Archive Page 2

Scrutiny of the BBC: It’s time to amend the FOI Act 2000

One of the most controversial aspects of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is the way it is interpreted and applied by the BBC.

The BBC’s interpretation, backed by establishment cover among the political class, enables the corporation to reject requests for information, effectively exempting itself from being held to account by the public that is compelled by law to fund it if they own and use a device capable of real-time reception of a TV signal.

A recent story about left wing bias at BBC News and Current Affairs, as acknowledged by presenter BBC Radio 4 Today programme John Humphrys, and now a leaked briefing note from the Question Time programme showing David Dimbleby was told to direct a series of difficult questions to Lord Heseltine (Conservative) and Simon Hughes (Lib Dem), but only ask two tame and generic questions of Rachel Reeves (Labour), are the latest in a string of revelations which consistently point to BBC bias in one direction.

We could submit FOI requests to the BBC for information about the editorial line that had been taken and why it was taken, but we would receive a reply along the lines of:

…the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’    Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities…

Therefore it is time for a concerted effort to have the FOI Act 2000 amended to remove the clause that allows the BBC to reject requests for information in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.

Ireland’s public service broadcaster, RTE, falls under that country’s Freedom of Information in the same way as the BBC here in the UK.  However, unlike the BBC, RTE doesn’t leave its exemption open to the widest possible interpretation to suit its own interests and instead it publishes exactly what is exempt and what isn’t.  RTÉ tells the Irish public that it:

… is funded in part by public money through the licence fee and we believe that our policies and operations should be open to public scrutiny and that access to our records by the public will show that we carry out our public service remit scrupulously and honestly.

before going to to explain:

What is excluded?

Commercially sensitive, personal or confidential journalistic records cannot be released. Reporter’s notes or off-the-record quotes, whether broadcast or not, are excluded. RTÉ’s internal reviews or analysis of broadcast programmes are also excluded.

It is a stark contrast to the BBC’s efforts to keep the public in the dark about how it works when suspicions are raised, questions are asked and when information requested is rejected on the basis of the catch-all exemption.

There is simply no justification for not answering questions from the public about:

  • details of its editorial position on important issues
  • details of its editorial decision making process when making programmes
  • the names of people who inform BBC policies
  • how and why it selects those people
  • how it selects or omits contributors and guests on its programmes
  • metrics about complaints from the public on specific issues

Releasing information about the details above would in no way compromise confidential sources or require details of whistleblowers to be revealed, which are reasonable exemptions and surely the purpose behind the exemption in the first place.  It would not mean sharing commercially sensitive information and it would not require journalists’ confidential notes or off the record quotes to be shared.

Instead compelling the BBC to release information from the bullet list above would enable the public to discover if there has been bias in the way influential programmes – news and current affairs programmes in the main – have been made and if the editorial process has sought to advance a political or activist narrative, in contravention of the BBC Charter requirements on impartiality.

The only way this will happen is if the FOI Act 2000 is amended so that the exemption is removed from the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C in Wales, and a clearly defined and much more narrow exemption put in its place.  The government talks at length about openness, transparency and accountability, so let the demonstrate it by agreeing to a demand from taxpayers to make those fine words a reality.

————

Some notes…

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives people a general right of access to information held by public authorities. As the Act makes clear:

Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled

(a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and

(b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him.

But lurking deep inside the Act, on page 53, is an undefined, catch all exclusion that was granted to a public body which, more than almost any other public body, has the capacity to influence public knowledge and thinking on any number of issues – the BBC.  The full reference reads simply:

The British Broadcasting Corporation, in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature

That single reference is found in Part VI of Schedule 1 – Public authorities in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which names the BBC as one of the ‘Other public bodies and offices: general’ under the provisions of the Act.

What the BBC thinks the exemptions means for itself…

In summary, the BBC considers the derogation protects the journalistic, artistic and literary integrity of the BBC by securing a creative and journalistic space for programme-makers to produce material for broadcast free from interference by those who would seek to influence our output.  Additionally, as also recognised by the Court of Appeal, it allows for a “level playing field” between the Public Service Broadcasters caught by the Act (BBC, Channel 4, S4C, GMS) and their commercial competitors.  In practical terms, the BBC has interpreted this to mean that we are not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

Ukraine: Media not just ignoring reality but deceiving with naked propaganda

Following on from the previous post about the media ignoring what the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement actually does (clue, no, it’s not a mere trade agreement), we are increasingly seeing the media pushing a narrative that can only be described as outright propaganda that seeks to conceal the EU’s actions, behaviour and responsibility for the crisis.

Yesterday, without any journalistic integrity or commitment to sharing news rather than views, the Telegraph and its ‘experts’ grandly waded further into the Ukraine story with a podcast that can only be described as a rank perversion of the facts and a corruption of the historical record of events surrounding the Ukraine crisis.

The podcast was introduced on the page in the following way:

Power corrupts and it has corrupted Vladimir Putin absolutely. As the drama in Ukraine continues, we examine the mind and motivations of the man responsible.

Ian H Robertson, Professor in Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and author of The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain, explains how over time the need for power messes with the synapses and induces megalomania. The Professor tells us that the only way the West can get under Vladimir Putin’s skin is through practical sanctions.

Benedict Brogan and Con Coughlin discuss what those sanctions might look like, and if Britain even has the interest or clout to help resolve this dangerous crisis.

This is just staggering.  Describing Putin as the man responsible for the Ukraine crisis is ludicrous. We can but guess why the real culprit in this caper is being treated as if it doesn’t exist and has no bearing on events over recent months.

It was not Putin who was pursuing a policy designed to promote a gradual convergence on legal, social, foreign and security matters with the aim of ever-deeper involvement with Ukraine, it was the European Union.  The EU has a sole foreign policy (which means it is UK foreign policy) of enlarging itself so it can take control of more and more countries across the continent.

You're ignoring me again!

You’re ignoring me again!

The EU has already taken control of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia and they have also become part of NATO.  The EU had already started trying to do the same thing with Georgia and has been doing the same thing with Ukraine.  This has happened despite the west (NATO) promising Mikhail Gorbachev that they would not expand up to the Russian border.  But that is exactly what is happening.

It is laughable of Brogan and Coughlin to talk about power corrupting, and completely ignore that this defines what we are seeing with the EU.  It is equally laughable that they engage a professor of psychology to talk about how the need for power messes with the synapses and induces megalomania while ignoring the EU’s aggressive efforts to enlarge itself and take control of new countries.

As for practical sanctions supposedly being the only way to get under Putin’s skin, the evidence shows that bad faith, lies and broken promises are the way to achieve that – which is why the Russians have acted to secure territory that had long been sovereign Russian territory and is home to a Russian naval fleet.  Finally, asking if Britain has the interest or clout to help resolve this crisis, when we have been party to its creation thanks to this country’s support of the Association Agreement with Ukraine and readiness to ratify this power grab by our supreme government, is pure sophistry.

This is yet another compelling reason for the UK to leave the EU. We have no business furthering such an agenda.

How far the Telegraph has travelled from the days where it reported news and facts.  Now it is a tool of deception that treats its remaining (declining) readership with utter contempt.

Elements of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement the media wilfully ignores

The crisis in Ukraine has provided yet more evidence that the British media is variously ignorant, lazy and cannot be trusted to present news that is not infected with propaganda.

The reporting of the all-important background to the crisis in Ukraine has been nothing other than an exercise in deception. One wonders if any of the hacks have even visited and read the content on the page shown in the image.

