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Saturday 20 December 2014

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There has been some concern expressed over recent reports that French President François Hollande is prepared to oppose amending the EU's treaty on the grounds that change is not needed and might trigger a referendum in France.

This, we are told, will happen at a meeting of the European Council in June, where Heads of States and Governments are planning to discuss sanctions on Russia and talks to improve the functioning of the eurozone. Then, the French President will dismiss the British case for renegotiation as a product of Tory political disarray over the rise of Ukip, accusing Mr Cameron of being "obsessed with his own problems".

This is certainly something being taken very seriously by the Telegraph, although we would tend to take it with a pinch of salt – not least because British newspapers consistently display the most profound ignorance of European politics, making their analyses wholly unreliable.

Furthermore, in this particular case, there is every reason to believe that we are being played, with the Hollande intervention all part of the ritual theatre that leads up to such events, all calculated to give the impression of conflict – making the eventual resolution so much more dramatic.

Even the Poles are playing this game, with Rafal Trzaskowki, Poland's Secretary of State for European Affairs, writing in almost identical terms as Hollande, suggesting a degree of collusion.

Meanwhile, the Pegida demonstrations continue apace, with the support of AfD, reinforcing the idea the Merkel has a dog in the fight, and may be willing to do a cosmetic deal with David Cameron.

Here, the attractiveness of using the Article 48 "simplified procedure" is that it would not force member states to hold referendums, as for once we would see a marginal flow of power back to national governments. Hollande may not be fully acquainted with Cameron's strategy, or he may just be crying wolf.

The thing is, no one – not even the French President – can sensibly dismiss the British case for doing something about immigration as merely a product of Tory political disarray.

Any such claim is clearly gainsaid by the Commission Work Programme published this week (pictured above). In it, there is recognition of the need to support the role of national authorities in fighting abuse or fraudulent claims relating to labour mobility. But the Commission also recognises "the growing pressure at our external borders" and plans a "European Agenda on Migration".

The scene is now being set for a tripartite settlement – a modest treaty which offers some slight modifications to the provisions permitting the free movement of labour, a raft of initiatives from the Commission itself, and then some local measures, such as those already defined in the Immigration Act 2014.

Certainly, there is much that can be done, without needing to trouble the "colleagues", witness the extraordinary reports on the recruitment of nurses.

Earlier in the week, we saw the Telegraph telling us that the number of nurses recruited overseas had risen "significantly", with data from 103 English NHS hospital trusts showing that 5,778 nurses had been recruited from overseas in the 12 months to September. The largest numbers had come from Spain, Portugal, the Philippines and Italy.

The NHS employs more than 1.7 million people, of whom 370,327 are nurses, with about 20,000 training places on offer each year. Yet, up to 60 percent in some health care organisations comprise Internationally Recruited Nurses.

Against that, we are also told that, up to 80,000 British students each year cannot find places on nursing courses. As it has emerged that it costs the NHS £70,000 to train a nurse, for which sum it could hire three qualified foreigners, the suspicion is that the NHS is encouraging immigration as a cost-cutting exercise.

This is but one example of where UK policy can affect immigration levels, but there are plenty of others. Significantly, as the Mail reported, more than 260,000 foreigners are thought to have overstayed their visas, their whereabouts unknown to the Home Office.

This builds on an earlier report from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, picked up by the Telegraph and others. The report records that only 884 immigrants (0.73 percent) from a group of 120,545 who had overstayed their visas and been refused permission to extend, had left the country voluntarily after being confronted by the firm Capita, which had been contracted by the Home Office to reduce the so-called "Migration Refusal Pool" (MRP).

Taking into account the normal outflow and the inflow as new cases were added to the pool, the Chief Inspector remarked that the enforcement activity – with payments of over £12 million to Capita for 2013-15 – was having no impact on the level of overstayers, with the MRP largely static at over 160,000.

This is especially significant as a clampdown on licit immigration would be expected to prompt an increase in overstayers. Yet, if the Home Office cannot deal with the burden as it stands, there can be little confidence that it will cope with the more intense pressure that greater numbers would bring.

Even given a will to address the problems in the UK, however, Mr Cameron will still need some help from the "colleagues". The UK and other Member States cannot continue to be undermined by ECJ judgements such as this one.

Where third-country nationals hold a residence card of a family member of a Union citizen, the court ruled earlier this week, the United Kingdom cannot make their right of entry subject to the requirement that they must first obtain a visa. And by this means, the UK is obliged to take an additional tranche of immigrants, over which it has no control.

Nothing though, is insoluble, not at least as long as we have a media which is so easily fooled and a government dedicated to the black arts of deception. The theatre is their meat and drink and, gradually, we see a plausible narrative being developed to fill the stage – in the theatre of the absurd.

