Wednesday 28 May 2014

Predatory behaviour: Give us your wonga

Predatory behaviour: Give us your wonga
Councils up and down the land have been leading the fight against "predatory" pay-day loan companies, even calling for their websites to be banned on council owned computers.

Plymouth Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cabinet Member for Cooperatives and Community Development, said: “This work is so very important – it directly affects the household finances of some of the city’s most cash-strapped people. These are households that have to take short-term loans to survive week by week and month by month. So to help them break free from such vicious cycles of debt is absolutely the right thing to do.

However, following this moral crusade we now learn that council tax arrears are driving more people to seek help than any other form of debt, according to the charity Citizens Advice. In the first three months of this year, the charity helped 27,000 people who had fallen behind with council tax bills, a 17% increase on the same period of 2013, and one in five of those reporting debt problems had an arrears issue.

So in fact, it is government that creates more debt problems than payday loan companies. So much so, we need a charity to handle the many thousands of cases. Moreover, councils are the number one employer of predatory, law breaking bailiffs.  From fee fraud through to unlawful entry, misrepresentation of powers and extortion, council employed private sector "enforcement agents" have spawned a cottage industry devoted to dealing clearing up this mess - and neither the police or councils have the remotest interest in addressing it (as I have discovered at great expense).

We are told that enforcement is only used as a "last resort" but we are only in May and already I have received my summons, where I will doubtlessly be joining thousands of others in my locality alone. Meanwhile councils are profiteering from these summons's, with each summons carrying a charge of £85 when the law only provides for "reasonable costs". The are waging a covert war against the people, netting millions from this scam.

We are told that councils need a "proactive approach to the enforcement of council tax to ease the financial burden on taxpayers, while protecting revenue for vital public services on which vulnerable people depend".

I found one of Plymouth's "vulnerable people" to confirm this. Plymouth Chief Executive Tracey Lee will only earn £150,000 this year, and is forced by circumstance to earn £20,000 less than her predecessor. Obviously the downward pressure on wages also extends to our CEOcracy.

Since I have a court fine of over £1300 to cover last years council tax dispute, I think I may resort to a pay-day loan to stave off enforcement this year. Good job this isn't a council owned computer huh? 

UPDATE: South Gloucestershire Council charges £85 for £0.09p Council Tax arrears.  I hope will point this out to councils the next time these self-righteous people grind their axe.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

London calling?

In reference to their apparently poor performance in London, Ukip spokeswoman Suzanne Evans on Radio 4 seemed to agree with the host, that they had difficulty appealing to the "educated, cultural and young".

There's a more obvious answer to this. London politics works for London people. London gets what it wants, but the rest of the country can basically get stuffed.

Londoners are much less likely to be troubled by immigration since London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. It is also a very wealthy place with much more access to opportunity, and public transport that actually works (when it's not on strike) - and though there are poor people in London, they don't stay poor forever, unlike out in the provinces. It is a city with much more going on, with more things to do, there are fewer reasons to be as angry.

Compare that with the North and things look a little different. Immigration is much more noticeable and much more polarised, poverty is entrenched and sustained, the weather is always crap - and as for education... Let's not go there. While London copes well with the decisions made by London, the very worst consequences of those decisions are always felt most acutely by the rest of the country.

What does a Londoner care if a London politician signs away more Scottish fishing quotas? What does a Londoner care if their renewable energy future means plastering the Welsh hills with ugly wind turbines? They are out of sight and out of mind.  It is little wonder then that revolutions and uprisings happen to the capital rather than from the capital.

London is slowly growing apart from the rest of the UK both economically and culturally. It sucks up most of the talent from the regions and bleeds them dry of culture. London is thriving yet Birmingham and Glasgow, each great cities in their own right, are struggling when they shouldn't be. This has everything to do with the centralisation of power. Policy is devised in London, by London, for London.

It's ultimately about power. Power attracts wealth, youth and media - and so in the Uk, it goes to London. Because media especially follows power, our media is wholly London-centric - and to our chatterati, there is only London - and then everything else. They are completely ignorant of the vast and wonderful country that lies North of Watford Gap, often having more familiarity with other European capitals than their own country. We don't call them the "metro-elite" for nuffink.

Those of us who live outside the M25 look in on London as though it were on a different planet. And it might as well be. Perhaps it is not that Ukip performed badly in London, rather it did better everywhere else for the above reasons.

As I have outlined today, at the root of that of Ukip's anger is the fundamental lack of democracy in the UK. While that same lack of democracy exists in London, the decisions made in London are addressed to London and the rest of the country suffers because of it. To address that democratic imbalance we de-Londonise power in the UK, and by consequence it will de-Londonise media, culture and politics. If media follows power then there's little wonder the media does not look elsewhere, for there is no power outside of London.

Our local authorities need to be constitutional bodies exercising all powers of legislation, taxation and administration so that government serves the people rather than vice versa. That cannot be done by simply leaving the EU, nor can it be done by electing a different bunch of people to operate in Westminster. We need something wholly different. We need The Harrogate Agenda.

More than a protest or impotent rage?

If you are not voting for something, you are voting against something. And Ukip isn't a vote for something. Ask any Ukip voter why they voted Ukip and the replies are diverse.  In fact those who would say first off the bat "because I want Britain to leave the EU" are probably now in the minority.

Reasons for voting Ukip are as diverse as wind farms, speed cameras, political correctness, HS2, MPs expenses, human rights law protecting criminals, parking tickets, BBC bias through to immigration. If anything the EU has taken a back seat and Ukip has become a uniting banner in what has become a culture war against an establishment that simply does not listen and is entirely self-serving. The EU is a part of that sentiment but it is no longer the driving force behind Ukip. People are pissed off - and have every right to be.

A recent survey shows that Ukip voters are more likely to be angry.  And angry people protest. Throughout the land there is a prevailing sense of voter impotence. We vote but it apparently changes little. But who cares? We live in a first world, developed economy with unprecedented access to wealth and opportunity so what is there to really complain about?

It's really quite simple. We humans have a fundamental need to exert some kind of control over our surroundings. I don't recall being asked if I wanted entirely pointless traffic lights at the top of my street. I don't recall asking for a street light outside my house. I don't recall the council being consulted over the smoking ban. I didn't ask for a recycling bin and I wasn't consulted as to whether I wanted separate food waste disposal. They assumed I would want it, then I was told to it, then through threats of fines and forfeitures, I was forced to.

I could of course complain to my councillor but this is merely the council doing as it is instructed by Whitehall, who is in turn merely obeying the European Waste Framework Directive. Somewhere, an unelected individual decided how I must live, in an institute so remote that most people couldn't find it on a map - and one I don't have a voice in at any level. This is now about democracy - or the complete absence of it.

Somewhere along the line we stopped being citizens and became livestock to be managed by people appointed over us, who we must pay for, without ever having consented - and without democratic recourse. To even question the wisdom of our rulers is impertinent. Our complaints go into a black hole, and while we can vote in another councillor, we cannot fire the council CEOcracy who stay in post for years, accumulating obscene pensions and payouts.

Just recently I was convicted of criminal damage. The short version being that I refused to pay my council tax as a protest, but also with a view to catching bailiffs in the act of unlawfully inflating fees. As predicted, that is what happened. Complaints were not upheld by the council (though they refused to investigate), the police point-blank refused to act, and so, after I paid my council tax directly to the council, bailiffs clamped my car demanding that I pay their unlawful fees.

I cut it the clamp off with an angle-grinder. I then made a complaint to the police and they then charged me for criminal damage - and refused to examine the evidence of fee-fraud. I am now a convicted criminal - and the state sanctioned fraudsters walk free.

