Thursday 30 October 2014

It happens because we let it

Here we go. Sara Rowbotham, who worked as Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team coordinator from 2004, said no-one has been held to account for all their failings. The health worker said she had alerted the authorities to hundreds of children who were being abused, but no-one listened to her at the time. Rowbotham has claimed police put a "ceiling" on the number of people they could arrest in the 2012 Rochdale abuse case.

They know where it's happening and who is doing it. But they do nothing. If police chiefs and council CEOs faced jail for professional incompetence this would stop tomorrow. Now watch them hide behind their "cuts" narrative - when this was happening while police numbers were never higher.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

The missing component is democracy

I've been meaning to blog this article for a couple of weeks. Hannah Fearn is of the view that the abolition of council chief executives was Eric Pickles’s worst idea ever.

For starters it's entirely up to councils whether they delete the post or not. Some councils have done exactly that and are now living to regret it.

I have been quite vocal in my opposition to such roles in that if elected councilors themselves are not de-facto the executive then what is the point of having them at all? Fearn remarks that other councils that chose to delete the role, such as Rugby, have essentially turned their council leaders into quasi chief executives. "They are suddenly responsible for all the mundane parts of running the council as a business, rather than the big vision that should be the preserve – indeed, the great promise and privilege – of elected office."

One should always be wary of politicians with big visions, especially on a local level. It is not the function of councils to have big visions. We pay council tax to maintain infrastructure and manage sanitation and basic public health. These are quite mundane but essential functions and very little in local government out to be anything beyond the mundane. It is the purpose of councils to keep things running which facilitates businesses and individuals with big visions.

That we have elected individuals is to ensure that our money is spent wisely and that spending priorities reflect the wishes of the general public. As a matter of course, no local government ought to have the money for big visions in that we pay for the services we use, not to finance the vanity projects of politicians. Anything beyond that should be subject to a special levy which should really be put to the public in a referendum.

By having a chief executive, the mundanities have been delegated to overpaid unelected officials who are not held properly to account. Local vanity projects, often failures costing several millions may result in the ousting of a councillor, but it is always the CEO left sitting pretty accumulating a grossly inflated pension.

Moreover, it is often said that our government is out of touch with the every day concerns of the public. I cannot think of a better way to reinforce this dynamic than to have a public official, sitting pretty on wages few could ever dream of, who is immune from democratic accountability. One might argue that since a council can remove a CEO, that they do face such accountability but in reality, they seldom do. Were that kind of accountability working in practice, the thoroughly corrupt Bryn Parry-Jones would have been ousted a long time ago.

I am not suggesting we have directly elected CEO's because as we have seen from police commissioners, yet another elected official doesn't equate with more democracy. It means another layer of government squandering an even bigger share of funds.

It is argued that we need these CEO's because councillors lack the commercial experience to negotiate and get the best deals, which is a reasonable argument, but again, in practice we have a revolving door for these executives, many of whom have not been held to account for their previous failings in other authorities taking up new posts on larger salaries, many of whom have never worked a day in the private sector. The notion that these individuals posses such unique talents that command salaries exceeding £170k is offensive.

The town clerk has become a corporate manager while our elected representatives are kept distracted and discouraged from interfering with their work. What we need is inquisitive, talented councillors who understand that their role is to properly scrutinise expenditure and management and an an executive secretary who answers to them.

The notional reason we have to appoint these CEO's is because the councillors we get aren't very bright and couldn't hope to bring the necessary skills that a CEO might posses. This is not an unreasonable argument. To look at some of the candidates we get anything from the mildly eccentric to the criminally unhinged. But in practice, these CEOs fail to produce results much better than if it were left in the hands of elected drongos.

So you might wonder what is to be done? For starters, no local authority ought to be so big that they need executives to negotiate £100m contracts, for any local authority of that scale can only ever be of a corporate size and thus by definition unaccountable and unresponsive. Secondly, we need to address the question of why councillors are such low grade dimwits (with a few notable exceptions). That's a easy one. Being a councillor comes with very little power, very little prestige, lots of work and little recompense. Any high flier with time on their hands and an interest in politics would naturally gravitate toward London to work in central government or a think tank.

From local elections we can see that the public have rightly deduced that voting is a waste of time. Nothing ever changes because councillors have no real power. Give the position some actual power and then it becomes a prestige position, which naturally creates competition for candidacy. That can only drive up standards while improving democratic participation and accountability.

