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.

Do Labour actually want to win the general election?

Am I alone  in suspecting Labour don’t actually want to win next year? Maybe, like David Cameron, they are seeing ‘red warning lights‘ flashing in the world economy, and just don’t fancy it.

You would think that with an embarrassing by-election defeat for the Conservative Party imminent, Labour would just plat it safe, try out some messages they plan to use in May, and just not do anything silly. Instead though, they tried to out-do UKIP on immigration by pretending ‘benefits tourism’ is a massive problem they are determined to solve (a laughable proposition) and today, some idiot MP gives the strong impression she despises the sort of people who traditionally vote Labour. What else can we conclude? Or are they just not very good at politics?

EU 1 Cameron/Osborne 0

George Osborne went to Brussels today to try to negotiate a ‘better deal for Britain’ with regards to the £1.7bn the EU has said the UK owes due to statistical revisions over the last 20 years. Osborne came out of his meeting triumphant, saying he had negotiated a reduction of 50% which would be interest free, with payments staggered over 2 years.

It took about half  an hour for Osborne’s claims to unravel after a number of his counterparts in other EU countries revealed that the £1.7bn bill was in fact unchanged, but that the UK’s ‘rebate’ had also been revised, and would total £850m, and that this was always the case. Originally then, the UK would have paid £1.7bn, and then receive a rebate of £850m. Now, after George Osborne’s shrewd negotiating, we will pay £850m and forego the rebate. Still sound like a good deal?

I had wondered whether this latest EU controversy had been engineered by Cameron and Osborne to make the look like they could stand up to Europe and win concessions to appease the right of the party and try to win back some of the UKIP vote. If so it has rather spectacularly backfired.

Osborne makes clear in his announcement today that he thinks we are all idiots and won’t be able to see through an obvious ruse. It doesn’t bode very well for Cameron’s hopes to renegotiate Britain’s role in the EU in advance of a possible referendum in 2017. It seems pretty clear the other nations of the EU have no intention of giving Cameron what he wants, and now view him as a bit of a joke (if they didn’t already). Far from bringing back his detractors into the fold, this latest stunt is more likely to drive people further away.

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.

Senior UKIP spokesman forced to deny he was the original ‘Bungle’ from Rainbow

While I have 5 minutes, here’s a silly story I found from the Liverpool Echo. Not sure why this even got written up, but it seems someone edited Paul Nuttall’s Wikipedia page to say “Nuttall was the original Bungle in children’s television show Rainbow.” The story was probably considered newsworthy because it gave some sub-editor a chance to write a funny headline, a chance that I’m not going to miss out on either.

‘I’m not Bungle’: Mersey politician’s denial after Wikipedia prank

100 year old excuses for unemployment

Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised to find out that exactly the same arguments being made today about an issue have also been made in the long distant past. Back then they may not have known any better, today we definitely should. A comment from Peter Martin on Labourlist gave me another example of this phenomenon. He quotes from Robert Tressell’s “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” which was written in 1912 to show what arguments were being made around that time to account for high unemployment.

Technology:

‘Yes,’ said Crass, agreeing with Slyme……… Then thers all this new-fangled machinery,’ continued Crass. ‘That’s wot’s ruinin’ everything. Even in our trade ther’s them machines for trimmin’ wallpaper, an’ now they’ve brought out a paintin’ machine. Ther’s a pump an’ a ‘ose pipe, an’ they reckon two men can do as much with this ‘ere machine as twenty could without it.’

The immigrants:

‘Why, even ‘ere in Mugsborough,’ chimed in Sawkins–……..We’re overrun with ’em! Nearly all the waiters and the cook at the Grand Hotel where we was working last month is foreigners.’

On cheap foreign labour:

“you know very well that the country IS being ruined by foreigners. Just go to a shop to buy something; look round the place an ‘ you’ll see that more than ‘arf the damn stuff comes from abroad.”

Over 100 years later, this is still fairly mainstream political discourse in the UK. We had this UKIP poster:

I also often see people arguing that cheap foreign labour overseas is costing us jobs in the UK.

