastic job will be unfamiliar with the struggles of getting on to the housing ladder.

Unfortunately, politicians were slow to realise that markets are about demand and supply, and that a substantial increase in the number of people entering the country equates to a substantial decrease in the chances of being able to afford the property you want.

And so this affects incoming migrants, too. Immigrants can’t escape housing bubbles, and a reduction in the numbers coming (paired with sustained building efforts) will enable more to better afford the properties that meet their housing needs.

But, there are other problems. Britain’s immigrants are not likely to appreciate the intense congestion on our roads and at our railway stations as they go about their working lives.

Getting a seat on a train, once an act of thoughtless simplicity, now resembles a circuit of Total Wipeout, as passengers weave in and out of one another hoping to stand by the seat of the next departing commuter.

These little things are easily taken for granted, but they help to form a bigger picture. Mass immigration, when prescribed for a population without its consent, dampens the quality of life of everybody but the landowners who cash in on the promise of cheap labour.

When immigrants arrive in a country, they want to feel welcomed and be presented with the opportunity to integrate and establish themselves within a community. At such a speedy rate, this is almost impossible. And society will suffer the consequences.

So I welcome tomorrow’s report calling for stern controls on immigration. Contrary to the claims of the Left, we haven’t always been a country of immigrants. For very many years there lived in Britain a settled, cohesive populace.

It is true that racial and religious demographics have been significantly altered by mass migration, but don’t fall for the idea that this has always been the case, and that because it has always been the case it must remain so.

There are sensible arguments against large-scale immigration, but the Right has often been guilty of framing the debate in terms of the population and the migrants. I think this is a false dichotomy.

Let us, from now on, criticise the policy from the point of view of those arriving in the UK. That way, we might even get the Left to listen.

 


UKIP will not pose a threat in 2020, but this may be bad for British politics

I now think that UKIP will play no considerable role at the 2020 General Election (provided, of course, that there isn’t one sooner). My conclusion is partly informed by uninspiring quarrels between its senior figures and partly by the result of last year’s referendum, which now seems so far away I can scarcely believe how time has flown.

Notice that I use the word ‘uninspiring’. Of course, squabbles in political parties – despite the fact that they can open up debate – aren’t usually very helpful, but with UKIP, matters are made worse. The party was primarily a one-issue political force, acting as a battering ram and driving home an agenda that had been forgotten or deliberately ignored for far too long.

At present, UKIP lacks purpose and direction. Its primary goal has almost (barring a few late hiccups) been achieved and it must now attach itself to other issues worth pursuing. Indeed, Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, thinks that proportional representation and House of Lords reform are two such issues that the party can use to maintain its foothold in British politics.

This is a false trail. These areas of policy are fringe issues not capable of rallying a significant portion of the electorate. UKIP’s divisions are therefore uninspiring because neither side is offering any credible path towards long-term relevance in the current political climate. Arron Banks, who funded UKIP at the last General Election, claims that Paul Nuttall is week, but the problem is in fact much deeper.

The party has reached its sell-by date, and as the party only ever truly planned for a referendum, it is unsurprising to me that it finds itself a little hollowed out and purposeless afterwards. This is itself causing internal doubt and frustration. Being the leader, Mr Nuttall will find himself in the crosshairs, but truth be told, even Nigel Farage would struggle to keep UKIP on the map.

I do not write this gleefully by any means. I have always been fair to UKIP and stood up for the party when under unjust attack. This is because I believe that its impact on British politics has been largely productive. Its success transcends electoral representative democracy and, perhaps ironically, was aided largely by its very inconvenience to the establishment parties and their pocketed media tycoons.

UKIP’s most profound influence on British politics was to apply serious pressure on the Conservative Party to be conservative; to stop supporting Britain’s ongoing membership of the European Union, to stop imposing on the country unprecedented levels of mass immigration, to strengthen and illuminate the national culture and character. These simple premises had long ago been abandoned by a party that knew that all it had to do was mirror Blairite values and – as the Labour Party was hollowed and left demoralised in the ensuing post-Blair years – it would guarantee electability for years to come.

