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 EU referendum: troublesome volatility

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Only a month ago we were confronting an Ipsos Mori EU referendum poll which had 56 percent wanting to stay in the EU, compared with 36 percent who would vote to get out; eight percent did not know how they would vote.

This translated to 61 percent support for Britain's EU membership and 39 percent opposing after excluding "don't knows", creating a worrying 22 percent shortfall in the support for the "out" proposition.

But now, from the YouGov stable, we get another poll which transforms the position. From a week ago, when 41 percent said they would vote to stay in, against 40 percent "outers", we now have 35 percent and 44 percent, respectively, giving a nine percent lead for "out".

If we take out the "don't knows" and the "would not vote", we're looking at 56 against 44 percent, giving a 12 percent lead to the outers – effectively a 34-point swing in the space of three weeks.

There can be little doubt as to the cause of this swing – the £1.7bn demand from the Commission has self-evidently had a dramatic effect on sentiment, and driven huge swathes of voters into the "out camp".

But, as they say in the small print, what goes up can go down. And if sentiment is that volatile, then it would seem that any carefully structured campaign can easily be knocked off course by events.

And that is another point to draw from this sudden change – it has been event-driven rather than the effect of any specific intervention by campaigners. The commission action has been a gift to the outers, but it is nothing that we worked for or brought to the fore. We are simply the unwitting beneficiaries of events outside our control.

Looking at the detailed results, though, YouGov's Stephan Shakespeare notes that the swing is consistent across supporters of Labour, the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives.

The Ukipites, on the other hand, can't swing as much, with only two percent wanting to stay in, they are pretty rock solid about wanting to leave. Thus, it is entirely unnecessary to bolster the UKIP vote. We need to be expending out energies elsewhere.

Here, there is an interesting correlation between age and sentiment. The older the voter, the more likely they are to want to get out. And with only 22 percent of 18-24 year olds wanting to get out, as opposed to 57 percent of the 60+ group, it would seem that the growth in the "out" vote will come from the younger-aged groups.

Appearances, though, can be deceptive. The UKIP vote shows that a block can be almost solid in one direction, which thus illustrates that there is plenty of scope for growth in the 60+ group. And, given that the over-60s are far more likely to vote than the young (three or more times), their votes are much more valuable.

With The Times also recording that net payments to EU funds have doubled, from £4 billion since 2007 to £8.5 billion on the current account, there is plenty of material to work on.

When it finally dawns that the UK is going to have to pay the £1.7bn surcharge, some of the movement towards the "out" camp might firm up, with the vote solidifying in the outers' favour.

Nevertheless, the volatility remains worrying, so we will have to watch closely to see which way the next few poll results take us. If we have just experienced a turning point, then the game is on for the next election to push hard for a referendum. 

On the other hand, I remain to be convinced that the cost of EU contributions is the pivotal issue. After all, with a deficit growing at £100bn a year, even £1.7bn is less than two week's borrowing, and if we're into serious money, then we need to be looking at the £1.3 trillion which the government wants us to spend on meeting the 2050 emissions target.


Richard North 31/10/2014

 Immigration: wither the EU "incompetence directive"?

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The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has made serious news through yesterday and the day previously with its report, "Reforming the UK border and immigration system". Covered by the usual suspects in the media, such as the Guardian, it tells us of waste and poor management within Britain's immigration system.

Not least, failed IT systems have cost up to £1bn, officials can't find 50,000 rejected asylum seekers and 11,000 asylum seekers have been waiting for at least seven years to hear whether they can stay. Officials have still not resolved 29,000 asylum applications dating back to at least 2007.

Alongside the media though, the report is prominently flagged up on the UKIP website, illustrating the party's concern about immigration – albeit somewhat distant from the EU issue.

The point, of course, is that unless someone can point me to the "EU Directive on handling immigration affairs with staggering incompetence", there is no direct (or even indirect) link between our EU membership and the tales of chaos that have unfolded. This is entirely a homemade disaster.

As such, one struggles to see why UKIP is so interested in this particular report. It has neither policies nor plans to deal with such incompetence, and has never demonstrated any insight into public policy that might indicate that the party is capable of fixing problems that have eluded several administrations.

Less visible though has been UKIP's response to the government's new immigration strategy of "control by drowning" – one of the outraged responses to the UK refusal to support the search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, picking up migrants making a dash for Europe in leaky boats.

This, according to Suzanne Moore in the Guardian is the "politics of denial" which is feeding a "growing inhumanity". This is after Theresa May's remarks about saving the lives of drowning immigrants was a "pull factor" in illegal immigration.

Sadly, that is indeed the case, as we hear of people traffickers who dump refugees in the sea in Italian territorial waters, and then call the coastguard to tell them of the location.

It is germane to ask how many migrants must be allowed to die at sea before the message gets through to desperate people that this is not a successful way of entering Europe, but as to the alternatives, UKIP so far has been silent.

If by whatever means, these migrants manage to land on mainland Europe, it is the receiving countries that must bear the expense and disturbance of dealing with them.

In Italy, we are told, they are given food and water, allowed to wash and sent on their way. "I was told that I could go anywhere I liked when I landed in Italy", said one migrant. "There weren't any checks; they know we don't want to stay in Italy as there is no work there and we don't speak the language so they just tell us to get on our way".

