My Column – Soccer Scaremongering: The New Political Football

They were bound to have a go, sooner or later. The campaign to stay in the European Union has resorted to fear and scaremongering on almost everything else, and in my experience there are a lot of staunchly anti-EU football fans, so a ‘Brexit would hurt football’ follows as surely as the playoffs follow the regular season.

The argument, such as it is, is that ‘if we leave the EU two-thirds of EU footballers playing in British leagues will have to leave the UK’. Firstly, that’s self-evident nonsense: those already living and working in the UK will, post-Brexit, still have the right to live and work in the UK. What the pro-EU campaign actually means to say (but won’t say, because it doesn’t sound scary enough) is that they fear new footballers coming to the UK might find it harder to get a work permit.

Footballers like Oscar, Pereira, Aguero, Zabaleta, Falcao and Coutinho are able to ply their trade in the Premier League, despite hailing from Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. We don’t have to be governed by Argentina, Brazil or Colombia in order to allow footballers from those countries to play in the Premier League. In fact, the Premier League is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world; players from over 100 countries have played in it. The real question is whether all footballers from other European Union countries, irrespective of ability, should have the automatic right to play in the UK.

To me, that’s not a level playing field. Why should any Latvian footballer be able to play in League 2 if they want, but a Brazilian might not get a work permit to play in the Championship? That’s the system that those who want us to stay in the European Union are defending. They’re defending a free-for-all from some countries, whilst insisting on tough work permits from others.

This matters because more foreign footballers want to come and play in the English leagues than there are English footballers wanting to play abroad. It’s partly the prestige of the Premier League, but also probably in part the fact that across the world, English is taught as a foreign language in most schools. Looking to move elsewhere to play? It’s quite important to be able to communicate with your new teammates. Because there’s a disparity in numbers, there are advantages and disadvantages to English football of foreign players in our leagues. The advantage is best seen in the Premier League, where the overall standard is much higher than it would otherwise be. The disadvantage is that it’s that much harder for English footballers to get the game time that they need. Scouting networks across the world become as important to clubs as developing talent locally in England, and the knock-on effect is that our own youth players find it harder to develop and gain experience. In the lower leagues, That said, having top foreign players in the Premier League can provide some benefit; those young players who do shine through have the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the world before they ever get chance to pull on an England shirt.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could control this a little better than we do; for the FA to negotiate with the government a work permit policy which allow in the right number of foreign players to develop the game (irrespective of which country they come from), whilst maintaining a semblance of control that is badly lacking. To see that this is a genuine problem, look no further than Greg Dyke, the Chairman of the FA, who said “my fear for the future of English football is the Premier League ends up being owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners and played by foreigners.” In fact, over 150 times a Premier League starting 11 hasn’t included a single British footballer.

The Bosman ruling is another example of how forcing a single system upon the UK can cause problems. It had an enormous impact upon British clubs, leaving lower-league clubs in financial difficulties. As Sir Alex Ferguson described it, “Once the European Court of Justice ruled that clubs no longer had to pay transfer fees after the expiration of a player’s contract, all hell broke loose. Suddenly it was a free-for-all.”

Prior to the Bosman ruling, the Bosman situation could not have occurred in English football. Jean-Marc Bosman played for Belgian side Liege. His contract expired, and French outfit Dunkirk offered him an improved deal. Liege demanded a huge transfer fee which Dunkirk couldn’t pay, then cut Bosman’s wages by three quarters. This injustice couldn’t have happened in the UK; at the time, there was already some protection at the end of a contract.

Bosman won his case in the European Court of Justice, but it led to the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Bosman himself described what followed: “Now the 25 or so richest clubs transfer players for astronomical sums and smaller clubs cannot afford to buy at those prices. So the 25 pull further and further away from the rest, deepening the gap between big and small. That was not the aim of the Bosman ruling.” Inside the European Union, the Bosman ruling is a fact of life. Outside the European Union, we would have three choices: Keep the Bosman ruling as it is, scrap the Bosman ruling, or come up with our own system that’s fair to everyone.

With both foreign footballers and the Bosman case, there is a common theme. Stay in the European Union, and we are forced to keep the current system; whether that’s discriminating between EU and non-EU footballers or the Bosman ruling. Leave the European Union, and we’re not forced into anything. We can choose whatever system actually works for us, rather than having to fit into the EU one-size-fits-all straitjacket.

