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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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".
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".
The Compleat Bastard notes that [what passes for] the debate on Question Time yesterday was entirely dominated by the immigration issue. Completely missing from the discourse was any reference to the EU.
Consequently, says TCB, we can now say that Ukip is no longer an anti-EU party. It is a single issue party centred on immigration and has little else to say for itself. Euroscepticism is now without a political champion.
One who would take the place of Ukip, it would seem, is young Daniel Hannan, who has just published a pamphlet via the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), but he presents a case of such startling superficiality that it has failed to attract any publicity (so far), other then a print-out of the press release from John Redwood.
A few queries by way of a comment, posted on Mr Redwood's blog, were however, deleted within a matter of minutes, illustrating the level of enthusiasm for debate shared by Mr Carswell and some others – although they did subsequently re-appear.
Readers, therefore, can enjoy via Mr Redwood a discussion on the merits of Mr Hannan' proposals, specifically as to whether, in presenting them as a "reform" agenda, young Daniel has in mind that Mr Cameron would be taking the Art.48 route of treaty amendment.
If this is what he does have in mind, he must know that the UK must attain a majority just to get the proposals on the European Council agenda. And, should he overcome this hurdle, which may prove impossible, he must then know that the nature of the changes proposed would require a convention as well as an IGC, against a probable timescale of 3-4 years, ruling out a 2017 referendum.
This notwithstanding, the chances of an Art.48 "reform" succeeding, on the grounds set out by Mr Hannan are probably nil, in which case we would be looking at an Art.50 notification. One wonders why this eventuality is not mentioned in the CPS pamphlet.
But it is in Art.50 negotiations that, one assumes, we could conform with Mr Hannan's assertion that we could "do better than Switzerland" in reaching an agreement with the EU, even though we are given no clue as to how long ab initio bilateral negotiations would take.
Nevertheless, given that it took Switzerland took 16 years to reach its present state of accord with the EU - which includes freedom of movement provisions more stringent than in the EEA agreement – one wonders whether Mr Hannan thinks we could reach an agreement within the initial two years set for the Art.50 negotiations.
If we could not come to a final agreement in such a short period, it would be interesting to learn of Mr Hannan's ideas. Would he seek an extension, and if so how many years would he be prepared to continue the negotiations before a deal was reached?
If, a prolonged delay was anticipated, one then wonders what alternatives to a bespoke bilateral agreement Mr Hannan might suggest. In particular, it is germane to ask whether he might consider it appropriate to manage our withdrawal from the EU in easy stages? Or would he rather than go for the "big bang" approach which would require us to undo the fruits of forty years of economic and political integration all in one series of negotiations - and then take what we are given as final?
The point about Mr Hannan, and by the same token, Mr Redwood, it that they don't debate such issues. For ten years or more, the Tory Eurosceptic "establishment" has been banging the same drum, with not an original idea to share between them. Nothing outside their tiny, self-referential circle is ever acknowledged, or allowed to taint their private debate.
One is rather saddened, therefore, to see the CPS motto emblazoned on the Hannan piece: "To question the unquestioned, to think the unthinkable, blaze new trails". The think-tanks, largely like the authors they employ, seem to have stopped thinking.
Were they at all on the ball, they might be looking at this
- an article in EurActiv
which, on the face of it has nothing to do with Mr Hannan's preoccupation but, on closer scrutiny, has everything to do with it.
The article tells us of a "window of opportunity" for relaunching negotiations between the European Union and Brazil on a bilateral trade and investment agreement, one brought about be the CEOs of 27 leading companies involved in trade between the two partners, who are very keen that there should be such an agreement.
But the fascinating thing here is that the elimination of tariffs, which is the normal fare of free trade agreements, was very much downplayed. Instead, the main concern was the harmonisation of regulations, the lack of which was considered to be the main barrier to the development of business and trade between the two blocs.
This was in the context of the EU-US TTIP talks, where the creation of a new system of rules for investments and trade of goods and services was in progress. The parties are not particularly interested in a straightforward agreement on tariffs - they are looking for something more complex, in terms of a deal on regulatory harmonisation.
Professor Alfredo Valladão, from the Paris Institut d’Etudes Politiques and president of EUBrasil Advisory Board, was concerned that the TTIP system would be imposed to the rest of the world, arguing that Brazil and its manufacturing sector should get involved in the debate, "in order to avoid being marginalised by the extremely fast emergence of a new global economic paradigm and its regulations".
This then brings to light the fate of the stalled EU-Mercosur talks, which have been ongoing for over 15 years. Mercosur is, of course, Latin America's "common market" and Brazil is to take the leadership for the duration of 2015.
It is then, during 2015, that the parties are looking to closing the deal, even though in June 2014
, EU External Action Service Director Christian Leffler had declared: "There is no sense in holding discussions if both sides are not ready".
What this points to in the Hannan context is three things. Firstly, while Hannan sees his "reform" as an opportunity to reduce the amount of regulation coming from Brussels, those who are pushing for new trade deals (including the TTIP) are looking for a new round of centralisation, with regulation rather than tariffs being the central issue.
Secondly, we see how lack of regulatory convergence has taken pole position as the more important trade barrier. Yet, in key areas of our economy, Hannan would seek divergence - a reversion to a simple tariff agreement and greater national independence on rule-making.
Thirdly, with Mercosur taking 15 years not to achieve a trade deal – to say nothing of TTIP which rests on the Transatlantic Declaration of 1990 – we see an example of how long it takes to negotiate (not) trade deals. Hannan might think that the UK can do better that Switzerland, but he really does need to specify how long it would take to reach the perfect deal.
Taking an overall look at the Mercosur situation though, we see
it being argued that this agreement hasbecome a straitjacket, an obsolete form of relationship that is keeping its members isolated, when it needed to be "open and connected to the world" - i.e. focused on systems and regulatory convergence.
The point that emerges from that is that there are different types of trade agreement, with different impacts – something which Hannan forebears to tell us. Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru have in recent years been pursuing their own Pacific Alliance
with greater success. It is orientated toward Asia but, in order to present a cohesive front, it is pursuing a high level of economic integration, leaving Mercosur standing.
The logic here is that, in pursuing the free trade agreements, if they are to be effective (for some of the partners, at least) economic integration is de rigueur
- precisely the model that Hannan rejects.
That actually means that the idea of a free trade agreement, as suggested by Hannan, isn't an option after all. If agreed on lines that are likely to have the desired effect, we are looking to a degree of economic integration which would be unacceptable, presenting us with a relationship with the EU that would be very little different - in key respects - from what we had at the moment
That leaves us looking for an alternative model. And one which deserves exploration is the type which does not involve formal, geographically-anchored country agreements. Instead of portmanteau deals between nations, we need to look at sector or product deals. And the best examples, for the moment, come with the deals brokered through the UNECE-sponsored World Forum on Vehicle Regulation Harmonisation, a process we've labelled "unbundling
The latest development here is the international agreement on tyre standards for passenger cars
, where a new system for certification has just been adopted for product certification, known as Global Technical Regulations (GTRs).
This, as the name applies, is actually a global agreement, aimed at providing uniform regulation for an industry
worth $200 billion a year, employing over 600,000 people globally. Currently, it is producing 3.3 billion units annually and the industry is expected to grow to $220 billion by 2015.
The point here is that, while TTIP could - in theory - produce a boost to the global economy of $500bn annually - over a wide range of products - it is unlikely ever to come to fruition. A deal on tyres - just one product - could, potentially deliver about $40bn, which has a much better chance of being achieved. Do a series of deals, product-by-product, and you will get to your TTIP target, while the negotiators for the "big bang" are still talking about what sort of coffee should be served at the conference tables.
