LETTERS

Crossrail 2

The government’s decision to approve London’s Crossrail2 project has proven controversial.
When Crossrail was approved we were assured that investment in the North was a priority – everyone in the North East knows that this claim proved to be false.

Now Crossrail2 is being finalised and we are once again being told that infrastructure in the North is a priority. I wonder if any of your readers actually believe these latest claims? I certainly don’t.

During every election campaign Labour and Tory MPs come up to the North East to reveal their grand plans to invest in our roads and railways, but once the election has ended we seldom hear anything more about these promises until the next election campaign has begun.

The North East does not need any more empty promises or pointless hype about the mythical ‘Northern Powerhouse.’ We need the infrastructure investment that we have been lacking for decades.

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Believing four contradictory things before Brexit

After Theresa May’s bungled election miscalculation and continued Conservative infighting with members of the cabinet actively briefing against one another, you’d be mistaken for thinking Mr Corbyn’s position is looking healthier than ever. However figures released from a poll of Labour party members expose the disjoint on Brexit between membership and leadership and the growing dislocation from their traditional support base. It’s not just Rebecca Long Bailey literally claiming that Labour wants to “have our cake and eat it”, but that Labour MEPs are openly criticising Brexit and trying to reverse it, whilst their Party leadership supports it.

The scale of the gap between Labour’s leadership and their own members is shown in research from the Party Members Project:

  • 49% of members think there should “definitely” be a vote on the final Brexit deal, with a further 29.4% answering “more yes than no” to the question, and only 8.8% definitely opposing it.
  • 66% of members think Britain should definitely stay in the single market with a further 20.7% saying “more yes than no” to the question. Only 4.2% of Labour members said they definitely believed Britain should leave the grouping.
  • There were similar levels of support on the customs union with 63.1% saying Britain should definitely stay within the group, 22.2% leaning towards the same position, and only 2.4% saying the UK should definitely leave it.
  • Of those members polled 87% voted said they remain in the 2016 referendum.

There is then a second disconnect, between the working-class Labour vote – particularly in the North – and the views of the Labour Party’s membership, so it’s totally unsurprising that there’s some muddled thinking going on as Labour try to please all of the people all of the time. As the White Queen said to Alice, “sometimes I’ve managed to believe six impossible things before breakfast”. That’s okay for a fairy tale, but not so good for a Labour Party intent on simultaneously believing four contradictory things before Brexit.

The 2017 Labour Manifesto Brexit position had promised to try to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union but the leadership was clear: the UK could not remain in the Single Market and Freedom of movement would end. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary said “As it currently stands membership of the single market is incompatible with our clarity about the fact that freedom of movement rules have to change…freedom of movement will have to end”. Likewise John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, admitted staying in the single market would be seen by voters as “not respecting” the referendum vote.

Even since the election we’ve seen nearly 50 Labour MPs snubbing the Party whip and the sacking of three Shadow Cabinet members – in a Shadow Cabinet which has seen more reshuffles than a magician practicing his latest illusion. Could the current appearance of stability, of Corbyn’s belated honeymoon, be merely a passing ‘eye of the storm’ with future turmoil close on the horizon? Jeremy Corbyn currently enjoys the paradoxical position of the most favourable leadership ratings of his career, whilst holding crucial policies that only 2-4% of his membership support.

Part of Labour’s success on June 8th was generated by its sometimes ambiguous stance on Brexit. Pro-EU MPs warn Mr Corbyn’s “studied ambiguity” is unsustainable with amendments on the repeal bill likely to solidify the party stance in one way or another. Professor Tim Bale (of the Party Members Project) said Labour would eventually be forced to “show its true colours on this – and it can either go with the membership and probably the feeling of most MPs, or it can carry on with what is effectively a hard Brexit”.

With Theresa May’s authority repeatedly being called into question, rebellious Labour MPs are only likely to be emboldened in the knowledge that their arguments on issues like the single market have overwhelming support from the membership. Mr Corbyn on Monday night told Labour MPs he wants to actively engage with the party’s 560,000 members this summer. With time running out on ambiguous stances perhaps Mr Corbyn’s summer ‘homework’ is deciding which half of his voters he’s going to disappoint.

More than ever, we need to be vigilant. If the Labour Party were to move against Brexit, that could be an even bigger threat to the process than the Conservatives’ recent sell-out on immigration. I find myself in an odd position: I despise almost everything that Corbyn stands for including his fantasy economics (and Labour’s dishonesty over students has just been brought into sharp focus), but in terms of Brexit any other Labour leader would be far worse.

 

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HS2 is not, and never will be, value for money and it should be scrapped

North East residents will suffer not benefit from HS2, said local MEP Jonathan Arnott today.

