My Column – An Englishman in the Dark: Musings on the Next President of the United States

I’ll hold my hands up and admit it. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton. Barring a massive shift in opinion, she’s going to be the Democrats’ nomination for the next U.S. President. But as much as I find her unconvincing, I’m not going to write about the Democrat race because we already know the result. Sorry Bernie Sanders, but unless Hillary falls under a bus, you’re not getting it.

I reserve the right to change my mind, but right now I think I’d like to see Marco Rubio as the next President of the United States. His recent comments about respecting Britain’s right to take our own decisions are certainly welcome. What a sharp contrast between Obama (who tells us what we should do) and Rubio (who says we’re friends and allies whatever our relationship with Europe)! Obama may be the President, but Rubio is the statesman. I already had a favourable opinion of Rubio anyway, but more of that later.

This Republican race is much more engaging than last time; in 2012 Mitt Romney just oozed everything that voters dislike. He was the best of a bad bunch, got the nomination by default, and just oozed slick, career politician with little in the way of principle. I’m told by someone who met him that he is actually much more approachable in real life. After giving up his Presidential ambitions, he seems to have relaxed. I respect Mitt Romney the person far more than I like Mitt Romney the politician. The Mitt Romney who stepped into a boxing ring with Evander Holyfield for charity in ‘the quake on the lake’ is a different man to the one we all saw on our TV screens losing to Barack Obama.

Scratch below the surface, beneath the candidates like Trump who have name recognition, and this year’s crop of Republican candidates is much better than last time’s. With better candidates come tougher decisions. I don’t think that the two candidates currently leading in the polls will stay the course. In fact, I’d rule out the three best-known names straight away if I had a vote.

Donald Trump is a marmite politician. (For any American readers who don’t understand the British cultural relationship with marmite, it’s a savoury, dark brown food paste. It’s often said that you ‘love it or hate it’ – very few people have a neutral opinion of marmite. I hate it.) He may be a successful businessman, but his kneejerk reaction to Ebola showed a certain degree of nastiness to me. He may appeal to a certain section of the American people, but I can’t see him winning a Presidential election. By saying shocking things he managed to stand out from the crowd, and take a lead in a very large field. That doesn’t qualify you to be President though, and I suspect his support will slip away when it comes to actual voting. As candidates drop out, support is unlikely to transfer to Trump. My negative view of Trump started with his comments on Ebola, arrogance about his wealth (“the beauty of me is I’m very rich”) and continued with his repeated nasty comments about women. In the light of his recent ‘no Muslim immigration’ remarks, people on Twitter seemed to assume that these comments had sparked my dislike of Trump. No, my dislike of him has built up over a period of time.

Ben Carson advocates a range of policies that don’t seem to be fully thought through. In 2013 he described the new healthcare system as ‘the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery’, for example. It’s a legitimate political position to oppose Obama’s changes, but the language which Carson uses is not really what you expect of a future President.

Jeb Bush may be the establishment choice, but his campaign lacks traction. He’s not performed well in the debates, and his attack on Rubio fell flat. I’m not sure that America needs another Bush; I’m not a massive fan of political dynasties whether they be Bushes or Clintons.

I have a lot of respect for Chris Christie. He’s a Republican governor of a Democratic state, which shows he must have done something right. He’s frank, direct, robust and forceful when expressing his views. If he disagrees with you, he’ll tell you straight. You know where you stand with Chris Christie. He has shown himself willing to work together with Democrats, an important Presidential skill. One minor hiccup aside, he’s done a good job. I have a hard time believing that he could win the nomination though.

Rand Paul is a candidate who believes in something. I like that. He’s a strong opponent of state interference in citizens’ lives and a believer in a smaller state, giving people freedoms back. There’s much to like about Rand Paul, who appeals to a broader spectrum than Ron Paul did. Still, it’s very difficult to see a way that he could win in the complex electoral system and in this year’s crowded field he’s not the only non-establishment candidate so it’s harder for him to generate the same traction that his father did..

Carly Fiorina has impressed me too. She’s positive, articulate and comes across very well on television. In one way I’d quite like a woman President, but that’s actually beside the point. It’s more important to choose the best person for any job, irrespective of gender or ethnicity. That’s why I oppose Labour’s segregating ‘all-women shortlists’ in the UK; ‘positive discrimination’ is still discrimination. I actually wanted America to have its first black President in 2008 – but Obama wouldn’t have been my choice. I had hoped that Condoleeza Rice might stand, and I’m convinced she would have done a far better job than Obama has.

Somehow, Ted Cruz has almost completely passed me by although he’s picking up decent support in polls now. He’s probably the most ‘Tea Party’ candidate still in the race. I had barely noticed that the old guards from the Christian right of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum had thrown their hats into the ring again. I vaguely recognised Bobby Jindal as being the governor of Louisiana, but he’s withdrawn from the race now. I don’t really understand the appeal of Kasich, and can’t believe that anyone as moderate as Pataki has a chance of getting the Republican nomination. Like I said, it’s a crowded field.

So why am I leaning towards Marco Rubio? He’s relatively young, reasonable, credible and speaks a language that people understand. In the UK, David Cameron famously couldn’t even remember which football team he supports. But in the USA, Rubio is a genuine (American) football fan. Supporting the Miami Dolphins isn’t exactly a short-cut to glittering victories and Superbowl success (I should know, I have a Dolphins fan working in my office who doesn’t always turn up on Monday mornings in a good mood), but Rubio cares about his team with a passion. It shows he has a human side when he actually cares about the game – and speaks intelligently about it, showing a deep understanding – rather than just turning up to photoshoots. It shows that he understands ordinary, hard-working American people.