Richard North 20/12/2014 link

Friday 19 December 2014

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After successive Ukip train-wrecks, we are now seeing Nigel Farage's personal ratings crash to a record low in the first leader poll since the latest round of disasters. This is according to an Ipsos-MORI poll which has his net satisfaction rating plummeting 14 points since November to minus 20.

Moreover, Ukip's share of the national vote has slipped for the second month in a row, down from 16 percent in October to 13 percent – according to this poll – while Conservatives lead with 32 percent, against 29 percent for Labour. The Green resurgence also continues, with the Green Party on nine percent.

Farage is currently shrugging off the news, saying: "It's a volatile market". He adds that Ukip has had a pretty remarkable year, declaring that, "If we are ending on a slightly softer note, it's perhaps not surprising".

But what we're getting from Ipsos-MORI, we're also seeing from YouGov which has Ukip back down to 14 percent. On the poll of polls, that returns Ukip to its July levels. This, however, is also the level the party was getting in April 2013, when it was in the ascendancy. Now, with three months of decline, it is looking to match the period after its peak in the May 2013 local elections. 

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Some observe that support for Ukip does tend to be cyclical, peaking during high-profile elections and then tailing off afterwards. But that hasn't been the case since the Euro-elections, when only a slight dip was replaced by sustained growth.

With less than six months to go to the general election, when Ukip should be increasing its support, things are not going well. The Evening Standard believes that the party's string of "gaffes and scandals" is finally having an effect, as indeed does the Mail.

The Standard argues that Ukip will be subjected to far greater scrutiny of its personalities and policies in the run-up to the election and it is quite likely that this will result in more damaging revelations.

No sooner said, with the McKenzie farce still unresolved, we have Janice Atkinson, the Ukip MEP behind the party's welfare policy, under fire for owing more than £2,000 in unpaid child support. Yet this has not stopped her buying a £15,000 Mini, bedecked with Union flag colours.

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In terms of polling, it is far too early yet to establish a reliable trend yet, rendering the predictions of pundits such as Tim Montgomerie more than a little premature. He argues, wrongly, that the Tory battle to defeat Ukip ended last month, on Friday, November 28, when Mr Cameron gave his "big" speech on immigration.

Failing to understand the nuances and the pressures on Germany, he believes that Mr Cameron had ceded the ground to Berlin, leaving the way open for Ukip to capture votes on immigration. The only hope for the Tories, therefore, Montgomerie argues, is that the Left should fracture.

Even some of his readers suggest that he is "wide of the mark", and he acknowledges that there is some hope inside Tory HQ that increasing internal tensions within Ukip could bubble over. After the events of the last few weeks, that actually looks more likely than ever, potentially robbing Ukip of its electoral force.

Then, it is still the case that Ed Miliband fails to convince as a potential prime minister, leading to the possibility that voters will turn away from him at the last minute. Add the carnage expected in Scotland, and there is an outside chance – growing by the day – of a Conservative landslide.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but we have pointed out the effects of a two-party squeeze many times. We are perhaps being primed for a repeat of 1997, where the Referendum Party was squeezed out, by the determination to get rid of John Major's Tories.

This time, it could be a revulsion against the prospect of Miliband that squeezes out a weakened and discredited Ukip, clearing the way for the least-worst option of a Conservative government.

At this stage, though, the election is beyond prediction. Rarely has there been a contest so difficult to read, with so many variables. But the shambles of Ukip might at least make it a little easier to weed out one of those variables. A train-wreck party is fine for a protest vote, but general elections are serious politics, when governments are chosen.

Whatever else you might think of Ukip, they are not serious politics.

Richard North 19/12/2014 link

Thursday 18 December 2014

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Nigel Farage has been likened to Jesus by Ukip's Commonwealth spokesman, Winston McKenzie. The Eurosceptic "army" was behind their leader, who can "do no wrong".

"Jesus was one man, we're his army. Farage is one man, and we’re his army and that's what it's all about", he says. "Farage is like (non-stick) Teflon – he can do no wrong. Everywhere he goes, it doesn't matter what he says or does - he gets away with it".

McKenzie may be Ukip's "token black" - interesting for a party that supposedly rejects political correctness -  and barking mad with it. But he is an official party spokesman, taken by the media to be representing the party view. On the other hand, this drip-drip of hostile media, may represent a change in tactics – or be an indication that the fourth estate is sensing blood. 

For those Ukipites who complain that they are being "picked on", the obvious response is that, if the party didn't generate such unflattering publicity, it wouldn't be available to use. As to whether it is having an effect, we see today a Guardian/ICM poll which puts Ukip on 14 percent, down from the heady heights of 19-20 percent it was getting in October/November.