Even then, "unbundling" is not plain sailing. At the last minute, though, the US abstained, leaving the new regulations to apply to those which voted for them, including the European Union, China, Canada, India, Japan and Russia.
The regulations, therefore, are not binding on the US.
Nevertheless, the adoption of a new GTR on tyres developed under the aegis of the World Forum, "will ensure that the same testing procedure is adopted not only by Europe, but also by other countries such as Canada, Japan, China, India and Korea". Considering that the Asia/Pacific region is by far the largest market for tyres, accounting for over half of global tire demand in 2010, this is still very significant.
Even without the US, this agreement will reduce market-entry technical barriers and ultimately facilitating trade between major automotive markets, but without the baggage that accompanies so many free trade agreements – free movement of tyres without free movement of people. Quietly, with no reporting of publicity in the UK media, it is actually delivering results.
The way is still open, of course, for the US to come on board - as the second most important destination for EU tyre exports, we need it to join up.
The problem, though, is that both sides have strongly divergent approaches to regulations and market surveillance. The EU's system is based on the UNECE 1958 agreement, based on type approval, while the US system is based on regulations promulgated by the DOT-NHTSA (Department of Transportation/National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), reliant on self-certification and strong market surveillance.
These philosophical differences are also stalling the TTIP negotiations, but at least the US dropping out does not prevent a partial agreement being reached with the rest of the world - and a partial agreement is better then nothing at all. At any time, talks can be resumed to bring the United States back on board.
This points to the reality, of there being different solutions – different ways of doing things – which haven't even begun to permeate the brains of the Hannan and his ilk. A little while ago, I wrote about stretching the debate
. This really is what we need to be doing, and we can't afford to wait ten years for Hannan to discover something new, and tell us all about it. We need solutions, and we need to be identifying them now.
Perceptive readers may notice that, so far, I've kept away from the Bird/Bolter (née Ahmed) soap opera. However, I've now broken my own self-denying ordinance and posted the Guardian's take, conveying the words of UKIP's ex-finest.
"I have ruined my life by speaking out about Roger Bird", says the one of the women in Ukip who is "... seen for our intelligence and aptitude". She then goes on to tell us that "she wanted to highlight pressure on women to sleep with men in powerful posts to enhance careers". One Guardian commenter, though, is not convinced, telling Bolter: "No, you ruined your life by joining Ukip".
Whatever else one might think of the former Miss Ahmed, one notes from the lengthy Mail report that she married at the age of 23. In six years she had five children, now aged nine to 15, and has separated from her husband.
After spending years as a housewife, we are told, she studied to become a teacher, and taught religion at Eastbury Comprehensive School in Barking, becoming active in the Tower Hamlets Labour party until her sudden switch to Ukip just three months ago.
Prior to her marriage, she claims to have read PPE at Wadham College, Oxford, a claim repeated by Roger Bird from the podium at Doncaster, also an Oxford PPE-ist. Then he told the conference: "Now, I was particularly pleased to hear this as it means I am now no longer the only Oxford PPE-ist in Ukip, and Nigel will have to stop making jokes about PPE-ists".
Today, though, a spokesman for the university says that having checked the records against her date of birth and maiden name: "We can confirm that Oxford University has no record of a Natasha Ahmed having attended Oxford". It has also been confirmed that the former Miss Ahmed was not even a teacher, but a "cover supervisor", hired to "babysit" students when teachers were not available, although she has not worked in any school since Spring 2013. And even her age is a lie. She claims 35 but official records show her to be 39.
One wonders, therefore, why that Ukip ever thought this person was a suitable candidate for a Member of Parliament, and is the sort of person who could ably represent her constituents and her party – especially as doubts are now being cast over the rest of her story.
More likely, the former Miss Ahmed "qualified" for exactly the same reason she is receiving inordinate attention from the media, specifically that she doesn't "look a bit Ukip". It seems that Ukip, like the rest of the political parties, is no stranger to the idea of tokenism – or insulting the electorate by putting up what looks to be a serial fantasist.
But now, it emerges, that the focus of the internal investigation in Ukip is on the behaviour of its general secretary over suspicions that he "marked up" the former Miss Ahmed in selection exams. Mr Bird was stepping into forbidden territory – only Mr Farage is allowed to rig the selection process.
Furthermore, it has been learned that she have been thrown out of the Labour Party for failing to pay her membership fees before her high profile "defection" to Ukip. Yet, her apparent defection was hailed as a major coup for Ukip, with her speech on why she chose to leave Labour receiving a rapturous, uncritical reception from Ukip supporters at the Doncaster conference.
What interests me most, however, is whether the torrent of media coverage is a practical demonstration of this principle, known as the Parkinson law of triviality, or better known as the "bicycle shed syndrome".
The "syndrome" relates to Parkinson's observation of a planning committee reviewing plans for a nuclear power plant. It spent the majority of its time with discussions on relatively trivial and unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the design of the nuclear power plant itself – a far more important but also a far more difficult and complex task to criticise constructively.
Given a choice between exploring many other serious issues, and the trivial tittle-tattle of the former Miss Ahmed's affairs, the difference in column inches appear to tell its own story. But it isn't only journalists who are afflicted - blog readers also seem to be influenced by the syndrome. Compare, for instance, the number of comments here with this.
When it comes to a story such as this
, which has extraordinary long-term significance, and this
, which should get the coverage? Given a choice, I would say the former, whereas the media have opted for the latter – which deals with the spin off from the former Miss Ahmed – is getting the attention.
However, there are those of my readers who suggest to me that I should make choices, only that I should do the opposite to the media and concentrate on issues such as UNECE and global agreements on tyre standards, and steer clear of the more contentious stuff – like Ukip.
Yet, if my judgement is to be trusted on such details, then it is on matters which affect Ukip's performance, such as Mr Hamilton's expenses
, and the decision to parachute him in
as a replacement candidate, that it must also be trusted.
The behaviour of the political party which purports to seek our withdrawal from the EU is a legitimate interest for this blog. The events might be trivial but the context is not. A dysfunctional wreck dominating the eurosceptic territory is of concern to us all.
And this is where Parkinson got it wrong. The committee was not failing it its duty in spending time on the bicycle shed. We need well-designed cycle housing as well as well-designed nuclear power stations. Their mistake was in not dealing with the power station as well
The same applies to the media. No-one expects them to avoid train-wreck stories about Ukip, but they should be covering all the territory – the nuclear power stations as well as the bicycle sheds. A paper that can run stories such as these
should also should also be running stories such as these
And that's what this blog should be doing – not either or, but both ... and that includes Ukip.
Obviously, the strain of being driven all those places in his chauffeur-driven car is getting to Farage. That has to be the real reason for his blaming his delay in attending a drinks reception in Wales on immigrants.
Even though the Mail says he did blame them, The Boiling Frog doesn't buy the excuse. It's a worrying trend and reflection of UKIP's desire to be a single issue party on immigration that, rather than policy and detail, problems are increasingly being put down to immigration alone. Not only does it lend the party to ridicule but it is toxifying the eurosceptic debate, says TBF.
Shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith put it slightly differently. Responding to the Ukip leader's claim that his delay was "chiefly because of open-door immigration", he said: "Remarks like these are what makes Farage so dangerous".
With that, we can only agree. In one fell swoop, he has done considerable damage to the eurosceptic cause, making himself a laughing stock which will be almost impossible to live down. His "cult" supporters will, of course, be unaffected, but any hopes that Ukip can contribute seriously to the debate on immigration have been nullified.
One hopes that the damage can be contained to this area, but as Ukip claims the anti-EU cause for its own, the danger has always been that Farage will poison this well. A man who is being ripped apart on the social media is not one who is going to be taken seriously on any other subject.