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

My Column – Make up your own mind about the EU referendum – it is the most important decision we’ll make for a generation

The Labour Party is busy. In amongst the rifts and the factionalism, the Blairites versus the Corbynistas, the left versus the far-left, another fight is developing. This time, it’s about squashing dissent on the European Union. A small but growing band of Labour MPs have dared to put their careers on the line to speak out and stand up for an old Labour tradition of Euroscepticism; they say that Britain would be better off by leaving the European Union. In the days of Clement Atlee or Tony Benn – Hugh Gaitskell even – these dyed-in-the-wool Labour Party giants stood up against the forerunner of today’s European Union.

Today that same charge is led by Kate Hoey, who I respect more than any other Labour MP. There’s Frank Field, the solid Northern MP for Birkenhead. Gisela Stuart MP was pro-European Union until she assisted in drafting the European Constitution [now Lisbon Treaty], and what she saw put her off the EU for good. Then there’s Khalid Mahmood, an MP from the Birmingham area who wants to leave the EU to help his local business community. Kelvin Hopkins wants to leave to boost workers’ rights, and to give the power to renationalise railways and postal services. I might add Graham Stringer, Roger Godsiff or closer to home, Ronnie Campbell – MP for Blyth Valley. Labour’s biggest private donor, John Mills, is putting his money where his mouth is to join the campaign. At the periphery, there’s a former Defence minister in Lewis Moonie.

It’s a pretty solid base considering the vitriol aimed at them by their own supporters. I’ve spoken to senior people in the various Leave campaigns; their experience is that a large number of Labour councillors will privately support EU withdrawal. But very few, if any, dare to go on the record. They’re tearing their hair out with frustration at all the untapped support. I’ve heard words along the lines of “I used to be a Labour councillor. I don’t agree with UKIP on much, but we need to be out of the European Union” many times, often through chance encounters when campaigning. Labour councillors have often turned up to UKIP events, usually because they’re interested in leaving the EU.

But don’t expect them to admit to it. Kate Hoey is branded a ‘serial maverick’ by the deputy leader of Labour’s MEPs. I would have thought that David Lammy MP’s comment that “A million Indians died fighting for us, they fought for the European project” should be considered more maverick not least because he rewrites history and forgets that the EU didn’t exist in any form until a long time after World War 2.

Then one of the North East Labour MEPs attacks the Labour Leave website. As I understand it, the Labour Leave – like Conservative Leave and so on – are all umbrella organisations of Vote Leave. The Labour Leave website was set up by some of the top people in Vote Leave. Cue faux outrage and an absurd leap of logic, the Labour mavericks must be in cahoots with Tories! Spin aside, it’s no more than pro-EU Labour MPs are in cahoots with David Cameron.

Top Labour donor John Mills hits the nail on the head: ‘There are many Labour MPs who do want out of Europe but won’t say so’. He’s right, even if he does confuse the wonderful continent of Europe with the appalling European Union. Indeed, even Jeremy Corbyn was for decades a staunch Eurosceptic. He wouldn’t rule out campaigning to leave the EU until he realised that he might be deposed by his own MPs if he did.

But for now the number of Labour MPs prepared to speak out against the European Union remains small. It’s the tyranny of the majority; rebellion would not be treated kindly. The Labour Party is broadly pro-EU, but it is not united. It’s telling that when Mills called for Shadow Cabinet members to have the freedom to campaign for a ‘Leave’ vote if they wish, no movement was forthcoming. If such a policy applied to the Shadow Cabinet, then other MPs and councillors might follow suit rather than lying low. Ultimately what certain elements of the Labour Party don’t want you to know is that it’s okay to be Labour and to want our freedom back from the European Union. I could say the same incidentally about the Greens; Jenny Jones, former Deputy Mayor of London and one of the Green Party’s three members of the House of Lords, is vocal in the anti-EU campaign.

Why does any of this matter? Why am I, as a UKIP MEP, writing about the Labour Party? Because the forthcoming referendum is the most important decision we’ll make for a generation. I’d urge everyone to look at the issues for themselves and make up their own minds, rather than unthinkingly vote according to what they perceive as the Party line.

This article was originally published in The Journal.