Abolishing council CEOs is a welcome reform, but it only works in conjunction with a package of other democratic reforms, which unfortunately are not within the gift of councillors. Councillors are largely democratic furniture and while local authorities are gigantic corporates, the whole process of democracy is one of managerialism, thus the few notionally democratic posts we have are largely redundant. Consequently, we get the worst of all worlds and councils are little more than regional development agencies carrying out diktats from afar and executed by corporate managers. The notion that people who pay for them should have a say is somehow lost.

Hannah Fearn's thinking is caught up in the paradigm of managerialism, and like so many in local government, has forgotten what councils are for and what the word democracy means. The very existence of council CEOs is a symptom of government retreating from public participation - and we are well rid of them.

Please don't be nasty to Ukip

Oh look, it's another one of those "please don't be nasty to Ukipists because we have to listen to how they feel" articles. Yeah, well the government did listen to how Ukipists feel and now it is government policy to let people drown in the Mediterranean. What next? We could of course do something rational like recognise that European immigration is an international problem that requires a multi-faceted solution requiring a great deal of international inter-agency co-operation and mutual compromise. That of course is going to cost money, which Ukip doesn't want to spend and (THE HORROR!!!)... Foreign aid... which has already been earmarked for schools and 'ospitals, guvnor.

So no, we don't need to listen to the retard party because their solutions will make immigration immeasurably worse - and we have done so already just by pandering to them. Ok, so the main parties haven't got the issue surrounded either, but that's because they at least acknowledge that it is an expensive and difficult question to which there are no easy answers. I will take that over a party that thinks waving a magic wand and simply leaving the EU makes all our problems go away. It was suggested to Ukip that they might want to come up with an intelligent policy proposal before wading into this debate. They said they knew better. And we are supposed to drop everything and take them seriously?

The Stupid Party will keep us in the EU

So Rotherham. Ukipists are saying we need to ban PC culture. I'm not sure how we do that, but that's their answer to multifaceted and complex problem. Course one might start by looking at why "PC culture" exists, and that's largely the result of of a system wide public education programme that bigoted language was not constructive or helpful within public services as well as being impolite. This has indeed spawned a whole race relations industry that many, including some of its own senior officials, are starting to question whether it still has a role to play.

But the buck cannot stop there because while the lower orders within public services are left a little bewildered by terminology, we have some quite highly paid individuals supervising these organisations who are supposed to be bright enough to tell the difference. At this level of local authority, there are few, if any, excuses.

Ukipists would have it that it is directly linked to Islam. We can throw that out straight away. Illegal immigration is certainly part of it, and there are cultural aspects both in Pakistanis and Brits that need to be examined and understood. But again, these are symptoms.

The common thread throughout, and not just in the Rotherham affair, but also Rochdale - and unrelated scandals such as Hillsborough and NHS Staffordshire and Baby P, is a multi-tiered, multi-agency failure where seemingly nobody is to blame. Meanwhile, the Ukipists are complaining about immigration and the fact that we have no control over it, when in fact there is plenty within our existing legal framework to tackle the symptoms that obviously upset people.

We can enforce HMO law, we can enforce minimum wage properly and we can criminalise those who hire illegal workers and there is quite enough in law to tackle persistent vagrancy. But it is not enforced, and the penalties are seemingly no deterrent.

So there's a much, much more fundamental question to be asked here. How is it that we have so much law, so much government and a public sector larger in recent years than it has ever been, with budgets far exceeding any previous decade, and still local authorities are broke, borrowing and running out of cash - while the very basics of civic enforcement are being completely abandoned?

If you can answer those questions you'll get closer to a solution. It has a lot to do with the fact that local government and policing is too big, too remote and lacking sufficient accountability to be responsive - and those working within it at a senior level live in an entirely different world to the rest of us.

That is the starting point for any policy making, and unless you have a clear methodology for identifying the failures and diagnosing the problems, you cannot even begin to construct workable solutions and credible policy. It requires a certain mental architecture and a disciplined approach to analysis - which is something Ukip has not got, not least because Farage, who needs to be seen as the best of the bunch, expels anyone with talent and surrounds himself with yes men.

That is why Ukip policies are contradictory, slapdash, unrelated and without substance - and always will be. The man at the top is not interested in solving the problems. He is interested in growing his own dismal little cult of personality - and there is no depth of depravity he will not stoop to in order to grub a few more votes. The man is a venal, crass, calculating sociopath enabled by a party which taps into irrational fears, which has just enough traction to feed his galactic ego - but not enough to get us out of the EU.

