Show’s over, now it’s back to business for UKIP

I’ve been in UKIP since 2001, not that you’d know it from a Party database that stubbornly insists I didn’t join till 2005.  Believe me, I’ve seen all this before.

I caught the back end of a massive internal row from 2000. In 2003 I was involved when the Party suspended two of its own regional committees in a candidate selection row.  There’s been Kilroy, the Petrina Holdsworth saga, the end of Roger Knapman. I defended the two court cases over UKIP’s 2009 European election candidate selection and the case of the missing laptop in Morocco.

 There was the Nikki Sinclaire nonsense and the Marta Andreasen spat, not forgetting the David Campbell Bannerman dummy-spit, so I’ve seen more schisms and other isms than most.  And there’s dozens more you could never possibly have heard of – some bizarre and others just good old-fashioned slanging matches.

In 2015 we’ve had our internal row in front of the world’s media. We’re the third party now in the UK in terms of votes (and by the way, weren’t the previous third party – the Lib Dems -venomous when THEY decapitated a leader?) so it’s no surprise that the UKIP soap opera is worth watching this time.

Tomorrow’s papers will be harsh.  There’s been briefing and counter-briefing, spin and argument.  And, just as quickly, the whole thing is over.  The Party will shed a couple of Nigel’s closest advisors, the sacrifice offered to the metaphorical gods has been accepted and the whole thing can now pipe down.

Nigel Farage remains as leader of UKIP.  There’s no leadership election on the horizon any more.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that.  The spectacle will be well and truly over, provided that there are no recriminations against those who dared to speak their minds.

Does the Party need a change of direction? I’m not ashamed to say that it does, although I wrote this article on Monday evening before the fuss started:

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/news-opinion/ukip-understand-argument-immigration—9259149#ICID=sharebar_twitter

If I’d known what was coming, would I have written it? Possibly not, or at least I’d have waited a couple of weeks.  But whilst Labour’s internal wranglings will last till September, UKIP is ready to take stock and make the few changes that we need to make.

A more positive narrative, a broader message and a bit of attention to detail over candidate selection.  There are some big issues coming up in British politics, and I don’t for a minute believe that UKIP will allow these to be ignored.

I’m off to do the Daily Politics tomorrow, to talk about the big issues  coming from across the channel, and to refocus on what matters: a common-sense agenda for transforming British politics.

Or to put it another way…nothing to see here, time to move on.

My Column – The Firing Squad in Indonesia

I went to the European Parliament chamber last week for a ‘debate’ about the death penalty in Indonesia following executions of Australians for drugs smuggling. A woman from my European Parliamentary constituency, Lindsay Sandiford, is on death row in Indonesia facing charges. Naturally, I wished to contribute to the debate.

I didn’t want to talk about the issue of the death penalty itself, for two reasons:

1. It’s not our business to tell Indonesia to abolish the death penalty

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage MEP is strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances; his deputy Paul Nuttall MEP is in favour of the death penalty for certain types of murder. Different views and opinions occur naturally in a democratic society.

The UK may have views on elements of the Indonesian justice system, of course, and we may wish to point those out through diplomatic channels but we should also recognise that it’s a sovereign self-governing nation.

2. It’s probably counterproductive to tell Indonesia to abolish the death penalty

If they think that we’re opposing the death penalty in and of itself, on a point of principle, then they’re probably less likely to listen to the specific reasoned arguments that can be put forward in Lindsay Sandiford’s case.

I intended to speak of those reasoned arguments in the European Parliament. It is fundamentally, morally wrong that she should be sentenced to death after having co-operated with police – and being told that such co-operation would lead to a prison sentence not a death sentence. But it’s also hugely counterproductive to Indonesia’s fight against the drugs trade. If those caught feel that they can’t trust an offer of leniency in exchange for identifying drug kingpins, what will happen? They will have no incentive whatsoever to assist in the capture of those who make millions from the drugs trade. I planned to make these arguments in the European Parliament, to urge President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to consider clemency in this case because it is in his interests to do so. Such an argument is likely to prove more persuasive than an argument on a moral basis.

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

My Column – An Open Letter About ‘That’ Anti-Ukip Note

To the person who posted this note on the window of the UKIP office in Bromley:

I’d like to start by saying ‘thank you’. That might seem strange given that your note attacks UKIP, but you may be aware that recently in different parts of the country we’ve had offices attacked by criminals. We’ve seen intimidation, violence and threats of violence against us. And of course, only recently, our Party Leader Nigel Farage MEP was enjoying lunch with his 10-year-old and 15-year-old daughters when he was accosted by a group of ‘activists’ who so terrified his children by their antics that they ran away and had to be returned home by police. The behaviour of those thugs (and I’m sorry but I can’t think of a better word to describe them) was so bad that their hired coach driver refused to transport them back.