“The project is currently estimated at £55.7billion and of course this will prove to be a hideous under-estimate by the time it is completed.

“The government should end this folly in its tracks right now and stop wasting these mega-bucks which frankly this country cannot afford and which will cost every taxpayer in the land dearly, including those in my constituency,” said Mr Arnott, UKIP Euro-MP.

“The only beneficiaries are the companies involved in its development and businesses in London. It is a myth that it will encourage businesses to set up in the Midlands and the North, it will largely encourage growth in the capital, as happened in Paris with the TGV.

“It is nonsense for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to say it will help re-balance the economy. I am particularly concerned about the urgent need for investment in the North East and some of the cash being lavished on this white elephant project could be spent there.

“It is also a disaster for the environment and is blighting the lives of those whose homes and livelihoods are near the proposed route.

“HS2 is not, and never will be, value for money and it should be scrapped and instead resources directed to other transport projects, which unlike this scheme, are actually needed. Existing rail lines should be upgraded and where practical old disused lines should be re-opened.

“Also the A1 should be upgraded to motorway throughout the North East, it is just not good enough that parts of it are just single carriageway,” said Mr Arnott.

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No, Muslims aren’t about to ‘take over’ the UK and enforce Sharia Law

I’ve put forward strong proposals to deal with terrorism and extremism in my booklet ‘Britain Beyond Brexit’; there is a serious issue that we need to deal with as a country, but that issue isn’t a ‘Muslim takeover’ of Britain.

I’m writing this article in response to the kind of comment that I’m seeing over and over again from UKIP members. It’s just not true, and I’m writing to challenge it from a reasoned and evidence-based perspective.

One member wrote an article for UKIPDaily suggesting that “Few UK voters realise the UK’s current legal system and democracy could easily be replaced by Sharia Law as soon as 2040”.

Former UKIP NEC member Anish Patel tweeted yesterday “Eventually, when there is enough of them. They will start up their own political party. And then they will democratically vote for full sharia law and there will be absolutely nothing at all that we can do about it.”

Just half an hour before I started writing this article, Anne-Marie Waters retweeted “All other policies are moot if we’re subject to 2nd class status in Islamic UK.”

All of this would indeed be terrifying, if the evidence weren’t completely against it.

The argument is that ‘the Gatestone Institute projects that in 2021, Muslims will make up 10% of the UK population. That’s 2.2 times the percentage in the 2011 census. And if you keep multiplying by 2.2, you’ll hit 50% in around 2040. Then Muslims will immediately institute Sharia Law in the UK.’

The Gatestone Institute doesn’t provide evidence for that assertion, so the secondary claim is that from 2001 to 2011 the Muslim percentage grew from 2.7% to 4.4%, an increase of 1.6 times, so then they keep multiplying by 1.6 instead.

The problem is that population doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t increase exponentially but settles down over time – the higher the Muslim population gets, the less the impact of immigration on the overall percentage for example.

From 1961 to 1971 the Muslim population increased 5-fold; from 1971 to 1981 2.4-fold; from 1981 to 1991 1.6-fold; from 1991 to 2001 1.6-fold and from 2001 to 2011 1.6-fold. Those numbers would have continued to decline dramatically were it not for the increase in immigration under Blair, and (because the Muslim population is now higher) the immigration effect will lessen even if immigration itself were to remain high.

There is no mathematical argument whatsoever for assuming such exponential growth could continue – it would require immigration levels from Muslim countries to be 10 to 20 times higher than they are now.

Yet the human brain ‘likes’ such projections. It’s the reason why so many people fall for pyramid-selling schemes for example.

The Muslim birth rate may well be higher than that of the general population at present, which does (slowly – and we-re talking a century or two, not a decade or two) impact upon the Muslim population. But hang on a second: that’s normally the case in countries with lower life expectancies than the UK. It’s not a religious reason for having more kids, it’s something likely to decrease in the second, third, and fourth generations of those coming to the UK.

Pew Research (who are the people the anti-Muslims in UKIP like to quote) have actually done the analysis based on actual birth rates (Muslim women in Europe have on average 2.2 children at present), immigration rates and conversion rates, and they conclude that by 2050 the UK population is likely to be 11.3% Muslim. See The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, Pew Research.

Then, and somewhat bizarrely, nobody really seems to consider the documented likelihood that any Muslims at all are becoming integrated into the UK.

The ICM poll – the most comprehensive ever conducted – shows that of British Muslims, 49% of those born in the UK (compared with 32% of those born outside the UK) either ‘never’ attend mosque or do so ‘only on special occasions’. And that figure by any measure, is rising over time: it’s just 18% for those aged 65+ and 46% for those aged 18-24 for example.