Perhaps, though, there is an opportunity. What few ideas Ukip has had on how we should go about leaving the EU are as sensible in their own way as Farage's comments on traffic delays. We may now be able to park these, and focus on something more workable.
With that, there is more than a element of chickens coming home to roost. For some considerable time, now, we have been complaining of the lightweight, "populist" approach adopted by Farage, and his propensity to speak off the cuff, making it up as he goes along. Despite the robust defence of his supporters, who can see no wrong in the man, sooner or later, his train-wreck behaviour was always going to rebound on him.
No doubt, his supporters will still believe that Farage can do no wrong and be rushing to defend him. But for the rest of the country, the Ukip leader has become a figure of fun - which makes him even more of a liability than he has been. It is time to consider whether he has outlived his usefulness, and whether he should be replaced. Now would probably not be too soon.
At the moment, the media is having fun at Ukip's expense, over the issue of spoof Twitter accounts, picking up on a sense of humour failure over UKIP Trumpton.
If mockery has become a new tool to be deployed against the would be "insurgents", Farage himself has come under the spotlight over his comments on breastfeeding. The man did not have the sense to avoid wading into the issue, when he should have said that this was not a matter in which national politicians should intervene.
Nor can one exactly applaud Farage's comments on foreign aid, with him falling in to the all-too familiar Ukip trap of spending the same money many times, this time having him wanting to slash it by 80 percent "to pay off deficit".
That said, his further comment has us scratching heads in puzzlement: "So I'd cut £9 billion from that because frankly it's just being used as an arm of foreign policy", says the leader of the Ukipists. Did he really not know that foreign aid is an arm of foreign policy, and always has been? Is he that naïve?
This though, is all dancing round the edges: it is The Times coming in with the heavyweight story of the day, which points to the darker side of Ukip, and some very sinister goings-on.
In the report, we are told that Scotland Yard is investigating claims that a serving police officer perverted the course of justice by warning journalists against writing about the "political affairs" of a Ukip MEP.
Normally, I'd link to the report at this stage, and just summarise, but we have the paywall effect which makes it inaccessible to most readers. Thus I have to go on to tell you that this concerns Detective Constable Tony Holden, who sent an unsolicited email to two reporters from The Sunday Times and The Independent after they had contacted Gerard Batten over the London MEP's alleged links to far-right political organisations and proposed anti-Muslim policies, including banning halal meat.
DC Holden, who was working on an unrelated fraud case brought by Mr Batten against a former employee, warned the journalists against publishing articles deemed to be untruthful and concerning to” the Ukip politician.
The officer, a specialist in financial crime, wrote that "it has been bought [sic] to the attention of the Metropolitan Police" that the journalists had "been provided material by an unknown source concerning the political affairs of Mr Gerard Batten MEP".
He cautioned that any articles linked to Mr Batten's ex-employee, Jasna Badzak, who at the time was awaiting trial for fraud, "may result in further arrests being made” and requested that the reporters “thoroughly check the sources of the information, prior to contacting either Mr Batten or going to press". He copied Mr Batten's private email address into the correspondence.
One of the journalists replied to Mr Holden, saying that he considered the email to be an attempt to warn him off writing about the MEP and a "potential abuse of office". The journalist also emailed Mr Batten, asking for an explanation. Mr Batten appears to have forwarded the email to Mr Holden, saying: "Dear Tony, very sorry to bother you with this. Please see the exchange of messages below".
This intervention by Holden is described as "extraordinary", and indeed it is – if not outright sinister. But it is one of several instances of alleged police misconduct said to have been committed by four police officers and one ex-officer, all of which are under investigation by the Metropolitan police's serious misconduct investigation unit.
The claims relate to Ms Badzak, about whom we've written before in a less than sympathetic light after she had been convicted of fraud in October last year. Then, a jury found that she had doctored a bank statement and borrowed £3,000 from Mr Batten on the false pretence that she had not been paid by the European Parliament. But Ms Badzak has since campaigned against her conviction, alleging that police officers in the case acted improperly.
More than a few people think Ms Badzak to be a bit "flaky", but then some say the same thing of me. In this case, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said in July that it was "concerned" about her complaints and referred them to Scotland Yard, which is investigating them.
The unit will also examine why Ms Badzak was told on two occasions that the officers about whom she complained did not exist. This is one of the more bizarre aspects of the case, which is triggering alarm bells. Ms Badzak was dealt with by two officers, in circumstances which are turning out to be more than a little dubious, and when she tried to complain about them, she is told they don't exist?
"The officers you have named as being officers of the Metropolitan Police Service are not officers with the MPS", a police sergeant wrote. "I have thoroughly interrogated all MPS systems and cannot find any trace of the officers".
Thus same officer repeated this claim in July last year and it was only disclosed to Ms Badzak in April this year that the missing officers were in fact serving Met officers. But the plot then thickens as a Metropolitan police spokesman is now saying that, "it is not possible for us to explain how this mistake was made", adding that, the officer who made the mistake is "on a career break".
If there wasn't hard evidence about this, then it would look too far-fetched to believe, but the evidence is rock solid. Something very strange is going on in the Met, with active collusion between serving police officers, a Ukip MEP and other Ukip members.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said that he was shocked by DC Holden's email. "It shows that there is something seriously amiss within the police when officers feel that they can interfere with the legitimate work of journalists", he said. "That is the stuff of totalitarian states".
Ms Badzak has also raised concerns that police officers have used the criminal law in an attempt to prevent her from talking to journalists. In November, she received a formal harassment warning for "providing information … of a false nature" to a journalist at The Mail on Sunday.
The warning here stated that she had provided "false" information concerning Annabelle Fuller, a former press aide to Nigel Farage, which had caused Ms Fuller to be "subjected to numerous phone calls and emails".
The Times tells us of its understanding that Ms Badzak did not call the journalist - he called her to check information given to him by another source. And it is this Ms Fuller is under police investigation for allegedly making false claims of sexual assault – as well as theft of property under extremely suspicious circumstances.
Now getting involved is Louise Mensch, a former Conservative MP. She has submitted two criminal complaints yesterday via a senior officer in the Metropolitan police, complaining about the alleged conduct of officers in Ms Badzak's case. "It is clear to me that substantial police misconduct may have been committed", Mensch is saying.
To conclude, Tory MP David Davis also joins in, saying that "the public should know whether this was an authorised intervention in the operation of a free press and if so who authorised it [and] what the basis for it was".
Unsurprisingly, other newspapers have not picked up on the story. They are staying on the safer territories of Trumpton and breastfeeding. The Times is out on its own, taking considerable risks running the story, as Ukip has become a favoured customer of one the most predatory libel firms in the country.
It is itself significant that the party is so quick to resort to libel lawyers – also relying on gagging orders to prevent this being known to the public, but the Badzak case has at last broken through the obstructions, and some of the details are seeing the light of day.
When more emerges – as it will unless the libel lawyers prevail – there will be good cause to look at Ukip in a very different light – especially when we start seeing how this affair links both with Fuller and Farage, who have much to hide, and a very great need to hide it.
A writer claiming to be Peter Evans, a former UK news editor of The Times, writes in the comments section of the latest story on Ukip, complaining of the paper's campaign to undermine Ukip in a way which it does not do to the Tory Party.
Whether he is genuine we have no means of knowing, although he does not seem to have a web footprint. And it seems hardly likely that a man of the stature of a former news editor would be reduced to making his views known in the comments section of his erstwhile employer.
The piece is of note, however, in that it represents a split between those who applaud The Times for opening up Ukip to scrutiny and those who complain that it is being criticised. Of the latter, many certainly do tend to harbour the view that the party should get a free pass from the media, no matter how crass its behaviour.