Try suggesting this to your common or garden Ukipist and you become an unperson and a heretic. There is no talking to them, there is no reasoning with them. So what's to be done apart from call them sad, xenophobic and stupid?

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Stupid, shouty and ranty

I'm in a bit of a quandary here. People I respect are saying I shouldn't call Ukipists stupid and xenophobic and that I should acknowledge their concerns. See, the inherent problem here is that Ukipists ARE stupid and xenophobic and their concerns in the main are "informed" by media outlets whose profit margins depend on turning non-stories into scandals.

Not only do people not bother to fact check what they read, they don't even bother to read beyond the headlines. (and yes, on occasion I get suckered in by this too). So we have shouty, ranty, stupid people, who are angry at politicians for ignoring their stupid, shouty ranting... because ...they are stupid, shouty and ranty. But then elections come along.

We then descend into a bidding war to see who can institute the most stupid policy possible to placate people who simply can't be placated simply because being stupid, shouty and ranty is party of their whole identity - and without it, they have absolutely nothing to call their own.

This is not to say that politicians always get things right. It's just that if stupid, shouty and ranty people set the agenda all the time, they will be ignored on the very few occasions when they are right. In effect these stupid, shouty and ranty people are fifty percent of the problem.

Monday 27 October 2014

Sceptical of sceptics

Those of you who know my views well (not many, because I'm so coy with my opinions) know that I remain to be convinced that man made climate change is something we can plausibly measure with any accuracy - and the secrecy and fraud among the scientists pushing this agenda leaves the question wide open for scepticism.

But if there's one set of people who get right up my nose at the moment... Other climate change sceptics.

You will never convince me that wind turbines are anything other than subsidy sucking eco-crucifixes and bird mincers, and solar panels serve little purpose apart from being expensive windbreaks for grazing sheep, but the knee-jerk reaction by climate sceptics that dismisses anything sustainable is wholly counter-productive.

Because the word "sustainable" has become synonymous with expensive and stupid CO2 reducing methods, they've taken to ignoring perfectly sensible measures to engineer efficiency into what is a horribly outdated and inefficient energy grid which wastes more fuel than is constructively used.

Just because something saves CO2 does not automatically make it part of an illiberal Malthusian conspiracy to control our consumption. It's a matter of reducing the impact of a system that creates a great many negative externalities and is predicated on thinking dating back to the 1950's.

Small modular reactors and CHP are green. They reduce energy dependency, reduce waste, reduce CO2 and reduce the amount of fuel we use. What's not to like? But because fracking winds up all the right people, climate sceptics have a major hard on for it, when in fact, even when it is tightly regulated, the greenies are quite right. It's pretty inefficient, it's pretty dirty and it's a waste of land which is often irrecoverably scarred by the process.

Admittedly, this bone-headed attitude toward green technology is a result of greenie scaremongering and their dishonest promotion of wholly useless forms of energy generation, but by taking this Luddite approach to every small piece of innovation, sceptics are becoming everything the eco-zealots say they are, thus undermining the very rational position that pissing in a swimming pool does not turn it yellow.

That recall bill

I lack the enthusiasm to write a blog post. I downloaded some dictation software but even having to explain the following verbally sucked the last remaining embers of joy from my soul. But let me say this...

The MP recall bill is a stinking pile of dog excrement freshly deposited on our driveway. At best it can be described as a sticking plaster to cover a gaping gunshot wound to the belly which is already belching innards onto the grass.

It is little wonder that it is the pet project of Douglas Carswell and Zac Goldsmith. We can expect such political nativity from Carswell because Carswell has signed up with Ukip and Ukip are stupid, but the motivations for Goldsmith are less clear. I think it has something to do with the fact that he and his ilk are so far removed from the public, being one of the gilded circle and gifted a winnable seat in a traditionally Tory area, that he thinks this timid tinkering is actually a radical means of restoring trust in our shattered democracy. 

Aside from the fact that the safeguards to prevent "vexatious campaigns" means it will hardly ever be used, it is still a measure that keeps power firmly in the hands of those who rule us. One can try to suggest they need to go further than these mealy mouthed gestures, but our Zac does not see fit to condescend to us plebs, speaking only to his parliamentary colleagues and hacks from the mainstream press on Twitter. For he is an above-the-liner, and we plebs should know our place.