Ask the average Briton what they understand about the Association Agreement that Ukraine was being asked to sign with the European Union, and thanks to the media they would either answer ‘a trade agreement’ or look blankly and say they have no idea.  But it is not a trade agreement, it is something much more far reaching than that.  It seeks to being about political dialogue in all areas of mutual interest that:

…shall be further developed and strengthened between the Parties. This will promote gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine’s ever-deeper involvement in the European security area.

That has nothing to do with buying and selling goods and services.  Indeed, a far more significant and crucial element of the agreement is the military dimension outlined in the agreement’s Title II: Political Dialogue And Reform, Political Association, Cooperation And Convergence In The Field Of Foreign And Security Policy.

While that sounds harmless enough, in Article 10 of the document above we find a focus on ‘Conflict prevention, crisis management and military-technological cooperation’, where we find this – section 3 – that would certainly have Moscow seething, particularly when one thinks about how the present Ukraine military has been developed, trained and equipped:

The Parties shall explore the potential of military-technological cooperation. Ukraine and the European Defence Agency (EDA) shall establish close contacts to discuss military capability improvement, including technological issues.

This is one of the areas the EU plans for ‘gradual convergence’ and ‘ever-deeper involvement’, with a country aligned historically, culturally, politically and militarily with Russia and the former Soviet Union.  There is only one destination when the plan is ‘gradual convergence’ and ‘ever-deeper involvement’, and that is union.  The EU’s plans for enlargment includes assimilating the remaining Russian satellites such as Ukraine, but Euro MPs are trying to kid us that only now has this idea come to the fore.

It would always be dangerous ground in the back yard of a country that is insecure, seeking to re-establish itself as a global power and spending big money on building its military capability.  Therefore the Association Agreement was a clearly geopolitical plan with two aims:

  1. To increase the EU’s political and military control over neighbouring countries and continue gradual enlargement
  2. To weaken Russia’s political and military control over its neighbours and hem it in on its western and southern borders

What on earth could Moscow not like about all that, especially with the Russian Navy Black Sea fleet based in Crimea?

While the Russians would be content to see the EU agree a trade deal with Ukraine, of the kind the media would have us think was on the table, the political and military dimensions to the agreement, diplomatically referenced by the Russian ambassador to the EU, was a deliberate provocation in the shape of a power grab by the EU.  Responsibility for all that has followed rests squarely with the EU and its expansionist, power crazed officials in Brussels.  But does our media tell that story?

The lack of impartial news coverage resulting in the disgraceful lack public knowledge about this, despite the EU being our government, the agreement being presented in our name and it being ratified by the British government in Westminster, is the fault of our media – which is pushing the EU’s ridiculous propaganda without question or challenge.

Ukraine, UK, foreign policy, defence and the EU

The media is at it again, with ‘journalists’ and commentators demonstrating that for all the lavish salaries and resources showered upon them they know very little and understand even less.

Con Coughlin is a case in point. Bunkered at the Telegraph, lest he get chased out of a pub by fellow hacks, the great sage has a piece that his sub editor has chosen to title ‘Britain reduced to shaking a weedy fist at Vladimir Putin’ with a subheading thus, ‘Protests against Russia’s annexation of Crimea can’t disguise the fact that Britain is now a mere bystander on the world stage because of defence cuts’.

While that is partially true, it only tells us a fraction of the story and does nothing to explain why we have this state of affairs.  Instead Coughlin deigns to inform us that:

It was always going to happen – the eruption of an international crisis so grave that it laid bare the full limitations of Britain’s ability to act on the world stage. And so it has come to pass, with the humiliating revelation that our policy for confronting Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab is to do… precisely nothing.

[...] So far as Britain is concerned, the best we can hope for now is that Ukraine’s new interim government does not react to the blatant acts of provocation perpetrated by Russian troops. For, as we now know, courtesy of a Downing Street photographer’s telephoto lens, Britain’s ability to respond to Russia’s wanton acts of aggression is nonexistent.

There are very good reasons for this.  The defence capabilities of this nation are largely supposed – among other things – to be geared to do two things:

  1. to defend our national territory, and
  2. to protect our national interests and support our foreign policy objectives around the world

I’m over here…

The key point here is point 2.  It is essential to note that we don’t have our own interests any more, the EU has them for us.  And we no longer have any defined foreign policy objectives, as again our foreign policy is dictated by the EU.

For these reasons our defence requirements are ill defined, and our capabilities are being eroded to the point our armed forces cannot act independently – to help bring about the EU plan of an interoperable, member state force taking orders from Brussels.

But Coughlin makes no mention of this. The media has, by and large, embraced EU membership and makes no effort to learn what the EU is designed to do, why it is doing it and how it goes about achieving it. So it is that Coughlin and his friends continue to rail against many effects of EU membership, such as the dearth of a foreign policy supported by defence capabilities to underpin it, but keep telling us how EU membership is essential to this country’s interests.

This mentality extends far beyond the media and deep into the political class, where a few days ago we saw Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to Germany and to the US, write in the Times (£) that:

Foreign policy is not an edition of Radio 4’s Moral Maze. It should be based on a cold calculation of national interest. It is time to get back to basics: the clarity of openly defined sovereign interests and publicly acknowledged spheres of interest.

Yet despite these implorings we see no mention of the EU let alone criticism of the fact membership has brought us to this. In fact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of which Meyer was part is possibly the most enthusiastic cheerleader and advocate of EU membership in the UK.

The fact is, as part of the EU, our armed forces, for all the billions spent on them, will not be strong enough to field sufficient divisions, wings and naval groups to respond independently to geopolitical crises – as it runs contrary to the notion of interoperability. In any case the would not be prepared to do so because our country’s foreign policy will be written in Brussels and our interests will be what the EU defines them to be.

You just won’t hear any journalist, politician or FCO pension recipient telling the public the truth of it.

Open goals, media handling, EU and the RSPB / WWF axis

The news cycle has moved on. The media roadshow has all but left town.  But for many people of the Somerset levels, the distress and upset caused by the flooding continues.  While the impact of the stagnant floodwater lapping around their communities and homes is all too real, for most people outside the area it is now almost a distant memory.

It’s with that in mind that Nigel Farage dropped into Burrowbridge on Thursday – for a pint naturally – and even made a reference to EU directives.  But the event, shoe-horned in to fit around various appointments and travel plans ahead of the UKIP spring conference, passed by virtually unnoticed and unremarked, and with it went Farage’s promise on Twitter of a press conference addressing the EU dimension to the flooding.

On the comment threads of this blog, my urgent calls for UKIP to get into this issue immediately and underline the EU role in it all, was dismissed by some for whom any criticism of the party or the leader is an outrage that requires immediate condemnation.  There was apparently a party ‘strategy’ in place to deal with this that we knew nothing about and which, surprise surprise, is yet to reveal itself weeks later.  Also despite Lisa Duffy’s train wreck comments on BBC Any Questions recently, there has been no correction from UKIP of her factual error about EU responsibility for the extent of the floods. Forget not being in the game, they haven’t even turned up at the venue!