The Conservative Party knew that it had become New Labour. How could anybody have missed the many glaring parallels between its leader, Mr Cameron, and his now infamous predecessor? The trouble was, so too did many of its members. Its most disgruntled supporters switched their allegiances and opted instead to seek refuge in a growing party that believed and said the things conservatives had been saying vainly for so long. It is no wonder that UKIP became a force in such a short period of time.

Nigel Farage shrewdly spotted a few years ago that if he could only (but correctly) associate mass immigration with EU membership, and raise awareness to a possible referendum, his and his party’s political legacy would be secure. Though what he still does not recognise, to his discredit, is how ineffective the Leave campaign would have been had UKIP been spearheading it during the country’s referendum period. Alas, it no longer matters. Our side won it, all that remains is for departure to be negotiated and executed.

But what of the future of UKIP? I would love for my prediction to fall flat. They have been a useful kick in the backside for the Tories down south and northern Labour who, shamefully, have resisted public opinion (even that of its own voter base) and insisted on fighting – rather than listening to, UKIP. In the run up to the triggering of Article 50, backsliding on Brexit was widely suspected. But come the inevitable collapse of UKIP, a party almost too combustible for its own good, more serious backsliding may be seen.

The Tories, knowing full well that much of conservatism is damage limitation, may not see a battle worth fighting, and we could well see them revert to their old, disingenuous ways, freed of the UKIP-led electoral pressure that so many took for granted.


Some thoughts on UKIP’s struggles, purpose and future

First, a little personal history about my involvement with the UK Independence Party:

I joined UKIP around the time of the 2015 General Election, knowing at the time very little about British politics but for the fact that the European Union wasn’t particularly democratic and that crucial powers had left the jurisdiction of Westminster for the jurisdiction of Brussels. Nigel Farage was primarily responsible for igniting my interest in Britain’s EU membership. My reasoning for joining was always to help pursue Brexit. I never really had all that much interest in the rest of the party’s manifesto. I left almost a year later, upon gaining employment with the Vote Leave campaign. To clarify, I was not asked to leave and did not feel compelled to, rather I chose to in order to focus on one campaigning avenue and set of messages.

Unlike most of UKIP’s detractors, I have actually been inside the party. This means that I know where faults lie (especially at local level) and I know where to draw the line between fair and unfair criticism. UKIP is not a party of racists and homophobes. In fact, it mostly comprises of former Labour and Tory voters, disillusioned with their former party’s messages around issues like EU membership and immigration. The oddity was that as UKIP drew more scorn from their rivals, they became more popular, as other parties began to reek of sneering, establishmentarian arrogance.

It took the main parties quite a long time to realise this, which has always surprised me. The Labour Party still makes the mistake of referring to UKIP’s message as the politics of hatred and division, despite its ongoing battle to overcome lingering internal anti-Semitism. The Conservatives, who had the most to lose from a strong Independence force, reacted a little more proactively, and ceased labelling UKIP figures and voters in uncomplimentary terms because they knew that it would backfire on them. What is even more interesting is the number of Tory youth members – of which I know many – who like UKIP and credit them for giving their party a kick up the backside across various policy areas.

It is correctly argued that UKIP does best as a radical party, but it is also worth remembering that the sheer scale of immigration for the past two decades, and the party’s ability to link it to a referendum, shaped their success. UKIP will still portray itself as a radical party, but it will not be aided in the same way going forward. Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, believes that his party needs to get back on the offence and take the lead in policy proposals. He mentioned on the Daily Politics today that House of Lords reform or proportional representation could be areas of policy that UKIP may try to influence – but these things simply do not have the same value for them. They are not issues that unite or rally their voter base, and they are not big enough issues to attract very many swing voters. This is especially true of the country’s Remain supporters, who would sooner barbecue their own children than be pulled in by even a sentence of any UKIP manifesto.

The in-fighting quite clearly isn’t helping things either. UKIP squabbles aren’t new and they most certainly aren’t surprising. But, in previous years, hostile sections of the party could put their differences aside much more easily as they knew that on the horizon lay an issue not worth dividing over. Even Farage and Douglas Carswell, who I got to meet several times during the referendum campaign and rather liked, simply ignored one another in the weeks leading to polling day, knowing full well that it was better to enter battle united that it was to entertain pointless feuding.