It is for this reason we need not just a single recall method, but a total recall, and the means to exercise power over them whenever we choose. That is why nothing other than the Harrogate Agenda is sufficient.

No doubt if this bill passes Ukipists will hail the it as the first step to blah blah blah and we shall all have cake. But if that is what it takes to impress you, then you really were born yesterday.

Ukipists are in no position to criticise Russell Brand

Reading this slapdown of Ukip education policy from Conservative Home I get a strange sense of déjà vu. I must have said this a thousand times on this blog - that once Ukip started releasing policy we would not see any consistent vision running throughout and the scattergun nature of them would betray the lack any meaningful reform agenda. They're rolling with whatever sounds good, most of which is boilerplate quasi-rightwing populism - and then have the audacity to claim they represent something different in politics. It looks exactly the same as the old politics to me.

Course Ukipists would be the first to denounce the source of this article, and would be somewhat justified in doing so, but that simply will not do when Ukip professes to be something different. As it happens the series ConHome is running on Ukip is quite cursory deconstruction, and if I could be bothered I would go much further, but if Ukip policy doesn't stand up to a casual fisking, then what is the point?

What it demonstrates is that no serious thinking has gone into what the party stands for, and will contradict themselves at every turn because they don't know either. Rather than addressing this, the Ukip tribalists will crawl out of the woodwork with some impressive mental gymnastics to create a rationale for whatever Farage blurts out on the spot. In more ways than one, Ukip is the exact mirror image of Russell Brand's empty posturing. It's contradictory, without rationale or vision and is largely thoughtless emoting.

This is a direct consequence of Farage's leadership because he is slovenly, arrogant and extraordinarily crass - even for a politician. There was a time when this might have been raised with him, but it will find no listening ear now as Farage has surrounded himself with yes men and lackeys who will not dare to question him.

Meanwhile I'm getting pleas on Twitter to stop "attacking my own side". Sorry folks, Ukip is not on my side. I want to leave the EU and I don't see how a grubby populist party represented by anti-intellectual yobs cheered on by aggressive mouth-foamers, reactionaries and racists (oh yes, they are racist) is constructive to that end.

Thursday 23 October 2014

The media has woken up. But Ukip has not.

The media has finally woken up. Iain Martin in the Telegraph:
Those of us who are moderate sceptics, who could be persuaded to vote for out in a referendum for an optimistic and outward-looking alternative, want answers, not shouting. Say this to many Ukippers and they will instantly start shouting at you about treason. It as though they are incapable of grasping that to win a referendum they are going to have to calmly persuade their fellow citizens of all races, creeds and convictions.

Consider also how difficult Ukip would be for the moderate better-off-outers to handle during a referendum. Sharing a platform with people who think the Ukip Calypso is just a bit of fun (its composer Mike Read has a lot of friends in the Caribbean) would not be possible. Think what an undecided non-white British voter would make of a campaign that featured a large Ukip component. The risk for the Eurosceptics would be that the forces of Out would be divided, between sensible types on one side and shouters running their own separate campaign (splitters!) or discrediting the mainstream effort by trying to get involved.

It is not difficult to work out who would win in such a scenario. During the campaign, the British Establishment and big business would ask, with some justification and in relentlessly moderate tones, how voters could possibly put their faith in such a confused rabble. Many Britons, who do not view these matters in tribal terms and who are wary of obsessives, will think it is a very good question.

Nothing here is that far removed from what this blog as been saying all along. Just what will it take for Ukipists to wake up?

From this corner it's looking like Farage has already blown it. The wheels are falling off the Ukip clown car and still they show no sign of promoting an agenda adults can get behind. And it's not going to happen either. For Ukip to address this problem they must first admit there is a problem. But they won't, not least because Ukip is a cult of Farage, but also because Ukipists are breathtakingly stupid. It's that simple. This is how Ukip Tweets it...

That's right. The fact that support for staying in the EU is the strongest for decades is actually proof of progress for Ukip.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ukip: mutton dressed as lamb

Driving a horse and cart through Ukip "policy" is all the rage these days. The left is at it, the right is at it, and I've been here saying much the same thing all this time. But as the Ukip website notes, these are not policies. They are announcements. Again we have the Ukip policy tombola spinning out vague aspirations with no detail.

One thing that has plagued politics since 1997 is the steady stream of soundbite announcements dressed up as policy, keeping the churnalists and twitterers fed - and rather than pushing a vision, politics is all done on premise of "fly the flag and see who salutes". They grub around for votes from wherever they may come, shorting principle for sentiment until what remains is a carefully managed brand image, hollowed out from the inside. Just like Ukip! Sounds pretty much like the old politics to me.