The latest YouGov poll poll has 16 percent – up from 14 percent over the weekend, but again down from the peaks it was getting earlier. Having gone through £2.96 million in the Euro-elections, outspending Labour, if the polls are any guide, Ukip will now need considerably more to succeed in the general election.

With the bad press it is now getting, though, it will take a miracle on a par with the feeding of the five thousand. Perhaps Farage needs to be the Son of God that Winston McKenzie would have him be. He would be advised, though, to stay off the painkillers.

Richard North 18/12/2014 link

Wednesday 17 December 2014

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I was travelling most of yesterday, down to London and back ... meeting people and plotting. The view from some long-term campaigners in the anti-EU movement is that, if Farage is still a prominent figure in the movement during a referendum campaign, we will lose.

Slowly, gradually, people are beginning to see The Great Leader through different eyes – and, like this one, they can't all be dismissed as bearing a grudge.

If the fates of Ukip and its leader were not so important to the health of the anti-EU movement as a whole, we would not be bothering, but as long as there is a Ukip, then it is vital that its leader performs adequately.

And it's no good asserting, as one reader recently did on our comments, that the party needs help and advice. If Farage had taken advice from me in the past, I might have stayed working for Ukip. If I had, it wouldn't be in the mess it's currently in.

We would then be spending more time dealing with stuff like this - new rules for businesses on VAT registration - although to little effect.

The group I was talking with yesterday agreed that the public no longer needs the flow of "EU red tape" stories to make the point. If they are not already convinced about the need to leave the EU, they never will be. What is needed is more about how leave, and the benefits that can accrue when we leave – the "vision thing".

And that's the real problem with Farage and his party. On the increasingly rare occasions that they talk about the EU, it is in terms of how awful it is, their strategy based on the assumption that, if enough people dislike the EU, we can build a majority in favour of leaving.

The trouble is, that ain't so. We need a positive vision - what I've dubbed the Stoke's precept: it's no use fighting for a negative object – you must have a positive one. It's actually nearly four years since I articulated that precept on the blog, and I've repeated it many times since – only to have it ignored.

In twenty of more years of Ukip, Farage has never been able to articulate a credible vision for a post-exit EU. And that's really why he should be dumped – the sixth reason: he has no vision. 

Richard North 17/12/2014 link

Tuesday 16 December 2014

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BBC's Newsnight has reported that Ukip has secured a grant of £580,000 from the EU by registering to become part of a new pan-European party, the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE).

This new party, currently made up mostly of Ukip MEPs, is entitled to £1m of EU funds next year but, under the rules which govern these grants, Ukip will have "to respect the principles on which the European Union is founded" - namely liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.

The "fundamental freedoms", of course, include the free movement of people and freedom of establishment, the two principles which underpin unrestricted immigration from EU member states to the UK.

The Guardian is citing Roger Helmer who told Newsnight that they [Ukip] should take the money otherwise it would be available to "the German or other foundations which promote further integration".

He has a point, of course, which he ladles on with a trowel, stating: "... the question for any Ukip supporter who has a reasonable issue here is: would you rather this money, which is British taxpayers’ money, was given to one of the German or other foundations which promote further European integration, or would you rather some of the money goes to us to oppose European integration?"

"We are", he adds, "doing it precisely so we can liberate some of that money that would otherwise go to integrationist organisations".

There are two levels at which this argument falls, though. The first, based on Ukip's track record, suggests that the money will be wasted – although one might prefer it to be wasted by Ukip rather than used to effect by a Europhile organisation.

The second is the message sent to the world – the group has to make a "solemn declaration" that it will abide by the founding principles. Effectively, the declaration is a lie – a brazen lie – for which it is assumed there is no penalty.

To some, this is a difficult choice to make, but one could argue that a political party is nothing without its principles. To build it on the basis of an open, structured lie is the thin edge of a wedge.

Richard North 16/12/2014 link

Tuesday 16 December 2014

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Expanded and updated 

Here is yesterday's speech in Great Yarmouth. Compare and contrast with Ed Miliband's speech given almost exactly two years ago in Tooting. 

Then, Mr Miliband was telling us that, "The answer [to immigration] is not to sweep it under the carpet. Or fail to talk about it. Or say that people are prejudiced. Nor is it to make promises that can't be kept. It is to deal with all of the issues that concern people".

Yet, yesterday, he was doing precisely that. It would be hard to deliver a speech lacking more substance, for his core offer amounted only to: "We will control immigration with fair rules", taking a meagre seven minutes to deliver the entire speech.

