Richard North, 26/08/2013  
 

000a Mirror-025 Nattrass.jpg

Despite the wails of the "kippers" – as some prefer to call themselves – monitoring of UKIP continues to form part of the fare of this blog, and Sunday yielded two stories which profile the party in one way or another and were worth further investigation, opening the way for analytical comment about the party's media effort.

One of the stories was from the Mail on Sunday, written around euro-election candidate Janice Atkinson-Small, a Conservative candidate for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire in the 2010 general election, who has since migrated to UKIP, having once favoured the Labour Party with her charms.

This is a woman who believes "feminism is is a toxic, battle-hardened and arrogant philosophy that has lost its way" and now finds politics "much more fun" with Nigel Farage & Co.

With the benefit of her experience as a director of WomenOn, which claims to be "an independent, non-partisan think-tank that aims to transform the debate around women", Atkinson-Small is telling us that "Conservatives are far more sexist than UKIP". Nevertheless, she seems to be standing for a seat as an MEP in the South East, alongside Farage, rather than in Yorkshire with Godfrey Bloom.

Ironically, the second of yesterday's crop of stories was in the Sunday People (aka Mirror) which has MEP and former UKIP deputy leader Mike Nattrass complaining that he has not been reselected for the next year's elections. He has dismissed "the whole European selection process", which he says, "has been fixed and rules have been ignored".

This is, of course, by no means the first time the euro-election selection process has been rigged, this being the reason Godfrey Bloom is currently an MEP, despite an egregious breach of the rules which should have had him disqualified as a candidate the first time he stood.

Neither of the stories in yesterday's press, though, get to the heart of the issue for which UKIP supposedly exists – the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. They are so far from the core that they give substance to an observation made by Your Freedom and Ours to the effect that UKIP is distracting attention from crucial issues, rather than bringing them to the fore.

That thesis is further confirmed by another story in yesterday's press, one in which UKIP should have featured, but does not appear. In fact, rather than just featuring, UKIP should be driving the story. It should have put it in the headlines and kept it there.

The story in question appears in the Booker column and concerns the gradual encroachment of environmental NGOs on EU policy, recording how they have become a powerful force in Brussels and are helping to shape environmental legislation, particularly on the vexed issue of fracking.

What is particular relevant here is that the role of NGOs is not accidental. It is a direct result of EU policy, which stems from the 2001 White Paper on governance, setting out the role for "organised civil society" in the EU. Since that time, the EU has been planning for NGOs to have a central role in the government of the EU, making them equal partners with member states. 

So important was this declared policy that when the White Paper was published, Nigel Farage authored an explanatory pamphlet for the Bruges Group, released on 27 March 2002.

With him warning that this was "a gigantic step forward towards the ultimate aim" of the EU, an "integrated European state", the White Paper introduced the EU's idea of a "participative democracy" under the control of the Union, part of its attempt to overcome its own lack of democratic legitimacy.

Despite the importance of this development, UKIP was not to return to the subject, so that when in May 2007 the EU agreed a financial instrument for the expansion of the funding programme for environmental NGOs - so putting into effect a key part of the White Paper - there was no recorded public response from the Party.

That "instrument" was Regulation (EC) No 614/2007 of 23 May 2007, concerning "the Financial Instrument for the Environment" (LIFE+). Tellingly, it noted that: "Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to the development and implementation of Community environmental policy and legislation".

"It is therefore appropriate", the Regulation said, "for part of the LIFE+ budget to support the operations of a number of appropriately qualified environmental NGOs through the competitive and transparent awarding of annual operating grants".

The pivotal role of environmental NGOs was further confirmed in a Commission Staff Working Document the following year, but not before the effects of the policy had been noted, when it was learned that Friends of the Earth Europe was being paid a substantial subsidy by the European Commission.

This was first highlighted not by UKIP but by this blog on July 2007 and again in the August. Through a number of exploratory analyses, such as this one in January 2008 and a report from Policy Network in March 2010, we were then able to piece together much of the story.

But we believe that UKIP could and should have led on this story. Handled imaginatively, it could have generated considerable headlines for the Party, evidenced by the tardy intervention of the Taxpayers Alliance. That attention-seeking organisation managed to grab publicity for itself on the issue as late as this year, by featuring EU "handouts" to environmental NGOs – five years after this blog had broken the news.

But the crucial issue, as EU matters climb up the news agenda, is that the LIFE+ framework programme under which NGO financing is managed finishes at the end of this year.

Launched in 1992, the LIFE programme is regarded as one of the spearheads of EU environmental funding. It has financed over 3,500 projects, contributing €2.5 billion to what is claimed to be "environment protection". LIFE+, which started in 2007 and runs until the end of 2013, had a budget of just over €2.1 billion, mostly to finance grants – amounting to 78 percent of the programme budget.

A new programme must now be devised if the NGO funding is to be continued, and, although a consultation document was published in December 2011, UKIP has remained silent on the issue. Even with the Commission attempting to justify what for it is obviously a very sensitive issue, UKIP has failed to take any action, in spite of a yawning open goal.

"European environmental and climate NGOs are given grants by LIFE to ensure that they take part in the EU policy process and balance the interests of other (better resourced) stakeholders", says the Commission. "NGOs also give input to EU environmental and climate policies through studies they carry out and data they collect in specific fields", it adds, telling us that, "These environmental and climate NGOs help bring EU policies closer to Europeans, and act as watchdogs at local, regional and even national level".

If UKIP can't make something of that, what can it do?

Although things often move with glacial speed in the EU, this matter is now coming to a head. The proposal for a new programme is already with the European Parliament and a Committee Report was produced at the end of September last year.

The recommendations in the 112-page report are controversial, not least as they seek to make it easier for NGOs to acquire funds, and allow them to use EU funds to pay for their permanent staff costs, even when they are not wholly engaged on EU work.

Still UKIP has been silent. And although the report goes to a full session of the European Parliament on 23 October, there are no indications that the Party is preparing to raise the profile of the issue in an attempt to gain some political traction.

The finance instrument will be a Council and European Parliament Regulation, which means that it must be approved by both institutions, in the former case by qualified majority voting.

Embarrassingly, Mr Cameron's coalition government is facing the prospect of having the proposal approved over its head, forcing our government unwillingly fund NGOs to work against the UK on policy matters where there is profound disagreement with the Green agenda.

Politically, this could prove an ideal opportunity for UKIP to demonstrate the effect of EU funding, the powerlessness of the UK government and the way we are being made to pay for Green NGOs which are acting against our national interests.

But instead of UKIP exploiting this, Mr "Bongo-Bongo" Bloom is distracting the Party and the media from such important issues, now joined by Mike Nattrass, turncoat and former Farage attack dog. As thieves fall out, media coverage is directed at the wrong subjects and, in the vacuum created by UKIP inactivity, valuable publicity opportunities are being lost.

This is the opportunity cost of running an amateur operation, headed by people with a slender grasp of publicity techniques. And while UKIP supporters are quick to invoke the "victim" card, complaining of being ignored, much of the media silence can be attributed to the simple fact that the Party on so many issues has nothing interesting or important to say.

Brussels integrating environmental NGOs into government, and funding them to assist the European Commission in "the development and implementation of Community environmental policy and legislation" against the wishes of the British government, is a story by any measure – as Booker has yet again demonstrated. That UKIP cannot get any mileage out of it is an example of the poverty of its media effort.

And if its amateur efforts have delivered poor results, it has only itself to blame.

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