Polling Day: Spoiling The Ballot Paper

We arrive at polling day after what has to be one of the most lacklustre and uneventful election campaigns in recent memory despite that the result is too close to call. Here we agree with Scribblings From Seaham that it has “felt to be an interminable farce of a general election”.

With a deep reluctance to deal with issues which matter to voters, a lack of policies of any substance and a largely staged television campaign with a reliance on pointless stupid gimmicks is it any wonder that 1 in 4 voters have yet to make up their minds by polling day.

I’m one of those 1 in 4 and when I began to write this blog piece on why, I realised I was repeating many of the points I had made 5 months ago. Here I wrote:

Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances.

And

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.  

Perhaps if I lived in a marginal Tory seat then I would have to grit my teeth and vote Tory for the first time to ensure a referendum. But I don’t. I live in a seat where Tory PPC/MP “Lazy Vaizey” has his votes weighed not counted. How I vote won’t make any difference to the outcome, a situation common among many voters.

With UKIP, despite that my local candidate is very good, I cannot endorse a party which is helping us to lose the eurosceptic argument with YouGov now reporting a 12-point lead for the “inners”, up two points since April.

So unable to vote for any of the options available it’s for the first time in a General Election that I have spoiled my ballot paper (see above) and I’m not the only one.

I simply can’t wait for the whole charade to be out of the way to see if the Tories will win an overall majority. If so we get an EU referendum and then the real work starts.

Advertisements

UKIP: Thanks For Nothing

We’ve noted before on this blog UKIP’s increasingly toxic tendency to blame “everything on immigrants”. Previously it was Farage’s assertion that he was held up on the M4 motorway due to the fact that “open door immigration has meant that the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be'”.

That he was traveling by car early evening on a Friday around a notorious bottleneck on the M4 wasn’t taken into consideration. Thus “bloody immigrants” was dog whistle politics writ large.

With this in mind it therefore comes as no surprise to see that Farage believes that immigrants are to blame for children not playing in the streets:

Britons are so ill at ease with levels of immigration in their towns that their children do not play football with their neighbours in the streets, Nigel Farage has said.

The UK Independence Party leader said people in eastern England felt a “deep level of discomfort” about the millions of immigrants who have settled in the UK in the past decade.
He said: “I want to live in a community where our kids play football in the streets of an evening and live in a society that is at ease with itself.
And I sense over the last decade or more we are not at ease”
It’s not unfair in our view to believe that Nick Griffin would have been proud of these sentiments. That children may not, or cannot, play in the streets is often down to a myriad of factors, not least its illegal, it’s unsafe and that many roads simply have too many cars – ironically Farage’s children couldn’t play outside his own house, in the street, for this reason alone.

In trying to remove ourselves from the EU however Farage’s language is toxic. With what began as a eurosceptic party, has been hijacked by a man who has turned it into a self-promotional vehicle and is prepared as a consequence to condemn the eurosceptic movement in terms which hinder significantly the argument of getting out. So much so that we are set to lose before we even start.

With such language and thus with effectively a self-imposed glass ceiling on support, no wonder the media have begun to catch up with bloggers by noticing belatedly that UKIP’s trend is on a downward trajectory.

With so-called ‘UKIP strategy’ we get a measure of the man when we see this:

“If we went to every town up eastern England and spoke to people about how they felt, their town, their city had changed in the last 15 years, there is a deep level of discomfort, because if you have immigration at these sorts of levels integration doesn’t happen.” 

Note the words “eastern England”. It’s an odd statement to make for a leader of a party named the United Kingdom Independence Party. What about Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales where immigration is not necessarily such a vote winner – immigration has an uneven effect across the country.

But within “eastern England” is the constituency of Thanet South; where Farage is standing to be elected as an MP. It’s also next door to where UKIP held its Spring Conference in Margate which had no mobile signal nor internet access.

A professional party with workable facilities at its conference less important than Farage’s own campaign it seems. So no policies, no strategy, no exit plan just dog-whistle soundbites to get Farage elected.

Perhaps in this sense it will work and this will please the cult, but in getting us out of the EU no chance.

What a waste of 20 odd years…

Why A 2015 EU Referendum Cannot Happen (Update).

Following on from our previous post regarding the impossibility of a 2015 referendum, we contacted the Electoral Commission to try to clarify a number of further potential technical issues.