The real reason I’ve warmed to Rubio though is his approach to politics. He’s taught undergraduate courses in politics to help develop the next generation, and students praise his ability to be non-partisan. I wish more people had that ability. It’s refreshing, a bit more what politics should be. We all get sucked into a certain negativity sometimes; that is the nature of standing for election. But he’s run his campaign for the nomination in a positive way, not really attacking the other candidates. He could have reacted badly, and many candidates would, when Jeb Bush attacked him in debate. Instead he showed Jeb Bush up by refusing to do so.

He reaches out to people beyond a partisan support base; he’s probably worked together with Democrats more than most of the candidates (photos of Chris Christie hugging Obama notwithstanding). He’s even been prepared to give interviews in Spanish – so that people who get their news in Spanish can hear his points directly rather than through a translator. That said, it’s important for Spanish speakers in America to learn English (just as I try to learn French because I work a lot in Brussels and Strasbourg). But not everyone has completed that process, and it’s good that Rubio reaches out to them.

The Republicans have a choice, similar to the problem the British Labour Party had when choosing a leader. Would Labour choose someone who could build the popular base of support required to win a General Election? By electing Corbyn they answered that question with an emphatic ‘No’. If the Republicans are serious about wanting to get back into the White House, it looks like Rubio might well be their best shot.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.

My Column – What’s Wrong With Us?

In the wake of the Leytonstone tube stabbings, I find myself increasingly annoyed by the reaction to this appalling tragedy. I’m annoyed with the internet (not all of it). I’m annoyed with the political Left (not everyone). And I’m annoyed with the Right (again, not everyone).

I’m annoyed at the internet because of the hashtag #youaintnomuslimbruv. A crazed attacker starts violently stabbing innocent people at a tube station. A hero bravely steps up, risking his life to prevent further bloodshed and save lives. Meanwhile, bystanders film the whole thing on their mobile phones. Realising that the attacker claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, one bystander was heard shouting the words ‘you ain’t no Muslim bruv’.

Imagine that you were from another planet, looking down upon us here on planet earth. You see the internet erupt in a frenzy, but praising who? Praising the man who risked his life to save others? No. Repeating the words ‘you ain’t no Muslim bruv’ over and over. We’ve spectacularly failed to honour the person we should be honouring, and isn’t this just the kind of social media response we see every day in our Twitter and Facebook feeds? A hashtag is used to convey a particular message. Sometimes laudable, sometimes not. Then the internet fawns over it, swooning and patting itself on the back for spreading this message. Whether the message is right or wrong, very often the reaction doesn’t reflect the reality of life. You might expect a Prime Minister to be Prime Ministerial, but instead Cameron jumped upon the bandwagon opportunity and quoted the hashtag.

I’m annoyed at the Left because, no matter what, little is said or done by them to challenge those who close their eyes and ears to what is happening all around them. They are so desperate to challenge racism – real or imaginary, genuine or ethereal – that they fail to comprehend the bigger picture. I don’t care what we call the terror group that is currently butchering innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria. Whether it’s ISIS or ISIL, Islamic State or Daesh, we could call it Fred (apologies to anyone named Fred) for all I care. To paraphrase Shakespeare, what’s in a name? A dung heap by any other name would smell as foul. We’ll get to my beef with the Right in a minute, but first the Left have to accept that there is a problem.

That terrorist organisation controls a massive land mass. It is sending activists into many countries across the world (and isn’t it about time that we started to recognise the terror attacks in non-Western countries every bit as much as we recognise those in Paris?) to bomb, injure, maim and kill innocent people. It is killing people for holding different religious beliefs. It is killing people for being gay. It is killing people for the most trivial of reasons. Memo to the Left: this is important. Isn’t mass murder something even more worthy of our consideration than the mere possibility that someone might say something which could – if you look at it in a negative light for long enough – be considered racist? Shouldn’t you rather concentrate your efforts on the root cause of this problem; the ideology of ISIS and the spread of the extremist interpretation of Islam? Extremist ideologies are being propagated in mosques in many countries across the world. It might sound great to say that they are ‘not Muslim’ but seriously, does anyone think they care whether non-Muslims consider them to be Muslim or not? Those pushing this ‘not Muslim’ idea are stuck in a Western-centric bubble, assuming that this bland comment will have an impact. It will not.

The Right don’t help much either. Essentially, they give the Left an excuse to do everything I’ve just mentioned – to focus their efforts away from the real issue. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people on social media fail to grasp the basic fact that Muslims aren’t all the same. Christians aren’t all the same either. There are C of E, Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals. There’s AOG and Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. All believe different things. A fundamentalist evangelical Christian is likely to believe things that are much different to a Quaker. But I don’t use the term in a disparaging way; a fundamentalist Bible-believing Christian will REALLY love their neighbour as they love themselves.

I won’t go into detail of the Qur’an here, but there exists a possibility for a fundamentalist interpretation which leads to extremist ideology (essentially, that later verses override earlier ones, that warlike verses are seen as permanent rather than time-specific, and a certain reading of the Hadith). Many elements of the Right fail to consider that this extremist interpretation is not the only one.

To me, being Right-wing should be about understanding and respecting other people’s cultures. If you expect those who come to the UK to adapt to our culture, language and lifestyle, then you should pay people in other countries precisely the same respect. That’s why I try to learn the language whilst out in France and Belgium, for example.

If you don’t bother to take a moment to understand that different Muslims believe different things, it leads to intolerance. Perhaps spending a few minutes, every now and again, to talk to Muslims about what they believe might lead to being better informed. And just maybe, it would deprive the Left of their ability to spectacularly miss the point. There are Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. There are the Ahmadiyya. Within the main Sunni beliefs there are various different schools of thought [jurisprudence]. There’s complex interactions, for example, with Sufi beliefs which can be part of either Sunni or Shia. Even the strict Wahhabist interpretation of Islam, from which ISIS comes, doesn’t automatically lead to ISIS. However, there are legitimate concerns over the kind of influence exerted by Saudi Arabia in spreading Wahhabism. In Saudi Arabia (however appalling their human rights record), the monarchy acts as a counterweight to the religious doctrines. But once certain doctrines are exported to a country without an Islamic monarchy, various views spread. Those in the West who, maliciously or through ignorance, seek to blame all Muslims do nothing to help the situation.