Then on the failure to make the most of the media and PR opportunities available, I was told I knew nothing about these things, despite working in the profession for the last 14 years and having worked on political campaigns.  Now I don’t know everything but I do know that so far the use of the media, to make the point that EU membership and governance has played a major part in the ruination of the lives of people on the levels, has been non existant.  ‘Nige knows best’ was the subtext, but the outcome has been lamentable.  UKIP’s approach on matters of susbtance is always reactive, if it comes at all, and all too frequently the message misses the point.  The ‘Trust in Nige’ narrative used by the more tunnel visioned party members consistently puts us into a holding patten awaiting pronouncements from the great sage that then fail to materialise, then then adopt the ‘nothing to see here’ approach and move on to something else completely leaving the issue unresolved.

It is not just one open goal missed (again) but several.

The open goal of evident and explicit EU directives central to the actions of the Environment Agency regarding the flooding, some of which we referenced here, has been missed.  But also the open goal concerning the EU’s co-funding of projects with the RSPB and WWF to demonstrate techniques to evaluate and plan floodplain ‘restoration’ (aka, how to flood areas such as the levels).

Then in the last day another open goal has been presented that we can see clearly will be similarly ignored, that of the squandering of tens of millions of Euros of taxpayers’ money by the EU, to fund the activities of the very environmental groups who want to flood more areas in similar fashion, here and overseas. Everywhere we delve into reports and documents on this matter we see not just the all-too-active dead hand of the EU, but unelected and unaccountable long beak of the RSPB alongside the grubby panda’s pawprints of the WWF, which are liberally plastered over everything.

These supposed charities are in fact lavishly funded extensions of government in the EU.  They play a hugely significant and anti-democratic role in the formulation and delivery of policy and implementation of laws.  This EU governance structure should concern and anger people forced to live with the consequences of RSPB and WWF environmental desires being put into effect.

Many people who want something to justify leaving the EU would draw the line at being part of a union that not only permits this but actively encourages it and uses our money to ensure it happens.  But from UKIP we hear not one word about this.  What is it going to take to make them up their game and get these messages across?  Clearly the blogs will have to continue researching where the dots connect and publishing the details in the hope at least some peopleget the message.

If these facts, combined with a financial hit in the shape of grants totalling over €77 million given by the EU to just the WWF alone – one of the groups who pushed for the flooding of the levels – isn’t a subject for an EUsceptic party to bring to wider public attention, then what is?  This is not a blogger hoping UKIP will fail, this is a blogger frustrated that the party is failing and letting down everyone who wants to be free of this EU-driven eco lunacy.

Two lessons business today taught those who want independence

(this post may be updated with links and additional information later…)

Lesson 1

Standard Life has broken cover to tell the market that if Scotland chooses to leave the United Kingdom without an agreement covering currency, interest rates, taxation and regulation, it would look at relocating itself to England.

This is little different from the concerns business in the rest of the UK would have if a political party decided to repeal the European Communities Act and simply declare independence from the EU.

Such a political party would be deluding itself to believe that all the complex issues and problems this would cause relating to trade, tariffs, regulations and agreements that have been made with other countries on the UK’s behalf, would come out in the wash and that World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would force the EU to maintain trade with the UK as if we were still part of the customs union.  Exiting in an orderly manner with a negotiated agreement is the only responsible course of action.  Anything else and the actions of Standard Life in Scotland would be replicated many times over in the rest of the UK and on a much bigger scale.

Lesson 2

While speaking to the Today programme on Radio 4 about WPP’s latest results, chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell was asked about what the business community – which has been going along with the deludophile nonsense about EU reform – would do if reform could not be achieved.

After explaining that the business community feels there are a lot of positives being in the EU – in other words the single market, as the EU is political and the single market is economic – he said the business community would want to stay ‘in’ if no reform was achieved.

Therefore, those who are most vocal in calling for impossible EU reform will stick with the status quo if the changes they want are not forthcoming.  The fact reform will be impossible was made clear by a German guest speaking separately on the same programme this morning about the visit of Angela Merkel.  He pointed out that Cameron’s reform agenda was going to go nowhere, not least because no one knows what his supposed demands are.

It was pointed out by this guest (name to follow) that the Treaties that would need to be changed were the product of years of negotation and compromise, and so the outcome would be the same compromise, with little or no change.  The Lisbon Treaty would be strictly off limits and none of its elements would therefore be negotiated let alone reformed.

Added together we can see that a grand performance is being played out for the media and public, to give the impression that there will be changes.  But it is just that, a performance, an act, and nothing of substance will be altered.

Cameron famously said about the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by Gordon Brown that he ‘would not let matters rest there’. But he did.  Cameron is now on the stage once again, prancing around and delivering a monologue to the audience, gazing imploringly into the stalls and peddling more fallacies, in the shape of a rengotiation our EU overlords have told us won’t happen, and in the shape of a referendum that cannot possibly be delivered in 2017 even if the Conservatives form the next government.

And now we can see that behind him are those people who have given their backing to this drive towards an illusory outcome, but who are now saying that they would stick with things as they are if no reform came about.  EUsceptics need to bear these important lessons in mind.

I admit it. I got it wrong about UKIP

It is time to hold my hands up.  It seems I got it wrong about UKIP.

Thanks to the example of an excellent manager I had early in my career, in the work place I’ve always encouraged those who work for me or with me to readily admit when they have got something wrong, correct it, and take from the experience anything that can be learned to apply in the future.  I’m doing that right now.

Yesterday I gave credit to UKIP for embracing the reality of what Brexit from the EU will entail.  Janice Atkinson, speaking in Brighton a day earlier, made clear that extracting ourselves from the EU will take years and would have to follow Article 50 of the EU treaty being invoked to force a negotiation.

The elements of her remarks carried by the Guardian were sensible and measured.  There was no talk of the UK just up and leaving the EU without putting in place a negotiated settlement that covers access to the single market and trade agreements that have been put in place by the EU on behalf of all member states.

Yet just hours later, we see this article that was published on the UKIP website.

UKIP MEP candidate for the south east Janice Atkinson today put out a statement rebutting stories in two Labour-supporting newspapers which claimed she believed it would take years for Britain to leave the EU and that jobs could be at risk.

Mrs Atkinson said: “Of course it is possible for Britain to leave the EU very quickly by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act and effectively declaring independence.

Media outlets hostile to UKIP are clearly seeking to sow the seeds of discontent on this one.

But in the ebb and flow of a live question and answer session, I did not give as clear an explanation as I might have done.

So has she changed her mind, or has she had it changed for her?  Either way, I was wrong.  I let down my guard and I was taken in.

UKIP has not dumped the dangerous delusion of just up and leaving the EU and kidding itself that in matters of trade there will be no consequence – also known as the Gerard Batten, Tim Congdon, line.  Janice Atkinson herself makes this clear…

Trade between Britain and other EU countries is safeguarded by our membership of the EEA and by the WTO.

There is also the important fact that Britain runs a substantial trade deficit with the rest of the EU – i.e. they sell much more to us than we do to them. The idea of Germany wanting to provoke a trade war that will hamper its biggest export market is quite frankly ridiculous. So British jobs are not in danger.

Time for a reality check here.  If the UK just ups and leaves, without following the Article 50 route, which Batten has once again argued in a magazine article is a ‘trap’ and without a negotiated settlement, trade between the UK and EU will be impacted and jobs would be at risk.  We would cease to be members of the EEA and would not be protected in the way some ‘kippers keep suggesting by the WTO.