While, like most quangos, the Electoral Commission displayed a deep reluctance to commit themselves to answering certain questions posed, their first response confirmed our initial points that, contrary to Farage’s assertion, a referendum cannot happen in a few weeks (quoted from the Electoral Commission’s email):

Currently, we cannot say how the designation process will work at any future referendum until Parliament passes the legislation setting out the rules for that referendum. 

Our role is to regulate the referendum and designate campaigners under the rules for each referendum. The rules that applied at previous referendums required the Commission to designate campaigners that sufficiently represented those campaigning for the outcome they support, or, if more than one, represented those campaigning to the greatest extent.

This reiterates precisely our point that it means campaigning groups can’t begin to officially campaign until they submit bids for the official “in” and “out” campaign and have been approved. With Scotland a campaign period of 16 weeks was the recommendation.

However the approval process is likely to take six months as also recommended by the Electoral Commission. This six month process cannot happen until after the referendum bill becomes law which in itself at best will take months.

Thus with the Electoral Commission’s recommendations which considered the experience with Scotland (for recommendations, read demands) it becomes clear that a 2015 referendum is simply out of the question.

Why A 2015 EU Referendum Cannot Happen.

As noted in the Independent last Sunday, Nigel Farage has indicated that he will support a minority Conservative Government if Prime Minster David Cameron promises a referendum in 2015:

“The terms of my deal with the Tories would be very precise and simple. I want a full and fair referendum to be held in 2015 to allow Britons to vote on being in or out of the European Union. There would be no wiggle room for ‘renegotiation’ somewhere down the line’.

“The EU is facing an existential crisis and, given that it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum, it should be held in 2015.”

Although we would largely agree with the sentiments of a “full and fair” referendum, we would take issue with the “very precise and simple” demand that a referendum should be held in 2015 and “given that it only takes a few weeks to launch.” For the very precise and simple reason that it can’t be done. Farage is offering impossible terms on the practicality of timescale.

To support Farage’s demands comparisons are sometimes made with the 1975 referendum where it is claimed that it is possible to have a referendum in a few weeks, the timeline often quoted is as follows:

December 1974: Harold Wilson requests renegotiation of EEC membership terms.

European Council agreed to new terms for UK in Dublin by 11 March 1975 and renegotiation largely ended.

26 February 1975: White Paper announcing referendum to be held after result of renegotiation was known

26 March 1975: Referendum Bill published.

31 March 1975: White Paper setting out the results of the renegotiation of the UK membership of the EC.

9 April 1975: after a three-day debate on the Government’s recommendation to continue Britain’s EC membership, the Commons voted 396 to 170 to continue in Common Market on the new terms. At the same time Government drafts Referendum Bill, to be moved in case of a successful renegotiation.

On 22 April 1975 the House of Lords approved continued membership by 261 votes to 20.

Post-legislative referendum held 5 June 1975. Referendum not directly related to White Paper on renegotiation, but preamble referred to renegotiation. Question much broader: “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?” The result was 67 per cent in favour on a 65 per cent turnout.

As we can see in 1975 the passage through Parliament to holding a referendum took circa 10 weeks (26 March – 5 June) from publishing the Bill to holding the Referendum. The 1975 Referendum book though notes (p.66):

“But the real reason for the unexpectedly easy passage of the Bill was political: pro-Marketeers were in an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and they had belatedly realised that the referendum would go their way.”

Even with an easy passage it still took two and half months to have a referendum. The election in 2015 is in May, then there’s a summer recess so we can expect it to take longer. Especially when we consider that due to the complexity of an EU that has significantly evolved in over 40 years of UK membership and the less certainty of a referendum result, that its passage through Parliament will be more turbulent and difficult.
 
We have noted before regarding trying to win a referendum, 1975 is not 2015. The country has moved on in forty years. Procedures are now different, for example in 1975 the campaign started in January 1975 long before the Referendum Bill had been passed – with self-appointed “umbrella” groups.

However unlike 1975 referendums are now the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, which was established under Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Thus on that alone the timescale in comparison to 1975 has changed.

With the establishment of the Electoral Commission it means that campaigning groups can’t begin to officially campaign until they submit bids for the official “in” and “out” campaign and have been approved. This process cannot happen until after the referendum bill becomes law.

There has to be a reasonable period to allow the Electoral Commission to invite submissions and make the designation, and then the lead organisations must be given time to organise themselves.