What’s wrong with us? Let’s get a grip, stop appeasing terrorists, stop missing the point and misleading, stop blaming all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority and actually develop a plan to deal with the ISIS threat to our way of life.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.

My Column – Gagged: for trying to expose euro-nonsense

One thing would convince the average person that Britain must leave the European Union; being a fly on the wall for a couple of weeks in the European Parliament and seeing the squalid, elitist nonsense of how laws are made.

I’ve written before about how debate is stifled, and this week in Strasbourg is no exception.

I had submitted my request to speak in the steel industry ‘debate’; the Deputy Speaker had five spots to allocate. My request was acknowledged. They took just three speakers, looked across at me, smiled, and closed down the debate.

Redcar had been mentioned more than once in the debate, but the message was clear: they’d do their best to stifle any mention of the EU’s responsibility in some (not all) of the factors behind the loss of jobs. You see, us eurosceptics are dangerous. We must be gagged in case a moment of common sense breaks out in all the ridiculousness.

And it really is nonsense on stilts. My North East Labour colleagues seem to think that despite the millions fleeing Syria and the EU’s redefinition of the word ‘refugee’ causing a mass exodus from countries like Bangladesh towards Europe, there just aren’t enough people arriving at our shores – so they voted to invent a new type of refugee, a ‘climate refugee’. Fortunately, the measure was defeated, but it was worryingly close.

The EU is now pushing for a seat at the United Nations’ Security Council. I spoke out against it, and voted against it. The EU is not a nation. Labour happily voted in favour. But when UKIP asked other parties’ MEPs to join with us and demand that our British seat on the Security Council be protected, not one Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat MEP anywhere in the country bothered to respond. By being in the EU we’ve already lost our voting rights at the World Trade Organisation, of course – typical of how we lose influence as members of the EU.

We voted on a bizarre report supposedly about child poverty, which ranged from far-left to outright communism and included talk of wealth redistribution, income redistribution, anti-privatisation and universal benefits. By all means believe in those things, but this was a report about child poverty being used as a political football.

The Labour Party weighed in on the act, lambasting anyone who voted against an EU-wide ‘child guarantee’ – we all want to end poverty, but you won’t do it with an unfunded, uncosted, back-of-envelope idea across 28 different countries at once.

All of the above happened in just one day on Tuesday. It’s a system utterly divorced from reality, and it’s sickening to see just how quickly MEPs can ‘go native’.

I refuse to attend the daily champagne receptions of lobbyists in Brussels (the only city in the world with more lobbyists than Washington DC).

I scoff at the blue carpet laid out for MEPs to walk into the Parliament on, whilst mere mortals must tread the solid granite floor.

I hate the system where I, as an MEP, am expected to waltz to the front of any queue anywhere in the Parliament – and get funny looks if I wait my turn.

The list of things that can actually be done better at European Union level than 28 different countries would be quite a short list.

The list becomes even shorter when you consider that issues which span different countries might be better discussed in the United Nations.

It becomes shorter still when it’s painfully obvious that the European Union lacks the ability to produce good legislation, thanks to an unelected Commission, weak Parliament and a massively bureaucratic decision-making process.

The European Union juggernaut’s stated aim is ‘ever-closer union’. Once power has been given to the EU by the UK, under the ‘acquis communautaire’ principle it can never be given back unless we leave the European Union. Power after power is ceded to Brussels, with few people out there pausing to consider whether the power should be there in the first place.

As the proverb goes, a tyrannical king once asked a wise man what he could do for the betterment of humanity. The wise man told the king “Stay in bed until midday, so that for this brief period you may not afflict mankind”.

If the European Union didn’t legislate at all, the world would be a better place.

If readers could only see what MEPs deal with on a daily basis, they’d vote to leave the European Union and put me out of a job. I truly hope they do.

 

This article was originally published in the Journal on 26/11/2015

My Column – Shoot-to-kill: Why Jeremy Corbyn Is Unfit to Become Prime Minister

I’m writing this shortly after Jeremy Corbyn’s comments in the wake of the Paris attacks suggesting that a shoot-to-kill policy to stop terrorists is a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly, many people in his own Party have attacked him over this: the BBC, for example, have reported that John Mann – whose niece was trapped in a Paris toilet for hours on Friday night ‘thinking she was going to be murdered’ – is less than chuffed with this approach. I’m not going to defend Jeremy Corbyn on this one. I’ll be more critical of Corbyn the politician than Corbyn the person though.

I think Jeremy Corbyn is just completely out of touch with the feelings of the general public. I suspect that he’s trying to make a point, but putting it across in completely the wrong way. I think he’s trying to say that governments shouldn’t kill people needlessly – even if they’re terrorists – if you could safely capture those people alive.

With all due respect to academics, I can imagine that one being debated by philosophy professors, argued backwards and forwards, about the sanctity of all human life. What I don’t understand is how a politician could possibly zero in on that particular suggestion.

The questions on everyone else’s lips after the Paris attacks are surely very different. Even if Jeremy Corbyn has commented on these questions, he must surely understand politics well enough to know that it’s his off-the-wall comments that will be widely reported. There are far more important considerations that he should be spending his time on. What can we do to assist the French in their response to this terrible tragedy? How can we catch those responsible and bring them to justice? Do we need to step up control of our borders? Do we need to do more to fight ISIS in their own strongholds? What are the chances of a similar attack in the UK? Are we well prepared? Do our security services have the resources they need? Can we give intelligence services more power without creating a ‘snoopers’ charter’ which could be used against ordinary citizens? Do we need to step up security in key public locations?

