Silver Linings

A very surprising result yesterday I’m sure you’ll all agree. Five more years to endure now of preening smug Tories who will now start to believe their own bullshit about long term economic plans and the like. I’ll be giving political TV shows a miss for a while now. It wasn’t all bad though. Here are some silver linings:

  • Although the Tories now have a majority, it is by less than 10 seats, and less than the number of ‘bastards’ in the Conservative party, so David Cameron’s life is not going to be easy. Give it a year or two and the problems for them will begin.
  • Labour’s defeat was horrendous enough that they might have a proper clear out of the dead wood (most of the front bench) and come back with something better. I say might because it’s just as likely they’ll conclude they lost because they weren’t enough like the Tories.
  • The Lib Dems were wiped out. It seems the electorate saw through these disingenuous charlatans and got rid of all but 8. Danny Alexander and David Laws were the two that most deserved to lose and did. Nick Clegg won, but probably wishes he hadn’t now.
  • UKIP only won one seat and Farage has resigned. Their only MP Douglas Carswell is a much different politician to Farage.
  • Caroline Lucas retained her seat in Brighton. I like Caroline Lucas. Hopefully she will lead the Greens again.
  • Ed Balls lost his seat. In one of the biggest shocks of the night, the Tories took this seat from a man probably more to blame for Labour’s demise than anyone else.
  • Esther McVey lost her seat. A very unpopular unpopular DWP Minister who gave the impression of caring more about her career than the disadvantaged who it was her job to help, she will not be missed.
  • George Galloway lost after running a tawdry and personal campaign against Labour candidate Naz Shah. The extent of his defeat was stunning. I had been certain he would win.

So not good if you are on the left like me. But not all bad either.


Some thoughts about “Meet the Ukippers”

I’ve just watched the BBC’s “Meet the Ukippers” doc about the South Thanet branch of UKIP. This was heavily trailed because of the comments by one of its (now former) councillors about her feelings towards black people. More of that later.

My initial thoughts were that it showed a local party that was charmingly inept. The local members seemed to be mainly elderly, retired or semi-retired people, not really ready for what was about to hit them in terms of the media scrutiny following Nigel Farage’s decision to stand in their constituency.

The doc focused on four or five members of the local party. The chairman. The local press officer and her husband, and the now expelled councillor Rozanne Duncan. The chairman, Martin Heales had previously received negative media coverage due to his previous membership of the National Front. He seemed reasonably amiable to me, although the way he reacted to a constituent saying he had lost his job to EU migrants disturbed me a little (his reaction was to say “this is political dynamite which we can exploit”, or words to that effect). I felt some sympathy for him though. Previous membership of an extreme group ought not to disqualify you from participating in mainstream politics in the future if you renounce those previous affiliations. A former colleague of mine was a member of the National Front. He was a good guy, he just didn’t know any better, and once he did, he left.

The local press officer and her husband were treated most sympathetically in my view. They seemed like good honest people engaged in the thankless task of herding the cats that are the UKIP members of South Thanet, trying to prevent them from saying anything stupid. In the end, I think they stood down from active roles in the party, probably for the sake of their sanity.

This brings us on to Cllr Duncan who literally 30 seconds after the press officer explained why members had to be so careful about what they say, said she had a real problem with black people (or people with “negroid features” as she called them). After UKIP high command learnt of her comments, she was expelled from the party immediately. Interviewed afterwards, she couldn’t seem to fathom why she had been expelled and thought she didn’t have anything to apologise for. She is of an age where it was common to use racist language in every day conversation. We probably all know or knew people like this. While they use(d) what would today be branded racist language, I wouldn’t say they were racist, as they still treat everyone with respect and as they find them regardless of colour or creed. What separates people of their time like that from people like Cllr Duncan though is that she openly admitted she would treat black people differently to others. An elected politician cannot do this. They must represent their constituents equally and without favour or prejudice. This is why UKIP had to expel her. (She also had an odd fixation with people’s noses, saying “negroes” had wide noses and Jews curved noses).

A final point I want to make about the show is the treatment of UKIP by what I’m going to call ‘outraged lefties’. There is a certain group of left-wing people who have decided that UKIP are just like the Nazi Party in the 1930s and that they must stop them at any cost. The result of this seen in the film was a vocal group of protesters shouting down a UKIP candidate who had come to speak in favour of a ban on the live export of animals (a cause the protesters agreed with). They then surrounded the UKIP guy calling him a neo-nazi and a racist. It was all rather ugly. My thoughts on UKIP are that they have some policies I agree with (on Europe and a points-based immigration system), but also some rather alarming ideas (on climate change for example). I could never vote for them though as I dislike Farage’s penchant for using dog-whistle tactics against immigrants. While he persists in doing this, he should not be surprised that racists are attracted to the party.