Nevertheless, it should not be necessary to say that political parties should undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny, and that must include Ukip. It is in receipt of substantial funds from the taxpayer – it is in a position to affect the outcome of the general election, and it is upon this party that many rest their hopes of leaving the EU.
This blog, of course, has a special interest in Ukip – aside from the personal. Whatever its many detractors might aver, it would be absurd for a blog of this nature not to take a keen interest in a party which claims as its main objective our withdrawal from the EU.
So it is that for the second day running that The Times is running hostile coverage of Ukip, and we find ourselves mirroring that coverage.
The essence of the first of two stories is that, despite its high profile and the support of some wealthy donors, the party is "very, very short of money" and has failed to build up a war chest for the general election. Yet, we are told, it has still granted Nigel Farage a £60,000 annual chauffeur allowance.
It might also have added that this matches the annual chauffeur allowance awarded to Farage by the European Parliament, in recognition of his position as group leader, complete with a top-of-the-range Mercedes limousine, for his personal use. Man of the people, Farage may present himself as, but he has no intention of being one of them.
This story also gets some coverage in the Financial Times, which also notes that Ukip also pays for a six-man security detail to protect The Great Leader, despite the party having received less than £100,000 in donations for the third quarter of this year.
Such matters, of course, pale into insignificance compared with the news that departing Council President Van Rompuy is to be paid £133,723 a year - 55 per cent of his basic salary - until December 2017, on top of his annual Brussels pension of £52,000, plus a £21,000 one-off payment, taking his earnings to £578,000 over the next three years.
Nonetheless, like most human beings, we are able to process details on more than one issue at a time. That one is important doesn't mean that the other isn't.
The detail of the Ukip stories indicate that the party is having a far harder time building the funds needed to fight an effective general election campaign, for which it estimates it needs six or seven million. But of as great an interest is the second story in The Times, headed "Inside Nigel's house of cards".
This starts with the legend that "Nigel Farage is trying to create a professional party from a ragtag group more accustomed to setting the world to rights over pints of real ale", thereby demonstrating that, for all resource expenditure on tracking Ukip and Mr Farage, it doesn't even begin to understand the subject on which it is reporting.
At the heart of the party's failure to professionalise is, in fact, none other than Mr Farage, the Lord of Misrule. He personally has gone out of his way to undermine any part of the party that could constitute an alternative power base, which might provide a platform to challenge his grip on the party.
That, in the past, has included the party's head office. Thus, it comes as no surprise to learn from the Times's story that after Ukip had moved into a new Mayfair office, a Ukip "director" had drafted a less than favourable report on it, writing of being "embarrassed" at "the lack of cleanliness, silliness and lack of organisation and lack of people in offices".
This came a few days after another attempt to professionalise the party had ended in disaster, when Will Gilpin, a former RAF pilot, had begun work in the £72,000-a-year post of chief executive in December 2012 but had been sacked in August 2013.
He subsequently wrote to one member of the executive: "I'm afraid I came to the role in the belief it was actually a chief executive they were after, rather than chairman's assistant", exactly mirroring my experience when, after leaving, I complained of being treated as a "bag carrier". Neither Farage nor the party have any idea of how to use professional staff.
But then of special interest is the tale of Tim Aker, a "political campaigner and former researcher", who was put forward for the £62,000 post of head of policy.
William Dartmouth, a Ukip MEP and wind farms supporter, apparently wrote to members of the NEC complaining that Mr Aker was being offered as the sole candidate, despite having been "directly concerned [with] and therefore partly responsible for the embarrassment of the 2010 Ukip general election manifesto".
That Aker survived and has gone on to become an MEP is seen as entirely due to the personal support of Mr Farage, even though he has disowned the 2010 manifesto as "drivel" and claimed he had never read it.
Dartmouth had dismissed the manifesto as "electorally toxic" and avers that Mr Aker's involvement with it should be a "total disqualification" for the post of head of policy. That, though, is to misunderstand the way Mr Farage thinks.
When Andrew Moncreiff, a member of Ukip's national executive committee, wrote that Mr Aker was "harmless enough but thoroughly lightweight and has done virtually nothing for the party", he was perhaps unwittingly setting out the perfect qualification for someone occupying high office in Ukip – thereby ensuring that they will never mount an effective challenge to The Great Leader.
This, of course, is what the supporters of the cult-like Ukip are wilfully failing to see. Ukip is a multi-million-pound operation, with several hundred staff – paid and volunteers – yet it consistently underperforms.
At the heart of its failure is one man, a charismatic figure who can attract the support of weak people looking for leadership, but is unable to organise or deliver an effective party machine and who devotes much of his energy to preventing anyone else achieving that which he cannot do.
As to the possibility of rescuing the party from the grip of this man, many hopes are pinned on Douglas Carswell. Popcorn has been purchased in industrial quantities in anticipation of the coming joust between two "titans" as they struggle for the leadership of the party.
It seems likely that, if Carswell regains his seat at the general election while Farage fails to score – which also seems likely – then the MP will be in pole position to displace the current leader. Small wonder, therefore, that we are already hearing rumours that relations between the two men are "frosty", with communications having completely broken down.
Despite having gone full Ukip, Carswell does at least have some pretensions to intellectual rigour, with the publication of The Plan. He also worked for the Conservative Party's Policy Unit, helping prepare the manifesto for the 2005 general election – which the Conservative Party failed to win.
However, Mr Carswell's work has less coherence than his skill at self-promotion might suggest, and his current idea for an EU exit plan remains seeking "a Swiss-style bilateral free-trade agreement".
Those hoping that Mr Carswell might provide us with an intellectually invigorated Ukip, therefore, might be disappointed, although it comes clearer by the day that Farage's failure to embrace policy is causing the party considerable damage. Something, as the say, must be done – but it is unlikely to happen before the general election.
The trouble with doing reviews of Times pieces is that they are behind the paywall, so you can't just link to them and rely on the reader to click-through to get the details, thereby only having to publish the bare bones of the story. You have to post virtually the whole thing, which sometimes means giving more emphasis to a story than it merits.
This would have been the case with this not very important story, albeit on the front page (above). It's about UKIP rigging their own selection procedures for MEP candidates. Fortunately, though, the Independent has run it, which means I don't have to go into the detail.
The reason I needed to mention it at all is to make a quick point, as part of a more general piece about Ukip, correcting what appears to be a standard attack briefing that party supporters use to libel me on comment threads, in a usually forlorn attempt at character assassination.
The claim is made that I resigned the party "before I was pushed", after the election of Godfrey Bloom as Yorkshire Region MEP in 2004. To stop this falsehood spreading it, I have to rebut it. In fact, I resigned in 2003, in protest at the way the selection procedure had been rigged, and the way Farage, with the complicity of David Lott, then party chairman, quite deliberately blocked the appeal which could have set aside this selection and put me in pole position.
It is the case, therefore, that Ukip has been rigging its selection processes for many years, which partly explains why so many of the current batch of MEPs are such dross. Any such assertion from me, though, brings forward the accusation that I hold a "grudge" against The Dear Leader – so it is useful to have the legacy media detail other examples of rigged selection – doubtless because it too has a "grudge".
Actually, no one who knows me would ever suggest that I had such a base relationship with a man with whom I shared a desk for four years, and for whom I wrote speeches. Life is far too short. And even if I had become a Ukip MEP, I would almost certainly have resigned over the embarrassing Kilroy debacle, so the past hasn't been changed that much. Right now, I would still be out on my own.