It is completely and utterly irrelevant that EU countries sell more to us than we do to them.  Without following the rules regarding exit from the EU and without having access to the single market agreed, the UK will become a ‘third country’ to the EU.  Yes, the WTO rules would apply – but those rules mean that as a third country the UK would have imposed on any exports to the EU the same tariff rates that apply to all other third countries that trade with the EU.  If any third country has tariffs imposed on them, the UK would have them imposed too by default.  Anything else would be a breach of international trade rules.

As an example, the 10% tariff on cars entering the EU for sale would then apply to cars made in the UK for the European market, affecting our export competitiveness.  Jobs could be lost.  The UK would likely retaliate and impose tariffs on EU goods coming to us.  Any tariff we impose on an item would then have to be imposed for similar goods from all other countries with which we trade, affecting the cost of imported goods to UK citizens.  UKIP’s favourite example, Germany, may not like it, but those are the rules and they would not be changed, certainly not in anything like a short time frame.

The WTO does not safeguard free trade for former members of a customs union with the remaining members, it just permits discrimination within a customs union that makes tariff-free trade between its members possible.  As such the WTO does nothing to help the UK if we exit the EU without Article 50 and an agreement on trade. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.  That is how it works.  UKIP’s claim otherwise is just wrong.

Therefore the ‘immediate exit’ approach is nothing less than a scorched earth policy.  This fact alone, when explained to voters, would be sufficient to bury UKIP at the polls, given the British people have expressed their desire to retain free trade with the other EU member states and businesses would likely lose market share with costs driven up.  Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

Why do we have this ludicrous state of affairs?  The reason is UKIP has a serious, perhaps existential problem.  The party is comprised of factions.  To keep the peace Nigel Farage has not grasped control of the policy and the message.  Yes, he has an iron grip on the mechanics of his party, but in trying to be all things to all men, keeping everyone under the same umbrella and preventing a party split, the factions have been allowed to establish and push their own messages and de facto policies for a long time.  Now Farage is trying to put together a message, the factions are not for turning.

That is why we have the Batten line in Freedom Today completely contradicting Farage’s recently adopted line from the UKIP party conference on Article 50.  That is why we have Janice Atkinson walking back her comments from Brighton and pushing the delusional scorched earth approach, just so as not to piss off a minority yet in party terms heavyweight faction that Farage won’t take on.  Party intrigues affecting principled policy.  This is the core reason why party politics is not the route to successfully leaving the EU.

So there you have it.  UKIP has no defined policy, its senior members are at odds on what approach needs to be taken to achieve Brexit, the leader is hamstrung into inaction in case he creates an argument that splits the party, and the media is handed a large cudgel with which to bash the party repeatedly for its incoherence, contradictions and incompetence.

Yesterday I gave UKIP a bit of credit.  I wanted to encourage what appeared to be some realism and common sense.  But after that they showed loud and clearly why my doing so was folly.  I was wrong.  Mea culpa.

Giving UKIP a little bit of credit

Catching the eye yesterday was a Guardian piece telling readers that UKIP accepts that an EU exit could take several years.

Ukip will have to negotiate a withdrawal from the European Union over many years and the party still has to work out the details of how it would secure such an exit, a leading Ukip MEP candidate in May’s European elections has conceded.

Janice Atkinson, who is number two on the party’s candidate list in the South East England constituency, admitted it would be impossible just to walk away from the EU.

Naturally the Guardian takes advantage of the absence of hard policy to give UKIP something of a whack, but also underlines its EUphile stupidity by referring to ‘Article 51′ when reporting Atkinson’s explanation that our way out of the union is by invoking Article 50 of the EU treaty. It does not seem to be an error on Atkinson’s part as there is no (sic) included in the text to indicate the error was on the part of the person whose words were being reported.

It is something of a relief to see a high profile UKIP figure making such a comment.  Of course it doesn’t tell the whole story, because this does not fully borrow from some painstaking research to explain how Brexit could be achieved within the two year period following Article 50 being invoked and what needs to happen in the years that follow.

Nevertheless the direction of travel here is welcome to see.  It is certainly a substantial departure from the dangerous approach pushed by a hard core minority in the party that the UK can simply up and leave on a whim, after which everything will somehow right itself as the fallout settles, because the Germans will still want to sell us cars. That kind of politicial illiteracy destroys any credibility the EUsceptic side builds up.

While welcoming this small step, it is worth noting UKIP is still a long way behind the curve in bringing these issues to the fore on the platform it has.  The party has never replaced the depth of knowledge or expertise in understanding the processes of Brexit and the risks of exiting in the wrong way, that it had with Richard North on the team.

Lifting and using external work might seem like a simple way to address the party’s deficiency in dedicated and exclusive research and understanding it used to have, but there is far more to it all than that being copied off the web.   The often complex reasoning behind the approaches advanced is lost without party spokesmen being educated to speak with authority on the subject – thus being able to rebut accurately and defeat the FUD thrown by the EUphile side.

So while this is a step forward, it is only a very small one.

Flooding: The Baroness Young and RSPB connection is even stronger than first identified

An interesting document has surfaced on the European Commission’s website, which enables us to understand a bit more of the complicated ‘wheels within wheels’ of overlapping organisational responsibility for the deliberate policy of surrendering managed environments to floodwater that has seen much of the Somerset levels submerged.

The document is the ‘Wise use of floodplains – a demonstration of techniques to evaluate and plan floodplain restoration’.  In other words, giving back reclaimed wetland that had been drained and while a managed environment had become home to many small communities and farms.

What stands out about this document is that the project (which is outlined on the short document linked above) is the timing and the funding.  It ran from 1st April 1999 until 1st April 2002 and was co-funded by the RSPB (which was the driving force behind the project) and the WWF to the tune of €1,056,065.85, a sum that was topped up with almost 50% of matched funding from the European Union – some €1,052,044.45 of taxpayers’ money – taking the total project budget to €2,108,110.30.

The timing and funding sources are significant because this kicked off in 1999 while Barbara Scott Young, aka Baroness Young of Old Scone the Labour peer, was the Chief Executive of… the RSPB.  Little over a year later, Baroness Young left the RSPB to take up appointment as Chief Executive of the very public body that would be able to implement the ‘restoration’ of floodplains and wetlands through policy… the Environmental Agency.

The bird loving flooding facilitator

The bird loving flooding facilitator

In terms of overseeing implementation of the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive, and their policies of ‘restoring’ wetlands and floodplains to a water covered state, Young’s transfer from the RSPB to the Environment Agency was the political equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

In no way can it be argued that Labour put an impartial Chief Executive in charge of the Environment Agency, someone who would use the agency’s substantial human and financial resources to best effect to ensure adequate protection of the communities and businesses located in managed environments such as the Somerset levels.

Labour put in place one of their own to fulfil EU policy underpinned by a number of directives; a woman who was a zealot in matters of wildlife and habitats and whose approach we have already reported was in order to achieve ‘instant wildlife: just add water‘.  A woman whose desired outcome for the pumping stations that prevented the Somerset levels from being drowned was to destroy them with limpet mines to ensure reclaimed land was flooded again, in the expectation that habitats for the birds she values above the lives and livelihoods of the communities that would be swamped.

The moment Barbara Young was put in charge of the Environment Agency, the events of this winter (and last winter on a smaller scale) became inevitable.  When she was appointed what we saw was a RSPB take over the Environment Agency.  Backed by EU directives, the RSPB’s woman in the Environment Agency hot seat set about pursuing the wishes of the bird lovers.  Dredging was scaled back.  Pumping stations were left to ruin.