As we can see from the Electoral Commission December 2014 report on the Scottish Independence Referendum held on 18 September 2014, it recommends (my emphasis):

… that in planning for any future referendums, not only in Scotland but also those held across or in other parts of the UK, governments should aim to ensure that legislation (including any secondary legislation) is clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with by campaigners, the Chief Counting Officer, Counting Officers or Electoral Registration Officers.

Thus “a reasonable period” according the Electoral Commission amounts to six months, as it argues to allow for (again my emphasis):

The benefit of this additional time was passed on to campaigners, EROs and COs in preparing for their respective roles at the referendum:

Campaigners were able to engage constructively with the legislative process and had time to develop an understanding of the relevant guidance and rules, before they came into force. EROs and COs benefitted from sufficient time to put robust plans in place for the delivery of their responsibilities under the legislation, from targeted public awareness activity to the booking of polling places and the training of staff.

In addition the Electoral Commission also recommends (again my emphasis):

2.39 Following the 2011 referendum on additional powers for the National Assembly for Wales and the Parliamentary Voting System for the House of Commons, we recommended that for future referendums the detailed rules should be clear at least 28 weeks in advance of polling day, based on a statutory regulated referendum campaign period of 16 weeks.

Although the Electoral Commission cannot demand, where it recommends will be taken into account should there be a challenge to the Bill and it goes to a Judicial Review as undoubtedly it would should there be any form of corner cutting or fast-tracking.

Yet even with a relatively smooth process by the Electoral Commission’s recommendations there would be a ten month delay between an Act of Parliament and a vote: that obviously takes us well into 2016.

In addition Farage thinks he can determine the referendum question:

 “Do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?”

Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission has already put forward its proposals for the referendum questionits full report is here, Farage’s suggestion wouldn’t even pass the unambiguity test let alone the neutral one.

At this point I don’t know what to conclude. Either Farage is very poorly briefed which is a reflection on a lack of a decent research department despite having (now) 22 very well paid MEPs or he knows this and is deliberately demanding conditions that Cameron (or indeed anyone else) cannot possibly meet.

The latter of course allows UKIP to put forward the criticism that Cameron cannot be trusted which conveniently helps prop up Farage’s position. If one is to be cynical there’s nothing better than having a perpetual enemy to oppose to justify your own existence, especially in the absence of any party polices.

Either way the eurosceptic movement is being very poorly served by UKIP.

Shameless And Cynical?

The fine line between which areas are appropriate or not with which to criticise a politician is sometimes difficult to ascertain. For example are the family members of politicians off limits to criticism? It could be considered that politician family’s privacy should largely be respected. Michael Portillo put this point rather forcefully earlier this week to Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine over her vindictive criticism of Ed “two kitchens” Miliband.

But in contrast what happens when said “happy family” is used as electioneering material such as by Cecil Parkinson and Chris Huhne only then for us to later find out what a sham it all was? Does criticism then become justified?

Very obviously the bereavements suffered by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron over the loss of a child should be completely off limits. Yet while both men would understandably at times wish to be open about such a loss, there is always the difficulty of determining if such openness is being done for political reasons.

And this brings me onto Farage. I always remember that leading up to the 2010 election, Farage gave an interview to Camilla Long of the Sunday Times. What stuck in my mind was not that clearly the article in question had an agenda to undermine Farage but that it did so by openingly mocking the fact that he reportedly had testicular cancer in his youth.

In terms of the depths that the media can sometimes plummet to we can compare this to the media treatment of the great Victorian statesman, Gladstone. He was at times vitriolically disliked – Queen Victoria famously commented that “[Gladstone] speaks to me as if I were a public meeting”. Yet despite the remorseless abuse from such satirical publications as Punch rarely, if ever, was Gladstone’s disability mocked – that he lost fingers on one hand due to a shooting accident.

Interestingly where Farage is concerned we move on five years from 2010, where we see today in the Telegraph it has extracts from Farage’s new book, where very ‘candidly’ he talks about his health:

Mr Farage, now 50, says the plane crash, combined with the effects of another car accident in his twenties, “has left me with a body 20 years older”.

It’s worth noting that the car accident in question was the consequence of being too drunk and walking out in front of a moving vehicle. However:

The National Health Service “almost killed me”, Nigel Farage says today as he reveals that his body is now so frail that he could be registered disabled.