Rather than a grudge, what I do have is the most profound contempt for Farage – the calm, icy sort. Any passion has long gone. And that's actually a very different thing. Outside the cult, his incompetence, dishonesty and other less than savoury personal attributes do not really support any other view, but above all else, his attempts actively to block policy development have to be the most important reasons for regarding him in such an unfavourable light.
Overall, this "rolling dysfunction" is holding back the party and threatens to bring down the entire anti-EU movement. An example of the immediate effects are picked up by Dr Eric Edmond, a perceptive critic of Ukip and its leader. He links to yet another train-wreck interview, this one with current chairman, Steve Crowther, graphically illustrating the policy chaos that exists within the party.
This is chaos which intensifies by the hour, after Farage disowned a policy on camera, despite it having been minted by deputy leader Nutall at the Doncaster conference in September - of which Farage was apparently unaware. That left him to admit he had "misspoken", after being forced to acknowledge that the policy on sex education remained party policy.
However, frequenting – as one does – the occasional comment thread, I recently had my own personal epiphany, coming to the realisation that Ukip's root problem is that its people don't actually understand what policy is. Even with the benefit of a thoroughly-grounded seminar in the principles of policy-making, I asserted, they wouldn't understand what they were being told, much less be able to put it into practice.
What, in essence, the party is producing is a list of aspirations rather than policies. The core failure is the lack of any connection between what they want to happen, and the means of making those things happen, in such a way that one can be assured that the outcomes are deliverable. This confusion between aspiration and policy means that the party can never progress to a state of coherence.
Party supporters, on the other hand (and not entirely unreasonably), point to the similar inadequacies of the established parties. But this simply highlights the further failure to understand the nature of politics. It is for the challengers, with no track record, to demonstrate their capabilities. Conventionally, this is done through the mechanism of policy statements – something which Ukip has so far failed to do.
Over the months to come, this failing will become increasingly evident, as Mr Cameron unveils his "play", with which he seeks to undermine and eventually destroy the upstart. Putting together a series of technical measures, complete with some theatrical contrast provided by apparently obstructive Poles, he will attempt to do this by delivering a policy which shows that he has the potential to control immigration from within the EU.
On the other hand, Ukip – despite making immigration its core issue, eliding it with its anti-EU sentiment – has failed yet to deliver a credible (or any) policy on how it would control immigration from outwith the EU.
It has failed in this context to realise that "controlling our borders" is not a policy, per se, but an aspiration – and a wholly unrealistic one at that. As long as the UK admits 34 million visitors to this country each year – the majority without visas – it has effectively ceded perimeter control, the system then relying on other layers and stratagems.
The party might be better off calling for control over immigration policy. That is an altogether more realistic and focused aspiration than "controlling and managing our borders", which it currently tells us it would seek to do. The act or process of "controlling and managing" is exactly that - an act or process - a means to an end. In policy terms, it is meaningless without declared objectives and then the detail of how the controlling and managing would be done.
Nor indeed does it help having Ukip telling us that: "We will extend to EU citizens the existing points-based system for time-limited work permits". That does not begin to constitute a policy. Nor even is it, in itself, a component of a policy.
To have the makings of a policy, the statement would have to be directed to, and linked with, a specific objective or outcome. It would then have to be couched in such terms as to make it clear that it could contribute to the declared objective – whatever that might be. Any system or process, as such, is blind – and has as much a capability to obstruct as support any particular policy line.
But where the real policy wonks play is in co-ordination – the thing known more commonly as "joined up policy". The "perfect" policy is one thing, but can get a little bit raggy when you have to take other considerations into account. For instance, you might well come up with the best in highly-polished defence policies, only to have it fall apart when your foreign policy delivers you enemies you didn't want, didn't expect and can't fight - a bit like UK policy really.
Here, the rank amateurism of Ukip comes to the fore, best evident when one reads that: "UKIP would not seek to remain in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) or European Economic Area (EEA) while those treaties maintain a principle of free movement of labour, which prevents the UK managing its own borders".
Now here one must recall that Ukip hasn't actually declared what it is trying to achieve, and we also know that "managing" borders is not a policy as such, but a process. So we end up with a political party that is prepared to ditch a proven and workable trade relationship because it interrupts an indeterminate process aimed at producing an undefined effect, with no specified outcome.
In this event, we are open to the suggestion that Ukip may be well-motivated and be seeking a desirable outcome. But since the party has neither defined its preferred outcome nor any credible means by which it might achieve it, we can be excused from accepting that it has any policies.
Meanwhile, we can see Mr Cameron's policy being rolled out, the overall objective undeclared but loosely translated as "stuff Ukip". Helping in this noble endeavour are his allies who are talking down immigration. They are also rubbishing the "Norway option", something they have in common with Ukip – which must tell you something.
Meanwhile, we have the entertaining prospect of theatrical Poles, providing the backcloth for Mr Cameron's stunning victory to come. The harder he has to battle, the better and more convincing he will look.
If Ukip had policies, of course, it would be easier to assess Mr Cameron's games, by reference to what Ukip had on offer. One would simply compare what is with what could be. That's the way politics is supposed to work. Poor Ukip, though, hasn't discovered this yet - and Farage never will. If his party grows up, things might be different but, for the moment, contempt seems in order for the Peter Pan of politics.
Two Swiss referendums on Sunday had their own special importance, the one on boosting gold reserves having special interest to the global finance community – enough to spark an international price run.
But of special interest to us was the referendum on immigration, the second one this year. The proposal, called "Ecopop", sought to reduce immigration on environmental grounds, capping it at just 0.2 percent of the resident population, this reducing inflow from about 80,000 to 16,000 people a year.
Reuters, though, had it that the referendum was been seen as a proxy vote on Switzerland's raft of treaties with the EU, then announcing that voters had overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.
Also joining the fray was the BBC, which tells us that all 26 cantons voted against the measure, with about 74 percent of the electorate rejecting the proposition. By any measure, this is decisive, especially when 78.4 percent voted for tougher asylum laws in June last year, and 50.3 percent of voters backed the so-called "Stop mass immigration" initiative of last February.
Since the February vote, the Swiss government has been embroiled in a constitutional crisis, where execution of the referendum would conflict with the 1999 Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, which came into force in June 2002.
The referendum had called into question the EU-Swiss agreement, requesting that the Swiss Federal Council "renegotiate" this agreement with the EU. Implementing legislation for this initiative has to be enacted by the Federal Council within three years, with the Council indicating that the first stage of the legislative process (Vernehmlassung, comparable to a Green Paper) would be carried out this year.
Breaching the agreement, however, risked bringing into play the guillotine clause, ending the entire package of EU-Swiss trade agreements.
Thus, as with the EEA agreement, we have another example of where free trade with the EU is conditional on free movement. In this case, the conditions are actually more demanding than the EEA requirements (opening up residence rights, for instance, to family members).
Now, according to legend, faced with this prospect, the Swiss people have backed off from full-frontal confrontation with the EU. The scene is now set for a further clawback over the February referendum.
For the UK, these developments have considerable significance. Firstly, they underline the point that all the free trade agreements between the EU and its Northern European neighbours are conditional on free movement agreements. This suggests that the UK is unlikely to get a deal from the EU that does not also have similar requirements.
Secondly, the developments would appear to indicate that, when given the choice between losing their market access with the EU and limiting immigration, the people plumped for market access. Certainly, the result is being presented in this light.
This may have broader implications. Switzerland peered over the precipice and retreated from the brink. Thus, even though immigration can take pole position for a while, that does not necessarily mean that it will remain there and that it cannot be displaced. In other words, there is life after immigration, even without concessions to public sentiment.