Millions of pounds that could and should have been used to safeguard managed environments through proper flood prevention in places like the Somerset levels, instead were allocated at EU behest to hugely expensive and lavish projects to create new habitats on the levels themselves – such as the hundreds of hectares of the Steart Peninsula being transformed into new saltmarsh and freshwater wetlands to attract species including wading birds and wildfowl, rare water voles and great crested newts at a cost of £20 million, while £3 million required for essential flood maintenance in the same area could not be found.  There is no way the Environment Agency left behind by Barbara Young would fight for such skewed spending priorites to be altered.  These kind of projects were what she always wanted and the EA has been delivering them with relish.

While the RSPB – part of Birdlife International – is in this mess up to its neck it does not prevent it from engaging in the most sickening hypocrisy, as in January when it joined with the Somerset Wildlife Trust (which also seems to prioritise birds over other wildlife) to call on MPs and others to press government and its agencies to develop a water management strategy for a more flood-resilient future on the Somerset Levels that benefits both people and wildlife – while expressing ‘concern’ over calls for the very dredging that has previously prevented such flood destruction in the past.  This was just an earlier instance of this week’s example of those who have brought about the situation in Somerset throwing up one vast smokescreen to conceal their complicity in action which directly led to the flooding disaster and magnified its effects.

But what of the RSPB’s partner in this plot to ethnically cleanse people off the Somerset levels, the WWF?  A trawl of their press centre shows they have not issued one release about the impact of the flooding on the Somerset levels on wildlife.  Rare butterflies, wild flowers, badger, vole, mouse and many other species, some of them rare have been killed by the flooding and had their own habitat polluted.  But from the WWF we hear nothing – bar calls for farmers to allow ‘small floods‘ on their land to prevent wider flooding downstream.  There is no mention of their complicity in or support of the ‘restoration’ of wetlands which led to environmental management decisions that have made this flooding so bad.

Overseas the WWF seems quite happy to rush in and comment on flooding, as they did in Poland in 2010, where they criticised development on floodplains.  But even then their intervention had a familiar ring to it.  Cue a reference to our old friend, Making Space for Water which we referenced in this earlier post.  The WWF made a deeply ironic observation that people in the Somerset levels might take issue with, when they claimed that:

More and more rivers around the world have been seeing projects to restore wetlands as natural wet and dry season reservoirs, with dramatic reductions in flood damage being only one of the benefits.

As for the WWF’s direction of travel, we note that earlier this month the organisation announced the appointment of Dr Marco Lambertini as Director General of WWF International.  This is noteworthy because he is currently the Chief Executive of… Birdlife International, the global partner of the RSPB.  Clearly the wheels within wheels are turning at an international level even outside the governance top table of the EU where such organisations sit as equals alongside representatives of national governments, informing and directing policy agendas in their own interests rather than the people in the European Union, who have no vehicle or method to exert anything like that kind of influence.

It is common to hear people say this country is going to the dogs.  All the evidence that is accumulating so far suggests that is wrong.  Thanks to the power wielded by certain organisations it is clearly going to the birds – helped by those who claim to love animals too.

Flooding: Putting public inquiries into their proper context

The email, from which the screenshot above was taken, could not have come with better timing.

When ‘managing’ a crisis the professionals resort to whatever tactics are necessary to take the heat off and send the issue into the long grass.  It is commonly accepted in those circles that the best way of giving the impression of action while ensuring nothing of substance happens is to – yes, that’s right – hold a public inquiry!

Having one on the floods will simply let those responsible – who are already taking evasive action – off the hook, after a great deal more money has been wasted on it.

Why Farage’s call for a flooding public inquiry is senseless

Why won’t anyone look at me?

In the previous post we again questioned what could be achieved through a public inquiry into the extent of flooding.  We contend that such an inquiry would be a whitewash waiting to happen.  It just needs an on-message Chairman appointed to move the roller.

We know this because we don’t have to look back far to see the results of the last flooding inquiry, that concering the floods in the summer of 2007, by Sir Michael Pitt.  In the nearly 500 pages his report covers, EU directives are mentioned a mere 13 times, and not even in respect of causation.

The Water Framework Directive is not mentioned at all and the Habitats Directive gets one mention, in a ‘box out’ that explains dredging – in almost entirely negative terms!

The EU is mentioned a number of times, but almost exclusively in terms of funding and claiming money from the Solidarity Fund – which would have the effect of reducing the amount of rebate the UK would have for its EU contributions in the financial year.

Given that concerns about the impact of EU laws on flood protection were already at the fore in 2007, why on earth does anyone believe another inquiry or review into flooding now would produce a different outcome to Pitt?

What is Farage’s game?  He can’t influence the terms of reference, witnesses or the Chairman of an inquiry, so what does he think will be achieved?  The EU elephant will be in the room but everyone standing around it will continue to avert their eyes and pretend it isn’t there.  The eventual outcome will just be held up as vindication of the existing approach and couched in purely domestic terms.

Tallbloke returns! But he still dodges the question

UKIP candidate and occasional commenter on this blog, Tallbloke, returned here today to leave a ‘told you so’ comment on a blog post where we said that Farage’s comments on the floods indicate UKIP has abandoned its anti-EU role, which dates back to 9th February.

The comment he linked to in his latest contribution was this one.  As it would not be spotted by most readers, we felt it only fair to give it a good airing.  Along with the reply that has been left to the comment, which is reproduced below…

——————

Nice to see you back here after chickening out of answering the question here. But now you’re back, don’t be silly, Rog.

Farage has deliberately avoided linking the EU to a number of consequences of Brussels governance over the last year.  His shortsighted call for a public inquiry has seen him change his narrative.  He has now chosen to define this mythical inquiry in terms of abandoning dredging, but did not do so previously as you will see in his quote below.  In fact even your previous comment makes yet a different case for a public inquiry, so it’s not actually what you said at all.  In any case he has been caught on the hop by Clegg, and his refusal to immediately accept the offer of a debate has undermined confidence in him.

For clarity, do tell us, why is an inquiry necessary? Is it to explore dredging, or is it to help resolve UKIP’s internal confusion and lack of knowledge? The previous question asking you just what the UKIP line actually is, still stands for reasons the quotes below make all too clear.

1. ‘Ms Reding’s visit took place at the same time as the consequences of heavy rainfall compounded by the effect of EU regulations, have brought about widespread flooding, suffering and the destruction of property.

‘The evidence is that EU directives put wildlife before people. It is starting to be clear that DEFRA and the Environment Agency have been zealous in implementing EU directives’
William Dartmouth

2. ‘Well it’s not Brussels’ fault is it?’
Lisa Duffy

3. ‘I don’t know the truth of the extent to which the Environment Agency is now bound by European Union rules and laws. I just don’t know. That’s why we need to have a public inquiry.’
Nigel Farage

So which is it? Let’s see if you can answer without re-writing history again.

Just so you know, should an inquiry be held it will be chaired by an on-message appointee, the terms of reference will not address what Farage has belatedly chosen to call for, the witnesses will be chosen so as to minimise any adverse reference to the EU and the findings will not change EU laws one iota. So what exactly does Farage think he will achieve? It’s as meaningless as his call for a civil defence corps.

It is just more badly thought out, scattergun rhetoric as he speaks first then tries to decide what he meant by it later, while people like you interpret in a myriad of different ways and put your own spin on it, irrespective of what was actually said.

——————

We await the reply with interest…

A Clegg vs Farage debate on EU membership?