While waiting to be heard by the judge I got talking with a man who was fighting a similar battle over a parking ticket that had somehow been inflated to over £800.  I told him that I had refused to pay council tax. He shook my hand and smiled. He remarked "This is why I'm voting Ukip".

From the NHS, through to council services and the police, there is a prevailing cynicism that complaining is pointless because they will not act, they will not admit fault - and they will not listen.  We are simply issued a complaint number and become just another statistic in the system.

They close down local hospitals and police stations, against our wishes, becoming more centralised, anonymous and remote, and their idea of democracy is a single police commissioner to preside over regions with over two million residents. British "democracy" is a joke.

And for all these "efficiencies", somehow the direction of travel for taxes is always upward. Gradually, services we pay for with taxes are becoming fee-based so we are now paying twice for everything. What we think matters not. Our only purpose is to pay, pay what we are told - and to pay when we are told to pay it. The nature of council tax is that you are not a free individual unless you pay for your freedom. You are out of jail on license - and your crime against the state is to have a roof over your head.  

We are told our obedience is demanded because we have empty voting rituals every few years which  supposedly mean we can change our dictators. But still nothing changes. You can protest by disobedience, but they will bankrupt you. You can beat another citizen or steal from another citizen and walk free, but one thing the state will not tolerate is citizen who stands tall and says no to them.  They will relentlessly wear you down at at great expense, both to the citizen and the state, until you know your place.

Thus we have become an obedient, bovine nation afraid to say no because it is simply too much trouble to try. Thus we are serfs, not citizens.  All we have is our impotent rage with which we can toddle off to the voting booth and place our X in the box marked Ukip. The protest you are allowed to have. But it is an empty gesture appointing yet more overpaid politicians to a remote parliament that has no power to speak of. If anything a vote in that election gratifies that very fig-leaf of democracy - and is taken as a mandate to continue their oppression.

We can express our displeasure at the ballot box and that will gradually grow parties like Ukip so that token adjustments are made, but it's still pretty much business as usual for the establishment. Voting in itself is not a exercise of power (in that the levers of power in Strasbourg are not connected to anything), thus there are in fact only two types of vote - a mandate or a protest. 

Voting is not an expression of people power, it is merely an opinion poll. All we can do is communicate a sentiment through that poll, since who we elect is of no practical consequence to the output of that institution. 

The protest vote in that poll may be large, but not large enough - and ultimately we will never persuade the majority who did not vote that their vote matters - because we know they are right. The game is rigged, the system does not allow for democracy, and a protest vote is taken as a mandate for government to do more.

By this point, the obvious conclusion is that our rulers don't get the message, have not listened and are not going to. The very obvious reply to this is to rise up and slaughter every last one of them - but none of us really wants to do that. Violent uprisings are unpleasant affairs. So what is to be done?

We have seen that voting accomplishes little, and what good is a protest if our voice is not heeded? In a system where a vote is not a powerful act, we are then in the position of asking rather than demanding. This is where I part company with Ukip and the likes. I am done asking. I am now demanding.

We know what Ukip are against. But does it have a proposal? Does it have a roadmap?  Not that I can see.  It is merely a vocal expression of impotent rage. Ukip says it will scrap wind farms and scrap parking fees and deal with the BBC and abolish human rights law etc, but swatting the symptoms does not cure the disease.

I do not want Ukip to act on my behalf anymore than I want another party to act on my behalf.  It is not that the wrong party is in charge. It is that any party is in charge. A system where a party holds power is a system where the people do not, thus by definition that system is not (and cannot be) democratic. It is the system that corrupts both politicians and parties. Consequently we must dispense with that system entirely. You cannot vote to ask the establishment for democracy.

Ukip has grown by playing the establishment game by establishment rules. In order to grow it has had to play by the unwritten rules, and the bigger it gets the more it starts to look like the others. Nigel Farage does not represent me any more than Nick Clegg does. I am an individual with a voice of my own. I cannot be represented. If there is a decision to be made that affects me, I want a vote in that. I demand a vote in that. If we can put lottery terminals in every post office and off license, then we can employ that same technology for governance.

The state has no automatic right to take my money and spend it without asking. It has no automatic right to put limits on my life. To act with authority, it must act with consent. Thus we must have democracy. To say we need to restore democracy is to assume we ever had it. We have not - but we need it now more than ever. That is why we need The Harrogate Agenda. We are not asking. We demand it.

Monday 26 May 2014

The Farage Mirage

In 2009, what Ukip calls the "LibLabCon" won 57.1% of the vote. This time... 56.21%  So it's pretty much business as usual for the establishment. The anti-EU vote is not eating into the establishment mandate. All it has done is cannibalise the BNP vote. By what measure this constitutes a political earthquake I really don't know. 

But this fact will escape our brain-dead media and will not stop them filing acres of equally brain-dead copy. Anyone capable of any serious analysis will be looking for the nearest cave to hide in until the white noise dissipates. The notion that the anti-EU vote is stagnating is news the faithful are not receptive to. Their response is to attack. I've been called some interesting names by Ukippers today for pointing this out - and have actually been called a communist!

We are in the age of political media fiction. The fiction where David Cameron used the veto, the fiction of the Ukraine "trade deal" and the "unprovoked Russian invasion". Now we get the fiction of the "Ukip surge".  Curiously Ukippers are keen to point out such fictions exist, but not when the fiction suits their own beliefs. 

So as much as the media will be insufferable for the next few days, if you were hoping for any intelligent discourse from the average Ukipper, forget it. The narrative has been written and the truth shall wither on the vine.  We are not looking at a political party, we are looking at a belief system and a cult. Ukippers have shelved their critical faculties for the foreseeable future.

Gove: Clearing out the rot?

Michael Gove is once again not flavour of the month in education circles having ejected such works from the GCSE curriculum as To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Catcher in the Rye, Death of a Salesman, The Bell Jar and Huckleberry Finn. 

I have occasionally attempted to read such works but ultimately my brain capsizes from boredom. It's not good stuff in the main, but year on year, yet another generation is forced to go through the ritual forensic autopsy of tedious, leaden prose - and be expected to regurgitate predetermined conclusions on demand. It is difficult to see the value.

It cannot said that it encourages critical thinking. Just look at the product of our education system - particularly those who work in the academic establishment. We need a big change, but it is politically incorrect and a major social faux pas to say this literature is eye-wateringly dull.

Classic literature proponents remind me of those middle-aged obsessive prog-rock bores who think kids should put down their techno records, and instead listen to the greatest hits of Pink Floyd; they who think their particular tastes make them the rightful arbiters of what constitutes good music. It's snobbery pure and simple. I doubt we could get kids to listen to music any more than we can get them to read if such people were ramming Yes albums down their throats.

Call me a philistine but the works of Brontë are little more than trashy romance fiction, only extended gravitas by way of being old. I also see no value at all in forcing kids to pick apart the self-indulgent, miserablist navel-gazing of Sylvia Plath. She'd have done the world a great service by gassing herself a lot sooner. There is a whole world of positive literature out there - and it's about time the curriculum was shaken up a little.

By clearing all this boring toss off the curriculum it essentially shit-cans all the liberal academics whose world-view and life experience extends little further than this narrow collection of texts. And that is no bad thing.  Though it's too bad that Gove isn't going the whole hog.  He is instead replacing such texts with similar ones more in keeping with his own stunted horizons, so it's not much of an improvement.