But Ukip knows as well as anyone that poring over policy with a fine-tooth comb is not something the average voter does, and thinking certainly isn't what Ukipists are accustomed to doing. All that matters to them is the message, which thus far is "we need to leave the EU because foreigners". However much appeal that might have with a significant swathe of the working classes, it is not a sentiment that will ever put Ukip in government, nor is it likely to win any referendum. Especially when it hasn't the first idea what it is talking about.

For a party so concerned with immigration one would think they would have published a detailed policy on it by now, and if "taking control of our borders" means leaving the EU, you would also think some specialist effort had gone into detailing precisely how that would be achieved. EUreferendum has already outlined how the Ukip position on this is totally incoherent, and if tested in a referendum debate they will lose the argument. Ukip's position is to take us out of the single market, on which livelihoods depend, is ultimately the fear factor that will ensure the status quo and it is an argument Ukip doesn't even need to have.

Moreover, the justifications for such a policy are hazy when you ask a Ukipist. Without having done any serious homework, without knowledgeable people able to defend policies from a common frame of reference, all we will get from Ukip spokesmen in the run up to a referendum is off the cuff justifications for stupid policies, which if exposed to expert scrutiny (as indeed they will be) will be a total embarrassment to the eurosceptic cause.

Meanwhile, the chief complaint by Ukipists is the disconnect between "the establishment" and "the people" but we still get the same array of managerial top-down tinkering we get from all other parties, with nothing that really changes our relationship with a distant and aloof establishment. There is no integrated platform of democratic reform and there is nothing I could identify as radical. It's just boilerplate right wing stuff in BNP clothes. But then I said this would happen didn't I?

Not that this matters to Ukipists. They now have a tribe, a sense of identity and a support group for their loser politics, and finally they are getting the recognition they have craved. All very well, but now that they have it, they don't know what to do with it - and consequently will be the deciding factor in us staying in the EU.

Had I know the party I stood for all those years ago and toured the country leafleting and campaigning for would turn into this amateurish quasi-racist, statist monstrosity I would have devoted those years to something more productive. Who would have thought that the United Kingdom Independence Party would squander every chance to leave the EU just for the sake of a few seats in the commons? What on earth was the point?

If Ukip hasn't got it's act together by now, it never will. It has unprecedented resources, access to knowledge and money it has never had, and yet still their output could have been scrawled in crayon on the back of a fag packet. If this is all euroscepticism has to offer then not only will we lose a referendum, we will deserve to lose too.

Monday 20 October 2014

Souring the milk

As much as any election is about issues, it's very much influenced by image and personality. More so now than ever. No single policy, act or event defines a party. It's as much about vibe. People vote for the party they identify with. Politics is tribal.

Being that Ukip has a scattergun approach to their message, if you wanted a character reading of Ukip you would have to look at their output, which of late has becoming increasingly brash and vulgar, from their awful colour scheme to the faintly xenophobic billboards to a calypso song released this week. It's pretty naff, but among the Ukip Twitterers this is a political masterstroke.

It remains to be seen whether such jovial shenanigans pay off for Ukip. My bet is that it will in the short term. The Ukipists love it. But on this blog we have explored with reference to the BNP how rank populism has an inherent glass ceiling, and since Ukip have managed to cannibalise the BNP vote and swallow up the "also-rans", I doubt there is much further ground to advance upon. Anyone who was going to turn probably already has. Beyond that, Ukip is a bit of a turn off to the "po-faced" and the middle classes, especially as they contemplate the possibility of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.

Brits have always had a strong suspicion of populist movements and while Ukip thinks it represents the whole of the working class, outside the Ukip bubble I still encounter many ordinary working class people find them distasteful too. It's a matter of public conduct, and as you can see from the exchange above, Ukippers are clearly not guarded in parading their bigotry.

Of course, mine is but one opinion among many, but I do have a hunch that Ukip is bumping its head on that glass ceiling. Much further down the path of reactionary populism and I can see a lot of the Ukip old guard losing faith in the project. Irrespective of Farage and my own distaste for the man, I believe even I would be questioning the company I was keeping by now. The steady drip of anti-Ukip media (such as last weeks Panorama) may not have any immediate bearing on Ukip's opinion of Ukip, or it's by-election success, but it does have an effect and they are complacent to discount it.