Some travel by train up to France, others by truck. None experienced problems or were told to turn around and go back. But by no means all are headed for the UK. By far the majority gravitate to Germany, where 76,000 asylum application were recorded in 2013. France took 61,000 and Sweden 45,000.

Of those who gravitated to Calais, only a relatively modest 22,000 made their way to the UK in 2013, aided as we now learn, by organised gangs of people traffickers.

But, with over 300,000 illegal immigrants landing in Europe last year, and significantly more expected to land this year, is it any wonder that the front-line countries such as Greece and Italy pass the buck, and send the migrants on their ways? They get little help from the rest of Europe, yet cannot afford to be the dumping grounds for the rest of the continent.

When the immigrants finally arrive in the UK, however, the simplistic Steven Woolfe, UKIP's immigration spokesman, has an easy answer. "It comes down to someone having the guts to say to these people, 'sorry, you're going home'", he says.

But these migrants have already destroyed their papers and are effectively stateless. France does not want them back, and if the individuals could be prevailed upon to admit their counties of origin, those countries mostly will not accept them back without papers proving who they are.

Thus, is not as simple as sending them home, which means they end up occupying a legal no-man's land, about which the Public Accounts Committee is now complaining. But with no leadership from the politicians, officials are being asked to do the impossible, leaving the problem to accumulate over the years.

None of this, though, is specifically related to EU membership. Leaving the EU will not stop migrants collecting at Calais and taking their chances of getting to the UK. And as regards immigrants to the UK generally, it is still the case that the majority come from outside the EU.

In fact, Britain admits almost three times more migrants from outside the EU than any other member state. Nearly 2.4 million resident permits were issued by EU countries last year, 30.7 percent of them to people heading for Britain. A total of 724,200 people from outside the EU were given permission to remain in the UK, a 15 percent rise on the previous year.

Even when illegal immigrants are caught out, though, and the employers fined, the fines are not collected, with the government thus failing to create a "hostile environment" for illegal workers.

Then, once resident in the UK, they are allowed to aggregate in squalid, over-crowded housing, with the local authorities rarely taking action, thereby creating conditions where immigrants, willing (or forced) to tolerate substandard conditions, are able to undercut the settled population, often then being paid – illegally – less than the minimum wage.

When proceedings against those responsible for sham marriages are also collapsing as a result of Home Office blunders, what price shallow fools such as Conservative MP Nick Boles jumping on the UKIP bandwagon, saying that Britain will never be able to "entirely" control its borders while it stays in the European Union?

Short of repealing that mythical EU "incompetence directive", leaving the EU is not going to make much of a dent in the problem. As with so many other issues, the UK does not need the EU to assist it in creating its own policy train-wrecks. It is quite capable of doing that unaided.


Richard North 30/10/2014

 UK politics: wrong about everything

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An intriguing piece in the Mail highlights an Ipsos Mori poll which compares public perception with reality. And of each of a number of high profile issues, from teen pregnancies to jobs and immigration, the poll shows public perception is at odds with reality.

Details are on the poll website and also given a treatment in the Independent, which has the British people being "ignorant" about "almost everything". Two comparisons stand out: the proportion of immigrants is put at 24 percent, when the reality is 13 percent, and the proportion of Muslims is put at 21 percent, when the real figure is five percent.

Interestingly, we are not alone in this. Says Ipsos Mori, diplomatically, the rest of the world is just as wrong. Across the 14 countries where the poll was conducted, the public thought immigration was over twice the actual level. The average guess was that 24 percent of the population was born abroad, when the actual figure is 11 percent.

That overall figure includes some massive overestimates: the US public thinks 32 percent of the population are immigrants when the actual is 13 percent. In Italy the public think 30 percent are immigrants when it's actually seven percent. In Belgium the public think it's 29 percent, when it's actually ten percent.

What is not discussed so far, though, is the political implications of this survey. It would be interesting, for instance, to carry out the same poll amongst MPs and then compare the differences. Possibly, there would a significant difference in relative perceptions, which could account for the charge that politicians are "out of touch".

Certainly, if perceptions are markedly different, and representatives are closer to the reality than their voters, this would mean that the antagonism towards the "political class" is being fuelled by ignorance.

In this scenario, the greater the ignorance, the more strident the antagonism, which may explain the "shouty, ranty" behaviour of UKIP supporters (or "kiptoids", as some are suggesting they should be called).

In writing history, one of the greater difficulties in assessing the reactions of key characters is not so much trying to work out what they knew, but in understanding what they didn't know.

Maybe we're dealing with the same phenomenon here, in that MPs and others have vastly under-estimated the ignorance – and thus the distortion in the perception – of the British public. After all, if they are unaware that the public sees a problem as twice as serious as it actually is, then their responses are going to be seen to be inadequate.

From this, though, devolves an interesting quandary. Should policy-makers seek to educate voters – and thereby correct their perceptions – or respond to public perception, even though it is wrong? And, if they don't do the latter, how do they avoid the charge that they are ignoring public opinion?


Richard North 29/10/2014

 Flexcit: the Dawlish experience

Peter Troy, the Publicist Ltd, together with Anthony Scholefield and the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB) have funded the production of a film of the Dawlish Flexcit talk. Collectively, they have managed the impossible, turning a sow's ear into a silk purse. This makes the production surprisingly watchable, and extremely informative.