Meanwhile, deeper in the woods, there are other things stirring. The Times, last week reported on the promulgation of a new law in Germany which removed the right of residence from migrant jobseekers after six months, if they have no job and no prospect of work. Fraudsters caught cheating the system will be banned for up to five years.
Under the new law, parents were also to be stopped from claiming child benefit unless they could present of a German tax number, to guard against double claiming in Germany and their home country.
According to The Times, none of these reforms challenge EU law, and that does seems to be the case. But it does indicate a change in the wind. A national authority is taking formal action to deal with migrants, even though the effects will probably be minimal.
Translate the Swiss and German experience into the UK and we have an interesting possibility. On the one hand, there is scope for the level of public concern on immigration to slide down the list of priorities – even without real or any actual decline in the rate. On the other, there is an opening for national governments to take more rigorous actions against certain migrants, helping the slide.
What this effectively says is that, from its present high, immigration can slide down the political agenda – and even more so if Mr Cameron goes to Brussels and "battles for Britain", bringing home a treaty.
In terms of any forthcoming referendum, though, while we have been confident in the expectation that Mr Cameron could not walk away with a treaty, we have suddenly to confront an alternative outcome – he will succeed. It will be a poor little thing, dragged from the depths of Article 48 and the "simplified procedure", but a treaty nonetheless.
Having put all its eggs in one basket, Ukip cannot survive immigration being taken off the list. It will rob the party of its rationale. But when Mr Cameron's great "success" on immigration is taken to have "solved" the larger EU problem, Ukip will have dug the grave of the entire Eurosceptic movement. The focus on immigration will lose us the entire referendum.
An interesting day yesterday included guarding the comment threat on the Paterson piece. If the Ukip claque takes over, a thread can quickly turn into an undisciplined mess. But it looks as if an active, aggressive presence, making its mark early on, can keep the bullies at bay.
Before even the day had settled, though, we were looking at a report from The Observer (illustrated above) which had "experts" casting doubt over Mr Cameron's ability to secure changes to European law before the 2017 referendum.
After having written extensively that it was not possible for Cameron to negotiate a new treaty in the time, and then decided after all that he could bring home the bacon using the Article 48 "simplified procedure", we see this paper suddenly bringing up the rear, telling us that Mr Cameron does not have time to negotiate a new treaty.
With a whole list of "experts" supporting this thesis, we then had The Sunday Times telling us that Mr Cameron had been warned that he would have "written his own death warrant" as Tory leader if he fails to win a majority at next year's election after "ditching plans to bring in quotas on European Union migrants".
Then, as we learned that "senior backbenchers" were expecting a meeting with Cameron to urge him to make tough demands of Brussels in areas such as EU law, Business for Britain's Matthew Elliott demonstrated why he can never be taken as a serious player.
Says Elliott, "If we're opening up the treaties, the prime minister should be far more ambitious in the changes that he seeks". In one fell swoop, he goes against the grain of received opinion, without beginning to understand that what he proposes is beyond mere impossible and lies in the realms of fantasy.
In the real world, however, Owen Paterson had been talking to Sky's Murnaghan, an interview picked up later by the Guardian.
This had the former environment secretary casting doubt on David Cameron's ability to deliver EU-wide immigration reforms. It looked, said Paterson, as if the government had been "sat on by the Germans" and complained that relying on an EU renegotiation to address the immigration issue could take too long.
Suggesting that Cameron was right to say that a balance needed to be struck on immigration, he said that Cameron also had to deliver on what he had proposed.
"That is where I think we possibly part company because he's looking to negotiate within the existing arrangements and it looks as if we've already been sat on by the Germans", said Paterson, referring to claims – denied by Philip Hammond - that Cameron had abandoned plans to propose a quota on EU migration under pressure from Angela Merkel.
Getting treaty change would take too long. This was "a real pressing problem", Paterson said. "We cannot go into long, rambling negotiations with the European Union, particularly if they're not going to play ball".
The Guardian was quick to exploit this sense of crisis by referring to an earlier Independent on Sunday report. It "revealed" that Bill Cash had been claiming that 200 Conservative MPs wanted to swap EU membership for a free trade agreement.
All that was against a background of Mr Cameron apparently wanting to shut down the immigration issue rather than talking it up. It was "never going to be a selling point" for the Tories in the general election and the best they could hope for now was to stop "haemorrhaging" votes to Ukip.
One serious clue as to what has been going on, though, is that the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, an "old Brussels hand", took charge of writing the immigration speech. This suggests that there is a guiding mind behind the "simplified procedure" target, and a serious intent.
Nevertheless, what is particularly interesting about developments is the way the focus is shifting. Ukip may be the spectre at the feast, but the running situation is being portrayed as a battle between Mr Cameron and his backbenchers, with Owen Paterson providing an alternative centre of gravity.
That much indeed has changed. Gone are the days when the choice is between the Cameron emptiness and the Ukip vacuum. There is a new force emerging, which is putting clothes on a new paradigm, one which is plausible and practical - leaving Ukip out in the cold as a bit-player.
This, interestingly, is what Andrew Stuttaford sees, in National Review Online. Having understood the point of the Paterson speech, in defining the "how" as being as important as the "why", he demonstrates himself to be a serious player.
It is too early yet to tell how the Paterson paradigm will play out, but if the message does take root that Mr Cameron can't deliver, we're in a whole new ball game.
As the issue of "Europe" continued to swirl daily through the headlines, writes Christopher Booker, two remarkable speeches last week illustrated one of the crucial problems with this "debate". This is that the labyrinthine workings of the EU are so complicated that few people can really begin to understand them.
The Pope's address to the European Parliament seemed devastatingly critical. He spoke of how "the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions".
He described it as looking "elderly and haggard" in "a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion". He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as "downright harmful".
Reading the Pope's speech in full, however, he doesn't seem to have grasped the EU's real nature at all: in particular, why the core principles on which it was set up were inevitably destined to bring it to its present dismal pass.
Some passages might have been written by the Commission itself, as when he proclaimed "the readiness of the Holy See" to "engage in meaningful, open and transparent dialogue with the institutions of the EU".
Even less understanding was shown in the generally dismissive media response to that other speech last week, in which Owen Paterson MP became our first serious politician to explain the only practical strategy whereby we could achieve what most British people, including David Cameron, say they want.
That is, a wholly new relationship with the EU, allowing us to continue trading freely in the single market – but without being sucked ever deeper into the toils of its increasingly oppressive and unworkable political superstructure.
The ideas Mr Paterson put forward, whereby Britain could be liberated to become again a more independent and self-respecting nation (see his article on the facing page), would have been familiar to readers of this column.
Above all, he has grasped the nature of the revolution whereby ever more of the laws passed down to us by Brussels now originate from those higher global bodies on which we could join Norway, which sits on them in its own right as an independent country, and have far more influence in shaping the rules than we do now.
What was so obvious in the media response to Paterson's speech was how out of their depth were almost all those interviewers who tried to make light of it.
Particularly noticeable was how, as soon as he tried to talk about this dramatic change in the way international rules are made, Radio 4's Martha Kearney and Newsnight's Evan Davis at once tried impatiently to talk over him. It was clearly something they couldn’t get their little heads round at all.
Davis in particular, looking ever more like Gollum, twice brushed it aside as "very interesting", as he tried quickly to move on to sexier questions, such as whether Paterson was criticising Cameron and why didn't he join Ukip?
The truth is that, if ever we are to have a grown-up, informed debate on these issues, Paterson's position can be the only realistic starting point. But both journalists and his fellow politicians have got an awful lot of catching up to do.
Entering what he may feel is the last chance saloon, in his bid to stave off a defeat in any EU referendum (and salvage the general election), Mr Cameron has today delivered his much-trailed speech on immigration.