However, while this is a small step in the right direction, I can't really celebrate in that this is still a political intervention at a national level. Lefties can hardly complain at Gove making political interventions when that is all the Left have ever done. Political intervention is a natural consequence of education policy dictated by Whitehall.  If we want to end that cycle we must move past the specious notion that we need a national curriculum at all.

Ukip: not much of an earthquake

Here is what I predicted last Thursday: 
"Looking at the latest YouGov poll which puts Ukip on 27% (with a 3% margin of error), if we're generous and give Ukip the whole 27%, all it has accomplished in light of the BNP collapse since 2009 is to cannibalise that vote - and the English Democrat vote - along with an interception of old Labour votes that would otherwise go to the BNP.  It has not expanded the disaffection base by more than about 2% at best. So what we're looking at here is the Farage Mirage. It has united the protest vote by deliberately hollowing itself out of policy and principle."
So I was a little out. The protest vote has shifted by just over 3% with over 55% of the vote going to the establishment parties. I have often said there was a glass ceiling for a protest vote and it certainly doesn't look like the glass has cracked. With Ukip finishing last in local elections, it is difficult to substantiate any claims that there has been a political earthquake.

Notably, the Lib Dem vote has moved to Labour, but that was to be expected. For there to have been a major political earthquake there would need to be a swing of that scale moving from one of the establishment parties to Ukip.  That has not happened. It would be churlish to say that Ukip has not made a splash, but we should not lose sight of the objectives. The people are no closer to the levers of power, and we are no closer to leaving the EU.  

With Farage now announcing his wish to destroy the Tories, the Ukip effect might well mean we don't get that referendum in 2017. Farage has clearly bought the hype that there will be a political earthquake at the general election on this basis of this poll and is playing to win. It won't happen. Not ever.

The most realistic scenario is that Ukip will score one or two MP's and stop a Tory win. That may be no bad thing. A Tory loss in a general election may well prove a positive development in order to delay a referendum until the referendum margins look better, but with Farage and Ukip representing the case for leaving the EU, that doesn't look likely either. So for all the white noise, again I ask... what does this Ukip "tidal wave" achieve?

A few Ukip MP's at the general election would certainly be a political event, but were we to transpose the swing of 3% onto a general election, unless Ukip has an ace up its sleeve, that doesn't look at all realistic. A year is a long time in politics and there is still everything to play for, but I suspect what we will see is a further hollowing out of Ukip - whose apparent strategy is now to win power at Westminster with no interim objectives.  By then people will be asking serious questions of Ukip to which it has no serious answers. We are looking at a party that has no policies to speak of, and no agenda for power. Thus it has nowhere to go.

What we don't want is yet another empty party pulling at the levers of power. Especially not a reactionary populist one. That is not change for the better. Thankfully we have the FPTP system to prevent precisely that - and if we want real democracy we will have to come back with something more substantive to offer. As abysmal as the establishment parties are, I think I prefer the status quo in the absence of a well defined alternative. The polls will show I am not alone in thinking that.

What the Ukip experiment will show when it finally fizzles out is that the system is designed to prevent people taking real power.  We can voice our protest but a protest is all it is. Winning seats in euro-elections and councils does not equate with winning power.  If we want power for ourselves we shall have to take it by other means.

Saturday 24 May 2014

I am a criminal

Yesterday I was convicted of criminal damage.  The short version being that I refused to pay my council tax for a number of perfectly valid reasons, but also with a view to catching bailiffs in the act of unlawfully inflating fees. As predicted, that is what happened. But in late 2012, when I paid my council tax, the bailiffs clamped my car, demanding that I pay their unlawful fees. I cut it off with an angle-grinder. I made a complaint to the police and they then charged me for criminal damage - and refused to examine the evidence of fee-fraud. I complained to the council and they also upheld the unlawful fees, without investigating.

I represented myself at the magistrates courts and kept the proceedings running for a full day. I failed.  Yesterday it finally went to appeal and I failed yet again.  But we did establish that the bailiff firm, Rundle & Co did inflate their fees unlawfully. This is what happened.

Thursday 22 May 2014

More Ukip than Ukip.

This Euro-election campaign has been a difficult one for me, and it has cost me. I have been accused of being everything from an "establishment tool who knows nothing about Ukip" to one of the "Eurocrat agents practicing their spin against today's UKIP victory". All because I have had the audacity to point out Ukip's many shortcomings and strategic blunders.

The Ukip I joined, and stood for (see image), was the party started by Alan Sked. It was the party that spoke of a global Britain, a sovereign Britain deciding who it traded with an how.  It was a party that even wanted open door immigration, only with the nations we chose. It was a party that understood the nuances of global trade and it was a party that understood that we were part of a global marketplace. Those foolish enough to call us "little-Englanders" would get it both barrels. 

The charge of racism did not stick because there was nothing in our make-up that even suggested it. This dynamic even existed under the leadership of Jeffrey Titford who, despite his faults, was a kind and thoroughly decent man. We were slowly and steadily growing a movement of people who understood our message, and we had no time for the narrow-minded ethno-nationalism that Ukip now deliberately courts. We knew there were no short cuts and did not seek to make them.

Fast forward to today and we feel it is right that Ukip is now known as Ukip, rather than the United Kingdom Independence Party.  For the party I joined and stood for was the United Kingdom Independence Party. I never broke the faith and nor did Richard North.

To this day, he and I remain as loyal to that ideal as ever we were. We have always been in it to win, and we have always been in it to leave the EU. Somewhere along the line, the party that is now known as Ukip, under Nigel Farage, transformed into something we no longer recognise or identify with. So it is with a heavy heart that we criticise Ukip, because the project we embarked upon has failed.

If the advice we have offered were heeded we would lend our support.  But it is a party that ignores advice, quarantines itself from criticism, and attacks well-intentioned observations.  Thus it has become a cult. A Cult of Farage. Consequently our position is now that the Tories offer the best chance we will ever get of an EU referendum, and we shall work toward that end regardless of the many caveats.

Ukip, for reasons we have outlined at length, may be a liability for the Brexit campaign, but we will fight and we will fight to win in spite of them. But that is not to say we are not receptive. Through back channels we have offered Ukip a truce of sorts. Should Ukip adopt the Flexcit plan, we will lend our support again.

If Europe is a liberal paradise, you can keep it.

Nice to see Brendan O'Neill back on form. I have a particular dislike of anti-American snobbery. America, for all its faults is ahead of the curve in so many ways. It is the American libertarian movement that informs the UK debate and we are only just waking up to the possibility that liberty is an option. And for a supposedly stupid nation, this is the country that produced the smash hit "The Wire", a damning critique of prohibition, statistics driven public services, state-run education and media cannibalisation.

This is the nation that supposedly does not understand irony but has brought us House, Scrubs, Nip/Tuck, The Sopranos, Dexter and many more ground-breaking programmes while the so-called envy of the world BBC depends largely on the buffoonery of Jeremey Clarkson, whom the BBC would sack if it didn't need him more than he needs it. The BBC hasn't produced a single memorable comedy since The League of Gentlemen, which in itself was a cocking a snook at working class Northerners. The last genuinely funny programme it had was Red Dwarf which was stone dead over ten years ago.

The US is a country that continues to innovate and drive web technology and it is American ingenuity and liberty that will put an internet camera phone in the pocket of even the worlds poorest - at a price they can afford. That is the greatest contribution to world peace and justice this century. Meanwhile Europe is becoming stagnant and centralised, held together not by a consenting demos but by a paranoid elite with a phobia of democracy - so much so that even Mikhail Gorbachev has issued warnings about its general direction of travel.