We hope that this film will have a long shelf-life, and it's very useful for me, in helping me tighten and refine my own presentation. In due course, I hope we can train a number of people up to give this presentation, so that we can increase the rate at which we expose people to the message. 

As part of The Harrogate Agenda programme, though, we are happy to offer this presentation to anyone who is prepared to host it - replicating the successful Rotherham workshop, organised last week by John Wilkinson, where a version of this talk was delivered.

Meanwhile, we see from the Telegraph that Iain Martin has written this:
Those of us who are moderate sceptics, who could be persuaded to vote for out in a referendum for an optimistic and outward-looking alternative, want answers, not shouting. Say this to many Ukippers and they will instantly start shouting at you about treason. It as though they are incapable of grasping that to win a referendum they are going to have to calmly persuade their fellow citizens of all races, creeds and convictions.
This is what Flexcit is all about, and if he was not so ignorant, and close-minded, Martin would already be familiar with it. But, like so many journalists, Martin is driven by "prestige", so he will wait for endorsement by one of the great and the good before he deigns to recognise its existence - and then will only report a fraction of what he is told.

For myself, I am quite happy to stay under the media radar. There are few journalists who have the wit and patience to understand what we are saying, and even a 31-minute video is beyond the attention span of most of them. And, at this stage, we can do without the sort of half-baked misrepresentation that the media will offer.  

Hence, the strategy – and it is quite a deliberate strategy – is to stay under the radar, building our own constituency of knowledgeable people, before we break into the popular consciousness. In other words, we want to build on firm foundations and are not interested in the quick hit, only then to be forgotten. 

For those who want more detail, there is then the Flexcit book online. When that is finished, it will be published in hard copy, and then we will produce shortened versions in pamphlet (and even leaflet) form. We also hope to make a video, along the lines of the Norway Option - a video which is still a good primer.

In this, as you will see, we are playing the long game. If a referendum comes in 2017, we will be ready, even though we would prefer longer. Thus, unlike 1975, we will be able to go into a campaign with a fully-researched exit plan, one that is being field tested and can provide most of the answers.

And that is why I am confident that we have a winning strategy in the making.


Richard North 23/10/2014

 EU referendum: the wages of UKIP

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No doubt motivated by a surge of bitterness, the Mail is headlining that: "Support for staying IN the European Union surges to a 23-year high... all thanks to the rise of Ukip".

This is data from an Ipsos MORI report which show the majority of Britons would vote to stay in the European Union in a referendum.

Some 56 percent would vote to stay in the EU, compared with 36 percent who would vote to get out; eight percent answer that they do not know how they would vote. This translates to 61 percent support for Britain's EU membership and 39 percent opposing after excluding "don't knows".

This is the highest support since December 1991, before the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, when 60 percent said they would vote to stay in the European Community and 29 percent wanted to get out.

What is especially significant about the poll though is that it shows how Ukip's growing popularity has coincided with increasing support for Britain's membership of the EU. In November 2012, Ukip was on just three percent in the polls and 48 percent backed leaving the EU. Only 44 percent favoured staying in.

Now, with Ukip now on 16 percent, the polls indicate that we are further away than ever from leaving the EU. While Ukip has risen 13 points in the polls, the number wishing to leave the EU has fallen by 12 points over the same period.

Worryingly, this is not an isolated poll result. Sentiment has been turning since earlier this year, so much so that it is being called the "Farage Paradox". Numerous voices are now joining in the throng to aver that Farage is damaging the eurosceptic cause.

That, to us, is the issue. Much as UKIP supporters would like to personalise it, the criticism from this blog is directed at a party leader who seems more interested in electoral success than in developing and supporting the anti-EU cause.

Furthermore, we believe that the sequence of "pro-EU" polls is good evidence that the movement is failing. And, with Farage setting himself up as the spokesman for the anti-EU movement, he cannot walk away from responsibility for this.

For those of us who have spent decades opposing the EU (and the constructs that went before it), this is unacceptable – completely unacceptable. And this is where our critics either unwittingly or deliberately misrepresent us. Farage is entitled to pursue his personal ambitions, but not at the expense of the cause.

Our best judgement is that Farage is damaging the cause and, if we think so, we are entitled to say so. Furthermore, we are entitled to take what action we feel necessary (and able) to take, in order to reduce the damage. What we can do is limited, but if Farage is entitled to do his stuff, so are we. It ain't personal. This is bigger than all of us.


Richard North 23/10/2014

 UKIP: the "cult of Farage"

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There I was, quietly working on a technical post about the latest developments in the WTO and up pops Dan Hodges outing UKIP as "the cult of Farage".

Interestingly, the Telegraph hasn't opened up the piece to comments and, for once, I don't blame the paper in the slightest. We're all sick to the hind teeth of the tedious, repetitive UKIP claque which drowns out the sensible voices in the party.

It is good to see the phrasing coming out into the open again, though, even if Compleat Bastard got there earlier, and the Telegraph beat us all by a country mile.

Despite my supposed "bitterness", EURef was relatively late into the fray with this description, coming to it only in June of this year. That piece, however, was especially to the point, as every time this blog writes critically of Farage, we can almost guarantee that some Muppet will crawl out of the woodwork with the "bitter" meme, straight off the UKIP playlist.

Hodge's outing, however, has been a long time coming. In general terms, we were writing about the cult of personality and UKIP in June 2013, cross-referring to this.