For the record, I believe Douglas Carswell was a little petulant in not backing a proposed Nigel Farage knighthood. I think it was quite clear why he did it. Just as it became clear that his defection from the Tories softened UKIP’s jagged voice as the referendum debate was under way. For anybody who has not yet read it and is interested, my blog on the case for knighting Mr Farage can be read at the following link:

https://norgroveblog.com/2017/02/25/why-nigel-farage-deserves-a-knighthood/

I am therefore unsurprised to learn that Arron Banks, who I’ve often thought will prove to be more useful behind the scenes in political life, is preparing to challenge Mr Carswell for his seat in Clacton. I don’t believe the UKIP donor will win the seat – in fact, come the next election, I believe it is highly likely that the Conservative Party may reclaim it…even if Douglas Carswell does re-stand for election. Between the by-election of 2014 and the General Election a year later, the Tories gained seven and a half thousand votes, and with the Leave vote now under the country’s belt, it is entirely possible that this increase will continue in 2020 (provided that another election is not called sooner).

I will always defend UKIP from unwarranted attack, and I greatly appreciate their efforts in fighting for an ‘in/out’ referendum on the question of EU membership. It was at least sincere, unlike the false promises made by former party leaders over the years (Tony Blair in 2005, David Cameron on the Lisbon Treaty in 2009). But their time as a credible political force, radical or not, has come to end in Britain. The Conservatives will soon be able to sleep easily.


Why Nigel Farage deserves a knighthood

It is clear to me now why Nigel Farage gives much better political interviews than he does personal ones. Last night’s ‘Life Stories’ with Piers Morgan highlighted Mr Farage’s understandable hesitancy with regards to talking about his private life, despite the host’s repeated and reasonable attempts to extract the juice from him. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to.

The former UKIP leader teased the audience with mentions of his relatives and those in his personal life, but kept his guard up and refused to be drawn into lengthy, informative storytelling. Perhaps ironically, Farage was at his most emotive and engaging when asked about topics he explicitly did not wish to discuss (like accusations of racism). Mr Farage’s personal life and professional rise are extremely interesting, and I felt he should have expanded upon some of the more personal aspects to his interview. I invite readers at this blog to watch the hour-long show for themselves and let me know what they thought in the comments below.

Towards the end of the show, however, the question over his future was raised. I was reminded, as Morgan asked him about his future plans, by Thursday night’s Question Time discussion on the issue of a potential knighthood (on which I should add that I completely believe that a Farage knighthood was blocked by his public nemesis Douglas Carswell). It would seem to me entirely reasonable for Nigel to be knighted given his standing as this generation’s most impactful and important politician.

And yes, he is a politician, much as he may pretend not to be. His impression on Britain’s political climate outweighs even that of Tony Blair’s. Liberals on both sides of the spectrum utterly despise him, but he retains significant support amongst older voters and traditional English, patriotic conservatives (a bracket that includes many Labour voters, we often forget).

Mr Farage deserves a knighthood because he truly embodies what it means to be a difference maker. His legacy is far more profound than that of most world leaders. He exudes a determination not seen in other political figures and his role in directing the single biggest democratic decision taken by British people can’t be overstated. He sacrificed his reputation and time with his family for a single goal that, against all the odds, he is on the cusp of achieving. It is hard to name a politician more driven and more focused, and one who overachieved in such a manner. It is indeed what public service is really all about.

I have met him several times, always surrounded by others and never getting the opportunity to get to know him, and each time I bumped into him (which included two public meetings, a Leave rally in Bromley and an occasion where he came into Vote Leave HQ to speak with Dominic Cummings) I was astounded by his stamina. He’d give up his time to talk to just about any curious passerby if it meant furthering his dream of Britain leaving the European Union. It was really quite inspiring.

Of course, his opponents will look to his stance on immigration and apparent status as flag bearer for the alt-right as an argument against a knighthood. I think this is nonsense. Mr Farage opened up the immigration debate at a time when nobody else even dared to, which proved beneficial for the country and especially for the silent (as we now know) majority who were left sidelined by the establishment parties they thought they could trust.