Notwithstanding that, in many respects American justice has a lot to be desired, but its democracy is far more vibrant than ours and most of us, if push comes to shove, would choose the USA as a refuge from the ever encroaching snatch-every-penny nanny state in the UK. If the "self-satisfied media ponces" of Buzzfeed think that the EUtopia that awaits us, where every thought is policed and penny taxed, is somehow superior, they are welcome to it. I'll be watching the European civil war from my Winnebago parked up somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert...

Parading our weakness

An empty gesture
Today we go to the polls. Some will be voting in local elections to appoint representatives with little power to speak of. Some will be voting to elect fresh meat to the European Parliament, where the British voice is drowned out by the other member states. Assuming the final poll bears a resemblance to reality, even if Ukip does take 27% of the low-turnout vote, some 63% or more will have voted for the establishment parities. The disaffected are a clear minority it would seem.

This protest will be an umbrella for generic disaffection, ranging from welfare cuts to gay marriage. A fragmented protest without direction. As James Delingpole puts it, "The rise and rise of UKIP isn't really about Europe or about immigration or closet racism or any of the other specific issues on which its mainstream opponents have been striving so desperately to skewer it. It is - not unlike the Tea Party in the US - about an idea, a feeling, a mood."

And so the message we take from the euro-polls is that a minority, albeit sizable, are in a bad mood. What exactly are we supposed to take from this? This protest is not a set of demands, it is not even issue specific, thus all we see is the expression of a sentiment - which really gets us nowhere.

Is it that politicians are supposed to listen to us more? If so then we are still in the realms of asking - rather than demanding.  This is not an exercise of vital powers, this is a timid squeak. Thus today's voting ritual is little more than an indulgence where once again we parade our weakness - and for the establishment, listening to our voice is still entirely optional. Gestures will be made, but today we accomplish nothing.

Looking at the latest YouGov poll which puts Ukip on 27% (with a 3% margin of error), if we're generous and give Ukip the whole 27%, all it has accomplished in light of the BNP collapse since 2009 is to cannibalise that vote - and the English Democrat vote - along with an interception of old Labour votes that would otherwise go to the BNP.  It has not expanded the disaffection base by more than about 2% at best. So what we're looking at here is the Farage Mirage. It has united the protest vote by deliberately hollowing itself out of policy and principle. The only question is whether it can hold it together. I strongly suspect that it cannot when the debate gets serious over the substantive issues.

The only thing to celebrate today is that, until the general election, the white noise will fall quiet for a time. Meanwhile, those of us serious about real change will be plugging away at The Harrogate Agenda.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Topsy turvy times

These are topsy turvy times when one must turn to The Guardian for a fair-minded assessment of Ukip. Patrick Wintour appears to have the measure of them...
Indeed, Farage has made a virtue of Ukip being a blank piece of paper, repeatedly ridiculing the Ukip manifesto written for the last election. He said: "It was drivel, 486 pages of drivel. I didn't read it, nor did the party leader. It was a nonsense, and we've put that behind us and moved on to a professional footing. I said, I want the whole lot taken down off the website. We reject the whole thing, we'll start again with a blank sheet of paper." Nigel Farage 'It was drivel, 486 pages of drivel': Farage on Ukip's last manifesto.

The blankness of Faragism helps the party forestall internal divisions and remain attractive simultaneously to disillusioned Labour in the north and disillusioned Tories in the south. When extraneous issues have emerged in the campaign with which he is uneasy, his tactic has been to prevaricate. Asked whether he supported gay marriage, Farage, once a libertarian, avoided an answer by saying: "It is a can of worms."
The lack of substance behind Ukip is entirely deliberate. The strategy is to be all things to all people. Thus Farage is not the leader of a movement, rather a spokesman for the disaffected of all stripes.  Something must be done, but Ukip will not say what. So it has nowhere to go. If ever it does define itself on the basis of an idea, the party base is too disparate to unite behind it. The only destination for Ukip is an implosion.

Eight of its original thirteen MEPs are not standing for re-election after public fallings out with the party’s leadership.  It won't be long before divisions in the new batch appear, and it won't be very long before one of the new influx gets ideas above their station. Once again Farage will prune anyone who may pose a threat to his leadership of the cult. My money is on Patrick O'Flynn making early moves for the leadership and then being very publicly fired.  I expect he is already on thin ice for embarrassing Farage on LBC. While that is speculation, Ukip has an attrition rate of over 50% among its MEPs and that is no coincidence.  Now that the party has fewer uniting principles than ever it did the cracks will show much sooner.  

For a long time now, the party old guard who have been faithful from the beginning will start to wonder, as I did, if the party they joined is any longer the same beast.  They joined a free-market anti-EU party, but emerging reports suggest that even the anti-EU agenda is up for negotiation if there are a few more votes to be grasped. It is a party that has lost its way.

Just this evening I had yet another encounter with a Ukip sympathiser who thinks Ukip does not need a policy on leaving the EU. She stated that "Personally, I think it would be an alienating and self-indulgent mistake for UKIP to waste its limited resources on the withdrawal mechanism at this time." This is not an uncommon reaction among the new influx. So the party that notionally wants to take us out of the EU has no policy on how this should be done - and their members don't think they need one even in the face of a possible EU referendum in 2017.

As The Boiling Frog points out, "that's the equivalent of Andy Murray saying it would be an alienating and self-indulgent mistake for him to waste his resources on hiring a tennis coach and practicing in order to try to win Wimbledon". Ukip are asking us to vote on a policy they themselves have invested no intellectual effort in - and expect us to believe they are serious contenders when they haven't the first idea what they even stand for.

We know what the other parties stand for - more of the same. But Ukippers are asking us to vote for a party that offers us a radical change in how we do business in the world, but has no alternatives in mind, and no strategy for implementing it. Would you take that risk in a referendum? I very much doubt the average voter would, and I can't say I blame them either. 

At this stage in the game you would think Ukip would have serious answers to serious questions. Sticking it to the man in a largely meaningless election is all good fun, but again I ask, what does it achieve if, in the final analysis, Ukip has nothing but rhetoric when the debate eventually gets serious? If Ukip folds on the issue of the EU and our exit from it, what was any of the last twenty years for?  Were we wasting our time?

Ducking the important questions

In Spiked today, Brendan O'Neill offers a somewhat boilerplate article from the other side of the debate, which differs little from anything that might appear in Breitbart or The Commentator. A surprisingly conventional view for Mr O'Neill, adding to the acres of coverage already devoted to the latest media plaything.  He describes the rise of Ukip as an "as-yet unclarified political sentiment that doesn’t only say ‘I’m sick of the old political class’, but also: ‘I want to be heard. I want to be taken seriously. I want control over my life, my community and my nation again".  But we have been here before. 

Nothing here is all that different to the 2009 campaign against the BNP.  It was the same constituency of the disaffected being told their views were unacceptable - and it is the same manufactured outrage. The only apparent difference here is that the media appears to have honed its ability to monetise it by trolling the self-selecting army of Ukip robots.

This is safety valve politics where the high pressure steam can escape - but in all the excitement, few have stopped to ask, apart from a morale boost for the Cult of Farage, what does all this white noise achieve?  It tells us nothing we didn't know already; that our aloof and remote political class holds the public in contempt. It shows how bereft of ideas they are - and it shows our parochial media as weak, lacking any kind of moral base, and interested only in the bottom line - but that is nothing new either.  So what will be the lasting contribution, if any?

The success of Ukip will be judged on what remains of it once the media caravan has moved on and found a new plaything.  Measured against the goal of leaving the EU (the reason the party was started) Ukip is failing and failing badly, and in fact has the potential to undermine that end. 