Gradually, though, the message has spread, not least after the spectacular u-turn by Suzanne Evans, one of Farage's more recent sock-puppets – although the loathsome New Statesman was banging the drum in April. Yesterday, Compleat Bastard was noting how Left and Right were now combining (at last) to focus on UKIP, but again they are late to the party.

This morning I was writing a private e-mail, telling my correspondent that I saw in UKIP (as fashioned by Farage) something very similar to the 1930s British Union of Fascists (BUF). Both parties had somewhat similar aims - take out "immigrants" from Farage's speeches, and substitute "Jews" and there isn't so much difference.

It is as well to note that Mosley had the full support of the Daily Mail and the much of the rest of the British media, and at its height, the BUF had a larger membership than does UKIP at present.  But, like UKIP will, the BUF disappeared without trace, to leave only a footnote in history.

The essential problem for UKIP is that it is a party without policies – almost a contradiction in terms. The very life-blood of politics is policies, which means that UKIP is fundamentally empty. That leaves it wide open to the demagogue, which Farage has become, turning the organisation into a cult – so rightly diagnosed by Hodges.

This, of course, will have no effect whatsoever on the cultists. So besotted are they with The Dear Leader, that he can do no wrong. Anything he says or does is alright by them, and anyone who has the temerity to criticise Him is beyond the pale.

Sadly – for the cultists – it cannot last. The empty vessel may make the loudest noise, but in the crucible of British politics, its very emptiness will be the undoing of the Farage cult. Whether UKIP will survive the experience is anyone's guess, but if it doesn't, a lot of good people will have been betrayed.


Richard North 22/10/2014

 UKIP: a marriage of convenience

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That Mr Farage has sought the support of an MEP from a party that Marine Le Pen has rejected as being "too extreme" has to tell you something about the crazy world of European Parliament politics.

More telling is the almost total inability of the media to report accurately what is going on, with Iain Martin huffing and puffing about Farage's "despicable new EU alliance", as if it actually meant anything, other than a quite open attempt by UKIP to get their hands on EU money and parliamentary privileges.

The point about the political groups in the European Parliament is that they are marriages of convenience, for the express purpose of getting the dosh.  Officially, they are intended to be proto-pan-European political parties and, so keen are the "colleagues" that they should happen that the rules on them are extraordinarily relaxed.

According to the rules of procedure (Rule 32), MEPs "may form themselves into groups according to their political affinities", but the rules then say that, "Parliament need not normally evaluate the political affinity of members of a group".

Bizarrely, they then go on, "In forming a group together under this Rule, the Members concerned accept by definition that they have political affinity. Only when this is denied by the Members concerned is it necessary for Parliament to evaluate whether the group has been constituted in accordance with the Rules".

This is rather like the former US military "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays. Putative group members apply to form a group, on which basis it is assumed that there is a "political affinity". But the Parliament does not ask and, unless the group members actually come out in the open and say there is none, the assumption stands.

However, there is plenty of wriggle-room. The rules say that Parliament need not "normally" evaluate the political affinity of the members of the group – but that does not prohibit president Schultz from carrying out an evaluation. He could then, in theory at any rate, decide that there is no "affinity" between the national groups and thus refuse to allow a group to be formed.

And it is here that the media are getting it wrong – aided and abetted by Farage – in their talk of the EFDD being "reformed" or saved, by the last-minute intervention of their Polish friend. The thing is that there is no EFDD. Within hours of the group losing its Latvian member, the offices were being stripped, locked up and keys withdrawn. There is no group. Le groupe est mort.

Thus, Farage is in the throes of setting up an entirely new group – and it cannot necessarily be assumed that the members of his previous group will all join him. There will be a frantic bidding war, to try and prevent that from happening.

But then, even if Farage does manage to surmount that hurdle, as Euractiv accurately points out, it must then have the approval of the parliament's president, Mr Schultz, who positively loathes Mr Farage.

One can assume that, even now, Mr Schultz is poring over the rules, and consulting lawyers, to see if there is any way he can keep Farage separate from his millions, and the chauffeur-driven car.

Eventually, there is even an outside chance that this could go to the ECJ. That would be a real irony: Farage appealing to the EU's court, to give him access to the EU's millions. But then, this is the crazy world of European Parliament politics. Anything, or even nothing, can happen.


Richard North 22/10/2014

 EU politics: Barroso slaps down Cameron

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Normally, presidents of the European commission are cautious about interfering directly in the internal politics of member states. But not Mr Barroso. 

No sooner do we have Mr Cameron emblazoned on the front page of the Sunday Times , apparently threatening to impose a cap on EU migrants, then up pops Barroso on the Marr programme telling him that he can't do that.

Interestingly, that's what both the Mail and the Guardian chose to feature, but not the BBC, which elected to feature on the "loss of influence" meme, for when we leave the EU.

The thing about that tired line or argument is that Barroso grossly overstates the case, saying that the UK would have "zero" influence if it voted to leave the EU, which could never be true. He then goes on to tell us that Britain could not negotiate with the US and China "on an equal footing" on its own, despite the fact that both Switzerland and Iceland have clinched trade deals with China, when the EU has not.

But the real hard edge is Barroso's comment that free movement of people within the EU was an "essential" principle that could not be changed.