Overall then, I thought it was quite an interesting programme. I suspect if you made a doc about a local Conservative or Labour party group, you would find similar people saying similar things (although I doubt the central parties would allow such a doc to be made). A lot of UKIP party members seem to be of another time. A time when you could say “poofter” or “chinky” and nobody batted an eyelid. This is probably still true of the Tories as well though I would imagine. The people represented were all slightly odd (as I suppose you have to be to give up so much time for an often hopeless cause), but committed and well-meaning. What they are not (even the aforementioned Cllr Duncan) are bad people. Clearly unsuitable for public office, but nevertheless representative of quite a significant minority of the public at large I would guess.

Is this really news? Nigel Farage edition

Chelsea fan Josh Parsons with Nigel Farage.

Recently, a video emerged of some Chelsea fans in Paris who pushed a black guy trying to get on a metro train and then sang “We are racist”. Today, the Guardian splashed on this story about one of the people present in Paris previously having had his photo taken with Nigel Farage. That’s the story. As the article itself says, it’s not at all clear that this guy was even involved in this unpleasant episode. Even if he was, it still isn’t news. People’s champion Nigel Farage poses for photos all the time. If someone asks a public figure to have a picture taken, most politely agree. People used to ask for autographs, now they ask for selfies.

There’s a more sinister aspect to this story though. It seems to have become part of popular culture now to conduct trials by social media. This guy has now been branded a racist (fairly or unfairly we don’t know). By naming the guy, the Guardian story – whether consciously or not – encourages us to seek out this guy on social media (he’s already had to delete all his social media accounts). People will be trying to find out where he lives, where he works and try and get him sacked. Even id this guy is a nasty piece of work, this is not how justice works. This kind of campaign can quickly turn ugly. It’s very popular now to trawl the social media accounts of people we disagree with to find anything that could be stripped of all context and blown out of all proportion. Here’s what can happen.  People say and do some pretty dumb things when they are young. That’s always been the case, but in the era of social media, these things can come back to haunt you in all sorts of ways. It’s a kind of mob rule that I think is incredibly unhealthy, and I think it needs to stop.

Tory plans to limit free movement will do nothing of the sort

The Conservative Party have been making a lot of noise about free movement of labour recently, saying they want to reform the rules in the face of ‘public concern’ (i.e. increased support for UKIP). Nigel Farage, champion of the ‘People’s Army’ says the Tories will just look to tinker around the edges, but will not be able to alter the fundamental principal of free movement. I agree with Nigel!

I saw Iain Duncan Smith quoted today as saying there was consensus within Europe to limit access to benefits for EU migrants. This is where I suspect the tinkering will be focused. They will make a big deal out of this and come back from the negotiations with the EU triumphant about the concessions they have secured. The thing is though, if they do manage to tighten up access to benefits, nothing will really have changed.

Moving to a new country for the purposes of claiming benefits has been labelled ‘benefit tourism’. But does it actually exist? This article from last year concludes there is very little evidence for it, and that the primary reasons for moving are for work or family reasons. The benefits that EU migrants would be eligible for are anyway extremely limited and it the person is not working, they probably won’t be eligible to benefits either. If they can’t or won;t find a job, they could even be legally removed under EU law. This blog gives quite a good summary of the situation.

So it seems likely, the Tories are looking to achieve only as much as they think they can spin into a victory, which may be little more than applying existing EU law more rigidly. Not sure that is going to convince the Kippers to come home.

What is the real issue with free movement then? It’s the ‘unlimited’ part that’s the problem. Within the restriction that people coming here must be looking to work, there is no limit on the number of people from the EU who can come here. If we were in a situation where every economy in Europe was booming, this may not be an issue as most people will be able to find work in their home country. Sadly this has not been the case in Europe for some time, and leads to a situation where people seek to move from the austerity-ravaged economies of the Eurozone, to the less ravaged (and now growing) UK.

This is not to say immigration is bad. It’s not. Allowing unlimited numbers of EU migrants to come here for work just doesn’t seem sensible. What’s wrong with using a similar system to Australia or Canada, or indeed the system we have for non-EU migrants? The Tories will never make this demand of the EU. I don’t think that’s even what they want. To get some control back would mean leaving the EU, or coming up with some clever ruse to achieve the same result.