Ukippers are keen to remind me that they now enjoy unprecedented popularity, but popularity alone is not going to win the argument - and they will never be popular enough. The more popular they become as a populist "working class" movement, the more they limit their chances of securing the appeal to force an EU referendum win. But this reality does not intrude.

Ukipists are oblivious to any longer term objectives. In their collective delusion they believe they can win, and they believe any other objective or outcome is secondary to that. Their tribe takes precedence to any immediate political goals, and thus is more like the old politics than they would care to admit. Admittedly, they have succeeded in putting the cat among the pigeons, but if this grubby party continues on it's present trajectory, all it can do is turn off the very people we need to finally leave the EU once and for all.

Our best hope is for Ukip to implode before any referendum campaign kicks off. Euroscepticism urgently needs to decouple from Ukip.

Friday 17 October 2014

Letting them decide...

An MP, whom I do not recognise, today uttered these words in the House of Commons...
"It is not just about the trust that we should show in the British people by letting them decide but about restoring trust in this place (Westminster)"

That the commons should "trust the British people" in the exercise of power implies that it is they who hold the power. That they should "let" us decide is an admission that in this decision they are temporarily relinquishing power to the people. Being that the word democracy is derived from the term "people power", by his very inference, we the people do not hold the power, thus it cannot be said that we live in a democracy. It is a dictatorship in which we get to elect our dictators, the majority of whom hold very little collective power over the actual government, which does not even reside in London.

What is more disturbing, Labour has said that it does not believe that a vote on our membership of the EU is in the national interest. How can it be said that membership of the EU, a supranational project which seeks to abolish Britain as a nation state, is in our national interest? And how can it be said that a referendum to leave is not in our national interest? This is because our politicians have never fully understood what the EU actually is. They still speak of it as though it were a trade association related only to the exchange of goods on which jobs depend. It is an entity with its own flag, currency, parliament, passport, foreign policy and soon an army of it's own - and we have been taken into this without ever being consulted - and it has happened without our consent. And they wonder why we don't trust them.

And then in the Telegraph we find this... The European Union must offer Britain “meaty and substantial” reforms, the Foreign Secretary told MPs this morning, as he said the Government is “lighting a fire under the European Union” Addressing the Commons at the introduction of Conservative Bill for a referendum on EU membership, Philip Hammond said public consent on Europe is “fragile”. He said the EU had “morphed” into a “putative superstate” that has encroached on the power of national parliaments since Britain last held a referendum on membership. Whether to remain is the “most important strategic question facing the country today,” he said.

You would think a foreign secretary would have bothered to familiarise himself with what the EU is before taking up such a role. The EU has not “morphed” into a “putative superstate”. That was the intent of the project from the outset. The EU has always said so. And the very nature of the EU means that "meaty and substantial reform" cannot occur without a treaty change, which cannot happen prior to an IGC and cannot happen without unanimous agreement from member states. So here we have a government minister responsible for foreign affairs who does not know what the EU is or how it works - and expects us to believe that any kind of meaningful "renegotiation" can happen. Not surprising then that we get the likes of Ukip on the rise when our government clearly takes us for fools.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Plenty of options, but none of them good

There's no doubt Ukip is enjoying a degree of popularity at the moment. But the real question is whether it is popular enough to win a referendum should we get one. Ukip's anti-immigration stance is popular, but it is popular enough? In any referendum campaign the rhetoric will intensify and as with the 1975 referendum, the establishment will be choosing the very weakest players to represent the anti-EU cause.

We have discussed at length the tactics of fear, uncertainty and doubt which won out for the Scottish referendum, compounded by the unpopularity of Alex Salmond. Transpose that dynamic to the Euro debate and things do not look good. Nigel Farage is popular among Ukip but he is also a huge turn off to moderate people who don't appreciate his bloke-in-pub persona. Similarly, Paul Nuttall has a certain working class appeal but his ability to win arguments is limited because he only has stock answers and prepared responses. Up against more capable debaters (ie everyone in the world ever), he is easily wrong-footed.

In any referendum the propensity is toward the status quo and if there is any doubt because of a failure to provide comprehensive answers, then we will most certainly lose a referendum. As with the Scottish referendum, technical questions will require reassuring and comprehensive arguments, arguments which  pass muster when fact checked. We can't afford the kind of own goals Ukip keeps making and just one of their "shooting-from-the-hip" blunders can quite easily blow it.