Asked about Mr Cameron's renegotiation plans, Mr Barroso said there was willingness in the EU to discuss benefit fraud and sham marriages, but an "arbitrary cap" on migration would "not be in conformity with European rules".

Barroso said 1.4 million Britons lived elsewhere in the EU and it was a "matter of fairness" that other EU citizens had the same rights. He then criticised comments Hammond last week that Britain was "lighting a fire under the European Union" with the proposed referendum.

In a clear snub, Barroso said of Hammond, "I'm told the foreign secretary was the former minister of defence. I think this reference to fire and weapons is more appropriate for defence than foreign secretary", adding, "It is very important to have a positive tone regarding these issues between Britain and the EU".

Even though Mr Cameron is trying hard to keep the prospects of renegotiation alive, gradually his options are being closed down, leaving his nowhere to go. If he actually believes what he is saying, he must be the only man left alive in Britain who thinks he can successfully negotiate a deal with Brussels.

Even the might Matthew Parris is getting sick of it, arguing that Cameron should take on the Ukipites full frontal.

"Why can't we, and why can't the Conservative party, understand that this goes a long way to explaining opinion polls and headlines about 'popular fury' over 'immigration and Europe'? Why haven't our mainstream politicians the brains or moral courage to push back against the lies and the nonsense? ", he writes.

With the Independent also calling for a more robust approach to immigration, there is something of a backlash building up.

This we discussed at Rotherham. Cameron is playing it all wrong. There is a great deal that could be done to curb immigration, from inside and outside the EU. If the prime minister was better advised, and in a mood to listen, he would be focusing on the measures available to him, and thus avoid being accused of being "Ukip-lite", just as Ukip is being accused of being "BNP-lite".

What Cameron should not be doing is trying to pretend he can do a deal with the EU. Too many people know he can't, and now we have Mr Barroso out in the open calling his bluff.

The good thing here is that, with his renegotiation strategy in tatters, if Cameron went with what he's got to the public, even Farage would be hard put to lose the referendum for us.

Richard North 20/10/2014

 UKIP: Farage - the €12 million man

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We had an extremely good meeting in Rotherham yesterday, with some good, high quality people – most of them UKIP members. That reminds me of why I joined UKIP in the first place, and then how much the party has been let down by its current leadership.

I will write further about the meeting, organised by local UKIP member John Wilkinson, but first need to address one particular issue pointed up earlier on this blog and now raised by Deutsche Welle as representing a: "Bitter defeat for EU opponents in the European Parliament".

This was the collapse of Farage's "Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy" (EFDD) group, a "defeat" that is in fact extremely serious for UKIP in general, and Mr Farage in particular. And while it has been given some coverage in the British media, such as here in the BBC, the event hasn't had a fraction of the coverage that it should have received.

One suspects that some of the reason for this is that the media is completely missing is the scale of the defeat, with the BBC, for instance, wrongly pointing up that the groups are (only) paid €59.8m (£48m) from the European Parliament Budget.

This they are taking from Chapter 4 of the budget (p.77), which covers "secretarial, administrative and operational expenditure", plus expenditure on "political and information activities conducted in connection with the Union's political activities".

However, they haven't realised that the group staff are paid from a different budget line, covered on p.17 over the staff budget of €936 million, and not separately identified. You can, though, see from page 72 that just over 1,000 staff members are employed by the EP on behalf of the groups, without the specific sum being identified.

This equates to roughly 1.5 members of staff to every MEP. For technical reasons, it actually amounts to slightly more, which means that the UKIP delegation gets about 40 extra staff working for them in Brussels, off the books so to speak, paid for out of the European Parliament budget.

There are also other budget lines which incorporate expenditure by political groups (for instance, see 3.042 on p.55) and when you add these and the staff costs in, the expenditure picture is very different from that portrayed by the BBC and other media.

As the European Parliament itself points out (and it should know), some six percent of the EP budget of € 1,756 billion is allocated for political group activities. This works out at roughly €105 million a year, or a "dowry" of €140,000 per MEP. For the five years of the coming parliamentary term, that means that UKIP – with its 24 MEPs – was due to get about €17 million (£13 million) in cash and kind.

As independent members, known in EP jargon as "non-inscrits" (NIs), they lose the group staff, and only have a small administrative staff to rely on, serving the whole NI – currently just over 50 MEPs. These are provided by the parliament. The 40 or so political staff that UKIP had working for them are lost (although a small number may be re-employed on administrative duties).

To each of the NI MEPs, the residual budget is allocated individually, about €43,000 each, an effective loss of about €100,000 per MEP. Added up over the term, that means Farage's UKIP loses about €12 million, and Farage loses control over what was once a central budget. Each of the MEPs become responsible for spending their own budgets.

This loss, of course, is on top of the privileges afforded to Farage himself, as president of the group: the personal chauffeur-driven limousine; the spacious office suite; membership of the Conference of Presidents; his front-row seat in the EP; and the first bite at the cherry when it comes to speaking allocations.

These visible losses, though, pale into insignificance when it comes to the financial loss. It was group money in 1999 that kept the show on the road, an invisible dowry over which the national party had no control and scarcely knew existed.

Basically, within the constraints of the EU rules, the group money was in the gift of the group president, which for this session would have given Farage €12-million-worth of leverage which he has now lost. Apart from weakening UKIP, it considerable weakens Farage's own personal power base, as he loses all that taxpayer-funded patronage. 