Are the media biased against Labour?

Since the results of last week’s elections were announced, I’ve seen numerous examples of Labour MPs and supporters complaining about the coverage they’ve received. The claim seems to be that despite performing well in the elections, Labour’s results have been painted as bad news, while UKIP have got favourable coverage of their results. Do they have a point though? I don’t see how.

UKIP have come from nowhere over the last 18 months to win hundreds of councillors and actually winning the popular vote in the EU elections. While Nigel Farage has rarely been off our screens lately, the coverage I’ve seen of UKIP has been overwhelmingly negative. The print media in particular have been out to get UKIP, with almost daily revelations about some idiot candidate or another. Despite this, they managed a great result (relatively speaking), doing so by campaigning on two – linked – issues, immigration and Europe. They made some inroads into solid Labour areas, most notably in Rotherham, but also here in Bradford, where, while they only won one seat (off Labour), they came second in a number of others, often coming within a couple of hundred votes of victory.

So that’s UKIP then. But what about Labour? They won the local elections, picking up over 300 seats on a projected national share of 31%, and their vote was up 10% over 2009 in the EU poll. Pretty good? Despite this, the media have been asking why Labour aren’t doing better. Biased against Labour then?

Not really. They’re up against a wretched Coalition government who deserve to lose for numerous reasons (cutting public spending in a slump, disgraceful treatment of the unemployed and disabled, restricting access to justice, speeding up private sector involvement in the NHS and on and on), and yet they can only beat them by about 2 percentage points a year out from the general election. Of course people are going to ask what’s going on.

Labour party people need to stop whining about media bias and start thinking about why they’re not doing better, and why UKIP, who are supposed to be ex-Tory voters, are gaining so many votes in Labour areas.

Nigel Farage meets his match

Nigel Farage was interviewed by James O’Brien on LBC today, and definitely came off second best. In the end, the interview was called to a halt by Farage’s press secretary after O’Brien questioned Farage about his expenses. It was a good interview in a lot of ways although it didn’t really cover UKIP policy on either the EU or domestic issues which is a shame.

Farage looked uncomfortable on numerous occassions, particularly when questioned about UKIP’s awful poster which tells us 27 million potential immigrants are after our jobs, on Farage’s habit of equating Romanians with criminality and on misleading statements about the language skills of the capital’s primary school children. I quite like O’Brien as an interviewer. He does a bit of research and asks good follow-up questions, something that can’t be said of most TV political interviews. He is also responsible for the best attempt at holding Iain Duncan Smith to account that I’ve heard from a mainstream source. Watch/listen to both interviews below:

How strong is the case for staying in the EU?

As we approach the EU elections on 22nd May, I’m planning to do a couple of posts over the next few weeks on the topic of the EU. As a good leftie, I should be wholeheartedly in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU right? Well not really. Being anti-EU or eurosceptic is seen as very much the preserve of the right in Britain. We like to think of those holding anti-EU views as being either UKIP ‘little Englanders’ or ‘rabid right’ Tories, but I want to set out some good reasons why those of us on the left should also have some pretty significant issues with the EU, at least as it is currently operating.

To kick off then, I’m not going to lay out my argument straight away, but just simply make an observation about the style of argument those on the pro-EU side often make. It’s a style that I find somewhat irritating. I’m going to use Nick Clegg as an example because he’s been in the news recently making the case for the EU (and in a pretty annoying way too). Below are Clegg’s opening speeches from his recent TV debates with Nigel Farage of UKIP. I often feel as though Nick Clegg is insulting my intelligence and these clips are no exception. He basically has two arguments:

1. Trade with EU means jobs.

2. By being part of the EU, Britain has more ‘clout’ in the world.

That’s pretty much it. In the debates he didn’t really expand much beyond this. It seems to me Clegg thinks the case for staying in the EU is so self-evident, he can’t actually bring himself to rise above the level of mouthing simplistic platitudes. This style is typical among those who are pro-EU. They sort of think you are a bit strange if you express doubts, but often can’t raise their game above the level of “of course we’re better off in the EU”. In subsequent posts I will take a look at some of the pro-EU camp’s arguments and see if they actually stack up. First though, here’s the promised vids. Each speech lasts for about a minute. The first one starts around 2m13s, and the second around 2m51s.