Do we really, honestly, think that they’re plotting a Muslim takeover of Britain if they don’t even turn up to their local mosque? Seriously? Because EVEN IF – and it’s already a statistical nonsense – the UK became ‘majority Muslim’ do we really think the rising percentage of ‘in name only’ Muslims would support the introduction of Sharia?

Well we can check that against the polling data too. Instead of asking what Muslims in other countries think (which is where the higher figures such as the claimed 75% come from), we’d be well advised to ask what Muslims actually in the UK think.

(And before anyone suggests that Muslims ‘lie’ to opinion polls because they’re engaging in ‘taqiyya’ – which unbelievably is actually a serious suggestion in some quarters, a) Many Muslims are admitting in the same poll to various views which are somewhat illiberal – and b) They would hardly lie about not attending mosque if their aim were to promote Islam: they’d pretend they were more devout than they are not less.)

It shows that 6% of 18-24 year old Muslims ‘strongly support’ Sharia law in ‘areas’ of Britain and a further 18% ‘tend to support’ it. At most, that’s 24% rather than 75% – which is a whole lot less alarming. In actual fact, it’s probably a lot less because:

a) The reference is to ‘areas’ rather than across Britain
b) ‘Tend to support’ is lukewarm support, which would be unlikely to be an attitude of someone keen on a democratic takeover to force that point of view across society
c) Polling of Muslims is almost always in ‘high output areas’ which pretty much by definition polls the least integrated into British society, thus skewing the data

That 24% is, in fact, lower than that for older age groups: it’s 30% (note rounding error) for those aged 65+, of which 14% (compared with 6%) ‘strongly support it. This would imply to me that younger Muslims are perhaps less likely to support the introduction of Sharia.

The same poll finds that support is far lower amongst those born in the UK (5% strongly support, 14% tend to support) than those born overseas (8% support, 19% tend to support). It seems likely therefore that these figures will decline further, as each generation goes by.

So even if there were a Muslim majority in the UK by 2100, which is itself incredibly unlikely for the above reasons, there are strong reasons to suppose that only a very small percentage of them would support Sharia law.

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Plans to spend taxpayers’ cash on lavish EU party ‘laughable’

Plans to lavish almost £50,000 on an end-of-year party for EU officials has been described as “laughable” by local MEP Jonathan Arnott.

The proposed eight hour party for up to 1,400 Council of the European Union civil servants will involve 700 bottles of fine wine and a top-class dinner with 26 different dishes to cater for every taste.

Details of the annual ‘do’, planned for between late October and December, emerged after the council published a call for tender to catering companies.

“This is so outrageous as to be laughable,” said Mr Arnott, UKIP Euro-MP.

“This £48,600 bill will be met from the council budget which is funded by Britain and the other member states

“They should be endeavouring to make savings not spending taxpayers money like Monopoly notes.”

Mr Arnott, a member of EP’s Budgetary Control Committee, continued, “People in this country think that our Westminster politicians and civil servants are out of touch. The situation in the EU is a million times worse and here again is another example of utter profligacy which highlights why Brexit is undoubtedly the correct route for Britain.”

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Students need assistance not millstones

Maintenance grants for the poorest students should be re-introduced and tuition fees removed for British students taking approved degrees, said local MEP Jonathan Arnott today.

The ideas of the UKIP Euro-MP about education coincide with newly released esearch showing that three out of four university graduates are never likely to pay off their student loans.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that ‘the combination of high fees and large maintenance loans contributes to English graduates having the highest student debts in the developed world’.

It estimates that 77.4% of students will have some debt written off after 30 years.

Mr Arnott, a former maths teacher, said, “That is clearly a very worrying situation and one that frankly cannot be allowed to continue. Part of this problem arises from the ridiculous obsession with achieving a 50% target for school leavers going to university.

“This should be replaced with a target driven by the needs of industry – saving £0.5 billion per year by the end of the Parliament.

“Subject to academic performance we would phase in over two years the removal of tuition fees for British students taking approved degrees in Science, Medicine, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics on the condition that they live, work and pay tax in the UK for five years after the completion of their degrees.

“We will also restore maintenance grants to the poorest students and in general, vocational learning will take place on the job and not through the university system.

“Students from EU and non-EU countries will be treated equally and pay the same fees, raising £0.7 billion per year. Student loans will be available only to British students, to reflect the difficulties involved in recovering the debt from those who intend to live abroad,” said Mr Arnott.

He also pointed out that calls by Education Secretary Justine Greening for firms to back government moves for technical education mirrors his suggestion for vocational and technical schools.

“Vocational education must never be seen as a second-class option. This would have a strong industry link and we would introduce an option for students to take an Apprenticeship Qualification instead of four non-core GCSEs which can be continued in post-16 education. Students will be able to take up apprenticeships in jobs with certified professionals qualified to grade the progress of the student,” he explained.