My Column – Taking Up the Challenge: Why We Must Leave the EU

One of the other North East MEPs, Labour’s Jude Kirton-Darling, has written a defence of the European Union in the Huffington Post. For today’s column, I thought it might make sense to take up the challenge, examine some of the arguments used – and see whether they stand up to scrutiny. She believes that the referendum will take place as early as June – just 6 months from now. I beg to differ; June just 5 months away. It would in any event be an incredibly tight timescale and Cameron would run into some logistical problems. But I digress. Let’s look at the key arguments:

“Decisions made by elected MEPs or national ministers are turned into ‘diktats from Brussels’ in the UK mainstream media or the annual reports of the Court of Auditors on the EU accounts are ignored in favour of the ongoing lie that the EU’s accounts have not been signed off.”

The phrase ‘diktats from Brussels’ relate to the fact that, almost every time, the driving force behind new legislation is the unelected Commission. Elected MEPs end up being little more than a rubber-stamping chamber. There is no ‘government’ and ‘opposition’ in the European Parliament, meaning that it’s much harder for a bad piece of legislation to be blocked. That’s why, for example, new VAT rules are costing British jobs right here, right now.

What about the European Union accounts? Well, it’s splitting hairs to argue that they have ‘been signed off’. The Court of Auditors said this about the accounts: “Payments for 2014 are materially affected by error. We therefore give an adverse opinion on their legality and regularity”. Straightforward and simple enough? We’re talking about €6 billion of taxpayers’ money affected by either error, or fraud. Hence for example the very accurate headline in the Times saying ‘Billions spent by Brussels is irregular and possibly illegal‘.

The next complaint is as follows: “Every grievance is given its European scapegoat, most recently shown with attempts to blame the floods on the EU, rather than budget cuts and climate change…False claims need to be challenged and exposed.”
Sadly, dredging of rivers is genuinely harder with the European Water Framework Directive. That increases the risk of flooding.

And under the Common Agricultural Policy, trees are unnecessarily chopped down so that farmers receive subsidy. Yet trees retain water 67 times better than grass. If the water isn’t retained, it floods. Don’t believe it from me, because I’m UKIP? How aboutMonbiot in the Guardian?

The next claim, I actually agree with. “Poorer regions of the UK are more dependent on exports to the EU than richer ones. Exports to the EU account for 15% of private sector output in the North East of England supporting around 170,000 jobs in the region”

But as trade with the EU would continue outside the EU, this is a complete irrelevance to the debate on whether we should be members of the European Union. In fact, jobs are being lost today through our EU membership. Does anyone seriously think that, had we not been bound by the European Union’s rules, we would still have been incapable of saving the steel industry in Redcar?

“Moreover, the North East is the largest net beneficiary of EU membership of the English regions – vital investment into our infrastructure, business development and skills.”

We spend £55 million every day on our membership of the European Union. Just over half of that is returned to us, with strings attached. It’s not spent as efficiently as it should be, and far too much of the money is wasted on bureaucracy. The parochial attempt to hypothecate different amounts of money for different regions, and claim that the North East ‘is a net beneficiary’, is shaky at best statistically and economically. The obvious point is that by leaving the EU we could replace every penny of that spending, make sure it’s spent far more efficiently, and the Treasury would have an extra £10 billion per year or so. Quite useful at a time of austerity, no?

The best defence Labour have to offer? ‘Oh but the Tories would never do that’. The last defence of Labour: blame the Conservatives. But which Party is in government today shouldn’t determine the next few decades of our future. The argument is a house of cards which falls down when examined.

“EU rules have cleaned our air, beaches and waterways, delivered equal pay for men and women and rights to paid holiday for all workers, and ensured redress for consumers.”

I’ve already destroyed this claim in much more detail in a previous article. But this is another example of the kind of historic revisionism that the European Union loves. I’ve covered much of this before but I’ll give just one example. We joined the EU (or its forerunner) in 1973. The Equal Pay Act was passed in the UK in 1970. So unless the European Union is capable of time travel, it did not deliver equal pay for men and women.

The case for the European Union is wafer-thin. It collapses almost immediately on closer examination. And don’t forget, there are some brave Labour MPs – like Kate Hoey, Khalid Mahmood, Frank Field, Graham Stringer, Ronnie Campbell and Kelvin Hopkins – who recognise that the EU is against the interests of the Left wing of British politics as well as the Right. Fortunately, Jude Kirton-Darling’s views are not universal in the Labour Party!

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

My Column – Right for All the Wrong Reasons: Times Tables by Age 11

We’re living in a technology-driven world. Calculations can be done in an instant; you no longer even need to reach for your calculator. A tablet, ipad, laptop or mobile telephone will almost certainly have a calculator function – you’re never far away from something that will help you to deal with basic arithmetic if you can’t do it for yourself.