Why the group collapsed is another story, but one factor has been Farage's own behaviour. Angered by his posturing (even if it plays well to the domestic audience), the "colleagues" have been progressively tightening the group rules, and in such a way as quite obviously to discriminate against Farage's group. Now it has collapsed, you might say that this is Van Rompuy's revenge.

It didn't have to be that way. When I joined the parliament in 1999 as group staff, I proposed that we should avoid fouling the nest in Brussels. Our battle was not with the "colleagues" but with our own government. Even if we were disliked, I averred, we should at least be respected.

That line held until I left in 2003, but relations between UKIP and the EP have since deteriorated – largely because of a number of high profile YouTube videos. It is a matter of judgement as to whether they were worth it, but at least we are now able to put a price tag on them - €12 million.

And, with Farage now consigned to the back of the hall, and his allocation of speaking time limited to such riveting subjects as the reform of the comitology system, and the CAP vegetable regime (the sort of thing we were getting in the 1999 term), his YouTube days are probably over.

It was good while it lasted. But UKIP members may now wonder whether they have been well-served. Effectively, Farage has cost his own party €12 million. 


Richard North 19/10/2014

 Energy: political climate change needed

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The thing that a lot of commenters here and elsewhere seem to forget – or not realise – is that energy policy is primarily about politics. That is not too simplistic. The technicalities are vitally important, but without a sound political framework, nothing coherent is ever going to be achieved.

This is where Charles Moore in today's Telegraph is particularly astute, in identifying the politics as the driver of the mess that currently passes as our energy policy. He also notes that there is essentially no difference between the three main Westminster parties, which does leave Ukip out on its own, albeit with nothing approaching a coherent replacement policy. All they can offer is to tear down the Climate Change Act and hanker after multi-fuel electricity generation that does not include renewables.

Moore's observations take us to a refusal of the political parties to address the increasingly visible failure of their policies, with no one wanting to discuss the causes. Owen Paterson, then the environment secretary, was the only minister who dared raise doubts. He annoyed what he calls the "green blob". David Cameron duly sacked him this summer.

In the Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture on Wednesday, Mr Paterson said of wind farms that "this paltry supply of onshore wind, nowhere near enough to hit the 2050 targets, has devastated landscapes, blighted views, divided communities, killed eagles…".

When this was quoted on the BBC News, he was saying no more than millions of ordinary people have been saying for years. Yet it was very striking to hear it in public, because no other elected person charged with these responsibilities had said anything like this before.

It would have been better still if the BBC had completed the Paterson sentence. He went on to say that wind turbines had devastated 'the very wilderness that the 'green blob' claims to love, with new access tracks cut deep into peat, boosted production of carbon-intensive cement, and driven up fuel poverty, while richly rewarding landowners".

This, Mr Paterson also said, is "the single most regressive policy we have seen in this country since the Sheriff of Nottingham". He is right, says Moore, and because his party, and the Liberal Democrats, and Labour, have all agreed to the sheriff's extortions, they are letting Nigel Farage play Robin Hood. As the theme song of the TV version used to say, "He cleared up all the trouble on the English country scene, and still found plenty of time to sing".

Readers here do not need to reharse Mr Paterson's arguments, but it can never be said too many times that the current energy policy is unattainable – and at a cost of £1.3 trillion, which is roughly the size of the national debt. So obviously, says Moore, Mr Paterson is right to say that we should invoke the clause in the Climate Change Act which allows for its suspension. But, despite his notable trenchancy, Moore thinks he is being quite cautious about what is really happening.

Even if Britain and the whole of the EU were to stick to our emissions targets (which we surely won't), and to hit them (which, actually, we can't), we would still not come anywhere close to what we are told is needed to save the planet. This is for a very simple reason: the rest of the world won’t do it. Last year, carbon emissions per head in China exceeded those of Britain for the first time, and China has more than 20 times as many heads as we do. The EU is responsible for less than 10 percent of global emissions, so when we set our targets we knew – and said – that we were in no position to stop global warming. The point was to set a lead which others would follow.

They haven't. Since the debacle of the Copenhagen Summit of 2009 when the developed world failed to persuade the developing one to join our saintly masochism, this has been obvious. There is a "second commitment period" of the process started by the Kyoto Protocol. New Zealand has withdrawn from it. Canada has repudiated Kyoto altogether.

The only two non-European countries still in the second period are Kazakhstan and Australia, and Australia is now reviewing its commitment. Europe's gesture has proved futile, and is getting ever more expensive, in taxes, bills and jobs. Even the European Commission has spotted this, and is beginning to tiptoe away from the policy.

But not the British parties and policy elites. In August 1914, Sir Edward Grey famously said, "The lamps are going out all over Europe". He was speaking of the war we had inflicted on ourselves. A century later, we are threatening to put them out again, with different motives, but equal folly. Everywhere else, the lamps are staying on.

Isn't it rather extraordinary, Moore concludes, that no mainstream party has dared to point any of this out? Don't they know there's an election on? Is it surprising that voters think: "They're all the same?"


Richard North 18/10/2014

 Energy: making the weather

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Dozens of small nuclear reactors could be built to help Britain meet its emissions targets, says Ben Webster of The Times.

This was the view of the government's Committee on Climate Change, responding to a proposal from Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, who said small reactors built 20 miles from cities could be an alternative to putting up thousands more wind turbines.