But no, Jeremy Corbyn asks a very narrow question about a shoot-to-kill policy. Frankly, by asking that question he has spectacularly missed the point. Back in the real world, let’s suppose that a terrorist is armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades. They are shooting people indiscriminately and quickly. A delay of even a few seconds could result in the deaths of innocent civilians. Even if armed police or soldiers could somehow disarm the terrorist, they may well be wearing a suicide vest which they could detonate as a last resort. It’s almost impossible to conceive of a circumstance in which non-lethal force would avoid putting further lives at risk. The question about lethal force is a purely academic one.

I have no problem with Corbyn – as a fellow human being – thinking about that question. But as Leader of the Opposition, it’s utterly ridiculous. There are far, far more important issues of national security that he could be contemplating. When he ignores the fundamental questions that matter to the British people at a time of tragedy and uncertainty, it shows that he doesn’t really ‘get’ politics. He’s spent decades as a lone eccentric voice in Parliament. Such comments wouldn’t be completely out of place from a maverick backbench MP with his own agenda. But he’s no longer sniping from the sidelines, he’s auditioning for the job of Prime Minister. In yet again failing to recognise that basic distinction, he reminds us exactly why he’s unfit for that office.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.

My Column – Ending roaming charges: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United States of America, Israel, Switzerland, Macau, New Zealand, Sri Lanka. What do these countries have in common?

The answer is, on my mobile phone network it’s free for me to use my mobile phone in any of those countries (within my regular monthly allowances). There are no mobile phone roaming charges at all. They are also countries outside the European Union.

In fact, there are more non-EU countries than EU countries where it’s free for me to use my phone abroad. That’s the free market at work. Customers demand a change, and mobile phone networks work with partners abroad to ensure savings for the consumer. What a wonderful thing the free market can be, when it works well!

Oh, there are certainly industries and times where a free market can break down, and there are extreme situations where government intervention might be necessary but, in general, government meddling makes things worse while competition leads to lower prices and consumer choice.

The free market says that actually, for most consumers, it’s more important to end mobile phone roaming charges from the USA than it is from Belgium.

The free market tells us that it’s better to have free calls from Australia or Sri Lanka than it is to have free calls from Estonia or Lithuania.

Perhaps that’s because, in general, it’s of more benefit to consumers. Or maybe it’s because it’s easier for phone companies to work together to provide that benefit.

Within the continent of Europe, the free market already gives free calls to me if I travel to France, Italy, Switzerland or Spain.

That’s pretty useful for tourists, isn’t it? They’re destinations that tourists often travel to and, in the case of Switzerland, there are probably financial reasons too.

So far, so good. There’s been no mention of the words “European Union”. But the EU now intends to make mobile phone roaming charges illegal across all 28 European Union countries. Yes, they’re going to force mobile phone companies to provide a “free” service to consumers.

What does the word “free” mean in this context though? Well, it means that mobile phone companies will have to provide a cheaper service in countries where their business model doesn’t support it. If you force companies to do something unprofitable, they respond quite naturally by putting their prices up elsewhere.

It means that, in order to get free calls from Latvia, I will have to pay more on my monthly phone bill. I note that the Labour Party members of the European Parliament are generally highly supportive of this idea.

It’ll mean free calls for those working in Belgium – great for MEPs in Brussels, but I personally think it’s fundamentally wrong for us to all pay extra on our monthly phone bills to make sure that MEPs get free calls when working in Belgium.

An idea which sounds so brilliant in theory – “Cheaper calls for every tourist” – actually means higher monthly phone bills in practice. That’s the European Union way. They claim to give us all extra freedoms, rights, cheaper prices but, like everything that’s supposedly “free”, there’s always a catch.

The problem is that the European Commission and Parliament are in a bubble so detached from the people that they fail to spot the unintended consequences of their actions. The only people telling them are UKIP, and they won’t listen to us. We’re not pro-EU, you see.

Likewise, when the commission arbitrarily changed the definition of the word “refugee”, Nigel Farage warned them in April that it would lead to migration on an unprecedented scale.

A few months later, they scratch their heads and wonder why no one told them that the refugee crisis would happen.

When we warned year in, year out, of the dangers of the euro, many in the Labour Party wanted us to join the euro anyway. Countries pressed on despite the economic madness of trying to have one size fits all policies for countries as disparate as Germany and Greece.

And so, today, the Greek economy is in chaos, shackled to a euro that it daren’t leave.

So, when the EU promises the end of roaming charges, it hasn’t thought through the consequences of its actions.

I’m not ashamed to be a dissenting voice.

I’m not ashamed to vote “no” to the end of roaming charges, because I don’t want consumers to have to pay more for using their mobile phones.

This article was originally published in the Journal on 29/10/2015

My Column – There’s No Such Thing as Debate in the European Parliament

I feel I’m pretty well-qualified to write about so-called debates in the European Parliament. After all, I’ve spoken in more of them since being elected than any other British MEP and I’m currently 3rd out of the 750 in the Parliament. (Another UKIP stereotype goes out of the window!)

The word ‘debate’, though, is stretching the point a little bit. The whole Parliament is actually only convened for 5 days a month: 4 in Strasbourg and 1 in Brussels. Of the four Strasbourg days, the Monday doesn’t start until 5pm and the Thursday session is usually over by midday. In Brussels, we don’t start until 3pm. When you consider that we often spend 2 hours in a day voting, the Parliament is effectively only ‘sitting’ on average for less than 3 days a month.

Compare that with a real Parliament, our Parliament at Westminster which last year sat for 142 days in the year. There was an outcry: how could MPs ‘only’ turn up to Westminster for 142 days? Now, that’s not to say that members of the European Parliament don’t turn up at other times: there’s Committee work for example. But if we’re effectively allocating just 3 days a month to ‘debate’ important issues, there’s no wonder that strange things start to happen!