So if it is no longer about that, what is it for?  What does a large protest vote, united by little other than generic disaffection, achieve of any lasting value?  What will Ukip accomplish with a few more MEPs that it hasn't already had the opportunity to do? Are we any closer to democratic and responsive government? Does Ukip even want that? These are sobering questions that few are in any great hurry to ask and answer.  Thus this Ukip jamboree is little more than entertainment - and we will be here again.

One can only echo the sentiments of Simon Cooke: "We will vent our anger at the beast by voting in protest - just as many will do tomorrow across Europe. But it will change nothing. Oh, there'll be some tweaks to policies but the main message will be business as usual. Worse still the odder opinions of the parties of dystopia will make it easy to dismiss them as nutters, racists and opportunists - the process of change will be associated with the mad or the bad and the change won't happen. In a strange way, allowing people to vent their rage by electing Ukip MEPs - members of a parliament with no powers and no sovereignty - rather suits those who want to protect big, badly run government. It doesn't affect what actually happens at all but gives people the grand illusion that they've stuck it to the man!"

Monday 19 May 2014

Ukip: cart before the horse

Yes, yes I know.  I am not allowed to write about Ukip because I'm not very nice about them.  Though being gifted with a long term memory greater than that of a gerbil, I am suffering from a distinct case of Groundhog Day.

It has been put to me that this demonisation of Ukip is entirely unprecedented, with the full weight of the media going into hyperdrive to combat the "threat to the establishment". But one cannot help thinking we have been here before.

At the last euro-elections, precisely the same campaign was mounted against the BNP in equal intensity and volume, with acres of extruded verbal material devoted to the question "what is behind the rise of the far right?"  And they were just as dull then as they are today. Of course it didn't stick quite so well on the BNP because a headline that a BNP councillor was a racist is a bit like running a headline that a dog has four legs. The BNP did not deny being racist, but Ukip does. Therefore a Ukip racist is news. But there is nothing new about any of this orchestration.

In 2009 we had Labour minister Phil Woolas pleading "At the European elections on June 4, I would prefer you vote Labour. Indeed, I will be tramping the streets getting our supporters out to vote and trying to persuade others to follow suit. But if you are not supporting Labour then please, please go out and vote for one of the other main parties."

As fierce as the anti-Ukip agenda is, I have yet to see anything comparable. At best we have seen Telegraph hack Dan Hodges producing a daily barrage of clickbait which rapidly produces over a thousand comments, and ballooning Twitter fluff, but a minister essentially saying "vote for anyone but the BNP" is wholly unprecedented.

Of course that spoke volumes about the emptiness of the politics of the day.  At the time, of the BNP we remarked "There is no need to play the "fascist" bogeyman card. This is a party which is a political lightweight, with policies which do not even begin to address modern realities. It should be easy to dismiss as a joke."  That was true, but that very same easily applies to Ukip today - and that is yet another reason I am suffering from deja-vu. If we had a media capable of any serious analysis Ukip would be brought down on the basis of their lacklustre ideas, rather than the media galvanising Ukip support by picking on every insignificant, transparent morsel of faux-news.

But Ukip cannot complain about this orchestrated campaign.  This is just the reality of modern media-driven politics, and Ukip has done rather well out of it. So invested were the establishment in countering the BNP threat, they even talked up Ukip as an acceptable protest vote - and Ukip didn't seem so vocal about media stitch-ups back in 2009. If anything Ukip has been built up by the media, purely to deal with the BNP threat. The rise of Ukip is a product of that same media agenda to marginalise the safety valve protest vote. It's all part of the cycle.

Initially, the deliberate determination of the media and the political establishment to ignore UKIP was reflected in the total lack of party gains, which meant that very few of the voting public realised how dire and uninteresting it really was, and how little it had to offer.  But in the absence of the BNP, the media needs its folk-demon - and Ukip is now it - and to an extent hold the balance of power.

It was always the case in recent that the minnow parties made the difference in elections. It is what we then dubbed "the Ukip effect". The only real difference between then and now is that the minnow parties are now largely united under the Ukip umbrella rather than being split between the independents and the BNP. It was always the case that the media and the political establishment would gang up on that same protest vote.

This will not be reflected in the euro-elections since it is an empty opinion poll on the EU - but it will be reflected in the general election.  That is not because the public are so feeble-minded that they cannot see through the smears.  If the average Ukip supporter can see through it then so will the average British voter - for they are one and the same.  What will kill off Ukip is their complete lack off substance.  This media attention will die down but Ukip has certainly got our attention, whereby people will be asking what Ukip is, and whether it offers us a credible alternative.  It doesn't. For a party that wants to leave the EU, it has no real idea how to do this.

While such technicality matters little in a euro-election, in a general election or an EU referendum the dynamic is different.  The Socttish independence debate has triggered a deep and thorough debate on Facebook around the issues, and the Yes vote is suffering because the Yes camp is directly linked to Alex Salmond whose grasp of the issues surrounding the the decoupling of Scotland from the union are weak.  Farage is in no better standing - and equally obnoxious to an equal proportion of voters.

To assume that the debate will not be won or lost on matters of serious policy and detail is to underestimate the British voting public. This is a mistake. The majority of the British public no longer vote, which tells you they are much smarter than they appear.

Positioning Ukip as the media folk demon might have been an astute political move to dig Ukip out of the political doldrums, but only if it had first done the homework to present something bulletproof. But it hasn't. It has a rag-bag of thin populist aspirations with very little flesh. While Ukip may have smashed through the publicity stonewall and they are now standing tall, they are standing naked - having put the cart before the horse.  And that will cost them.

Friday 16 May 2014

Islam is not a race - so what?

British Muslims at the Jubilee
As though it were a dog whistle, whenever a Ukipper makes racist remarks about Islam and I make mention of it, within moments a Ukipper will be keen to remind me "Islam is not a race". So that's ok then.  Because Islam is not a race, a prejudiced bigot escapes the label of being a racist.

By calling ignorant assholes racist, by some measure I am somehow attempting to close down the debate.  I don't see how.  You are free to continue parading your prejudices and if you bring them to me I will debate them until the cows come home. Though curiously, whenever you do have this debate with a Ukipper, they will flounce off and discontinue the argument.  And not just on this subject either.

My own view is that the word "racist", through overuse, has passed in to the vernacular to describe bigotry and prejudice by casting an amalgam of people as threatening outside-Others.  Right wingers are keen to argue that "racism" as a word has lost all meaning through overuse.  I disagree. The Left have called Ukip's latest poster campaign racist, which by whatever mental gymnastics you perform, just it isn't. What it is, is stupid, fact-free, populist scaremongering.

But just because the term "racist" is as overused as the word "fascist", it does not rob it of any meaning. Language is flexible and fluid. Words acquire meaning through common use and racism is generally a good shorthand to include what would otherwise be described as islamophobic.  But islamophobia as a concept most certainly is one of those words with which to frame a debate toward a politically dishonest outcome.

Much to my surprise I find myself in agreement with comments made by Nesrine Malik in an otherwise crap article in The Guardian when she remarks that "Racism is behaviour, not an informed academic position. I doubt that anyone abusing Muslims in the street, or defacing a mosque, or snatching a veil off a woman's face, has paused to examine their premise beforehand. The argument that Islam is not a race is a cop out. It's time that we dispensed with it once and for all, because it prevents us from identifying acts motivated by hatred for what they really are. Islam might not be a race, but using that as a fig leaf for your unthinking prejudice is almost certainly racist."