Earlier, it had been previewed in the Guardian and elsewhere, from which we learned that the Prime Minister intended to negotiate a cut to EU migration and "make welfare reform an absolute requirement in renegotiation".
This is to be a central part of his renegotiation package with the EU, aimed at removing the financial incentives that attract migrants to Britain – effectively weakening the "pull" factors that attract workers and their families from EU member states.
The plan is to remove in-work benefits for migrants until they have been in the UK for four years. Also, they will not get social housing until they have been here for the same period, and they will not get child benefits and tax credits for children living elsewhere in Europe, no matter how long they have paid taxes in the UK.
EU jobseekers will not be supported by UK taxpayers; and they will be removed if they are not in a job within six months.
Cameron says that, together with other measures, this will deliver the toughest system on welfare for EU migrants anywhere in Europe. It will, he says, return free movement to a more sensible basis – the position before a European Court judgement in 1991 when Member States had the right to expect workers to have a job offer before they arrived - and a return to rules put in place by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
The "other measures" will include the abolition of the system where EU migrants can bring family members from outside the EU without any restrictions. There will be tougher and longer re-entry bans for rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters, and there will be stronger arrangements for deporting EU criminals and stopping them coming back.
Furthermore, there will be no access to labour market for nationals of new Member States joining the EU until their economies have converged more closely with current members.
The Prime Minister is to argue that these changes should apply to the whole of the EU, but should that not prove possible, he would negotiate them in a UK-only settlement. He will then reiterate his determination to secure "reform" and will make it clear that, "if the concerns of the British public fall on deaf ears", then "he rules nothing out".
"People", he will say, "want Government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union".
In recent years", he will add, "it has become clear that successive Governments have lacked control. People want grip. I get that…They don’t want limitless immigration and they don't want no immigration. They want controlled immigration. And they are right".
Setting out the framework, he will then say that Britain supports the principle of freedom of movement of workers and accepting that principle is a key to being part of the single market.
Thus, he says, we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head. But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years. His objective is "simple". He intends to make our immigration "system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK".
Looking at this in the round, some of this is already possible without treaty change, or even additional EU legislation. As we indicated earlier, these are measures that largely conform with the judgement on the Dano case, to the effect that freedom of movement is a "qualified and limited" right. For those specific issues, the renegotiation idea is a sham – we don't need it. With the necessary enforcement and administrative resources, the UK could probably go ahead straight away.
However, for other issues - such as removal of rights to bring in family members from outside the EU, treaty change and withdrawal from the ECHR will be needed. On that basis, Cameron will not be able to achieve success in this area.
What was also expected but is missing from the speech is a call for the right to apply a "temporary emergency brake" on free movement of workers if a country is being overwhelmed by EU migrants. The Guardian suggests that this absence will "disappoint Eurosceptics" who have become doubtful that fiscal disincentives will be enough. It "will prompt the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, to argue that Britain will only regain control of its borders if it leaves the EU".
Fortunately, that "emergency brake" provision does exist within the EEA agreement, where there is a fallback position: Articles 112-3 are what comprise the "Safeguard Measures" which permit the parties unilaterally to take "appropriate measures" if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature arise and are liable to persist".
This puts EEA supporters in a powerful position. Mr Cameron is to argue that the measures he proposes are sufficient to control immigration within the EU. But more is available outside the EU, within the EEA. The improvement in the position effectively shoots the fox of the naysayers. And that is without ceding from the ECHR – which would be necessary to restrict rights of dependants and asylum seekers.
The total package applied to the EEA - plus the add-ons – would, however, shoot the Farage fox, provided certain other "pull" factors were dealt with – such as the use of private accommodation at cut rates made possible by the illegal overcrowding of rooms. There is no appetite for a total ban on immigration, and the totality of controls will be sufficient to satisfy most reasonable people that immigration can be brought under control.
To a very great extent, therefore, Mr Cameron has given the "Norway option" a huge boost. Nobody can say that the EEA provisions are inadequate, while at the same time arguing that controls within the EU are sufficient. We have them over the proverbial barrel.
One shouldn't mock the afflicted, but we're happy to make the exception when the Ukip Muppets are out and about. Here we have the intellectually challenged Jonathan Arnott, Ukip's EU budget spokesman, wailing in the Daily Express
about the reste à liquider
reported yesterday by the dismal Daily Telegraph
Clearly, without the first idea of what he is talking about, wrongly referring to the RAL as a "shortfall", he blathers in typical UKIP style: "We've known for a while that the European Union is struggling to stick to its spending limits but no one expected that the shortfall would be so high".
Then, in an almost comedic intervention, his wailing goes into high pitch as he asks: "How can a black hole as much as £259 billion possibly have gone unnoticed by the political establishment?"
The poor little lamb is so all at sea here that we should have sympathy for him. Probably the only person in the "political establishment" not to have noticed the RAL story is Jonathan Arnott. Not least, a statement on the RAL is published every year in July, in the Consolidated Accounts, as here in 2012 and here in 2013. And then there is this year's supplementary report, published on 13 November.
The current concern with the way RAL was increasing, however, stems from a report of the European Parliament in May 2012
and then, of course, the issue was raised by Booker
(pictured below) last year. If Mr Arnott couldn't cope with official documents, there was even a story with a picture for him. As usual, though, UKIP went AWOL.
That all of this activity should escape the notice of UKIP is not at all surprising, though. Not once has the party shown any capacity for understanding EU politics, but the intellectual fog cloaking their spokespersons is wondrous to behold - even if it's closer to smog then fog.
Their saving grace, however, is that the London hacks are equally challenged, and when it comes to the Express
, it and UKIP are such strangers to anything approximating the truth that these two were made for each other. "Blind leading the blind", doesn't begin to describe it.
The big joke, though, is Farage's suggestion
that Owen Paterson should join UKIP. Why would any self-respecting person want to join his train-wreck of a party? The description "thick" would actually be a compliment for some of his mouth-breathing members
, elevating stupidity
to an art form.
"Since he unwillingly left the government, the former environment secretary has made speeches and remarks that have generally been of high intellectual calibre", says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. He then goes on to add: "I haven't always agreed with him (his most recent proposal on Europe I think utterly wrongheaded), but I have been impressed by their tone and internal consistency".
Faced with such compliments, one hates to be uncharitable about Mr Finkelstein, although we could have done without the "utterly wrongheaded" bit. The problem is, though, that although he may recognise the "high intellectual calibre" of Paterson's speech, he doesn't seem to have spent much time studying it.
To put Finkelstein in perspective, he is commenting on Time Montgomerie's interview of Owen Paterson, who opined that most Ukip voters want "robust and Conservative policies", which include "honesty about immigration". If we give them Conservative policies, Paterson says, we win them back.
In his own column, Finkelstein asserts that Ukip supporters want fewer immigrants and, in using the phrase, "honesty about immigration", Paterson appreciates that even outside the EU it will be hard to achieve what Ukip supporters are after. "If the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the single market", he adds, "it will, like Norway, have to accept free movement of labour in Europe".
"In other words", says Finkelstein, "a credible Conservative policy on immigration will be hard put to achieve what Ukip voters are after. And they will see that straight away. These are angry and disillusioned people who can tell the difference between 'honesty about immigration' and 'less immigration' straight away".
What we can see straight away, though, is that Finkelstein hasn't addressed the issues and, instead, is relying on the usual Europhile mantras. This is exactly what we get in this piece, where we get the same low drone, as the author chants: "Norway just has to accept all rules related to the free movement of goods, services, capital and people within the EU".
In a way, these people are misled by our use of the shorthand "Norway option", to mean that we take the EFTA/EEA route to preserving the Single Market outside EU membership. Their febrile minds assume we mean that the UK will be like Norway.