For his oeuvre, all he could manage to do was pledge "longer controls when new countries enter the European Union", "people integrating into communities and learning English" and, "when people come here they won't be able to claim benefits for at least two years".

Then, when people can be exploited for low wages or endangered at work, Miliband told us, "it drags the whole system down, undercutting the pay and conditions of local workers", so: "We must end the epidemic of exploitation".

To deal with this "epidemic", a Labour government would "increase the fines for firms who avoid the National Minimum Wage", it would "stop agency contracts being used to undercut permanent staff", "ban recruitment agencies from hiring only from abroad" and would "make it a criminal offence to undercut pay or conditions by exploiting migrant workers". And that's it. That's all you get.

Just for once, it would be nice to hear a grown-up speech, where a politician actually delivers a coherent policy statement, one which has some meaning. Any such statement might start with a review of the current situation, telling us how many immigrants there were in the country, where they were coming from and the rate at which they were arriving.

A grown-up politician might then move on to tell us how he might expect the situation to develop over the next few years – over perhaps a decade or more – if current policies were left to run their course. He would then tell us how he would like the situation to develop, with some degree of quantification.

Mr Cameron did try this earlier, promising that net immigration would be cut to the "tens of thousands", something Mr Miliband noted hadn't worked out, so his response was that, "We won't make false promises and we won’t offer you false solutions either".

This might score high points for candour, except that the end result was for him to make no bankable promises at all. An offer to "control immigration with fair rules" isn't a promise - it's empty rhetoric.

To be valid, a policy statement must have an objective, but it need not be expressed in exact numerical terms. It could, for instance, be expressed in terms of, "we will match the rate of migrant inflow with the capabilities of communities to accommodate them, and their specific needs", then going on to sketch out the measures available, what new measures are needed, and how they would be applied".

What Mr Miliband has been doing today, therefore, is the antithesis of making a policy statement. He is in fact concealing his inability to formulate policy – a surreptitious acknowledgement that he has no means, or intention, of taking control.

Effectively, we are seeing Labour vacating the territory – they appear not to be willing to put up any fight, ceding the territory to Ukip (or even the Conservatives). Small wonder, their strategy document advises campaigners to avoid direct discussion of immigration, while the Telegraph reports that the Labour Party is in disarray.

Mr Miliband, thus exemplifies the rot at the very heart of British politics – the sheer inability of politicians to offer anything constructive that will address people's concerns. In so doing, he is exhibiting a rare genius – he is almost making Ukip look credible.

Sadly, this is only a matter of relativity. As couched, there is no way the Ukip position can be considered "coherent", even if Dan Hodges in the Telegraph believes otherwise, himself displaying a startling lack of coherence.

"If you want to control immigration, there is only one thing you can do. You have to stop free movement from the EU. … then you have to reintroduce immigration controls within the European Union", the man says.

"That's it", Hodges continues. "That is the immigration debate, right there. There is no 'third way'. There is no way to 'triangulate'. It's binary. You have open borders, or you don't". And it is by that measure, with Ukip wanting to withdraw from the EU, close the borders and kick a lot of existing migrants out, that there position is considered "coherent".

In other fields, perhaps, this level of ignorance would be recognised for what it was, but it seems that idle, chattering journalists can betray such arrant nonsense without the least penalty.

Here, one has to say that, of course there is a "third way". In fact, there is only the third way. Totally open borders are an anathema but the idea of closed borders is a fantasy, one which is totally beyond the realms of possibility. Block the routes to legal migrants and they are replaced by "illegals".

Consider briefly the position in the United States, where we are entirely familiar with the movement of so-called "wetbacks" across the Mexican border – this in the public minds being the main migration route.

However, as this blog points out, getting on for half of the illegal immigrants into the US are "visa overstayers", mostly people who enter with tourist or business visas.

Currently, as we know, some 34 million visitors enter the UK each year – the majority without visas, vastly outnumbering the number of immigrants. If we start imposing restrictions on immigration, all that happens is that the number of overstayers rises exponentially.

Nowhere in the world, apart perhaps totalitarian states such as North Korea, has been able to exclude such immigrants, and rigorous enforcement would change the very nature of our society – identity cards, random checks of papers, residence permits, dawn raids, etc., etc.

Effectively, the actual level of immigration becomes a compromise between what is acceptable compared with the intrusion and restriction required to limit them. There are no absolutes. There is no final solution.

Such controls as can be exercised, therefore, depend as much on addressing the "push" and "pull" factors. As long as these exist, there will be migration pressure. Reduce them and the flow abates.

The different factors are immense. In just one instance, on the comments thread, I pointed to the problem of recruiting cleaners in the UK. This is not just a matter of wage levels. Cleaning is regarded as a low-status occupation and many Brits simply will not do it, for that very reason. Immigrant labour is often the only way employers can get the work done.