So, thank you for displaying your message and making your political point in a reasonable and dignified way. That’s what genuine political debate and the freedom to protest is all about, and you have taught your teenage son a powerful lesson: your message has been circulated widely online and had a greater impact than those who don’t respect that we live in a democratic country.

I hope that I can respond to you in a similar fashion. You speak of fear, hatred and prejudice. Yet UKIP is the only party, and I mean the only party, that has a genuinely fair, ethical and colour-blind policy on immigration. If that surprises you, think of this: UKIP believes in controlled immigration into the UK. We wouldn’t discriminate between someone from Poland and someone from Pakistan: we would very simply treat everyone equally. In the 1980s and 1990s we had average net migration in the order of 30,000 per year. Today, that figure has increased ten-fold to 300,000 per year. It is reasonable, I think, for a party to say that the scale of this increase is unsustainable.

You also must consider the effect that emigration has upon those countries who lose people that their economies can ill-afford to lose. In my constituency, I might give the example of a very hard-working local taxi driver. He is a qualified teacher in Romania, yet now regularly works 70 or 80 hours a week in the UK, at or around minimum wage. He earns money that he could never have dreamed of in Romania, yet here he does a job which does not require a degree. We currently have a massive oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the UK. There are fewer such jobs today: our factories are now managed by complex computer systems requiring degree-educated workers to operate them, and even our supermarkets are turning to automated checkouts. Yet the open door from Europe means that anyone can come in to the UK.

So Romania is deprived of a teacher, someone desperately needed to help to develop that country’s economy. Meanwhile, because he is prepared to work for minimum wage this has the effect of driving down the wages of those already in the UK, and he takes a job which someone currently unemployed could have learned to do. Whilst he might personally be richer, both the UK and Romania are poorer because of it.

But what if someone is moving to the UK from a country where they have an oversupply of skills yet we are deficient in that area? In that case, the migration would benefit both countries: their unemployment would be lower, and it would help to develop British business. That would be an obvious example of the kind of immigration which is beneficial to the UK. Now, in the long-term we might ask the question whether our own skill shortages reflect a deficiency in our education system.

And when Syria started being torn apart by unrest and violence leading to civil war, who was it who led the way in demanding that the British government should do our bit and take our fair share of refugees? Why it was none other than UKIP Leader Nigel Farage! At the time, Anna Musgrave of the Refugee Council said “We really hope that David Cameron listens to these people, listens to the likes of Nigel Farage, and acts upon it”.

You see, controlling immigration isn’t about race, or hatred, or prejudice. It’s about doing the right thing – not just for our country, but for other countries as well. So you need not feel shame or indignation when you walk past a UKIP office.

As for your allegation that we’re ‘racist’, former members of the BNP, English Defence League, National Front and similar organisations are banned for life from joining UKIP. We don’t want racists in our midst, thank you very much. And whilst it’s true that some of our members have said bad things, we do not accept it and we’re the Party that takes swift disciplinary action against them. The media have certainly ‘cherry-picked’ though: when a UKIP candidate says bad things it’s headline news – whereas when it’s an establishment Party candidate it rarely goes beyond the local newspapers.

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

My Column – We have a chance to curb the excesses of the European Union

A tyrannical king once asked a wise man, ‘What shall I do for the betterment of our people?’

The wise man replied, ‘The best thing you could do for your people is to remain in bed until noon so that for this brief period you shall not afflict mankind’.

As the European Union juggernaut rolls on, sometimes it feels like all I can do as a member of the European Parliament is to try to stem the tide of new legislation which damages Britain’s interests and business.

This week, though, was slightly different. We were able to score a few minor victories which might actually help local people.

On the Budgetary Control committee, one of our group’s amendments (to stop EU subsidies for political parties).

It was my vote as Ukip that made the difference and we won by 14 to 13. As ever with the European Union, nothing is so simple. Not so long ago, MEPs voted to stop our taxes subsidising Spanish bullfights – but the subsidies still continue.

Likewise, this won’t stop millions of pounds of our taxes funding political parties but we’ve won the first battle in a much larger fight.

 

 

You can read the rest of my column on the Journal website here.

 

My Column – Beware of the European Union Bearing Gifts

History seems to repeat itself in the European Parliament altogether too often. This week in Strasbourg the European Parliament voted for a well-meaning yet naive proposal to cap the costs that can be charged for card payments at a very low level. Whether this ever actually becomes law is an open question, but in the meantime no doubt we will hear plenty of it from the EU’s PR machine.