Why, then, is learning times tables in any way relevant in a modern classroom? You’d be forgiven for thinking that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has got it wrong, yet again, when she suggests that all children should know their times tables up to 12 x 12 by the age of 11. Yet as a former Maths teacher I’m convinced that knowledge of such essential arithmetic by the end of primary school is vital. I have a sneaky suspicion though that she may be correct by accident; right for completely wrong reasons. The unions have now come out and opposed Morgan, for the puerile and overly-simplistic reason that ‘everyone has a calculator now’. I speak from personal experience when I say that this spectacularly misses the point. Shouldn’t the teaching unions be talking to the maths teachers they represent?

There’s a tendency in the Conservative Party to hark back to the ‘good old days’, to suggest that education has lost something in recent decades as trendy teaching methods have replaced the traditional, that a certain amount of learning by rote can be a useful academic exercise and develop concentration. As a former teacher, I think that’s an over-simplistic approach which has the occasional grain of truth. Different children learn in different ways. The modern approach encourages children to develop skills of problem-solving, which in some ways offers a significant advantage. But it also risks leaving other children behind. Depending on the subject, or even the topic, factual learning is vital.

When I learned Spanish at school, there was an emphasis on vocabulary and verbs. If you don’t learn the words you need to know, or learn patterns of regular and irregular verbs, you won’t be able to speak the language. As teaching of modern foreign languages has lessened its emphasis on such learning, I’ve noticed a decline in the ability of students to speak correctly in the target language. Recently, on one of the Spanish islands, I was discussing an image with a graphic designer. He made a change which I hadn’t requested, and it didn’t look right. “No, the one you had before”, I said. He undid the change, then said “When English people speak Spanish they always get the verbs mixed up. But you use them perfectly”. In Spanish (as in English) there are many past tenses. All I’d done was choose the correct one. Learn a couple of phrases which use the tenses correctly, drop them into an exam – and hey presto, you’ve fooled an examiner into believing that you know the tense. Great for picking up a decent exam grade, but unhelpful for actually using the language.

Here’s the point: factual learning should never be done for the sake of it, harking back to some halcyon days that probably never even existed in the first place. When there’s a genuine educational need, that’s a different matter altogether. There is such a need for learning times tables, but I haven’t heard it come from Nicky Morgan’s mouth.

When I was teaching Mathematics, I always found it far easier to teach a range of topics, from algebra to geometry, from trigonometry to Pythagoras, to those who already had a basic arithmetic knowledge. The difference became more striking to me when teaching older children; at age 15 or 16 it became more important than at age 11. Questions might require, say, five steps of working out. At different stages, there will be a need to perform a simple arithmetic calculation. Those who did not know the answer would either have to work it out, or (if a calculator was allowed on that examination paper) input the numbers into a calculator. The thought process was broken; in having to take time to deal with basic arithmetic they would forget some of the detail of the question. From there, mistakes would creep in. The student who knew their times tables (and was proficient in adding and subtracting quickly) was in a position to continue and solve the problem uninterrupted. Those who possessed basic arithmetic proficiency would consistently outperform those who did not. If we want to improve mathematical standards in our secondary schools, then it is important to make sure that we first improve standards of numeracy in our primary schools.

To take a more advanced example, as a personal point of professional awareness whilst teaching I made sure that I knew all of my square numbers up to 50 x 50. If you know that 10 x 10 = 100, then 11 x 9 is one less than 100, which is 99. Know that 12 x 12 = 144? Then it follows that 13 x 11 = 143. Using that simple trick, and because I knew 23 x 23, I could work out instantly that 24 x 22 = 528. After learning a few more similar tricks, two-digit multiplications became very easy for me – though no doubt politics has dulled some of my sharpness by now.

At age 11, knowing your times tables up to 12 x 12 is hugely beneficial. It doesn’t need to be done by government diktat with league tables created to show how well one school is performing against another. It doesn’t need to be a cause of stress for teachers worried about how a poor performance from their class will reflect upon them. All that is needed is for a renewed focus and emphasis on times tables in primary education. This is the point that the unions should have focused on: introducing a battery of new tests ready to be rolled out across the country is a bureaucratic waste of time and money. Morgan misses the point here once again, but at least she was correct – albeit for the wrong reasons – on the issue of times tables.

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

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.