I actually did some studies on this, mechanising kitchen cleaning tasks and improving productivity, giving the workers special uniforms and calling them "hygiene technicians" in an attempt to ease recruitment problems. In the end, we had chefs applying for cleaning posts, a previously unthinkable proposition.

One could not imagine people like Ed Miliband – much less David Cameron – coming up with such ideas, but it is things such as these and hundreds of other small initiatives which collectively will reduce the "pull" factors. Different measures will have an impact on "push" factors.

Even then, such measures are only part of the story. A coherent immigration policy relies on a complex range of measures, including – as we have pointed out earlier – the abolition of the Human Rights Act, cutting us off from judge-made law under the ECHR.

The dull, simplistic drone of Ukip, and idiots such as Hodges, therefore, has nothing to offer the debate. And neither do our politicians seem able to grasp the basics of immigration policy – Ed Miliband less than most. But these are not insoluble problems. The main barriers seem to be the ignorance of those who are supposed to be offering us solutions.

Richard North 16/12/2014 link

Monday 15 December 2014

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Guest post by Autonomous Mind

To lose a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) in a constituency once could be considered unfortunate; to lose him twice demonstrates something rather more than carelessness.

Much has been written about the suspension of Ukip General Secretary, Roger Bird and the lemming-like rush to grab the attention of the British media by Ukip's former Basildon South and Thurrock East candidate hopeful and feminine equivalent of Walter Mitty, Natasha Bolter.

But no outlet so far has run the wider back story, one which underlines some of the problems that fester in Ukip, and which have the capacity to damage the Eurosceptic cause should a referendum be held on leaving the EU and Ukip seeks to play a high profile role in the debate.

Looking at the constituency, Basildon South and Thurrock East is currently represented by Tory MP, Stephen Metcalfe, who won the seat in 2010 with 43.9 percent of the vote. Ukip's Kerry Smith came fourth with 5.9 percent. Metcalfe is defending a majority of 5,772 next May.

Given that this southern Essex seat is one where many constituents feel dissatisfied or even angry about issues such as immigration, Ukip is poised to reap enough defecting voters from the Tories to make the seat winnable for Labour or, as the party hopes, even snatch the seat for itself.

It is because Ukip considers the seat winnable that, in October this year, it telephoned Kerry Smith - who is also the leader of the UKIP group on Basildon Council – to inform him he had been removed as their PPC. The party had decided that regardless of the wishes of the local members in Basildon, a "big fish" should be parachuted in. The local membership opposed his deselection unanimously, but Farage had made his mind up.

What then followed was the likes of Ms Bolter, considered by the party to be a big catch defection from Labour who ticked all of the tokenism boxes so beloved by the party – female, non-white, ex-Labour, supposedly well educated, supposedly professional, working in the public sector – being put up as PPC for selction by the local party.

Here then we saw the first batch of Farage's omnishambles in this process.

Firstly, there was his autocratic deselection of a local candidate, against the wishes of the local membership, simply to provide him with a carrot to help lure in a high profile or celebrity candidate.

Secondly, there was his broken promise that he would professionalise the party and guarantee aspiring candidates would be vetted to ensure unsuitable people, perhaps with objectionable views, questionable backgrounds or personal deficiencies, were screened out.

Thirdly, there was the desperate tokenism designed to advance people based on their identity and make them highly visible, just to the party could counter detractors by declaring how inclusive it is and how it appeals to people who are not just white British.

All of these were avoidable failures. Sure, a party might make one of these mistakes every so often. But each failing was compounded by another underlining the lack of competence and the over-centralisation of control.

This then led to the former Conservative MP, Neil Hamilton, putting his name forward for consideration for the seat. Ukip were perfectly happy to have Hamilton as a member. Farage had got him on to the National Executive Committee and ensured he became the European Campaign Director. He then went on to become Deputy Chairman of Ukip.

Yet the party (Farage) has been determined to stop Hamilton being elected as either an MEP or an MP. Farage went on to demote him from Campaign Director, describing him as "a backroom boy". The Ukip leader, himself not certain of winning his seat in Thanet, was worried that Hamilton might become an MP, thus outshining him.

So it was that last Wednesday afternoon, a curious story emerged from Ukip, curious for the words used. Farage had personally intervened in Basildon saying that Kerry Smith should be "rehabilitated" and put on the shortlist. This was a move that would enable the members to reinstate Smith and torpedo Hamilton's efforts to win selection.

As belt and braces, Ukip released a letter concerning Hamilton's expenses to make it look as though he had engaged in some impropriety, thereby ensuring he would be rejected by Basildon. As it turned out, Hamilton spoke in favour of Smith because he respected the original democratic wish of the local party.