The committee said: "There are large uncertainties over price and public acceptability, but they might have a role in future", after Mr Paterson had said that small nuclear plants had been running successfully in Britain for the past 30 years, including one in Derby at the Rolls-Royce site that supports Britain's nuclear submarines.

"Nine have been working on and off without incident and the technology is proven", he said. "Factory built units at the rate of one a month could add to the capacity at a rate of 1.8 GW per year [enough to power a million homes]".

Mr Paterson said many small reactors built around the country would provide more reliable power than the "behemoths", or giant power stations such as the £25 billion nuclear plant planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. Much of the heat produced by large stations was wasted but heat from small reactors could be piped to cities to heat homes.

This was supported by Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, who said that small nuclear reactors could be built within three years, compared with the nine years it will take to build Hinkley Point C.

He said that they could also be far cheaper to build per unit of capacity than large reactors because of mass-production. "You can daisy-chain these small reactors and have ten together".

DECC is shortly to publish a feasibility study on the commercial and technical potential of small reactors. Matthew Hancock, the energy minister, says: "Small modular reactors have huge potential, but the technology is at an early stage. I want us to do the work to make the most of that potential".

The government has certainly taken its time. We first wrote about mini-nukes in 2006, and then again in 2010, before returing to the subject in 2013 followed by Booker four months later.

UKIP offered what passes for an energy policy a year earlier, but had nothing to say about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), so it was left to a Conservative, former Secretary of State to put the issue on the public agenda.

Several times over the last few days, I have been told that the wave of publicity over the Paterson energy speech has stemmed directly from the unusual situation of a politician actually producing detailed, worked-out policy ideas – and there is more to come.

Thus, it would appear, if you come up with sound policy ideas, you make the weather. And that is a lesson Mr Cameron could learn about the EU.


Richard North 17/10/2014

 UKIP: pinning down Farage

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"Ironically – tragically – the biggest threat to Britain's chances of leaving the EU is currently UKIP itself", says Conservative Home. This blog has expressed more or less these sentiments several times, only to have the usual accretion of comments accusing this writer of "bitterness", personal grudges and all the other tedious shallowness that seems to follow any attempt to critique Farage's train-wreck party.

Complete Bastard also has a bash at this, while we're busy with energy, setting the agenda and having the greens squawking with fury, trailing in our wake for once.

Even then, we have the usual UKIP Muppets claiming credit for Paterson's policy initiative, on the basis of the superficial resemblance to Helmer's wish list. Clearly, they haven't read it. But then, there could only be a superficial resemblance, as UKIP has so little to offer - as usual. 

As long as UKIP continues to offer train-wreck ideas, though, it will continue to be a liability, leaving real politicians to do the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, as the train-wreck gathering momentum, Farage's Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament has collapsed after one of its national members left, leaving the group below the qualifying threshold.

This is Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule, a politician with a distinctly "colourful" past, as featured in last Monday's Panorama. As the EFDD no longer has members from at seven countries, it cannot continue. That, incidentally, is set to stuff Grillo and his five-star movement, to say nothing of leaving Farage fighting for his millions, his deluxe office suite, and his chauffeur-driven car.

According to the rules, if a group falls below the required threshold, the President, with the agreement of the Conference of Presidents, may allow it to continue to exist until Parliament's next "constitutive sitting", the members continue to represent at least one-fifth of the Member States and the group has been in existence for a period longer than a year.

Since these conditions are not met, this is the end of the group, unless another member, from another member state can be brought in fast. But since Mr Farage has made no friends in the EP, it is less likely than it might have been that anyone will be rushing to his rescue.

However, this is also a blow for Helmer, he of UKIP's aspirational energy "policy" – and part-time leader of the UKIP parliamentary delegation. Perhaps Mr Helmer should have focused more on his working relations with his group colleagues and spent less time on his leisure activities.


Richard North 16/10/2014

 Energy: a cure for megalophilia

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While the energy planners tear themselves apart over the fate (and spiralling costs – up to £24bn) of the Hinkley C nuclear plant – with its two giant, 1.6GW generators, the Germans are showing that the other end of the scale works.

Us "dregs", who are actually working on serious ideas on how to keep the lights on, have picked up on this fokesy website, which shows a 2-litre Volkswagen, gas powered engine in the basement of a house, used for cogeneration – producing heat and electricity. And trust the Germans to have a word for it. They call it Schwarmstrom (swarm power).

Teamed up with LichtBlick, the plan was to sell 100,000 units called "EcoBlue" to create the equivalent of a 2,000 megawatts power station. Run with Volkswagen natural gas engines and eventually intended to be fired by biogas from non-fossil sources, the new units would produce power on demand, store heat and thus produce a constant hot water supply, with excess electricity being sold to the grid.

Honda are playing with something very similar, indicating that this idea has serious legs. Strip the green rhetoric from the promotional material and you have a hard-edged, serious answer to the electricity supply crisis.

But it is the combination of sizes and flexibility in application which provides the real solution, allowing Freiburg in Germany to produce about 50 percent of its electricity with CHP, up from just 3 three percent in 1993. The town has 14 large-scale and about 90 small-scale CHP plants (e.g., at the city theatre and indoor swimming pools).

The two large-scale plants located near landfills use recovered methane gas as fuel. Others use natural gas, biogas, geothermal, wood chips, and/or heating oil. An important concomitant development is new district heating systems which can replace individual oil or gas burning furnaces.