Last Monday in Strasbourg, they scheduled eight so-called ‘debates’. I use the term very loosely. The rapporteur (the member of the European Parliament who wrote the report) was allowed to speak for around 4 minutes to present their documents, which are often anything between 20 and 50 pages long. For five minutes, MEPs are allowed to ‘debate’ them: five MEPs are allowed to speak for 60 seconds each, before the Commission has a couple of minutes to wrap up. That’s all the ‘debate’ that’s allowed, and the reports are then scheduled, together with various amendments, for a vote on the Tuesday. On average, roughly 10 of the 750 MEPs (I’m normally one of the ten) turn up to these debates. How could anyone possibly be convinced by such a debate? How could we possibly give the reports proper scrutiny? Fortunately for me, I speed-read. I sometimes wonder whether I’m the only MEP in the chamber who’s actually read all of the reports. And yet, this is supposed to be democracy in action.

Then we have the ‘grandstanding’ debates, as I like to call them. The Commission and Council will present on a particular issue, and it’s advertised as “one round of political group speakers only”. This happens on some high-profile issues. MEPs pack the chamber, whilst each Group leader or other delegated representative gets a chance to speak for between 3 and 5 minutes. Nigel Farage does this job very well; he’s very well-suited to this arena. No-one else gets the chance to speak. It’s not in any meaningful sense a debate; it’s just a platform for 9 short speeches. David Cameron is grilled vigorously once a week at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster; no-one faces such a grilling in Brussels or Strasbourg. But if there’s no true scrutiny, then the chamber’s output suffers. Without scrutiny or interaction, it’s not in any meaningful sense a debate.

There are oral explanations of vote. These allow MEPs to spend 60 seconds explaining why they voted a particular way. It’s all after the fact, so no-one’s mind can be changed. Once again, it isn’t debate.

Then there are the ‘vanity’ one-minute speeches. Any MEP can apply for a 60-second speech on ‘matters of political importance’. It’s 60 seconds to talk about whatever you feel like discussing, to promote a cause that you believe in. The Parliament generally takes around 60 of these each month, and they have zero actual meaning. On the other hand, they can tell a special interest group that they ‘raised the issue in Parliament’. Certainly they did raise the issue, but it’s misleading to suggest that it’s going to make the slightest bit of difference. Some of the better MEPs will use their one-minute speeches to relate to matters in their constituency, contact the press, and use them to raise public awareness of an important issue. But again, it’s not really debate in any sense of the word.

Finally, there are a few ‘debates’ which come a little closer to the meaning of the word. After the Commission, Council and other interested parties have spoken, backbench MEPs are given their chance. Timings are allocated proportionally on a group basis. Individual speakers are usually granted between 60 and 120 seconds to speak. They’re always in a rush and there’s never enough speaking time to go around, so it tends to revert back to the committees: if the EU budget is under discussion then I’m likely to get some speaking time as a member of the Budget Committee. In these kinds of debates, there’s the tiniest sliver of Parliamentary scrutiny. An MEP may hold up a blue card, indicating a desire to question a speaker. If the blue card is accepted, then they can ask a 30-second question and get a 30-second response.

The problem is, that this ‘blue card’ system is incredibly limited. It’s the unelected Commission that drafts the laws, but the rules are quite clear: ‘you can’t blue-card the Commission’. 30 seconds isn’t enough to develop a point in itself. But that’s not the worst of it. Often the blue card system itself is suspended, especially when important issues are being debated. When Commission President Juncker addressed the Parliament last Wednesday, we had a ‘debate’ on his ‘State of the Union’ speech and the current refugee crisis. Juncker’s speech was scheduled for 30 minutes; I believe it lasted 90. Then we had the ’round of political group speakers’ above, and the pro-EU groups were allowed to massively overrun their speaking time. Eventually, the ‘debate’ started. They did not allow even one question before suspending blue cards. The Parliament was running late, and debate would make it run even later. With even the tiniest amount of actual debate cancelled on such an issue, I walked out of the chamber in protest.

My North East Labour colleague (or perhaps, opponent?) Jude Kirton-Darling saw the opportunity for a quick bit of mischief making, and tweeted: “Not one UKIP MEP in chamber for debate on #refugeecrisis”. I’d left in protest at the lack of debate, then was criticised for not remaining in the sham-discussion that resulted. At the time when she tweeted, the UKIP MEPs were actually in a voting meeting – but that’s actually beside the point. The problem is, that when considering events in the chamber, my record speaks for itself.

I don’t actually write this to criticise Jude or Paul, the Labour North East MEPs. They work hard in their own way. I might disagree with them on many things, and indeed the nature of the role of a UKIP MEP is different from that of a Labour MEP. My role is to be the voice of opposition, the person who speaks out when the EU proposes something bad, to try to negate the worst excesses of the EU and to report back to my constituents on what’s going on. I’m heavily involved with putting on events like this one, bringing politics back to the people.

As it happens I did actually speak out in the chamber on the refugee crisis – but as I’ve explained above, sadly the system is designed to minimise the chance of actually persuading anyone of anything.

The whole system is designed to make MEPs feel like they’re powerful, whilst leaving us with very little power indeed. Parliamentary staff treat MEPs with cringeworthy levels of deference. Millions are wasted each year on unnecessary luxuries; I refuse to attend the daily free champagne receptions for MEPs in Brussels for example. There are echoes of medieval feudalism in the way that MEPs are treated out there; you either go into it with eyes wide open and see it for what it is (warts and all), or you end up going native – defending the indefensible to the hilt. Sadly, too many MEPs do the latter and fail to spot that the Emperor has no clothes.

How many MEPs, I wonder, have even failed to spot what is staring us in the face on a daily basis: that there is no such thing as debate in the European Parliament?

This column was originally published on my Huffington Post blog and can be viewed here.

My Column – What Should #refugeeswelcome Actually Mean?

Let’s remember, as far back as December 2013 a certain Nigel Farage was one of the first to call for us to take our fair share of Syrian refugees. So let’s have none of the nonsense claims stoking untruths and intolerance about Ukip that we hear from the Left of British politics on a daily basis.