But it seems we can now see what Farage meant by having Smith "rehabilitated". On Sunday, it was revealed that Kerry Smith had been recorded making racist and homophobic comments during a telephone conversation.

Despite being outed in the Mail on Sunday, Smith attracted the support of Ukip notables who sought to excuse his outburst on the grounds that he was under the influence of "strong medication" and was "not thinking rationally".

Far be it for us to comment that "strong medication" is not necessarily an accompaniment to this state – when it comes to Ukip supporters – only hours later Smith was forced to tender his resignation, leaving the Basildon South candidature vacant once again.

This then is the latest Farage failure. Having first dumped Smith in order to stitch up the seat, he got burned by tokenism over Natasha Bolter. Then, despite knowing about his previous, was prepared to let Smith step back to within touching distance of becoming an MP.

Now Ukip is back to square one as the Basildon South selection descends into an utter Faragian farce. What a way to run a party – and what a party it is, containing such loathsome characters. This is a gilt edged example of how Farage fails Ukip and why the party is destined to fall away from its high water mark in the polls.

With nonsense like this defining the party that professes to be the leading Eurosceptic entity, we should be hoping that Ukip continues to obsess about immigration and stay as far away from the effort to leave the EU is possible. With charades like this, even the EU looks competent.

Richard North 15/12/2014 link

Monday 15 December 2014

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Something is stirring in Germany, enough to get the local media concerned although details have scarcely permeated this side of the Channel. 

This is the Pegida Alliance, reported on recently by Spiegel on the back of an opinion poll by TNS Research that has 65 percent of Germans feeling "left out" when it comes to immigration and refugee policy. Only 28 percent saw no problem. In addition, 34 percent of respondents are concerned about the increasing Islamisation of Germany.

The group's name is an acronym, PEGIDA, short for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, which translates as:"Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West".

Its rise is charted by Soeren Kern of the Gatestone Institute who records that there is a mounting public backlash over what many perceive as the government's indifference to the growing influence of Islam in German society.

Germany has received more than 180,000 asylum applications since January, a 57-percent spike from last year, mostly from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia but also from several Balkan countries.

The Alliance was launched by Lutz Bachmann, a 41-year-old Dresden native with no background in politics, after government officials in the eastern German state of Saxony announced that they would be opening more than a dozen new shelters to house some 2,000 refugees. 

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This proved too much for Bachmann who, like many of his compatriots, is not opposed to legitimate asylum seekers. Rather, he is against so-called economic refugees taking advantage of generous asylum laws and his country's cradle-to-grave social welfare system. According to Bachmann, most of the asylum seekers in Saxony are males who have left their families behind in war-torn Muslim countries.

The main activity to date has been a series of peaceful "evening walks" (Abendspaziergang) in the centre of Dresden, organised every Monday evening since October, with the number of protesters increasing exponentially from week to week.

The latest protest took place on 8 December after a call to action, in which placards displayed by protestors included slogans such as "United against a Holy War on German Soil". More than 10,000 people defied freezing temperatures to express their displeasure with Germany's immigration policies.

On 10 December, the Alliance published a 19-point "Position Paper" outlining what the group is "for" and "against". It accepts genuine asylum seekers from war zones, or those who are subject to political and religious persecution, but wants the Basic Law (constitution) amended, making it compulsory for immigrants to integrate".

It promotes a zero-tolerance policy for migrants who commit crimes, argues for maintaining and protecting "our Judeo-Christian Western culture" and is against the establishment of parallel societies/parallel legal systems "such as Sharia Law, Sharia Police, and Sharia Courts, etc".

Predictably, the reaction of establishment parties has been hostile. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has characterised the Alliance as "shameless," adding: "We have no danger of Islamization, certainly not in Saxony or Dresden with 2.2 percent immigrant population".

Justice Minister Heiko Maas calls on all political parties "to clearly distance themselves" from the protests. "We cannot be silent if a xenophobic atmosphere is being built on the backs of people who have lost everything and come to us for help", he says. "We have to be clear that the demonstrators are not the majority".

Wolfgang Bosbach, of the ruling Christian Democratic Union [CDU], warned that the protests represented the "anchoring of radical views in the heart of society".

Bachmann sees it differently. He says the protests will continue until there are changes to Germany's asylum policies. "We do not want to launch a political party or start a revolution," he says. "But we need to talk openly about the asylum issue".

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Interestingly, the AfD, cast as a Eurosceptic party with its focus primarily on the euro, has jumped on the immigration bandwagon – with predictable effect. Having gained a mere 4.7 percent of the national vote in the September 2013, its support has surged, with the party making gains in regional elections and winning nine seats in Euro-elections. It is now polling ten percent in September 2014.