I agree.  This canard is entirely a fig leaf to enable and excuse bigotry. For sure we could just call it plain old bigotry, which is accurate enough, but the anal-retentive sophistry that characterises the debate around this debating canard is designed to excuse and validate the bigotry directed at Islam.  I view it in context. When your average Ukipite is talking about Muslims, they're talking about British Muslims from Bangladesh and Pakistan. So if it smells like racism, it probably is.

The reason I know this, is because these are the exact same arguments I used to make when in my "angry young man" phase I was advancing similar views on Islam.  If you trawled hard enough through the internet, you would probably find the evidence.  But with a name like Peter North, I very much doubt you'd be willing to sift through Google results long enough before your stomach gave way.

I was called a racist, but that certainly didn't shut any debate down.  I recall when phpBB forums were en vogue, I spent most of my waking hours on them furiously debating these very subjects, often making blood enemies in the process, but over the years came round to the view that Muslims are not taking over, Islam is not going to dominate the world and that while the pace of integration is glacial, it does happen - and the longer I spend away the more noticeable it is when I go back home.

Just recently I returned to my hometown of Bradford and for reasons I don't recall I elected to take public transport into town one evening. The bus was delayed as as a young fat Muslim woman in a headscarf, tracksuit and Reebok trainers boarded the bus with a double buggy, with two children of mixed race.  She spoke to the driver it that particular West Yorkshire accent that could strip paint from walls. It is a large part of the reason I moved South so as not to ever hear it. If ever there were an example of integration with the locals, she was it.  So much so, I let out a laugh at this realisation.

Getting on the bus the following day to Halifax, one noticed the population is still predominantly white even in a city famous for its large Asian population.  Moreover the middle class suburbs are as middle class as ever they were, though with Asian/Muslim residents who, like everyone else, wash their cars, mow the lawns and nip to B&Q on a Sunday.  For every one joining the Jihad, there's another ten going down the pub. Yes there are ghettos of immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Poor immigrants.  But that is normal. Humans have a natural tendency to agglomerate with their own kind - and in twenty years or so, those areas will look transformational.

The paranoia surrounding Muslims is simply a fiction.  Twenty years ago, Bradford did experience something similar to what this Ukip candidate describes.  "All the old owners of the neighbouring shops have been squeezed out by Muslims. The entire parade - once lovely owner/occupier shops - resembles Helmand Province now."  Though if I recall, the entire parades were far from lovely - and if they resembled Helmand Province, that would have been something of an improvement.  Fast forward to today and those same streets are thriving, and the shops have new frontings and light-up signs that are now a matter of prestige for shop owners, in the same way sign-written signs once were.  In many respects the dilapidated main roads into Bradford look better now than they would have in the 1970's in a deep post-industrial slump.

Moreover, as the Bradford Muslim community has become wealthier, gone have the bright green domes on the mosques. They have been replaced with much more ornate domes, much more sympathetic to the Bradford skyline, which ironically, built during the industrial revolution, had architecture borrowed from all over the Middle East and India.

If anything the Muslim community is more likely to again bring about that very British concept of being a "nation of shopkeepers", bound by a socially conservative moral ethic - and much more likely to have strong family ties in ways that we have been conditioned away from, as we become clients of the state rather than codependents.

In a post-faith Britain we have fewer reasons to congregate, fewer reasons to dress up, fewer rituals and traditions - and in the age of post-modernism, as social constructs of old are dismantled, we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. It is for this reason we have abnormal levels of thirty-something childless singletons living selfish, empty lives.  If you wanted to turn the clock back to a 1950's version Britain (as Ukip seems to want) then you should probably welcome more Muslims. I think they have a lot to teach us about who we used to be.

There is no reversing what was done to Britain, and I don't think, in the final analysis, I would want to.  Muslims are here to stay and they are part of the fabric of our lives and they are part of our history and culture now. The are part of our island story. Get over it.

The anger and resentment surrounding Muslims has little to do with Islam, more the clueless actions of our largely unelected administrative class. Similarly, the fires of racism are stoked by the reluctance of authorities to act quickly and decisively on sensitive issues such as grooming gangs.

Even after the police were finally embarrassed into acting on grooming cases, it still goes on and there is still a reluctance by the police to grasp the nettle on it. It is that PC forelock tugging that fuels this kind of racism. It is that which ultimately harms race relations. We simply don't uphold the law, - as with other aspects of immigration. That creates a toxic brew of fear and resentment.

This essentially boils down to moral cowardice by the police - which is a consequence of a time when the police most certainly were institutionally racist and for a decade or more repeatedly denied there was a problem in their ranks. That same culture of denial still exists within the police and NHS today.  If they don't investigate a crime, they won't find it - job done. This is not the product of Islam but the product of our own dysfunctional state. I expect it fair to say British Muslims want something done about this as much as the rest of us.

Most immigration issues do come down to improper enforcement of law. In Bradford the term "dirty paki" used to stick primarily because Pakistani areas were dirty, and recent immigrants were unaware of our customs and attitudes as to the proper disposal of waste.  As Environmental Health authorities wised up to the dynamic at play it was resolved and it's no longer the issue it once was.

There is more to be done. Much could be done about money laundering that exists in connection with the drug trade.  More could be done to tackle distortions in the labour market.  More could be done to deal with poor housing conditions.  Immigration puts pressure on all these factors but scapegoating immigrants will get us nowhere.

Brits have a right to be angry and one cannot blame them for joining the angry party but racism isn't the answer and nor is fear-mongering. I recall back in the days when I was pushing those same stupid racist arguments about Muslims, I was angry too.  I was trapped in a dead end job in a dead end town with little to look forward to and little to live for.  Very much the product of the Blair welfare era.  Life didn't turn round until I stopped blaming the world and everyone around me and got busy sorting out my own life - as indeed immigrants come here to do.  I took a leaf out of their book and got on my bike. I have never once looked back.

But for those who are left behind, those for whom the rising economic tide did nothing, in towns where the boom years simply didn't happen, living in a permanent state of recession and dilapidation, surrounded by economically mobile immigrants gradually becoming wealthier, I can understand the resentment - and I even feel the pain. But rather than scapegoating Muslims, if we turned our guns on the state that constructed the mechanisms that hold us back, and teach us learned helplessness, perhaps next time there's a boom there won't be so many left behind?

This is a debate that needs to be had and branding people who are genuinely concerned about this as racist is wholly counter productive, but we cannot allow the likes of Heino Vockrodt to represent us in that debate when the issues are nuanced and diverse. As to how this reflects on Ukip, that is entirely an own goal by deliberately seeking the BNP vote. These are the candidates Ukip are fielding therefore that is how Ukip must be judged.

The problems are many and serious that grow up around immigration - and integration problems are very much the product of our own governments mishandling of everything, where well meaning race relations organisations have created empires of their own and nurtured divisions rather than cultivating commonalities. Our welfare state has undermined opportunity and given the advantage to law breaking employers who hire cheap foreign labour. It is our government who have done this to us - not Muslims.

As with leaving the EU, there are complex and technical issues and by pandering to manufactured fears, Ukip is essentially saying we're too dumb to understand the issues at play, rather than pushing adult ideas based in fact. The arguments surrounding trade, democracy and the rule of law are the arguments the Ukip I once joined would have made, rather than resorting to cheap populism and fact-free grandstanding. That was what set Ukip apart from the BNP.  Now, in many respects, I can no longer tell the difference.

You'll get no argument from me that carelessly bandying around of the word "racist" is unhelpful, but when individuals leave a pigs head on the steps of a mosque or spit at veiled women, or start blaming Islam for the ills of our country, let's not beat around the bush, and let's please call it what it is... racism.

A Nick Griffin moment?