And you still hear the Luddite argument that machinery will replace all our jobs. Technology has and will continue to replace jobs that are being done by humans today, but this doesn’t mean unemployment is guaranteed. A lot of people on the left use this argument to advocate a guaranteed basic income, but it ignores the fact that new forms of work are being created all the time, and we could also broaden what we think of as work to include activities that are not being paid to do at the moment.

We had full employment in the 1960s and there is no reason we shouldn’t have it again. As Keynes said:

“…Our main task, therefore, will be to confirm the reader’s instinct that what seems sensible is sensible, and what seems nonsense is nonsense. We shall try to show him that the conclusion, that if new forms of employment are offered more men will be employed, is as obvious as it sounds and contains no hidden snags; that to set unemployed men to work on useful tasks does what it appears to do, namely, increases the national wealth; and that the notion, that we shall, for intricate reasons, ruin ourselves financially if we use this means to increase our well-being, is what it looks like – a bogy.”

Why aren’t Labour doing better?

I blogged yesterday about Labour complaints of media bias. While it seems clear that Britain’s media is pretty conservative in nature and in favour of neo-liberal capitalism, I don’t really buy that as the reason why Labour are struggling to get their message across. After all, the modern Labour Party is pretty conservative and full of neo-liberals itself. It seems to many of us that there’s little to distinguish between Labour and the Tories. Could this be a more plausible reason for their closeness in the polls?

UKIP’s success has come on the back of hammering two simple messages – i) the UK should get out of the EU, largely because ii) membership means open borders to 500m people. To bolster the effect of their message, they have appealed to people’s innate fear of the unknown and the different to fuel concern about the number of new arrivals who are ‘not like you’ or are ‘after your job’. This tactic is as old as the hills, but should be relatively easy to counteract.

While there will always be racists who will vote for far-right parties, most people are not racist, but many do have concerns that are quite easy to link to immigration (if you had an incentive to do so). So what are these?

  • Rising rents
  • Lack of social housing
  • High long-term unemployment
  • Long waits at A&E of for a GP’s appointment
  • Lack of school places

If you are struggling to get a council house but hear stories of a Roma family jumping the queue, or a young person unable to find work and being labelled a scrounger while the person who serves you in the pub has a ‘foreign’ accent, if you don’t get your first choice of school or can’t get an appointment with your GP for a week, it is quite easy for politicians to take those frustrations and blame it on ‘uncontrolled immigration’. A lot of people swallow this and vote for the party promising to do something about it. Whether any of these issues are actually due to immigration or not doesn’t matter at the moment because no party other than UKIP is offering any solutions. UKIP are right that there is an open-door policy to EU citizens regardless of quality, and no one else seems to want to argue directly why they think this is a good thing. This is nevertheless the position of Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

So back to Labour then, what should they do? They are in favour of free movement of labour within the EU, so it seems to me they need to address the issues that people are currently blaming on immigration. Ed Miliband has actually tried to raise each of the five issues on my list above, and has grabbed a bit of attention each time. The problem has been, his proposed ‘solutions’ are so inconsequential, people sort of shrug on hearing them. So what? is the refrain. Miliband has proposed very timid proposals on job creation, energy prices and private sector rents, and has been likened to Mugabe, Stalin and Hugo Chavez by the Tory party and certain people in the media. If this is the reaction to very modest proposals, why not go the whole hog and actually come up with something that will really stir things up?

How about proposing something like:

1. Building 100,000 social houses a year for the next 5 years

2. Guarantee work for all who need a job, working in the third or public sectors (limited to those who’ve been in the UK for at least 5 years)

3. Large programme of school building

4. Moratorium on all tenders for provision of NHS services

5. Renationalise something – polls consistently show majorities in favour of nationalised water, energy, postal services and rail.

We should also not forget that while UKIP did well, 66% of people didn’t bother to vote! Why not? A large number obviously don’t see any value in voting. If we had a well-funded opposition party (and money is important) selling a genuine alternative, maybe more people would turn out on polling day. If it’s a choice between the blue Tories, the red Tories, the yellow Tories, or the Purple Tories, why would anyone bother? It seems pretty clear that socialism isn’t coming back. The name alone strikes fear into many, but ISTM there would be support for anyone proposing to ‘tame’ capitalism, keeping the good bits, but intervening strongly to eliminate the bad.

 

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.