As with Ukip in the UK, Germany's political establishment has worked hard to discredit the AfD, but milking the immigration issue has given party leader, Bernd Lucke, a more powerful voice in the ongoing debate.

"Many people in Germany have legitimate concerns about the spread of radical Islamic ideology, which promotes violence against non-Muslims, robs women and girls of their natural rights, and seeks to require the application of Sharia law", he says.

Lucke goes on to observe that citizens are expressing their concerns in non-violent demonstrations. This is "good and right", he says. "It is a sign that these people do not feel that their concerns are being taken seriously by politicians".

The rhetoric is thus remarkably similar to the sort of thing we hear from Farage. Bachmann even sounds like him with his motto, "We are the people!" (Wir sind das Volk!), the same slogan used by East Germans to bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989, and not unlike Ukip's "peoples' army".

But what this also confirms is that the Ukip "surge" rests on no great genius on the part of Farage, or the activities of his followers. Simply, going for the easy option of capitalising on concerns about immigration guarantees an electoral boost.

But what it has done for Ukip is create a "glass ceiling", building an irreconcilable wall of opposition that will prevent the party ever breaking out into a majority movement. AfD risks the same outcome. Ukip's coming demise will pave the way for its own failure, unless it can break into new policy domains and provide real answers.

Yet here, nemesis may be common to both parties. The German and British governments both – Merkel and Cameron - are experiencing a popular backlash over immigration. That gives both an interest in delivering an Article 48 "simplified procedure" solution, offering restrictions on freedom of movement.

The so-called "insurgents" are vulnerable to this tactic, having put all their eggs in one basket. A deal on immigration will cut the feet from under them, leaving them no place to go.

Given the multiple train wrecks, Ukip may not last that long, but the timing is academic. Stationary targets always fall, and Farage has locked his party into immobility – ironic really, when the issue is freedom of movement.

Richard North 15/12/2014 link

Sunday 14 December 2014

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I wasn't thinking of returning to the Brand/Farage Question Time, but it's worth recording Amanda Platell's "take" in the Mail.

Asking how QT could sink so low, she notes that, "thanks to the gratuitous and cynically calculated pairing of Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Russell Brand", the programme "descended into pure farce - or rather into abusive, ugly, hate-filled TV". As several viewers put it on Twitter: this was the moment Question Time turned into the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Nevertheless, it was too recent for the show to have affected the YouGov tracker on which parties voters see as "sleazy and disreputable", a survey which included Ukip for the first time.

YouGov asked people to agree or disagree with the statement, "the Conservatives / Labour / the Liberal Democrats these days give the impression of being very sleazy and disreputable". To the Conservatives, 44 percent agreed it applied, 31 percent agreed it applied to Labour and 35 percent agreed it applied to the Lib-Dems.

When it came to Ukip, though, it scored 59 percent, occupying the position of being seen as the "most sleazy" party, a finding that fits neatly with the latest voting intention poll which puts the party at 14 percent.

This current level is down from the heady heights of the 17 percent the party was commanding on 5 December, the 19 percent it picked up on 15 October, and the 18 percentage points it has routinely been getting since it was picking up 13s in late September and early October.

This downturn may be one of those blips, as the polls are nothing if not volatile. But one suspects that the saga of the former Miss Ahmed has not done the reputation of the party much good. The Mail, for instance, notes that questions "are no doubt being raised as to the hasty, careless decisions that led to such a loose cannon being admitted in the first place".

In similar terms, is how The Times also puts it, stating of the former Miss Ahmed that Ukip faces a difficult question: how did a supposedly mainstream party allow someone with such a shaky CV to come within a whisker of being a potential MP?

Meanwhile much is being made of Farage's relationship with Enoch Powell, but of more importance are current relationships.

As before, The Times has led the way, telling us of tensions over the appointment of Neil Hamilton as the replacement candidate for the former Miss Ahmed. With his precipitate withdrawal over hints of "anomalies" in his expenses claims, donor Stuart Wheeler has threatened to withdraw his cash unless the former Tory minister is given the opportunity of fighting a parliamentary seat.

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Although some in the party saw his removal as a coup, the triumph has been short-lived as the preferred candidate (originally displaced by the former Miss Ahmed), Kerry Smith, has been outed as the author of homophobic, racist and obscene comments, as well as accusing Nigel Farage of corruption.

There seems no end to the tawdriness of this party, with Farage also embroiled in a low-grade "grade an immigrant" survey, which has the Mail on Sunday squawking with indignations.