This post will come as a surprise to some of my regular readers.  I feel obliged to pass comment on what is being billed as Nigel Farage's "Nick Griffin Moment" on LBC.  Some of my Ukipite readers will expect me to make great hay of this interview but I'm a afraid I can't.  Listening to the interview, what we are seeing is a form of (please excuse the hackneyed expression) McCarthyism.  Nigel Farage and Ukip are supposed to be guilty by association with the people they have met who have ties to far-right organisations. What nonsense.

It has been my experience that activists in the far-right tend to be philosophers and thinkers. You wouldn't agree with all that they say but you may agree with some of it - and only a closed mind can be entirely dismissive.  When you are in business of politics you have to listen to people and their ideas, and you must know and speak to enemies as well as friends. Politicians are just people and they, like us, are not endowed with ESP so to know the intimate past of everyone with whom they speak. The debate has lost any sense of maturity and has become a witch-hunt.

I am from Bradford, West Yorkshire which has always had a strong contingent of "far-right" political activists, some of whom are among the most interesting people to talk to, even though I have nothing all that much in common with them politically.  In fact, I recall about the time of the last Euro-elections I was paying particular attention to the output of the BNP, because if you detached the entho-nationalist and racist aspects of their writings, much of their approach was entirely consistent with a sensible nationalist quasi-socialist party with ideas that were at least worthy of debate.  They were necessary and timely debates, and the BNP was talking about the policy of multiculturalism long before Ukip even dared.  That debate even brought abut some free and frank admissions from both Tony Blair and Jack Straw which were certainly not what one would consider politically correct.

I took the time to debate a few of the leading minds behind the BNP.  They were not stupid people.  Their policy making was consistent with their intellectual foundations even though they were based on white supremacist thinking.  One could only envy their discipline and adherence to what was a well thought-out communications strategy, and to this day Ukip still struggles to replicate the kind of professionalism as was on display at the time.

I wrote a blog at the time (now defunct) to discuss some of their ideas, some of which were quite good - but by way of defending their right to free speech (before it was fashionable), I found things awkward among my more prudish friends, who then turned their backs - even though the BNP had explicitly told me I wasn't racist enough to ever be a member. Though I feel better educated for the experience.

I actually went to a BNP public meeting once, and it was not at all what I expected.  It was a fun and polite gathering working class Bradford people, who were very welcoming, and in fact, national politics was barely mentioned at all.  They spoke of their activities in the community, some of which were very positive.  It was there I met Dr James Lewthwaite for the first time, who is a very interesting man to talk to, who certainly challenges my thinking, and he starts legal fights with the council and the police even I would think twice about; a form of civic activism I wholly applaud.  It is not free of risk and it is inconvenient and expensive. I still speak with him and support his efforts in that regard.

So there. I have strong past links with the BNP, I don't deny it, nor am I ashamed of having a mind open enough to go and find out if what the media was saying was true or not.  If that, by association, makes me a racist then let that charge stand.  Those making that charge are essentially illiberal people with closed minds seeking to stifle very necessary debates - and closing themselves off from different opinions, instead allowing the media to tell them whose opinion is acceptable. That is ten times more harmful than any "far-right" individual exercising their right to free speech.

What we see in this LBC interview is a concerted attempt to police not only public discourse but political discourse between academics and politicians. Nigel Farage is an MEP.  He talks to other MEPs and their staff.  Quelle surprise.  Yet little is said of the left-wing MEPs who work alongside former communists and current communists in very senior EU positions - and face precisely zero media scrutiny for it.

Not having a television, I tend not to see political interviews very often but I can't recall in recent times an interview where the presenter had such a strong command of the arguments in order to properly scrutinise their prey.  Were political interviews this thorough in all instances, perhaps we would have a much more informed electorate and a more mature national debate.  There can now be no doubt that there is a mainstream media assault on Ukip, holding it to levels of scrutiny that simply don't apply to the other parties.

Farage did a fairly good job of fending it off in view of an aggressive host - and being scrupulously fair, given my past associations, I think I would have found myself making similarly awkward twists. If you can hold your own in those circumstances, you're doing quite well. If anything makes this interview the "car crash" it is billed as, then it's the untimely and unwelcome intervention of Patrick O'Flynn, who is supposed to be an expert in handling the media.  Were I Farage, I would quietly sack him as soon as is politically convenient.

Once can forgive him for having to defend stupid remarks.  When one is in the public eye as as much as he, stupid remarks will be made - and we're all entitled to an off day. As to having Romanian neighbours, well I've just gotten rid of a set of them who were noisy buggers and played music at anti-social times of day, and yes, when they first moved in, until I got the measure of them, I was concerned and a little uncomfortable.

Noise disputes can very quickly escalate into ugly conflicts and I was even contemplating whether I would have to move out in such an eventuality.  And you know what?  That's normal. That's a very human reaction. We mistrust what we don't understand.  I moved out of central Bristol to move into a quiet neighbourhood to escape noise, conflict and hassle - so anything which disrupts the sleepy status-quo of leafy suburbia is cause for concern, even if it is Filton, South Gloucestershire.  So there.  I admit it.  I am guilty of being (gasp)... middle class. On the whole I think Farage is more in step with the public than James O'Brien, who would probably have a panic attack should he find himself outside of the M25.

But, (and you sensed this but coming)... what did you expect?  Really?  Not only was this line of attack predicable (and predicted), it was entirely avoidable.  Ukip has always had a large contingent of fruitbats and nutcakes and there's no escaping it. It has always been a bit of a problem and it was always going to be a liability. But while Ukip talked about matters of trade, sovereignty and accountability they were a manageable facet of Ukip's dysfunctional make-up - and easy enough to shrug off.  That is why it has taken this long for Unite Against Fascism to turn their guns on Ukip.

So why now? You know why;  The fact-free scaremongering posters - and the rapid transformation of Ukip into an anti-immigration party - rather than the party we built in the 90's on the founding values of democracy, sovereignty and global trade. I noticed yesterday that the Washington Post described Ukip as the "anti-immigration party". That is how it looks to the outsider. It is no longer seen as an anti-EU party. That is entirely the doing of one N. Farage. You make your bed, you lie in it.

Anyone with a functioning long term memory will remember what happened to the BNP shortly after its moment in the sun, making hay of immigration fears.  It was always a fickle vote, based on massaged fears stoked up by the media in the run up to the election, and it was always a limited constituency. Once you turn down that road, there's nowhere to take it afterward. Nigel Farage did knowingly and wilfully chase this constituency, against better advice, and now without the popular folk-demon of the BNP, Ukip is the target. It could be no other way, yet Farage scored this own goal - and now it is doubtful the damage can be undone.  Certainly not without the departure of Nigel Farage.

Essentially Ukip has failed to learn the lessons of others' failures, and Farage, true to form, has disregarded good advice and now Ukip's primary preoccupation is damage control.  I doubt if this is Farage's "Nick Griffin moment", but for the good of Ukip, if Ukip is to survive, for all the good (and bad) he has done, he must go.  He has overreached himself and has come to the end of his useful shelf life. In the run up to an EU referendum he is a liability none of us needs.  The full effort must go into fighting and winning the EU debate, not defending the reputation of Ukip and Nigel Farage. At this stage in the game, we can ill afford any more own goals.

Plodcams are just a sign of the times

Scotland Yard is beginning what it says is the world's biggest ever pilot programme into the use of portable cameras worn by police. A trial of the cameras will see five hundred of them distributed to officers across ten London boroughs. Firearm officers will also use them in their training. This is a sign that trust in our police force is dead.