Moreover, the aggressiveness of "cybernats" could be said to have been an influential factor in the Scottish referendum. As the rhetoric against Ukip intensifies, the more aggressive Ukippers get. I take the view that the same dynamic will play out.

Because of the media noise surrounding Ukip, Ukip has de-facto become the voice of euroscepticism, just as the SNP fronted the yes campaign. Similarly, I can see Ukip becoming more belligerent and more complacent as they make more gains. You might think that electoral successes for Ukip would equate with a greater chance of leaving the EU, but the more Ukip takes ownership of the issue, the more I can see floating voters being repelled.

For writing this post I will no doubt be subjected to the usual meme arguments suchas "holding a grudge against Ukip", but even voices within Ukip are saying exactly the same. A referendum at this stage ought to be an easy win but if there's one organisation that can (and will) blow it for everybody, it is Ukip.

I see but one glimmer of an opportunity to win, and that is if both Farage and Nuttall disappear completely from the Ukip stage. Ukip are the ones who have been telling us to put country before party, well perhaps it's time they took their own advice? I think the only way we can risk having a referendum is if Carswell is leader - and even that has risks and complications - and that still requires a Tory majority.

On the flip side, there is the question of whether we can afford to turn a referendum down. If we don't get one now, then when? Who knows how long a Labour government would last or when the next opportunity would be, or what the dynamics look like then for winning that referendum? If Labour wins the general election they will be able to say by way of winning that there isn't enough support for a referendum - on account of this election being a referendum on whether to have a referendum. It's a crass argument, but it's one they will use.

I have been asked for some consistency as to what I think. The simple answer is I don't know. But there are some clear choices: If you don't think we can win a referendum then a Tory government is undesirable. If you think, as does, that this is the only offer on the table, then we don't have a choice but to vote for the Tories. The only consistent thread I see is that is is mainly Ukip who can prevent us from having a referendum, and if we get one, on present trajectory, it is Ukip who is guaranteed to lose it for us. A strong Ukip is good for Ukip, but it sure as hell isn't good for those of us who want to leave the EU.

Ukip voters have some thinking to do. Wearily and reluctantly, while a referendum might not be a good idea right now, I think we have to take the only offer on the table. Whether we win it or not is up to Ukippers, and whether they are prepared to tackle the arrogance and amateurishness in their leaders. Knowing how the establishment will fight (and they will fight dirty), I believe Ukip will be outclassed. They don't have a strategy, they haven't prepared for the possibility, and they do not have a consistent position that can swing a referendum. It's getting late in the game and the kind of winging it we have seen from Ukip is not enough to win.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Spiked: Stopping short of offering something

Insomuch as I can be bothered reading anyone's opinions these days, here's a good one from Frank Furedi on the subject of Ukip and populism. He makes the case that there is an inherent fear of democracy among our political classes, especially at the EU level. Their attitude is similar to that of Blackadder when he says "Give the likes of Baldrick the vote and we'll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner". You could be forgiven for sharing that view if you took one look at Ukip.

No, this is not because I am part of the snooty liberal elite. I just happen to be well acquainted with a great many Ukipists whom I used to call fellow campaigners. I never minded it being an eccentric party but if you scratch the surface now, it is unhinged and dangerously incompetent.

One of the many criticisms I have of Ukip is that we are hurtling toward an EU referendum and the lack of credible ideas and calculated responses to a very predictable referendum campaign means that we have every chance of losing it. The tribal loyalties of Ukip mean that pointing this out is an attack and that I should just shut up and support the great leader whatever he does. I should learn to love Ukip policies no matter how demented or destructive.

The truth of the matter is that full extraction from the EU is not something that will be easy or cheap and whatever anyone says, there will be consequences and it will take decades. Put such a delicate process in the hands of wreckers like Ukip and pretty soon you have trade wars, protectionism and draconianism. Our technocratic rulers might well be bad, but a Ukip government run by Farage et al honestly scares the bejesus out of me. Populist policies dreamed up on the spot by Ukip is no way to run a modern first world country.

Frank Furedi makes the case that populism, as he defines it, is not altogether a bad thing, and I'm not going to pick an argument. But what is so typical of Furedi and Spiked in general is that they always set out the diagnosis in crystal clear terms, repeated many times over the years, but always stop short of offering an idea.