Courtesy of Pogle’s Woodsman in the comments we find the Spectator reporting Nick Clegg is to throw down the debate gauntlet to Nigel Farage ahead of May’s European Elections.

What we don’t know is whether such a debate is of sufficient interest to the TV networks for it to be televised on a terrestrial channel.  Such a debate would need to be televised live on national TV for it to have any chance of adding any value, which in itself is not a mortal lock.

In any case, potential viewers may consider the debate to be a Third Division affair as the leaders of the main two parties are not involved.  While EU enthusiasts and members of the Farage cult will be clearing their diaries, getting in the popcorn and wearing their colours for the ‘big match’, for most people this would probably be an event of very little interest or consequence.

It’s easy for many of those on the comment thread of the Spectator’s article to get carried away, as they are, predicting that Farage will bash Clegg.  But the ‘debate’ could – and more than likely will – descend into a turgid ‘my fact vs your fact’ exchange that bogs the whole thing down and doesn’t do anything to inform people or increase their understanding and knowledge about how this country is governed, by whom and what little control they have to shape that governance.

There is also near certainty that Clegg will adopt the economics narrative and frame the debate in such a way that Farage, who famously doesn’t do detail, gets taken down alleyways, trips up on facts and is exposed as not being in command of his brief… and that’s before any possible failure to focus on the essential core political issue of addressing who should run Britain – if he actually even planned to do that in the first place.

This proposed debate has the capacity to undermine the EUsceptic cause if Farage gets it wrong.  Being articulate is no substitute for a lack of strategic vision going into such a debate and will not make up for any deficiency in knowledge.

The UKIP delusion

Yesterday, Iain Martin in the Telegraph caught my eye with the article above.  Having been pondering the Scotland independence campaign in recent days and what we are learning from it, with a view to covering it on this blog – and given the added UKIP dimension – it was of interest to see where he would go with his piece.

To be honest Martin didn’t add much if anything to our understanding of the dynamics at play north of the border.  But his opinion regarding UKIP’s fortunes and by extension those of Nigel Farage did make one eyebrow rise somewhat.  As Martin opines:

It is curious that Salmond should be blowing up just as Nigel Farage starts to blow up. The two great guerilla leaders of our age – both expert at mounting effective raids on Westminster and discombobulating their much bigger opponents – are in trouble.

This is a ridiculous assertion.  UKIP has never even come close to mounting a raid on Westminster.  While the SNP has most seats in the Scottish Parliament and also returns MPs to Westminster, UKIP has a relatively small number of councillors in England and Wales and has only once come within a couple of thousand votes of ever having an MP elected under the party’s banner (Eastleigh).  However, setting aside such a daft claim, Martin did rehearse a point that we have made on this blog several times:

Ukip looks as though it has hit a ceiling in terms of attracting support. Its attempts to eat into the Labour vote are, so far, misfiring. The party was also running third in a recent poll on the Euro elections, and the Tory claim that a vote for Farage is a vote for Miliband and a Europhile Labour government looks increasingly potent.

We have mentioned this glass ceiling effect previously and all the current polling bears it out.  The trend of UKIP support in the polling numbers is downward and even in the party leader ratings, Nigel Farage has seen his number decline. There is simply no sign of UKIP being close to breaking through and significantly increasing its stock.

The reasons why we believe UKIP is stuck in second gear on the political motorway have been covered in detail here over many months. But what is worth noting today is the extent to which UKIP’s supporters, the vocal ones who lurk on the Telegraph’s comment threads seeking out criticism to attack, could be responsible for a lack of improvement in the party and letting Farage and his top team get away with poor performance at a time when the party should genuinely be surging ahead.

Looking at this subset of UKIP supporters, we can see from their contributions they are angry about Martin’s observations.  They refuse to deviate from their view that UKIP is on a surge, they see his piece as an attack on UKIP requiring an all-out retaliatory assault while at the same time accusing the media of circling the wagons around the main parties, they are desperate to state time and again that the party increased its vote five-fold in Wythenshawe to come second only to Labour, and a number of them claim that the almost the entire postal vote was fraudulent and that this robbed them of victory.

Is it any wonder the party leadership is able to actively resist change and improvement when in the eyes of an extremely vocal minority of members the party and its leadership does no wrong and when things go badly it’s always someone else’s fault or the result of a vicious conspiracy?  Let me explain by taking the points above in turn.

The fact is all the polls still show UKIP bumping along within a point or so of 13% nationally.  There are exceptions in some constituencies of a particular political composition where the party scores higher, but despite this they have been rooted around 13% for a while, having seen a drop from their polling highs around May last year.  This is in no way a surge that they claim it to be.  Arguing there is a surge merely ignores the evidence.

Perhaps Martin’s piece was an attack.  Journalists have reader numbers in mind, it’s all about the traffic they can drive, so anything that stirs a reaction and draws in more readers is grist to the mill.  Of course, Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems have all been attacked at some point and their supporters resent it, often biting back.  But UKIP supporters act as if attacks have never happened before in politics and believe they are under so concerted an attack it is as if the very core of their being and everything they believe in is at risk of destruction.  The resulting aggression and spite this sparks, as evidenced in their outpourings, is truly a sight.

The meme that is circulating in newspapers and blogs, that UKIP increased its vote in Wythenshawe five-fold, is a masterclass in spin.  A candidate who only got 2 votes could increase their vote five-fold next time around and it would still only be miniscule at 10.  UKIP supporters don’t like seeing the cold hard fact that they polled only 4,301 votes and although placed second, the party was so far behind Labour it was an irrelevance in the contest.  This is despite the UKIP vote being mobilised and motivated to turn out.  Before the election some of these people were declaring Wythenshawe to be in play and a possible UKIP gain!  Any attempt to point this out then moves smoothly to the next item on the list…

It requires quite a flight from reality to argue that the overwhelming majority of postal votes that went to Labour were fraudulent and that if people had to vote in person and produce ID, the ballot would have been much closer.  But that is what is being said in UKIP supporter circles.  The clear implication is that Asians in the constituency have engaged in electoral fraud and therefore stitched up UKIP.  No evidence has been provided and they say the establishment would ignore it anyway because it resulted in UKIP falling badly at the hurdle.

Farage and Co must love this.  These arguments let them completely off the hook for such a piss poor performance against a backdrop of real anger at the main parties.  While a small number who have rejected the main parties in frustration have indeed gone into the UKIP camp, UKIP is not picking up the majority of those who are turning their backs, because it is being seen as just another party that is no different to the rest.

It could have been so much different and it should be so much different.

‘Stop sniping from the sidelines, get on board, get behind us and influence the leadership if you want to change the approach’, is a mantra often heard from vocal UKIPpers who object to such observations and any criticism.  Incidentally they never engage on the substance of the criticism, but the details above show they never will because they are in an echo chamber, inhabiting a parallel plane where things like facts are dismissed with a sneer and promises of an earthquake to come are made.

But how could anyone try to change things from the inside when the leadership, irrespective of fault or error, is blessed with reinforcing confirmation bias in its totality from people who have gone beyond loyal and behave with quasi-religious reverence for the leadership and repeat every utterance as an inviolable truth that must not be questioned?

Where people cannot see any fault at all, there is no pressure on the party leadership to get its act together.  This is why UKIP is where it is.  This is why Iain Martin, for all his own failings, got the thrust of his piece correct.