It is indeed curious that while UKIP still haven’t publicly put forward any coherent polices in the lead up to a general election, despite a promise to have a manifesto published by their Spring Conference in Margate, Farage has managed to have another ‘leader’s book’ published – essentially an updated version of ‘Fighting Bull’. Maybe it’s a coincidence but it conveniently ensures that the spotlight is largely on him running up to an election.

So we have to consider that with ‘timing’ being everything in politics whether the release of his new book, titled ‘Purple Revolution’ is candid or simply just shameless and cynical. A line seems to have been crossed over whether Farage and his health difficulties are now being exploited as an attempt at electoral gain. The title alone suggests an attempt to own the rise of UKIP and the eurosceptic movement.

It’s also interesting that Farage has agreed to have the book be serialised for money in the Telegraph – a paper which is usually hostile to UKIP and nominally a Conservative supporting paper.

With this in mind it is indeed interesting that Farage has a great to say about his poor health, including revealing that his body is now so frail that he could be registered disabled. This rather contradicts his message at UKIP’s Spring Conference at Margate recently:

There has been a lot of speculation about where have I been, why have not been on the television all the time. This has been led to my opponents to spread some speculation about my health that I am seriously ill and that is why I have not been seen.

I hate to disappoint my opponents but can I make it clear that rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” 

So not only is the timing curious but someone it appears is making things up as he goes along. Farage then continues:

An MRI scan followed at the private London Bridge Hospital, and I was referred to Mr Bhupal Chitnavis, a top-dollar consultant neurosurgeon. He said he was shocked by the damage to my neck and that, if I wanted, he would sign me off as being partially disabled for the rest of my life. I certainly did not want one of those blue badges — it would be conceding defeat — but it was a shocking moment.

Now there’s no doubt Farage suffered injuries as a result of the plane crash:

Where the issue lies is his casual link deployed between being a Blue Badge holder and being registered partially or fully disabled.

Leaving aside the sentiment that apparently being a blue badge holder means conceding defeat – no doubt that 2.58 million blue badge holders would contest otherwise and would probably take offense at the term “those blue badges”, being registered disabled is different and is a misleading term.

Under the Equality Act it has such a varied broad definition, that it could apply to anything, including those perceived to be disabled and those associated with a disabled person (e.g. a parent or partner). The principle of the Equality Act is that discrimination on grounds of disability happens in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people.

The real test in our view of being genuinely disabled is whether you qualify for a Blue Badge and or DLA/PIP benefits. Here the criteria is far more strict; as an example if you have a permanent or substantial disability which means you can’t walk or find walking very difficult you are still required to take further assessments before a blue badge is issued.

As is obvious by the above photograph with Farage walking away from a plane crash and his current twitter status – “back on the campaign trail” – he would have absolutely no chance of being eligible for a blue badge.

We only conclude then that what we have is a rather shameless and cynical appeal for the sympathy vote.

The Decline Of The Westminster System: The Fusion Of Powers

 

As we edge closer to the general election in May, it is rather inevitable that the polling would show a trend in decline regarding UKIP’s support, which has been consistently argued by EUReferendum:

Talk of a major Ukip “revolution” at the general election looks to have been seriously overblown, says Politics.co.uk, a view based on new constituency polling released by Lord Ashcroft.

The data show that Ukip is not on course to win any of its key target seats currently held by the Conservatives. Most worrying for the party, we are told, in the poll of Boston and Skegness – where Ukip won its largest majority in last year’s council elections – it has been pushed back into second place.

There are a myriad of reasons for a decline in UKIP’s poll rating. As has been well documented here and elsewhere, such as Complete Bastard, is that UKIP’s problems have in the main been self inflicted. There is a fundamental lack of coherence, a geographical divide in message – depending on Labour areas or Tory ones, no fully worked out policies, and u-turns in under 24 hours at the whim of the party’s leader.

So-called policies which do manage to remain intact, on its website, are almost identical to the ones contained within the 2010 manifesto which Farage infamously dismissed as drivel.

Thus, with the decline in UKIP support, we can note with wry amusement that UKIP will be having their Spring Conference in Margate – where apparently we will see the launch of UKIP’s manifesto. For those who may have not visited Margate recently, it would be described by estate agents euphemistically as ‘tired‘. Many of its attractions, like the Winter Gardens, are in need of urgent repair.