What we actually mean is that we adopt the EEA Agreement, using EFTA as a portal to do so, and that gives us the opportunity to remove ourselves from the EU treaties and rely on free movement provisions in the EEA agreement, which refer only to workers and self-employed.
This detail none of the naysayers even begin to address. Outside the EU treaty provisions, family reunification relies on the ECHR (Article 8), from which we would cede, thus being able to prevent relatives and dependents joining employed migrants. This, as we have also remarked – and as Paterson points out – also gives us greater control over asylum seekers.
In addition to this, Paterson refers to "push" and "pull" factors, which drive the
mass movement of people. Again, this is something Finkelstein doesn't mention.
By coincidence, though, on the same day as the Peterson speech, we also get a report from Open Europe which deals with "pull" factors in relation to free movement of workers from EU member states.
This think tank makes proposals which would limit the payment of non-contributory in-work benefits to migrants, for a period of five years, relying on the recent ECJ ruling which reminds us that freedom of movement is "qualified and limited", and that discrimination on non-contributory benefits is permitted.
By eliminating such benefits, the UK would effectively remove what amounts to a migrant subsidy, making coming to the UK economically unattractive for many workers from EU member states.
Open Europe thinks this could be part of the "reform" agenda which allows the UK to stay within the EU while limiting migration flows. But such devices could just as easily pave the way for the UK to join EFTA and benefit from the Single Market, while reducing the impact of migrant flows.
And it is here that the battleground lies. Notably, while EU withdrawal has been high profile for the last few days, Ukip has absented itself from the debate. But that debate has to reconcile leaving the EU and staying within the Single Market, with retaining an element of freedom of movement.
Owen Paterson, in a speech of "high intellectual calibre", has confronted those issues delivering exactly that which is labelled on the tin, "honesty about migration".
Only the mouth-breathing tendency within Ukip would argue for the total cessation of immigration, which means that Paterson has squared the circle, offering a way of reducing immigration while protecting our trading arrangements with the EU.
That is something even (or especially) the Ukip leadership have not managed to do, opening the way to Ukip members to support the one party which is offering a referendum and has grown-up ideas on how to leave the EU. All Farage can offer - the man who has spent 20 years not producing an exit plan - is a shallow jibe about Paterson joining UKIP.
That leaves Finkelstein and Farage both cast adrift – each in their own ways totally incapable of understanding that which has been put before them, locked in their self-furnished blinkers – while the debate goes on without them.
Exasperated by eurosceptic Tories and "that speech", pro-European Conservative MPs have finally decided to fight back with their own lobby group.
Former minister Damian Green and other prominent pro-Europeans have thus told the Financial Times that they are mobilising to dispel the popular view that the "vast majority of the Tory party are gagging to get out of Europe".
Mr Green claims that there are 60 MPs in the European Mainstream Group but the group is being relaunched to act as a "rebuttal mechanism" to colleagues such as Owen Paterson.
"The battle lines are increasingly clear", says Green. "We have been too polite over the years. We have obeyed instructions to not bang on about Europe and the result is people don't think we exist. There is a referendum coming and we have to make our case".
No one can argue that, from a Europhile perspective, something isn't needed, and a lot better than they're able to manage at the moment.
We saw, for instance, City AM retailing a comment on Paterson's speech from a CBI spokesperson who says: "Most CBI members believe the UK is best placed to create jobs and growth as part of a reformed European Union".
"While the EU isn't perfect", he says, "the UK does have influence as a full member and no other alternative offers to British firms what membership of the EU can. All other options leave us on the outside with little influence, following the same rules to be allowed to trade inside the EU, but with little say in what those rules are".
This is the classic Europhile drone, exactly that which elicited from Owen Paterson the response that they should read his speech, but that is something they can't afford to do.
Hence, we're getting exactly the same response from Nick Clegg who, with typical modesty, describes Paterson's plan as "idiotic", declaring: "Norway has to abide by all the rules, pay into the coffers, accept people crossing across the European Union and has absolutely no say on how the club is run at all".
One has to admire their consistency, if nothing else, as the ghastly Roland Rudd's British Influence adds his euro-worth with the now predictable comment that a "Norway solution" is a "false choice". Norway, it says, "has single market access but pays a quota into the EU budget, adopts all relevant EU legislation (but with no input in formulating it) and accepts EU immigration".
Laura Sandys MP, Chairwoman of the European Movement UK, delivers a variation on the theme, attacking the immigration issue, claiming: "The point with Norway is that they have to allow free movement of people as part of their 'licence' to access the EU's single market. Patterson offers a false options that excludes Britain from the top table while offering no break on immigration".
It would indeed help if these people actually read the speech. The point about the UK being in the EEA and not the EU, of course, is that "free movement" applies only to workers and the self-employed. And then, if we leave the ECHR (which is easier to do if we are out of the EU), we get to refuse entry to dependents and we can deport asylum seekers.
Policy Review takes to preaching, telling us that we "labour under the misconception that leaving the EU and following the Norway model is a cost-free option".
Yet, we are told, Norway pays in approximately €400 million per annum into the EU budget as a contribution to the EU's social programmes. That isn't actually true – the bulk of the money is actually managed by Norway and is not paid into the budget.
But actually, the sum is closer to €500 million, but whatever the figure, multiplied up to meet either GDP or population, we would pay a lot more than Norway. And this we know, so there really is no point here. But then we slot into the usual drone:
The Norwegians play very little part in formulating the EU’s regulations and directives, no Norwegian staff work in the European Commission, there is no Norwegian Commissioner, there are no Norwegian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Norway has no votes in the in the various Council formations, the Norwegian Prime Minister is not invited to the high level meetings of the EU’s political leaders. The country even has to pay the translation costs for the appropriate legislation to be transposed into domestic law.
But then, the UK has eight percent of the vote in the Council and 9.5 percent in the European Parliament, as against Norway which is its own master on organisations such as Codex – and many more – while we have one twenty-eight of one vote.
That leaves Open Europe - and no litany of pomposity is complete without them. Better though to turn to the Guardian which has the famous Rafael Behr tormented by the thought that, "anti-EU forces are battle ready". The fightback, he says, "must start now".
Perhaps Mr Behr should be talking to Mr Damian Green, and then perhaps they can get together to plan a new story about Norway, to replace the one that has been ripped to shreds by Owen Paterson.
Embedded in his concerns, though, was the recognition that Paterson was trying to "tug the Brexit argument away from lurid anti-immigration rhetoric and towards macroeconomics, trade and democracy". Behr thus quotes Paterson saying: "Even people who are broadly in favour of withdrawal are unlikely to commit to the process unless they are assured that all the angles have been covered".
Here, there is a glimmer of intelligence, with Behr noting that this view "reflects study of the Scottish independence referendum and the way Alex Salmond's campaign was harmed by the impression that his white paper setting out the viability of a new state was cobbled together on the back of an envelope".
However, alongside Your Freedom and Ours, we have given up waiting for "the People's Army" to do anything. It "has long ago abandoned any idea of fighting for Brexit".
The silence of the UKIP lambs is a welcome relief, but how much nicer it would be if it was matched by an equal period of silence from the Europhiles and their bleating about the Norway option.
As Witterings from Witney has found, they're silent when you want to hear from them and otherwise dismissive, so the least they could do is come up with some new arguments.
Perhaps, though, we should rely on Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, who said of Owen Paterson's suggestion of invoking Article 50, that is was "equivalent to handing in your resignation notice. It's not a negotiating tactic. It is a notice to quit".
At last, one of them has got the point. First we tell them we are quitting, and then we negotiate an exit settlement. And that is why Mr Paterson proposed it.