Also, it does not make sense to politicise and categorise the requirement criteria for a knighthood in this way. In doing so, we allow only for a certain kind of person with a certain batch of views to be given knighthoods. If the honours system does not facilitate the inclusion of a man who did more for Brexit than just about anybody else, then what exactly is it for? Knighthoods must recognise achievement – they should not be the plaything of metropolitan liberals.

It is also true that Mr Farage should be awarded a knighthood and not a peerage. As we have already discussed at this blog, peerages have been devalued almost beyond grief. They are handed out like sweets to well-behaved children and tend to be awarded for the purpose of political posturing. Governments increasingly create Peers out of nothing simply to boost the chances of their legislation being approved by the Upper House.

A knighthood symbolises exceptional achievement, and nobody – not trendy, mainstream celebrities or campus Lefties – can argue that Mr Farage’s efforts in creating the conditions through with Britain voted to leave the European Union were not an exceptional achievement. He cleverly forged an unbreakable link between mass immigration, which frustrated many communities in the country, and membership of the EU. Had he not tied those two issues together, the UK would not be on the brink of triggering Article 50.

All the pieces are in place. Mr Farage meets the criteria for receipt, the arguments against are personal and petulant, and the honours system needs a figure of his magnitude to truly validate itself. Even The Queen, said to be herself a supporter of Brexit, would be up for it I’m sure.


The real lesson to learn from Steven Woolfe’s injury is a medical one, not a political one

I admit that at one point yesterday afternoon I thought Steven Woolfe was going to die. Reports were coming in thick and fast, and when the words “bleed on the brain” appeared on my computer screen, I absolutely feared the worst. Since finding out that Mr Woolfe will be okay after his fight with Mike Hookem (what an appropriate surname), I have begun to reflect both on what the political community seems to think it means, and what we must actually learn from the incident.

The immediate reaction to Woolfe’s collapse was an unsurprising attempt at linking the UK’s vote to leave the European Union with the fight. ‘Brexit Britain’, we were told by pro-Remain commentators on social media, and its toxic atmosphere was to blame. Presumably, referendums can produce such unwanted fervour that, occasionally, emotions spill over. I suppose to some extent this is true, but the politicisation of Woolfe’s condition was unhelpful.

I don’t care if Steven Woolfe (quite rationally) was considering a Tory defection. I certainly don’t care if Mr Hookem believed he should not leave UKIP. We already know that political differences are not grounds for violence, and didn’t need a head-banging in the European Parliament to remind us of this fact. Notice also that I am being careful not to accuse Hookem of punching Woolfe, who denied doing so today, as was alleged to have happened.

Many, including national newspapers, decided to use the event as an opportunity to make what happened in Strasbourg all about UKIP. The Sun’s splash read: “Anarchy in UKIP”. The Times’ (clearly bitter after their failed Remain campaign over the spring and summer) produced a two-page spread dedicated to comparing ‘the two heavyweights’, with one paragraph reading:

“Ukip’s success in transforming itself from an anti-establishment drinking club into Britain’s third largest political party has come at a cost. The driving force behind Brexit is now bitterly divided and riven with personal animosities.”

But in actual fact, the real lesson to be learned from yesterday’s brawl is a medical one, not a political one. Yet anybody who reads the comment and news reflections on the incident will notice straight away that almost no mention whatsoever has been made about the severity of even minor head injuries, and how easily they can happen. That is the real takeaway, and it is an issue we rarely treat with the seriousness it deserves and one we almost always trivialise.

Mike Hookem described it as a ‘silly tussle’ on Sky News this afternoon. Putting aside whether this is true or not, I am once again concerned by the language used to describe incidents which result in head injuries. Maybe it’s a consequence of masculinity. Mr Hookem is, after all, an ex-soldier. Even silly tussles can result in quite serious consequences for those involved in them. As I type I remember being told by a friend that one of her colleagues fell into a coma after falling of his bike and hitting his head on the curb outside his workplace. These things do happen.

Why is it that the responsibility of raising the importance of brain damage must always fall upon the shoulders of sport? In recent years, and across all major sports, real efforts have been made to highlight the effects of head injuries, with particular emphasis being placed on tackling concussions. Even I, until recently, didn’t properly recognise how dangerous minor head injuries can be. If the problem was discussed more frequently and in a more mainstream context, I think our society would be better educated and more likely to treat head injuries with the seriousness they merit.