Ukip’s always been in favour of helping those genuinely in need, according to our great British traditions. As Nigel Farage said, “I would like to point out that since the inception of this party Ukip has supported our proud tradition of helping those in need in terms of allowing entry to a sensible number of refugees. The problem has come with opening up our borders unconditionally to the whole of the EU.” That exact phrase – ‘proud tradition of helping those in need’ – was in handy pocket-sized guides to Ukip in 2008 (I know, because I wrote and designed the booklet concerned: over three million were produced).

Nothing could be more quintessentially British than the support we gave to refugees fleeing Hitler’s monstrosities during World War II for example. And ISIS’ butchery of all who dare disagree with them is every bit as callous, albeit on a smaller scale.

But in a modern world, a 21st Century crisis where Britain isn’t the major point of entry, the question is about ‘doing our bit’. Being compassionate mustn’t mean being naive, and we forget the law of unintended consequences at our peril: just look at how our involvement in Iraq turned out, because Blair failed to spot that artificially-enforced Westernisation carries risks. As Don MacLean put it years earlier in his famous song “We had to burn the city because they wouldn’t agree, that things work better with democracy”.

So if we use the hashtag #refugeeswelcome we need to make very clear what exactly we’re talking about. As a right-winger I filter my heartfelt desire to help, with careful consideration of whether it’ll actually work. That’s why the (ostensibly) left-wing Labour government of Tony Blair invaded Iraq, whilst we in Ukip said ‘hang on a minute, have we thought this through first?’. Being on the right is about being prepared to take tough decisions. A plan isn’t automatically right just because it hurts us to put it into practice; political masochism might ease my conscience but I need to ask about the consequences – just as Blair failed to do in Iraq. Take in refugees? Yes – but, and this is the crucial bit, not in the way that many are suggesting, which will simply lead to an even greater crisis.

To answer the question in the title, there’s a lot that we could – and should – do without being counterproductive:

1. We want to help those Syrian refugees displaced in countries like Turkey (1.8million), Lebanon (1.2million) and Jordan (over 600,000). This handy map of the region tells a story (but more on that later). Those who are vulnerable, elderly, women and children, and have no money to pay traffickers, generally remain in those countries. They should be a higher priority for our help than generally young, able-bodied men who pay traffickers to illegally traverse safe country after safe country (and who’s to say that money won’t end up financing terrorism?), risking their lives whilst leaving others behind.

2. We don’t welcome those who cynically use the crisis in Syria for their own ends. Those from Bangladesh and elsewhere who try to claim asylum, attempting to capitalise on the Syrians’ suffering, are making life worse for the Syrians.

3. We don’t welcome the European Union’s power grab, manipulating this crisis to seek to seize power over Britain’s borders through a Common Asylum Policy.

4. We don’t welcome those who seek to profit from the misfortune of others, selling pipe dreams and dangerous journeys through Europe from safe country to safe country. Those cruel mercenaries can be stopped, but only through effective border controls.

5. Public opinion is polarised in the UK because we allowed into the country 636,000 new immigrants in the last year. Roughly 96% were economic migrants. If you want to know why some people seem to lack compassion, it’s because our uncontrolled mass immigration system has enormous social consequences and puts many local people out of work. Stem that flow of mass immigration, and the vast majority of people will recognise the legitimate humanitarian concerns over Syria.

6. ISIS has threatened to use the refugee situation as cover to send terrorists into the UK and elsewhere in Europe. We need to take steps to weed out such people.

7. We need to expect the rich Gulf states to do their bit too. According to Amnesty International, six Gulf countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Most of these are some of the richest countries in the world thanks to oil exports. They can afford to help; they should be helping. This isn’t a European crisis, it’s a global crisis. Frankly, Syria’s (near) neighbours should be pulling their weight.

Get this right, and I want us to take our share of refugees. Not from Europe, but from the places where the humanitarian crisis is greatest: Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. I want us to provide humanitarian aid in those countries.

Get it wrong, and our actions become counterproductive – easing consciences without helping to resolve the problem. Compassion? Yes, please. But not naïveté. Naïveté kills people, the very people you claim to want to protect.

The hashtag should probably be:

#refugeeswelcomebutletsdoitlegallyandsensiblycynicalexploitersofrefugeesunwelcome
economicmigrantsonlywelcomewhentheybringtheskillsweneed

But that might be a bit too long for Twitter. It’s not a simple, quick-fix soundbite but a nuanced, thought-out message. My heart wants to sign the #refugeeswelcome petition; my head recognises that being compassionate is also about being sensible. I can’t sign up to something that suggests we should be taking people in from Europe – we should be taking them from the countries where the worst crises lie.

You can read this article on my Huffington Post blog here.

My Column – We have a moral duty to accept our fair share of refugees

As a UKIP member of the European Parliament, the next sentence comes with a number of caveats.

I believe, as a matter of moral duty, that we in the United Kingdom should be prepared to take our fair share of refugees from the current crisis caused by ISIS. Our ill-conceived, disastrous, woolly-minded involvement in Iraq contributed to the conditions necessary for ISIS to thrive and we must shoulder some responsibility ourselves.

We have always had a proud tradition of helping refugees. From the Huguenots, where roughly 50,000 people were settled in the UK over a 40-year period, to 120,000 Russian Jews over a 33-year period at the turn of the 20th century, we have always been a helping nation prepared to show support to those in need.

These movements of people fleeing into Britain, part of the history books which we learn about in school, rarely touched 5,000 a year and fade into insignificance when we consider the numbers of economic migrants arriving in the UK today.

In just one year to March 2015, we allowed 636,000 new people into the country: almost equivalent to the combined populations of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. This may just be scratching the surface; for example, the official figures show 53,000 immigrants from Romania/Bulgaria in the year ending June 2015 – but 214,000 from those countries registered for National Insurance numbers.