Remember when the European Parliament voted to end mobile phone roaming charges whilst in other European countries? It happened a number of years ago, but was finally due to come into force at the end of this year.

In the meantime, forgetting the legislation, consumer demand had already overtaken the EU’s processes. Imagine that phone companies were preparing to comply. They’d be removing charges from phone calls from other EU countries. But in fact, something very different occurred. With no legislative prodding at all, providers started to respond to demand. From Australia or the USA, with New Zealand soon to follow, charges are scrapped with my provider: I can call home for free. Non-EU European countries like Norway and Switzerland got in on the act too. In fact, calling home is now free from more non-EU countries than EU countries – despite the obvious point that Europe is geographically closer than the USA, Indonesia or Sri Lanka.

The EU didn’t do it, the market did. But for years, when asked to provide just a single benefit of EU membership to ordinary people that we can’t get outside, the go-to answer was that mobile phone prices would come down. Just like the EU claiming credit for NATO’s success in keeping the peace in Europe, or for ‘European funding’ that just gives us some of our own taxes back with strings attached, they claimed the credit for the role of the free market.

If you force these things to happen when a company can’t make a business case for it (yes, my phone calls from Belgium when I’m in the European Parliament are still pricey), then they’ll just quietly put up their line rental prices to cover the cost. Frankly, I think that would be a bad thing: the public shouldn’t have to pay to subsidise what would be free international calls for MEPs!

And then, this year, the proposal was quietly scrapped. Not with the fanfare that had greeted the announcement in the first place, but with a tumbleweed blowing across the front of the European Parliament.

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

My Column – If we get the decision on e-cigarettes wrong it could cost many lives

I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life. I just don’t trust myself not to enjoy it too much, and to become addicted.

When I was a teenager, and my friends were trying cigarettes, I chose not to for that reason.

Normally I’d be the last person to write an article about smoking. But recently, I’ve noticed that many – if not most – of my friends who smoke have replaced their cigarettes with e-cigarettes.

Some have tried for years, and failed, to quit smoking altogether. So I’m happy to see them doing something which is much less unhealthy. And here in the North East, we have the highest rates of smoking in the country.

Now, after a couple in Staffordshire were barred from adopting because one of them had used an e-cigarette, we learn that North Tyneside and Durham councils have similar rules – flying in the face of advice from Public Health England and the Fostering Network, depriving children of loving families.

 

 

You can read the rest of my column on the Journal website here.

My Column – Explaining (Aggressive) Tax Avoidance and Evasion

In the media, we’re constantly hearing talk of tax avoidance, aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion. Changing one word for another can completely change the meaning of a sentence. So when we talk about clamping down on ‘immoral’ ways to get out of paying tax, what do we mean? And what should the country do about it?

A very simplistic (and therefore, perhaps, slightly wrong) view is to say that tax avoidance is legal, and tax evasion illegal; avoidance being about finding ways within the law to minimise the tax you pay, and evasion being about deceiving the Inland Revenue over your true tax position.

The current situation goes back to one of the most famous legal cases, in 1936, with a ruling handed down by Lord Tomlin on the Duke of Westminster’s tax arrangements:

“Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow tax-payers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.”

Those who want to legally avoid tax have relied on this ruling ever since, although it was modified slightly in 1981 in the Ramsay case. Now, a deliberate and aggressive attempt to exploit a loophole isn’t enough to save you from legally having to pay tax: a court may take into account the purpose of the legislation. To take a rather silly example, if Parliament were to introduce a tax on all red cars, then you fixed a black stripe on it and claimed ‘I don’t have to pay the tax any more because this car is no longer fully red’, you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Actually there’s a lesson here that politicians should be careful about how they introduce new taxes: in 1696, a law was introduced taxing people based upon the number of windows in their house, and it wasn’t long before windows were bricked up across the country with consequent lack of fresh air and health issues. Getting the law right is important.

First of all, what do we want to achieve? We want to ensure that large multinational companies pay their share in tax. We want to ensure that it’s no longer in the interests of the very rich to hire hugely expensive accountants because it’s still cheaper than paying the tax that’s owed.

But at the same time, we don’t want to harm the small business which is in a precarious situation. Whether a business voluntarily registers for VAT or not, whether mileage is calculated on the HMRC per-mile rate or based on the depreciation of the car, or whether a sole trader registers as a company or is self-employed – these decisions are often taken on the basis of what’s best for the business, and which option will pay the least tax.

 

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

 

 

My Column – Ukip – Voting Yes in the European Parliament?