This idea that too many in UKIP are deluding themselves about the party’s performance and prospects, has been given more credence by a YouGov ‘Voting Intention Predictions’ exercise – as covered by Political Betting – where people were asked to say where in the polls the main parties will be at the end of 2014.

While supporters of the four largest parties all rated the prospects of their own party more highly than supporters of other parties did, the predictions from UKIP supporters really stand out from the rest, as you can see below – believing they will have double the polling numbers supporters of any other party predict for them.

Until they return to the real world, UKIP supporters, not just the leadership, will see to it that the party never develops and never breaks the mould.  They are no longer an insurgency, they are just another party.

Why EUsceptics should be concerned

We are a bit late to the party with this because of a trip over the weekend, but nevertheless it is a topic that has to be mentioned here.

Two polls reported over the weekend, from ComRes and Opinium.  The results do not make good reading for EUsceptics.

ComRes

Opinium

In addition to these, ComRes also published the latest findings from its Favourability Index of parties and leaders.  There is a pattern that emerges.

The decline in support for UKIP and decline in voters having a favourable view of Nigel Farage stands out from the rest.  This contradicts UKIPs claims to have momentum and to be increasing its support around the country.

Voters are trying to find out what UKIP’s key message is and what the party stands for.  But they are only receiving a confused jumble of information that appears, at best, random.

Since Farage chose to get involved in the discussion about the floods he has, among other things, separately called for the UK to request financial aid from the EU solidarity fund, then called for foreign aid money to be diverted to the west country, then called for the creation of a civil defence force and then called for a public inquiry.  Anyone listening out for the UKIP line on this subject is either suffering from whiplash or has given up trying to work out exactly what Farage’s priority is.

What is interesting is that while William Dartmouth MEP has, according to UKIP’s website, ‘condemned the EU’s skewed priorities, exposing the damaging consequences of EU directives on flooding,’ Farage’s only references to the EU have been to say of the Environment Agency that:

They seem to want to follow European Directives to the letter of the law…

Then to add later that:

I don’t know the truth of the extent to which the Environment Agency is now bound by European Union rules and laws. I just don’t know. That’s why we need to have a public inquiry.

This is Farage all over, hedging his bets, letting other people like Dartmouth speak out so he can stay silent.  This allows Farage to come down on either side of the fence later and claim either that the party did link the flooding to the EU laws followed by the Environment Agency, or that the party did not link the flooding to EU law, it was only the opinion of one MEP.

It is this kind of pin-head dance that leaves voters drawing the conclusion that Farage is absolutely no different to any other party leader, engaging in spin and playing with semantics.

Too many voters, when they think of EUscepticism, think of Farage.  They link UKIP and its performance to the EUsceptic movement.  So when Farage’s or UKIP’s stock falls with voters, the wider EUsceptic movement is tainted by association.  So seeing this developing trend over recent weeks of UKIP’s polling figures dropping is a frustrating cause for concern for everyone else who wants to see the UK exit from the EU.

There has been a lot of bluster from UKIP officials and supporters that the party increased its vote nearly five fold in Wythenshawe last week, that the party got nearly 18% of the vote, that it ‘came from nowhere’ to finish second in the election.  But the harsh reality is that despite most of its supporters being energised and motivated and turning out enthusiastically, they still only received 4,301 votes.

At the general election they will not increase that by much, if at all.  In all but a few areas the reality is the party has limited appeal, and I would wager that a large part of that is the way the party says what it is against but does not explain to people what it is for.  The invitiation is for people to vote UKIP because they aren’t Labour, Conservative or Lib Dems, not because there is any positive message people can readily point to that makes them say, that is a vision I share and I’m going to support it.

There never will be such a compelling message when the leader wants to be all things to all men and offers contradictory manifestos and campaign slogans depending on whether they contest is in the north or the south.  The fact therefore is that after 20 years of UKIP the effort to free the UK from the EU monolith is no closer than it was before.

So Tallbloke, which is it?

Tallbloke is not only a UKIP candidate but also one of the party’s most trenchant supporters and a dogged defender of Nigel Farage in this blog’s comments section.

In recent comments on this blog, he has maintained that UKIP’s previous refusal to reference the EU’s role in making flooding far worse than it need have been was ‘strategic’, giving the impression that he has taken advice on this from party leadership.

The question I want to ask Tallbloke is whether the UKIP strategy included quietly dripping out an admission of the EU’s role in exacerbating the flooding through EU law, on the party’s website rather than using a major public media platform; or if it included a party representative, Lisa Duffy, going on BBC Any Questions to say: ‘Well it’s not Brussels’ fault is it’?

It would be nice to know just what the UKIP line actually is.

Cheers.

EU-supporting Daily Mail tries to hold the line for Brussels

It’s very interesting to see the EU-supporting Daily Mail has on its online homepage, and several sidebar links, the following headline linking to a story…

But clicking on the link and opening the story reveals this…

The story does not contain even a single mention of the terms ‘European Union’, ‘EU’ or ‘Brussels’.  The EU-supporting Daily Mail has however done its work.  The millions of people who read the site will see the headline and accept it at face value, while only a proportion of them will click through for more detail and find no reference whatsoever to what the headline’s claims.

It seems that despite the silence of the main parties and UKIP about the EU’s involvement in degrading the UK’s flood prevention approach, the grassroots effort to bring the issue to the fore and expose the UK’s inability to control its own floods policy and environmental concerns being given priority over humans, homes and businesses,  has got some in Brussels and the UK media rattled.

The challenge that UKIP has yet just will not grasp

Labour fanatic Dan Hodges has taken to his Telegraph blog in light of the Wythenshawe election result to dismiss the notion that UKIP is any kind of electoral threat to Labour:

So now we know. The narrative that Ukip is as much of a threat to Labour as it is to the Conservative Party is rubbish. Though to be fair, some of us always suspected as much.

Lest we forget, last night’s Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election was supposed to be the moment that Ukip made the big breakthrough into Labour’s heartland. As my colleague Toby Young wrote recently, many commentators were claiming that an outright Ukip win “is not as far-fetched as you might think, as Mike Smithson points out in this post for PoliticalBetting.com.

Hodges is clearly a man who likes to stir a reaction.  And as expected, this has turned out to be the literary equivalent of taking a stick and poking a nest of angry purple and yellow wasps, with the resident UKIP commenters swarming out to attack, ridicule, criticise, berate and insult Hodges as much as their keyboards will allow.  I think he’s actually quite enjoying it.

But one of the comments left in response to Hodges rightly observing the party has no national message, typifies the lack of awareness or political nous that characterises so many UKIP fanatics who have convinced themselves the party will deliver an electoral earthquake in the near future.  I left a reply to the comment making the point that so many UKIP followers do not seem able to grasp.

What this highlights is the absence of a political strategy at UKIP.  Some people have an idea of some of what UKIP is against, but ask people what UKIP is for and blank stares will form on their faces.  It’s not good enough for ‘kippers to say ‘you can’t criticise our lack of message because the others haven’t got a message either’.

Rightly or wrongly the other parties are established and people have a perception, accurate or otherwise, of what they stand for.  This just isn’t the case when it comes to UKIP.  I stand to be accused once again of waging a campaign against Nigel Farage, or bearing some yet to be defined grudge against him, but the fact is Farage is UKIP and UKIP is Farage.  It isn’t possible to separate the two, such is the control he wields over the party.