In the long-term barely 4% of those we allow into the country are those fleeing persecution. 96% of legal immigration is either through our own economic choice (non-EU) or the free-for-all open-door EU policy.

When Cameron picks on the 4% as easy targets, using dehumanising language like ‘swarm’, I am disgusted. I want us to be firm but fair on the 96%, making sure that those coming to the UK for economic reasons bring skills to benefit our economy.

We also need better security at Calais and our ports. Dangerous journeys across a string of ‘safe’ countries are unacceptable, with no border checks due to the Schengen Agreement on the continent, for people to risk their lives to move from one country to another. Frankly, Schengen contributes towards human suffering as there are no controls preventing unscrupulous traffickers from smuggling refugees across Europe, from safe country to safe country, in the most appalling conditions. Nor am I naive enough to believe that everyone crossing the Mediterranean are actually refugees: tens of thousands from Bangladesh, for example, are known to have used the cover of the crisis to make the journey to Greece and Italy for economic reasons. Such behaviour worsens the conditions and misery of those genuinely fleeing persecution.

Twenty illegal immigrants have just been caught at the Port of Tyne, on a ferry from Amsterdam to the UK. I have every sympathy with genuine refugees fleeing persecution from appalling and brutal conditions in Syria and elsewhere. But no refugees are being persecuted in Holland, and those arriving in North Shields intended to break the law; I am glad that 15 illegal immigrants have already been returned to Holland and hope that the rest will face a similar journey soon. Those facilitating this illegal act should face the full force of the law and, if convicted, should face a stiff penalty designed to deter others contemplating similar crimes.

But in my view that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t – voluntarily, not at the behest of the likes of Angela Merkel putting a gun to our heads – agree to take a share of the massive numbers of refugees. Dead children wash up on a Turkish beach, their journey from war-torn Syria to the Greek island of Kos ending in tragedy. We share a human responsibility.

The UK must have the final say over our own borders, decide our own immigration and asylum policy – but the European Union seeks to turn this crisis, like every crisis into an opportunity to push for ‘more Europe’ and a power-grab to move power from nation states to Brussels. The European Union clearly wants a Common Asylum Policy, and frankly I don’t trust the EU to decide such matters for us.

This is my dilemma as a UKIP MEP. We need to be caring people, willing to do our bit and help out. We want to live up to our heritage and tradition of helping those in need. Yet we’re being sucked into a political vacuum: caught between the rock of being uncaring and the hard place of handing over power to the EU. We’re asked to choose between the current record levels of immigration, and even more immigration.

I’ve had letters from constituents on both sides: those believing we should ‘do our bit’ to help people who have been through the most appalling of conditions, and those who bemoan mass immigration or want us to abide by the law, not pander to the chaos in Calais. In a way, they’re both right. We’re being given false choices: there has to be another way. A way to be human, caring, thoughtful – and dare I say it, British – without permitting current levels of mass economic immigration with all its attendant social problems.

You can read this article on The Chronicle website here.

My Column – Once people start listening to Jeremy Corbyn they may not like what they hear

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t getting my vote for Labour Party leader. Unlike former Tory North East Member of the European Parliament Martin Callanan, I haven’t signed up to the Labour Party to try to obtain one.

In one sense, I welcome the idea that he’d at least put some clear blue water betweenLabour and the Conservatives again. How the Labour Party, from their political perspective, could abstain on the Welfare Bill is beyond me. Corbyn had the courage to defy the whip and vote against.

Although I’m UKIP, there are some ‘left-wing’ ideas that I might agree with; for example, in specific cases where there is a ‘natural monopoly’ I have some personal sympathy with Corbyn on renationalisation.

The Royal Mail is perhaps the best example of this: the service needs to be uniform and equally-priced throughout the country. In such cases, the cost saving from a state monopoly outweighs the cost saving from the efficiency of business.

But as much as I like the fact that he’s not a typical establishment politician, there’s much to worry about with Corbyn.

Some of the accusations made against him are fair, others less so. He’s not only auditioning for the job of leader of the Labour Party, ultimately he’s auditioning for the job of Prime Minister.

Do the meetings he’s held in Parliament, the views of some of his supporters, his favourable comments towards Putin’s Russia, or his virulently anti-Israel comments inspire us to believe that this is a man with the skill, tact and diplomacy required to be Prime Minister?

Corbyn is a naïve yet probably well-meaning idealist in the old-fashioned loony left tradition. His recent plans for all-women carriages on trains is a perfect example. An all-women train carriage begins to label all men as potential predators. It might stigmatise those women who choose not to ride in the all-women carriage. It creates a climate of fear, and it cheapens the problems faced by men who have been assaulted. It suggests that women must hide from men in order to be safe, fuels fear and sexism.

We don’t need gimmicks, we need every level of society to treat sexual assaults against women – and men – with the seriousness that they deserve.

The Left need to wake up to the fact that segregation is segregation, and discrimination is discrimination, even when you have a well-meaning idea behind it.

One of the biggest reasons that Corbyn has an excellent chance of winning is that, for the moment, people are hearing what they want to hear. That won’t be the case when he’s doing Prime Minister’s Questions at the despatch box.

I came across an extreme example of this recently. A friend of mine, who works in a factory, described a conversation that he had with a colleague. “I’m voting for that Corbyn guy”, the colleague gushed, “because he’s going to put a stop to all that immigration”.

“How do you figure that?”, my friend asked. “Well, Labour’s the party of the working man. And all this immigration is taking jobs away from the working man in this country. So Corbyn will put a stop to it.” Corbyn wants more immigration, not less.

I like the fact that Corbyn isn’t a cookie-cutter career politician, repeating platitudes ad nauseam. The trouble for him is, at some point people will start listening to his message and they may not like what they hear.

The other candidates haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory: Cooper and Kendall have both had rather insipid campaigns.

 

 

You can read this article in full on The Chronicle website here.