However we also consider that the UKIP has an inherent problem, which is not entirely its fault, and that is the failings of the “Westminster System” and First Past The Post. ‘Winning’ the Euro elections is one thing, but with the business end of a Parliament coming to its end, and a looming election, the electorate have real choices to make. Ultimately they have to make a decision on who they would like as Prime Minister. UKIP is going to face a squeeze in an electoral process that is a Presidential System by proxy.

As Tory Michael Heseltine noted on BBC’s Question Time last night (04:30 mins in):

“There’s only one choice Cameron and Tories and economic recovery or Miliband and Balls the people who caused the economic problems in the first place.”

The Westminster System is no longer about electing MPs but electing Prime Ministers by proxy. Further confirmation comes with the forthcoming leaders’ debates which we have criticised here.

Interestingly we can also look back to the 19th Century to make our case with Chartism. Chartism: A New History by Malcolm Chase is a fascinating account of a British mass movement for democratic rights in the 19th Century.

Chartism was one of the very rare moments in British history where it is legitimate to speculate how close the country came to revolution. And what is interesting is Chase’s attention to detail which allows the story to come alive for those in the 21st Century. One intriguing passage was this regarding the presentation of the first petition:

The Petition was finally presented to the House of Commons on Friday 14 June 1839. Few Chartists had expected it to make a difference to parliamentary attitudes and in this respect 14 June did not disappoint. No indication was given whether MPs would formally debate it, and when Attwood and Fielden…rolled the giant [petition] into the Commons chamber it was greeted with laughter.

And Chase then describes the attempts to present the massive second petition in 1842:

[It was arranged] to bring ‘the Chartist leviathan petition’ direct to the Commons chamber while it was in session. But…Parliament’s officials had realised the physical problem this posed. The Petition became jammed tight in the Members’ Entrance. Attempts were made to dismantle…part of the door frame; but eventually the Petition had to be disassembled and taken into pieces into the Commons. Heaped up on the floor of the chamber, it dwarfed the clerks’ table on which, technically, it was supposed to be placed.

One senses here the familiar futility of lobbying a system that would not listen. But those with a keen eye will notice that the Chartists’ leviathan petitions, in 1839 and 1842, were delivered to Parliament. Not to Government, not to Number 10, but to Parliament – to representatives.

In stark contrast we now see petitions presented to the Prime Minister (government), and with the rise of e-petitions such process is now made official:

Alone this little detail illustrates that the people now, perhaps unconsciously, have appreciated how the power has been consolidated and fused between the government and Parliament. Bypass the monkeys – the middle men – and go straight for the organ grinder. And it’s with great irony, that Chartists tried to petition representatives when they had no vote and now in the age of universal suffrage we no longer bother.

Thus if we want an effective ‘people’s army’ and a ‘revolution’ we need to fundamentally change our failed parliamentary system. Demand #3 of the Harrogate Agenda is as good as place to start as any:

3. Separation of powers:
The executive shall be separated from the legislature. To that effect, prime ministers shall be elected by popular vote; they shall appoint their own ministers, with the approval of parliament, to assist in the exercise of such powers as may be granted to them by the sovereign people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; no prime ministers or their ministers shall be members of parliament or any legislative assembly;

Parish Notice

I had intended to have part 2 up of the EU and Telecoms piece up this evening (Tuesday), however time is short this week and I would like to do the so far unfinished piece justice rather than rush it, not least because I have recently come across documentation that shows Norway has more say within its EEA agreement then the UK does over telecommunications; notably its Electronic Communications Act and also its Personal Data Act.

What becomes very obvious when researching the impact of the copious regulations on our country is the ridiculous myriad of EU and international competences which have seemingly no end and it can become quickly rather bewildering trying to follow and make sense of it all. But make sense of it and try to win a referendum we must.

We also note that the more we investigate Norway’s EEA arrangements, the more it becomes apparent that not only does it have a much better deal than us within the Single Market (albeit not perfect) but it exposes further the deception or even ignorance of our own politicians regarding this issue.

And with that in mind, and this maybe harsh, I do rather resent that it’s taking a small number of bloggers who are attempting to address these issues…unpaid…in their own time, in preparation for a possible referendum than a party which has significant funding via its now 23 MEPs yet literally pisses it up against the wall. This is all we get for our money.

We can win a referendum – we have many advantages over 1975 but we’re in danger of needlessly repeating many of the mistakes.

But that said, time is currently short because Mrs TBF and I will be in London for the next few days celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. In a few days we will return to normal service on this blog.