Holding Farage responsible for these basic political failings and strategic errors will upset some ‘kippers and the angry comments and emails will arrive again, but it is the reality.  If not him, then who is responsible for it?  UKIP has underperformed for 20 years.  Against a backdrop of anger against the political class it has made a little bit of headway to rise to around 13% nationally, higher in some individual constituencies, much lower in others.  But that is all.  It is not setting the political weather to the extent its supporters imagine because it has sent to the back burner the one cogent message people did understand, that of wanting to leave the EU.

Unless UKIP defines itself and outlines a positive vision that people can aspire to and want to vote for, the party will remain trapped below the glass ceiling it has created for itself.  It doesn’t require the spelling out of huge amounts of detail, but it needs more of a vision that ‘we aren’t the other lot’. Under Farage with his random approach and lack of depth it just ain’t gonna happen.

Unless this nettle is grasped UKIP will be a perennial protest repository that sometimes makes a nuisance of itself but can otherwise be discounted as a genuine threat by Labour or the Conservatives.  Worst of all, it will undermine the wider EUsceptic movement that the media lazily associates with the party.

Democracy through the Wythenshawe prism

We have learned that the media will do all it can to ignore the crucial matter of political and electoral legitimacy. The establishment can’t have ordinary people actually thinking about or discussing MPs sitting in Parliament after securing only a tiny amount of support in the ballot.  That would be dangerous to the establishment.  The media, as its ally, continues to help distract attention away from this significant issue.

84.4% of eligible voters in Wythenshawe and Sale East did not vote for the candidate elected as the area’s MP.  71.8% of eligible voters in the constituency did not even vote.  The turnout was mentioned in Chris Mason’s piece, but only as part of the result, tucked away as a bullet point neatly at the bottom of the vote tally, no further discussion of it wanted or permitted.

This is an issue that is not going to go away.  In a democracy the elected representatives must have legitimacy.  Mike Kane’s election ‘victory’ with only 15.6% of the available vote is nowhere close to legitimacy.  We do not live in a democracy.  It is time people made a stand in order for this country to become one.

The real Wythenshawe election result

Party politics is a tribal business and it was no surprise this morning to see my tribe had won the Wythenshawe and Sale East By Election in a landslide. The results were as follows:

Makes no Difference so Not Bothered   -   61,034  (71.8%)
Labour   -   13,261  (15.6%)
UKIP   -   4,301  (5.1%)
Conservative   -   3,479  (4.1%)
Lib Dem   -   1,176  (1.4%)
Green   -   748  (0.9%)
BNP   -   708  (0.8%)
Monster Raving Loony   -   288  (0.3%)

We will get to the implications for democracy in just a moment.  So what does this mean for the parties?

Labour said they knocked on every door in the constituency, yet even with the abuse-enabling postal vote they were unable to motivate even 16 in every 100 voters to make a positive vote for them.  This was always a win and from the moment he was appointed, Mike Kane could have used his candidacy as collateral for long term borrowing and planned a new, well funded lifestyle with plenty of holiday time and boondoggles to cherry pick from.

UKIP as ever talked a great game but even before the declaration, Paul Nuttall was moaning about a postal vote stitch up and the inability of a party to build momentum during a campaign. This is fatuous nonsense.  This is not the 1960s where voters had a range of policies to choose from on the big issues that matter, and therefore wait to be persuaded by powerful arguments before choosing who to vote for.  With the EU running almost all the major portfolios, parties have little scope to change anything of substance and even less therefore to offer voters.  Swing votes are increasingly cast on the basis of economic self interest, be that a desire for lower taxation and efficient services, or the preservation of benefits and welfare payments, in constituencies that are marginals between Labour and the Conservatives.

I said to friends before the election that anything less than 5,000 votes in this election would represent a failure for UKIP, as their vote would turn out even while others stay at home. Even as a dustbin for protest votes and with substantial media coverage over recent months, UKIP only managed to enthuse 5% of Wythenshawe’s voters to come out and support them in rejection of the other parties.  This does not indicate any sense of a breakthrough. It shows the limitations of UKIP’s appeal and it represents a bad result for the party in the current political climate.

They will do better in some other constituencies where a vote for UKIP can inflict a bloody nose on another party in a close race, or where the election is meaningless, such as the European elections.  But for all the noise of UKIP fanatics on comment threads, in the real world voters are not flocking to the party in the way its vocal followers imagine.  On this showing, second place in the Euro elections seems more likely now.

Conservative election managers were expecting a pounding and they rightly got one.  Their vote collapsed with it being obvious Labour would win easily.  Tory campaigns have been hit hard by the loss of supporters, particularly since Cameron became leader and turned the party into the new age Social Democrats, then rejected the option of forming a minority government and calling another snap election to secure the extra seats they needed for a majority – instead getting into bed with the Limp Dums in order to give Cameron the cover he wanted to dump much Conservative policy.  The party is finished in the northern urban areas.  It has nothing to offer that differs from Labour and its own efforts to maintain a client state in years past is coming back to bite it hard now finances necessitate welfare to be reined in.

Fib Dim supporters repeatedly rejected suggestions they would lose their deposit here, but they did, then promptly went into a self imposed media blackout.  Previously the party of all things to all men, now they are nothing to almost everyone.  The party will now write off the Euro elections and prepare to see its MEP tally slashed to almost nil.  All attention will turn to a ‘hold what we can’ strategy for 2015, where what remains of the Lib Dem activist base will be drafted in to selected constituencies where they have MPs for the most bitter and nasty election campaigns we will have ever seen in a desperate battle to retain most of their seats.  If any party is devoting more time to party maintenance than anything else, it is Clegg’s declining rump.  They have nothing to offer and most voters now treat them with the contempt they have long deserved.

Green / BNP can be lumped together as two cheeks of the same authoritarian arse.  While one seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades in our industrialised and open country through damaging and regressive eco-loony policies, the other seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades to build a more inclusive society through racism and identity politics.  Neither party is credible.  Neither party appeals to anyone outside a limited number of angry and hate fuelled drones who want to ‘purify’ this country through ecological and traditional fascism respectively.  Thankfully here they made up little more than 1% of eligible voters, but even that was too many.

Monster Raving Loony entertainment is always a fixture in By Elections and in addition to those who treated the election as a farce and stayed away, another 288 made an effort to come out and treat the party political process with a bit of extra contempt by voting for those upholding Sutch’s legacy.

So what does this mean for democracy?

We still don’t have it.  We have an electoral process, but that’s all.  Mike Kane will settle his backside onto the green benches, but will now answer to Labour whips in Parliament, vote as he is told and parrot prepared lines to take.  He will go through the motions of being a lawmaker, but ultimately change absolutely nothing for the residents of Wythenshawe and Sale East.

In 2015 he will stand again and will win again.  More people will be motivated to turn out and vote just to ensure the hated Tories do not sneak in by some fluke of electoral happenstance.  The Tories will regain second place as many of their stay away voters from this campaign come out in forlorn effort to stop Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister.  UKIP back will likely slide back into third as the enthusiastic support they have has already turned out and few others will jump into their camp at the General Election, so they will be overtaken by Conservatives who will turn out after getting in a lather as a result of the General Election hype.

All in all, after great expense and column acres of discussion, analysis and interpretation, nothing of substance will change.  Voters will be no more empowered and have no more control or ability to change things through the system than they had before.  People power will remain a soothing catchphrase.  Slowly though, more people will reject the process and increase the number of those who could be tempted to look at a radical alternative to what masquerades as democracy today.


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