My Column – Dear Mr. President

The European Union has just released a video comparing the European Union to the federalised structure of the United States. Given President Obama’s recent suggestion that Britain must stay in the European Union, I’ve written an open letter wondering what it would be like if America had to be part of an EU-like structure…

Dear President Obama,

I see you’ve told the United Kingdom that you should stay in the European Union. Politics is all about trying to understand other people’s point of view, so I’m going to try to make it easy for you to understand mine. Put yourself in our shoes, and let’s imagine together what it would be like if America had a fully-fledged equivalent to the European Union.

You could forget the US Constitution. The Republicans claim you forget it anyway, but the pan-American Union would be able to pass laws to override America’s. Your Supreme Court would be allowed to keep the name but would no longer be in any way supreme; new pan-American courts would be able to overrule it – and they would, on a regular basis.

You’re debating at the moment how best to police the border with Mexico. If you had a Union like ours, the answer would be very simple. To get into the United States and have the right to live or work there, all you’d have to do would be to show a Mexican passport. Or a Venezuelan, Argentinian or Canadian passport. Even if they had criminal records, it would be very difficult – bordering on impossible – to say no. To give some idea of the scale we’re talking about, we had more immigration in the year 2010 alone than in all of the years from 1066 to 1950 put together. Imagine the social welfare bill that you’ll create: lots of American workers will lose their jobs because they’ll be undercut by the huge oversupply of migrant labour. The only upside is that it would annoy Donald Trump. A lot.

Actually that’s pretty much the same excuse the British Labour Party gave to voters. Lord Mandleson described it as sending out ‘search parties’ for new immigrants, and one of Tony Blair’s (George Bush’s mate, remember?) advisers said they were doing it to ‘rub the Right’s noses in diversity’. Guess what? Labour have lost the next two elections.

Because you’re a relatively prosperous nation, you’d have to pay in more than you get out. It’d be costing you about $1,750 per year for every family of 4 in the USA. Well, that’s what we’re paying in Europe. As you’re relatively economically prosperous you’d probably have to pay more actually. Then you’d get roughly half of that money handed back to you in ‘grants’. They’d tell you that they were giving you money, expect you to be grateful, and you’d have to take every opportunity to thank them for their overwhelming generosity.

Whilst we’re on the subject of money, I know Americans are very keen on their petrol (you call it ‘gas’ but it’s clearly a liquid to us) prices. Motorists at the pump are paying about $2.60 per gallon today in America. You’ll have to introduce a new fuel tax of at least $1.55 per gallon. Then, on top of the whole price of the fuel, you’ll have to add an extra sales tax (we call it VAT, and your bureaucrats are going to just love it, but more of that later) of at least 15%. By the time you’re done, I’d say that American motorists would have to pay at least an extra $2 a gallon. I don’t think your motorists would like that, but you might try to confuse them: you won’t be measuring fuel in gallons any more, you’ll be measuring it in litres. There’s no choice about it, you’re also going to have to convert to the metric system of measurements. So that it doesn’t confuse people in Paraguay.

In America, the highest Sales Tax is in California at 7.5% but five states have no Sales Tax at all. You’ll have to raise that to a minimum of 15% in Value Added Tax. But you know how a Sales Tax works, right? At the point of sale to the consumer, you charge the tax. VAT is a little more…complicated. At every stage of the manufacturing process, when you go from manufacturer to wholesaler, wholesaler to retailer, you charge VAT. Every time it’s sold on, businesses can reclaim the VAT they’ve paid and charge it to the next business in the chain. It can be paid and reclaimed five or more times until finally the customer pays their tax. Think that’s a recipe for fraud? It is. Think it adds massive red tape and makes your businesses uncompetitive? It does.

You know that trade deal, TTIP, that you’re currently negotiating with Europe? The one that’s causing all the stir about secret courts and opening the British NHS up to competition? Well, you can forget negotiating that trade deal on your own. You’d have a pan-American trade chief to negotiate your trade deals for you. Not in America’s interests? Sorry, but it’s that deal or no deal.

New pan-American laws would override your own. Forget whether they’re actually needed in America or not. And all US businesses would have to abide by those laws, whether they traded outside the European Union or not. You’d get a new ‘Parliament’, but it would have very few actual powers. For arcane reasons no-one would quite be able to understand, once a month every month – regular as clockwork – it would pack its bags and move itself backwards and forwards between Chile and Brazil. The real power would lie with unelected bureaucrats. Despite America being a world power, you’d have one Commissioner just like any of the tiny countries in the continent of America.

You’d get a new anthem, a new flag to fly over your government buildings, and your soldiers would be allowed to fight and die under that flag. Foreign-flagged vessels would be welcome to fish your waters and you’d have an agricultural policy that would be the same for America as the more rural nations.

Have you given any thought to replacing the dollar with a new currency? It might be called something like the panamericano. In Europe, the new currency doesn’t feature greats like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. It has pictures of a series of European bridges. Not real bridges, you’ll understand: that might favour one country over another. Just pictures of things that look like they might be real bridges. It’s all fake, which actually is a great metaphor for our European Union.

If you decided to join the new currency you’d share the same fiscal policy with the whole of South America. I know that Argentina’s currency peg with the dollar didn’t work out too well, but never mind: if you actually shared notes and coins too they’d pretty much be trapped into it, right? On the other hand you could, like the UK, decide not to join. Then whenever one of those countries that did join gets into trouble because it joined, your taxpayers get the privilege of writing a large cheque to bail them out.

You know how America has a vote at the World Trade Organisation and some influence in world affairs? You’d lose that. If you’re anything like us, you’d be hugely unsuccessful. Our record in the Council of Ministers is ‘played 55, lost 55’ – that’s worse even than your Chicago Bears did last season. We opposed 55 measures and were outvoted on every single one. So in theory you’d have a reasonable amount of influence but in practice you’d have next to none.

You can read the rest of this article at my Huffington Post blog here.