Inflation, corporate welfare and another UKIP SOH failure

A lot of links to get through this week. First up, here’s a post outlining how we might overhaul the tax system to make it more progressive:

Towards a truly progressive tax system

And here’s two posts on inflation. Inflation is low and falling at the moment. Policy makers are so scared of inflation, they avoid policies that might improve the economy:

The Inflation Obsession

What causes hyper-inflation? Weimar Republic, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Venezuela

Next, George Monbiot reminds us that while the Government is obsessed with cutting welfare from those at the bottom, corporate welfare is still alive and well:

The welfare dependents the government loves? Rich landowners | George Monbiot

And here, JD Alt points out the obvious – if the private sector can’t or won’t invest in areas that are vital for future development, then the government should:

Forget the 1%

There was a Panorama this week about food poverty. Patrick Butler gives us the details:

Food poverty: Panorama, Edwina Currie and the missing ministers

‘Making work pay’ is a cliche we hear a lot, but according to this blog post, work already does pay in the vast majority of cases:

Yes, you’re better off working than on benefits – but it’s not enough to reduce poverty

With unemployment still high (athough falling) and the Work Programme failing, Labour say they will introduce a ‘compulsory jobs guarantee’. Details on what this will look like have been vague, but they are now hinting it might look something like this:

Labour would bankroll ‘back to work’ plan on Bradford model

Finally, news of another massive sense of humour failure from UKIP. Tom Pride explains:

Supposedly pro-free speech UKIP tries to ban satirical comedy show

 

 

Why we should leave the EU

This is a quick post on the issue of the EU, which has been claimed by the right wing as their noble cause, as popularised by UKIP and Tory MPs like Peter Bone. Today former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson has called for the UK to leave the EU. I suspect his motives for doing so are questionable, but does he have a point?

The prevailing view on the left seems to be strongly in favour of the UK’s EU membership, with the feeling that leaving would be unthinkable. These seem to be the common arguments in favour of staying in, and why I think they are misguided:

1) EU regulations on employment rights, environmental protections etc would be torn up if we left and it’d be like Victorian Britain all over again. This seems a strange sort of argument to me. Of course, there are a lot of people who would love to tear up a lot of these regulations, but we should have more confidence in our ability to win the argument about the importance of retaining these protections whether inside or outside of the EU. We shouldn’t need an external body to protect us from the more extreme elements on the right.

2) Around 3m jobs would be put at risk if we left the EU. I’ve seen this claim a lot, and I’m not sure where it comes from. Obviously, a lot of people work for companies that trade with the EU, but I think people over estimate the impact on trade our leaving the EU would have. The UK is a huge economy. The idea that the remaining EU nations would not want to trade with us on favourable terms seems unlikely to me.

3) British workers wouldn’t be able to go and work in Europe any more and millions of Brits would have to come home. Again, I don’t think this is as big an issue as it is made out to be. It’s likely there would be new restrictions on labour movements, but skilled workers would always be welcome to work in other countries, as we welcome skilled workers from outside the EU today. People that have retired to Spain are not going to be sent home, as their spending power is a great benefit to the Spanish economy.

Here are some other reasons why our EU membership does not benefit us.

  • There are a lot of things in the various treaties we are signatories to which tie the hands of our government. Deficit limits and the prohibition of using the full power of the central bank severely limit the ability of government to react economic crises. You can argue (maybe rightly) that in a crisis, these rules are routinely ignored, but moves are afoot to make these rules even more binding on nations.
  • State aid rules mean it’s very difficult to implement an active industrial policy, which I would argue is vital for long run growth. Government needs to be able to ‘pick winners’ and nurture their growth. State aid rules don’t allow this.
  • Immigration. Most of the evidence on immigration shows it has a strongly positive impact on the UK economy. This post makes that case wellBut does this mean we should be banned from imposing any limits on immigration from the EU? I don’t think so. It may be that we decide it’s in our interest to let anyone who wants to come here to work do so, but it should be a decision for the national government to make, and they should be free to impose limits if that’s in the best interests of the nation.

Above then are just a few quick points by way of suggesting that although one’s position on the EU seems to have been reduced to a split between left (pro) and right (anti), it shouldn’t be. There are strong arguments against our membership of the EU, and they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. As ever, feel free to disagree, or suggest things I’ve missed in the above.