I’m writing this article on my way back from Strasbourg, having just voted in favour of a motion for probably the first time since being elected as a Ukip MEP. Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia, because his blog was critical of the religious system. I voted to condemn the flogging of Raif Badawi and call upon the Saudi authorities to release him. Seems fair enough? All Badawi did was exercise his freedom of speech.

But as ever, these things are not quite as simple as they appear. The political groups drafting the resolution tend to take the opportunity to add other things in. Sometimes it’s a call for taxpayers’ money to be spent on a project that we don’t need.

Maybe you’ve seen a Twitter advert which asked “Why do Ukip hate elephants so much?” after six of our MEPs (before I was elected) voted against a resolution. The resolution concerned complained that the UK and other nations are allowed to set our own laws on wildlife crime. It called for the harmonisation of all member states’ laws on wildlife crime. As the UK already has very strict laws on ivory, we don’t want our laws to be weakened. We were also concerned about the text suggesting Europol should get involved, because the European police force lacks many of the checks and balances of the British police. The headline vote was to oppose the ivory trade; the practical implications would have done the opposite.

Back to today’s vote, there were a few parts of the resolution I wasn’t comfortable with. It called on the European Commission to intervene, which rarely ends well. The text was quite badly-drafted in condemning all corporal punishment: are they really equating a parent giving a child a smack with a brutal thousand-lash public flogging of a blogger? I’m not wishing to comment on the debate over parental discipline here, but that’s precisely my point: it isn’t relevant to a resolution about the case of Raif Badawi. So why was it in there?

On a more international note, a sentence in the text compared Saudi Arabian punishments to those of ISIS. Was that text really necessary or could it be counterproductive diplomatically to compare the two? Just because there’s a grain of truth to that sentence doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to put it in a resolution.

In the end, after much soul-searching and despite my misgivings, I decided I ought to vote in favour of the resolution. I told my assistant that I would be doing so, and expected I would be rebelling against the Party line (Ukip doesn’t really have a formal ‘whipping’ system, but we try to achieve a consensus if we can). We normally abstain on similar issues. Then something remarkable happened: I went to the voting meeting, only to find that our staff were also recommending we vote in favour of the resolution. The humanitarian issue, they argued, was so clear that it overrode our other concerns over the text.

 

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

 

 

 

 

My Column – The screw in my sofa was too tight – but the whole European Union system has a screw loose

I normally write in this column about the major political issues of the day, but nothing better encapsulates what’s wrong with the European Union than the curious incident of the sofa in my office.

On July 1, the new MEPs took up our seats and we were shown to our shiny new offices. Everything is luxurious, but utterly grey and soulless: just like the European Union itself.

Each office comes with a wooden unit with drawers, wardrobes and a fold-out sofa built in.

I arrived in my Brussels office, only to find that someone had screwed the sofa shut. Not having a screwdriver of the right size handy, not wanting to risk taking a screwdriver from the UK in case of awkward questions at customs, and thinking it was a straightforward task, I asked for the Parliament’s furniture services to simply come and remove the screw.

“Remove the screw?” I was told, in horror. “But you are a député. You must have a new sofa!” My protests about waste fell on deaf ears.

 

 

You can read the rest of this article in my Journal column here.

My Column – Target-Driven Madness: UK Energy Policy

Perhaps nowhere is the short-termism of British politics better seen than in energy. Here, the Left-Right divide is stark but utterly meaningless. But perhaps the concept of Left and Right is outdated since the rise of Ukip, a Party with a blend of traditionally right-wing and traditionally left-wing thinking combined under the umbrella of common sense.

With energy, it is the Right which seems to be concerned about the cost of energy to working people; the Left, about meeting arbitrary environmental targets irrespective of cost. Just like Ukip’s approach to crime (which cuts through the old Right-Left deterrence-rehabilitation argument by seeing criminal justice not as a choice between the two but as two sides of the same coin), our energy stance cuts through the political spin. We are derided for it by an established political class which is bereft of its own new ideas. This article, though, is my own personal thoughts rather than a statement of Ukip policy.

Biomass is a textbook example of target-driven government policy missing an open goal. When a tree in the UK is cut down, it needs to be dried out (up to 50% of the weight is likely to be water due to our wet climate) and then processed. Pretty much every part of the tree is useful for something. Even sawdust can be used for example in the production of chipboard.

Whatever the wood itself has been used for, at the end of its life it can be recycled. Once the nails and other contaminants have been removed, it can be used again. At each stage of the process, there will be some dust which isn’t really suitable for making anything. It might be that, on average, the same piece of wood could be used and recycled six times. In that time, it has perhaps been an internal door, a kitchen surface, laminate flooring and a chest of drawers.

 

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