And while Wheeler is talking about withholding cash, so it seems is Paul Sykes, who has told the MoS that he was making "no commitment" about future big donations to the party because that would "destroy" Ukip's bid to build up a grassroots base. No sooner said, though, and the Sunday Times has retailed a denial, with a spokesman saying: "If he is needed he will be there to help".

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The paper, on the other hand, reveals that David Soutter, Ukip's head of candidates, is under fire for letting the former Miss Ahmed through the net. He admits that one of the things that Ukip has lacked as a party is "discipline", also admitting that half his time is spent "weeding out the lunatics, the people who shouldn't be there".

Frankly, Mr Soutter is not doing a very good job, but then that is not easy when he is defending a party which indeed lacks discipline, and much else.

We read with some wry amusement the analyses of earnest academics, seeking to impart their wisdom on the nature of the party, and the reasons for its "success", but this is not a party in any normal sense. It is the dregs of the political process, the dregs of the dregs if you like.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that it is beginning to unravel, a party which, according to his archivist, even Enoch Powell would have disowned.

Says Richard Ritchie, Powell "could not possibly have sanctioned" a situation in which the Eurosceptic majority "lost to the Europhile minority because the vote was split". Mr Farage's "obsession" with EU migration also distracts attention from the real threat to Britain of the EU's "insatiable drive towards political union".

And therein is the read tragedy. Ukip, in all its ghastly manifestations, is giving Euroscepticism a bad name, one from which it will have difficulty in recovering. Our only safeguard, at the moment, is that Ukip itself is distancing itself from the EU issue to such an extent that it is seen more as an anti-immigration party than anything specifically to do with "Europe".

Richard North 14/12/2014 link

Sunday 14 December 2014

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Among the many serious puzzles raised by the peculiar workings of our "child protection" system, writes Booker, three continually recur. One is a huge increase in the number of children now being removed from their parents on grounds of "emotional abuse". This has been by far the biggest contributor to the explosion in the numbers of children taken into care since the "Baby P" scandal in 2008, rising by 92 percent.

And most have not been for actual emotional abuse but simply for the possible "risk" of such abuse happening in the future. A second charge against parents which comes up too often is their failure to "co-operate with professionals", such as the social workers who are tearing their family apart.

A third, used to justify 90 percent of child removals, is the role of those "independent" psychologists hired by social workers to report that the parents suffer from such vague conditions as "borderline personality disorder", or "narcissism", leading them to "put their own interests above those of the children".

All three points formed the substance of a recent judgment in the Court of Appeal, in the very unhappy case I reported last May of "the baby with no name". In 2006, the mother lost her child, by a man who walked out on her, after a psychologist reported that she suffered "intellectual impairment", making her unfit to bring up the child on her own.

When she happily married a devout British-born Hindu, producing two sons, Hertfordshire social workers again intervened – much to the growing impatience of her husband, a "lovely, peaceable man" who held a £90,000-a-year job as a senior manager.

Everyone agreed, as an earlier judge found, that the children were "thriving", that the parents were devoted to them and had done them no harm. But the same psychologist again found the mother not fully fit to look after her boys and said there might therefore be a "risk" of future harm.

When the social workers removed the children, relations between them and the father grew so fraught that, when he accused one of them outside a courtroom of lying, and the social worker pushed him, he took a defensive swing at the man's head and was fined £430 for assault. The father then refused to allow his baby to go through a traditional temple naming ceremony because, in defiance of Hindu rules, the social workers insisted on being present.

When Lord Justice Ryder heard the parents' appeal, he eventually, after eight weeks, came up with a judgment that surprised many of those present through the hearing. It was "a misapprehension of the law", he said, that children should not be taken from their parents for only the "risk" of future emotional abuse.

Anyway, the father had already abused his children, both by hitting a social worker in his older son's presence (even though the boy had been yards away at the time), and then by refusing to allow the younger boy to be named.

Ryder emphasised that the father had shown no ability to "co-operate" with the social workers who had removed his children. He finally wished to make clear that the psychologist who had twice found so damagingly against the mother was genuinely independent – this was after it emerged that she was retained by Hertfordshire for up to 20 hours a week, 46 weeks of the year (for which the going rate can be up to £80,000). It was a mere oversight that this woman had been described in council documents as "Dr", when she was nothing of the kind.

And, although the parents had wished the mother to be assessed by another psychologist, who found her quite capable of parenting, the lower courts had been within their right to appoint the expert the council wanted.

Thus on all three points, Lord Justice Ryder upheld the current system in a way that will have won plaudits from social workers and family lawyers across the land. Whether the review of his judgment hoped for by the parents, and their advisers from John Hemming MP's Families for Justice, will agree, it remains to be seen.

Richard North 14/12/2014 link