"Populism on its own is not enough". says Frank. "To address the EU’s democratic deficit, what is required today is the crystallisation of the populist impulse into a political movement that might infuse the aspiration towards solidarity with the ideals of popular sovereignty, consent and an uncompromising commitment to liberty. Now that could really represent the making of a movement to shake up public life and add meaning to politics."

Yeah, we know. We call it The Harrogate Agenda. Where've you been Frank?

Monday 13 October 2014

All too predictable

It's a bit of a laugh that this should come from Conservative Home of all places but as I predicted, now that Ukip have their public profile, people will start to look very closely at their policies in search of a central message - and discover that there isn't one. It will become highly fashionable to dig through Ukip tract to highlight the glaring inconsistencies and the sheer implausibility of their ideas - not to mention their complete lack of EU knowledge. And you will hear me grumbling as praise is heaped upon mainstream hacks for discovering what I've been saying relentlessly for the last two years or so.

What will be amusing is the contortions Ukipists will go to in defending feeble policies scribbled on the back of a fag packet by Farage and co in a hurry (while they accuse me of being one of the liberal elite (Oh yes, I've made it that far!). The naked tribalism will send them further into their ever growing mutual support group as they kid themselves that they are going to lead us to sunlit uplands of prosperity and take us out of the EU. Put it to them that their "common sense" might need a bit of a rethink when it clashes with reality and you'll soon become an un-person and automatically labelled as a supporter of the establishment "LibLabCon" so they don't create any friction between their two respective brain cells.

I never thought I would say this in a million years but now I'm kinda rooting for a Labour government because if these fools are at the forefront of euroscepticism by the time of a referendum, then we are sure to lose it and Britain ceases to be a country. If "the establishment" ever needed to invent a false flag operation it would look a lot like Ukip.

Ukip: Winning battles - but losing the war

Apparently there was a Ukip documentary on the BBC. I didn't see it. It's not a debate I can any longer find the energy to engage in. Ukip is what it is and if people can't see that, then that's really their problem.

It's looking more and more likely that by 2017 there will be an EU referendum. The BBC will drop any pretense of impartiality to make sure we stay in the EU - and that is why the exit campaign will be dominated by Ukip figures such as Farage and Nuttall. They are the perfect useful idiots. Those two men have very a shallow understanding of the EU and their arguments are hackneyed, uncosted and without detail. Because the pair of them are intellectual lightweights who make up their replies on the spot, without doing their homework, they will be taken to pieces very publicly.

I had the misfortune of hearing Paul Nuttall on Any Questions on Saturday and while Ukipists thought he did a wonderful job I was cringing because the whole debate was a rehearsal of what a referendum campaign debate would sound like. Turning the whole thing into an immigration debate is a tactical blunder. There are means to keep the single market and free movement of people and goods without being in the EU and still control immigration.

Those arguments could have completely disarmed the europhile pre-programmed responses because they simply wouldn't have had an answer to it. We still keep the jobs that depend on the single market and there is no way the xenophobia label sticks. Instead, the europhile panel won hands down - Why? Because they had good answers to long standing narrow complaints about the EU. Had Ukip bothered to research an EU exit plan Nuttall would have had detailed answers that could have easily upstaged the opposition - and resoundingly defeated them.

Nuttall walked away from that sounding like a scalded child - and some of his responses were like those of a petulant Kevin the Teenager. He came over as a lout which may have a certain working class appeal but it's a huge turn off to those who have yet to make up their minds. And those are the people we need to win a referendum.

Not once did I hear a distinction of what the EU was. Nobody is making that central case that the EU is a political organisation with supranational ambitions - and that it is the only direction of travel for the EU. People still think of it in terms of a trading block which, like it or not, does have distinct advantages for us.

Even as a lifelong opponent of the EU I am hugely in favour of international co-operation and open markets. This debate was an opportunity to remind people that the EEA is central to that, not the EU and that we could have a more central role in shaping it were we free of the EU. There was an opportunity to show that the exit campaign was more progressive, more liberal and bolder in vision than the narrow EU cul-de-sac.

Instead, thanks to Ukip, the side for leaving the EU will be painted as a mildly xenophobic, insular, reactionary, populist movement who stand on an entirely negative platform, who do not have comprehensive arguments for very serious economic questions. That's not a referendum winner.

There is little hope of leaving the EU now the exit campaign is represented by intellectual lightweights like Nuttall and co - and perceived as a Daily Mail reading band of malcontents and losers. Such might be popular, but not popular enough - and the more it goes down that road, the less likely our chances.