More worryingly, the vast majority of concussions do not come with a loss of consciousness. An interesting, well referenced article from a scientific journal (only four paragraphs long and well worth reading) published almost 20 years ago explains: “More than 90% of all cerebral concussions fall into this most mild category where there has not been a loss of consciousness but rather only a brief period of post-traumatic amnesia or loss of mental alertness.”

It can be read here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278591905700594

I cite this because it tends to suggest that many people are suffering with concussions without realising it. Despite not being a medical expert, my suspicion is that a concussion is exactly what Steven Woolfe had yesterday morning when his head struck a metal pole at the European Parliament. An incident so minor it was described as a ‘silly tussle’ resulted in bleeding on the brain and a husband and wife almost being killed. And yet all we can think about while he lays in hospital is UKIP’s PR and how divisive the Brexit vote has been.

It’s disgraceful.

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My tribute to Nigel Farage

“I want my life back”, said Nigel Farage earlier on as he called time on his stay in British politics. The irony is perhaps that after so many years of claiming not to be a career politician, he has been a more influential politician than most have in the twenty first century. His resignation earlier came as a relative surprise; I had always believed that he would stay on as pressure whilst negotiations were ongoing in order to see the Brexit process through.

It’s been a turbulent few years for Nigel Farage. Britain’s EU referendum result on June 23rd was his shining moment after 20 hard years of campaigning, and I suspect he’s a very proud man as he sails into the sunset. I can fully appreciate that he is not everybody’s cup of tea. Even many on the Leave campaign – indeed many of my former colleagues – didn’t particularly like him, and likewise, many voters from other political parties will have liked and respected him. He was a marmite politician, for want of a better word. But he can (and will) be pleased with his efforts.

I did not know Mr Farage that well. We met on a few occasions; once at a public meeting in Westminster, once at an EU rally in Kent, once on a street stall in Bromley and once at Vote Leave HQ, and he was always perfectly pleasant to me. What struck me, particularly at political events, was his energy and his charisma. He never tired and always wanted to meet members of the public. Anybody who ever campaigned with him will know how many hours he put into travelling and meeting members of the public from all over the country.

Nigel also helped to put his party, the UK Independence Party, onto the map. UKIP was founded in 1993 as a one-issue protest party, but didn’t quite receive the attention or the support that it perhaps should have until Nigel Farage took hold of the reigns. It is a testament to his oratory ability and leadership skill that he was able to guide UKIP to 4 million votes at a general election and force an EU referendum upon the Prime Minister (it is perfectly plausible to argue that without Nigel Farage, there would not have been an EU referendum to contest at all).

He hasn’t gone without controversy, however, and it is quite possible that history will not be too kind to him. His comments about Romanian men, foreigners with HIV and his ‘Breaking point’ poster were low points which brought him a lot of criticism from the electorate and from political commentators. I do not suggest and have not suggested for one moment that he was not a divisive figure. Even many on the Right of politics found him to be a little toxic at times.

He has certainly shaken up the political landscape, though. That much is certain. Mr Farage’s party, message and politics have exposed huge divides between the voters and leaders of both the country’s mainstream parties. If he is thanked for anything, it can be this. Despite taking quite a lot of personal abuse over the years (let us not forget the abuse he dished out also), and his status even threatening his family once or twice, he fought on and can be proud of the way he campaigned tirelessly for Britain’s EU referendum.

The fact that European Union leaders have had enough of him should speak volumes. He has been a thorn in their side for very many years, and I’ll bet that they cannot wait to see the back of him. My only hope is that we do not see any more snarling, aggressive speeches from him in the European parliament any time soon. Now is a time for intelligent diplomacy, not thoughtless gloating.

For UKIP and the rest of British politics, it is time to move on from Nigel Farage. I’d like to personally thank him for opening up the immigration debate and for playing his part in getting Britain out of the European Union. It should now be down to fresh faces and a new generation to see the process through, but we mustn’t forget Nigel’s own personal contribution.

And who knows, perhaps he’ll be a peer some time soon?