"Can we trust our police force?" asks Hugh Muir of The Guardian.  Let me cut to the chase here...  No. No we cannot.
"Policing is an idiosyncratic profession. It requires good judgment, it relies on trust, and as they operate within communities, the most junior officers go armed with the highest capacity to exercise discretion. These are people whose take on any given situation can affect people's lives." writes Muir.
Exactly.  One bad call by a plod and a chain of events is sent in motion that can destroy lives and take years to clean up, often stemming from mundane situations where the involvement of the police can make a bad situation immeasurably worse. So you might think that such a profession would require educated, moral, fit and capable people.

Were that so, we could then trust our police enough for them not to be hamstrung by diktat and directive. But that is not so. My own experience of the police is that they are gullible, fat, lazy, detached and, at times, dangerously stupid. I have only ever met one intelligent, fair-minded and trustworthy cop in my whole life and she was a Kiwi on an exchange programme. The problem is that the job simply doesn't attract educated, moral, fit and capable people. Those who fit that description have long ago left the force. The problems are varied and multifaceted but it comes down to broader matters of trust. The state doesn't trust the people, and the feeling is mutual.

As power is sucked ever more toward the centre and Whitehall has seized ever more control, we have seen a retreat of democracy. Our local authorities are merely regional development agencies and our local police forces are no longer local. We have police authorities covering regions the size of a hundred small countries, where local police stations have closed down, and the idea of a local policeman known to the community is just a quaint old story that our grandparents used to tell.

Our so-called "democratically elected" police commissioners preside over these mega-authorities, but are elected on the basis of feeble turnouts - and are essentially overpaid press officers. Policing is now a corporate scale affair; it is remote, disconnected and lacking the necessary autonomy to gear policing to the needs of our communities - and lacks the local knowledge to do so.  It is now a statistics driven command and control culture with policy made from the centre - where enforcement requires obedience rather than initiative.  Educated, moral, fit and capable people cannot work inside those restraints so the nature of the police has changed.

If police are not trusted by the state then they are not police, they are policy enforcers - and initiative is surplus to requirement.  But the state trusts the police no more than the it trusts anybody.  Everyone is suspected of something and we have laws so numerous that we are all breaking the law every day without even knowing it, and the state is making criminals of us all for petty transgressions that conflict with the cultural orthodoxy. The police we have are very much a product of that culture.

It follows then that if the police are merely enforcers of remote policy-making, their behaviour must be monitored by the state - and the public.  Smartphone camera footage is increasingly used as a means of protection against bad policing.  My own sphere of interest is the use of bailiffs by councils, where footage shows police actively assisting bailiffs in committing fraud - and allowing TV licensing officials right of entry where no right exists. This appears to me to be the norm rather than the exception.

Police are no longer public servants. They are herd managers along with social services, welfare services and the NHS, appointed to watch over us, coerce us, spy on us and to gather revenue for our overlords. If this is the police we are expected to contend with, then I not only want all interactions with them recorded, I demand it.

That is not to say this is a welcome development. It is merely a necessity for the protection of our rights. Until such a time as the powers of the central state are limited, local authorities have proper autonomy and democracy - and police authorities are sufficiently small enough to be accountable to the communities they serve (where officers of the law are known and trusted) - and there is proper recourse for complaints unlike the present culture of denial, camera footage is protection we need to have.  This is yet another reason why we need The Harrogate Agenda.

A covert war against the people

Some readers will be aware of my ongoing campaign against South Gloucestershire Council and their crooked bailiffs. We are seeing councils using council tax defaults as a revenue stream by massively, and unlawfully inflating summons costs to an average of £85 per summons.  According to The Guardian, a total of 500,000 summons's were sent in 2013.  That's a staggering total of £42.5m between councils. The law doesn't allow for profits, only "reasonable costs" incurred for the administration involved. This is fraud on a massive scale.

We are told that councils only resort to a court summons as a last resort. This is a lie.  We are only on May and I have received mine already.  Having missed one month's payment, as per the law, I now forfeit my right to pay by installments, and the whole sum is now due including an £85 administrative surcharge essentially for sending me a letter.  The assumption being that everyone is paid monthly (and on time) the same as your average government "worker".  There is no flexibility in the system and councils show no restraint in their insatiable lust for every spare penny we have.

I have made a stand over this and I am still engaged in court proceedings over the bill from 2012 and the trap is set for 2013's bill too.  This year I do not intend to let it get as far as the bailiffs as I think I deserve a year off - but that is the system working as it should - ensuring that anyone who stands up for themselves eventually loses - or gives up.

As an experiment it has revealed a black hole in British justice.  The councils break the law, the bailiffs break the law, the police turn a blind eye, and the complaints process is weak, without teeth, and lacking any kind of accountability. Once the council makes their move, you are in Wild West territory with no protections at all. Law exists but there is a blanket refusal to enforce it.

The dynamic at play is that council are essentially putting up taxes without being seen to be putting up taxes.  There is a referendum lock in place to ensure that if councils want to put up taxes by more than 1.9% they must seek the consent of the people.  The reason we don't have those referendums is because councils know full well they haven't a hope in hell of winning them.

Consequently, a great many councils now raise a third of their revenues from fines, fees, charges and levies, screwing shopkeepers and motorists - regardless of the damage they do to the local economy, heedless of the warnings.  Thus our councils are not public servants but voracious revenue raising machines for the black-hole of government into which you pour half of your income, and receive second rate services if you can get them at all.

Refusing as I do to allow these parasites access to my bank via Direct Debit, it has now become an annual ritual to pay my council tax as a lump sum at the very last minute before the police are involved.  I could make life easy on myself by making it yet another invisible bill but paying it as a lump sum is a much larger financial and psychological transaction.  Whichever way you look at it, even if you're making a decent wage, £1200 is a lot of money. Thus this ritual recharges my loathing of government as I am reminded that I pay an awful lot for very little, while unelected town hall fat-cats get rich.

The money I would be spending in the local economy this summer is now going into the pension fund of an anonymous town clerk who has more influence in local affairs than the individual I notionally elected.

The message is received loud and clear: Running a business, which is in itself a major contribution is entirely secondary to the greed of the state. They will have their pound of flesh even if it means destroying businesses, vacating the high-streets and taking whatever money people would spend there - until there is nothing left to tax.

Meanwhile, the national policy is to punish hard work. Lately I have noticed that if I work an extra ten hours a week, I am only 10% better off in take-home pay.  The UK is not a country that values self-reliant, hardworking people, nor does it value businesses that create jobs.  It assumes that your wealth is theirs for the plunder, whenever they feel like it - and piss it away as though it came from an eternal magic money tree.  So much so that there are now motions afoot to take it directly from your bank account without your consent.  This is a state looking to crush free enterprise, to make us all serfs - and to ration wealth so that we never rise above our designated station - and never get to live life as we may choose.

Put simply, this is a government at war with its people.  It is a covert economic war waged by the unelected - and if you dare to criticise, complain or stand up for yourself, the full weight of the machine will come crashing down on you. Anyone with any sense would leave the country forever, and never give it a second thought. With so many unwilling to fight or stand their ground, forever capitulating to these thieves, our fate is already sealed - and giving a toss just seems like masochism.

While the phoney economy is recovering, and those who got rich from the last bubble get richer, the frozen-out and left-behind continue to stagnate, and the day-to-day realities suggest we are sliding toward a broken labour market of Greek proportions. Eventually, much to the shock of the bubble dwellers, it will come crashing down. My only hope is that I live long enough to see the day when politicians and public sector parasites are hanging from every lamp post, and our town halls are reduced to rubble. That day will be a day worth living for.