1 Down, 23 To Go

For all the celebrations last May from UKIP at ‘winning’ the European elections (on a very low turnout), and achieving an unprecedented 24 MEPs, those who had seen it all before were instead mentally marking up the odds of how many UKIP MEPs would be left by 2019.

Anticipation and history suggested strongly that the tally won’t be good. UKIP’s track record of keeping and maintaining MEPs is remarkably poor. To lose one or two maybe careless but to lose over half during the last Parliamentary session suggests a far more serious problem within the party.

And it’s in this context we note that the Telegraph reports that UKIP MEP Bashir has defected to the Conservative Party:

One of the UK Independence Party’s most senior politicians has defected to the Conservatives in a major blow to Nigel Farage’s general election campaign.

Amjad Bashir, a Ukip MEP and the party’s leading Asian figure, told The Telegraph that Ukip had become a “party of ruthless self-interest” that was incapable of delivering a referendum on membership of the European Union. 

Interestingly the Mail also reports the defection with a different headline emphasising perhaps there was a different motive:

A senior Ukip MEP has defected to the Conservative Party as it emerged that he was suspended pending investigations into ‘extremely serious financial and employment questions’, the party said.

With two contrasting accounts for the defection it’s naturally difficult to say for certain which report would be the most accurate. However given that the Mail’s ‘breaking news’ piece had a link to the Telegraph website (which it very rarely does and is now removed) would indicate that Telegraph were planning this for a Sunday scoop. Thus all the signs suggest that having got wind of the defection the Mail has been briefed as a spoiler from sources close to Farage.

Whatever the true reasons though we can only agree with much of Bashir’s analysis of UKIP:

In a damning broadside against his former colleagues, he described Ukip as “pretty amateur” and condemned its “ridiculous” lack of policies. He said the party was “delusional” about its chances of winning seats in May.

The lack of UKIP policies has long been issue and has led to defections before. Yet to point this out, even as rather gentle constructive criticism, invited much ridicule.

But the facts are clear, UKIP participated in the European Elections with no manifesto, and despite reassurances to its supporters by Farage leader that there would be a fully costed one by the 2015 general election we see little sign of one. Even here its deja vu all over again:

Ukip’s policy chief has quit just six weeks ahead of the party’s manifesto launch in February.

Thus UKIP candidates are being thrown into an election campaign with no party policies; a betrayal of those who have to campaign on doorsteps and in hustings meetings. No wonder many of them (maybe in frustration) are in absence sending out to the electorate the 2010 version which was dismissed by Farage as drivel.

So with a general election impending UKIP’s catalogue of bad press is increasing substantially. Much of it self-inflicted is now entering its third month and shows no sign of letting up. It’s clear there UKIP has significant problems which particularly suggests a deep dissatisfaction with the leadership.

Any idea that UKIP will hold the balance of power or even help the eurosceptic cause secure a referendum is looking wildly over-optimistic.

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Ex EU Commissioner Leon Brittan Dies

The headline, of course, could have just as easily said “Ex EU Commissioner Leon Brittan dies”.

No doubt in part related to significant allegations made against him towards the end of his life, Brittan is seen as controversial.

But we mustn’t also forget he was a long line of Tory MPs who supported further European integration and went “native” particularly over the UK’s membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – the very mechanism which led directly to the early ’90s recession and so-called Black Wednesday. While Thatcher was fighting a rearguard action against membership, Brittan helped to isolate her.

The subsequent consequences of ERM membership were disastrous for Britain and for the rest of us.

One however appreciates the irony that being an EU Commissioner means always referring to the UK as a member state and never specifically naming the country of his birth (always “the country I know best” – in Euro speak) with the homophone that was his name.

We on this blog, rightly or wrongly, have never been a great fan of the phrase – or belief – of “not speaking ill of the dead”. Our view of him while he was alive is no different now he’s dead. To advocate otherwise would be dishonest…

TBF’s Local Council Is On Fire

Obviously we are unaware yet of the real reasons or motive, but the attack on South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) based in Crowmarsh near Wallingford, Oxfordshire bears the hallmarks of a grudge.

In the early hours of the morning where there is likely to be no-one about bar possibly a couple of security guards, a man has apparently driven a car ladened with gas canisters into the Council building with devastating effects. It seems to reflect a determination to do the job properly.

The man’s motives will undoubtedly become clear as the days pass, but given that on a daily basis I take Mrs TBF to work via Wallingford I can confirm that their usual Thursday bin collections have been unaffected – continuing as normal – with bin lorries which have £250 personalised “SODC” number plates attached on each lorry.

Leaders’ Debates: UK Democracy’s Failings In Plain Sight

Within our ‘representative democracy’ expressed by so-called Parliamentary sovereignty the idea of Prime Minister debates, first instigated in 2010, is absurd if not downright objectionable.

The electorate in a General Election do not vote for the PM, instead they vote for their local MP which helps form a Parliament from which a Prime Minster is chosen.

One often consistent criticism of Gordon Brown’s tenure up until the 2010 election was that he was ‘not elected’. But of course he was elected – by the constituents of Kirkcaldy and by members of his own party – it was that he simply didn’t have an electoral mandate (as neither did Major for example in 1990). Brown’s position was less a reflection of the failings of himself and more a reflection of the failings of current Parliamentary system.

More seriously the lack of separation of powers represents a system where MPs become hopelessly compromised – by default. After being elected for 5 years their main objective is to achieve a ministerial career rather than attempt to hold the government to account. They want to join the government not listen to their constituents; which one pays more…?

The constituents of Witney, Doncaster and Sheffield will know this best – their own MPs wear two contradictory hats, a situation that Witterings from Witney knows only too well.

And with this in mind we see Cameron and Miliband, among others, engage in unedifying comments regarding a leadership debate without so much as a by-your-leave to the rest of us:

Did you notice that the letter sent to David Cameron about disputed formats for the election TV debates was itself a delicate contribution to pariah politics? Though identical in contents, as Rowena Mason explains, the missives were dispatched separately by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. Ed and Nick did not sign the same letter as Nigel, oh dear no.

Thus it’s acutely apparent that the entire idea of leadership debates is an admission by the establishment that Parliament is failing and that we, as an electorate, are now effectively voting for the executive – the government and the Prime Minister – by proxy.

This becomes even more (offensively) absurd when we consider that Nigel Farage, although leader of UKIP, is not currently an elected MP even though his party has two elected MPs and Farage himself is currently not on course to win South Thanet seat in May.

Thus more than ever the case becomes stronger that we need to directly elect our Prime Minister – and as a consequence separate out more formally the executive from Parliament. This idea is nothing new, it was proposed back in the 18th Century by Thomas Paine. Although born in England, via Common Sense, he was one of the fiercest critics of what he regarded as British tyranny.

The current, and rather childish standoffs over a Prime Ministerial leadership debate merely confirm that such reform is now very long overdue.