This is the future, but once again we have to cut through the green rhetoric to get there. Yet, some of the ideas being adopted by the greens have been around for ages. Slough Trading Estate, home of the Mars Bar. It has a 40MWe CHP plant which was upgraded not so very long ago (pictured below), but it has been supplying heat and power to the estate since 1920. 

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These ideas have to be recaptured from the greens. Just because they like them, or promote them (such as elements of demand management), doesn't mean they're necessarily bad.

When it comes to CHP, however, the "right" in British politics has been almost completely blindsided. That even applies to mini-nukes (Small Modular Reactors). Yet David Clarke, chief executive at the Energy Technologies Institute, recently told a House of Commons select committee:
Fundamentally, we see the small module opportunity driven by economics in terms of the potential for low-cost energy and reduced need for cooling water compared with big nuclear plants, meaning that you open up more opportunities for sites on which you can build these units, and then there is potential for siting them closer to centres of population so that you can use the waste heat off-site.
Rolls-Royce Chief Scientific Officer, Paul Stein, is just as forthright, effectively arguing in front of the same committee that small nukes effectively provide the only answer if we are to meet the government's target of 40GW from nuclear power. He envisages a plant capable of producing a 150MW reactor a month, producing 1.8 GW a year, which is the equivalent of producing one big power station, in terms of energy output, a year.

And tomorrow, Owen Paterson is going to call for expedited development of SMRs, a policy which Bob Ward calls "bizarre", demonstrating that the greens, like UKIP, are way behind the curve. But it's actually megalophilia that is destroying our energy policy. CHP and SMRs are the solution.


Richard North 14/10/2014

 UKIP: "the dregs of rejects"

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Nice to find out what "our Nige" really thinks of us. And this is from a man who got worked up about his party being called "fruitcakes" by Mr Cameron. Well, at least, us "dregs of rejects" now know where we stand.


Richard North 14/10/2014

 Energy: a policy goes wanting

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In a very unusual development yesterday, we saw the story carried by Booker in The Sunday Telegraph also given front page treatment in the paper (pictured above). It also got page two in the Mail on Sunday.

Today, it is being carried by The Times and the Evening Standard and I've no doubt we will see more of this, as we close towards Wednesday, when Mr Paterson gives his lecture in London to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

There is no great need to repeat all the content of these pieces – much has already been covered in the Booker piece – but it is worth remarking, of the two pieces in the Telegraph, how in over 2,000 comments, so few people actually addressed the issues.

Mention climate change, of course, and this triggers the same ongoing debate that we have been seeing for years – endless repeating the same points - the participants oblivious to the fact that the pieces on which they were commenting were actually about energy policy.

Then, the highest scoring comments were of those that wanted to tell us that an ex-Conservative minister talking about energy was a good reason to vote UKIP. More than a few wanted to convince us that this - Helmer's attempt at an energy policy - was anything other than derivative, out of date, and a vague, aspirational mish-mash.

From the hostility exhibited by some critics to Mr Paterson's policy ideas, one felt that some UKIPites were trying to hide their own embarrassment at being caught out. Seeing what a real energy policy looked like, as opposed to the pastiche they had to offer, they were trying their best to demolish it.

And then there are those who either don't understand – or wilfully misunderstand – demand management. Because it has been hijacked by the greens to deal with wind variability, they seem unaware that the primary purpose of the systems, many developed in the free market US, was better asset management, to bring down supply costs and prices to the consumer.

It is a pity that the best explanations of one technique – dynamic response – are in the Guardian, here and here. Despite that, you would think some critics could transcend their own ideologies – and prejudices – and spend the time to find out more about the value of such systems, but apparently not. Presumably, they want to spend more on plants that are built to run, on average, for less than ten percent of the time.

Then, there is CHP. Interestingly, we can get people talking knowledgably about CCGTs, and other elements of the alphabet soup, but these three initials seem to defeat the commentariat. That the UK has the lowest uptake of CHP of all the major economies in the EU – apart from France – has to tell you something.

Yet, those who weren't trying to diss the system because Helmer hadn't thought of it – along with all the other things he hadn't thought of – were trying to misrepresent it, or simply failing to understand what was on offer. Perhaps they should be convincing Perhaps Helmer to spend less time on his leisure pursuits.

As for mini-nukes, we've had these commissioned in the UK for decades, in three separate locations to my knowledge – Harwell, Aldermaston and Derby - with no great drama. Tourists happily pay large sums to go to the North Pole, sitting on top of a nuclear reactor in a Russian icebreaker. Modern technology makes them fail-safe, and cogeneration makes them economic. But very few seemed to understand these points either.

Basically, though, we offered people a chance to discuss energy policy. And most of them talked about something else. Most that expressed a view simply aired their prejudices in an uninformed way that took us no further forward. Such people are quick to complain that the world is not to their liking but, if they can't rise to the challenge of discussing policy ideas sensibly, then they are not going to get what they want. 

The essence of politics – as so many people seem to have forgotten – is that innovation usually comes from outside the system. Policy demands sensible debate, and if we don't engage in the latter, we are not going to get the former. Instead, we will get what we are given – and the child-voter will prevail.


Richard North 13/10/2014

 UK politics: voters are out of touch

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You have to give some credit to Matthew Parris in The Times (paywall) for his sheer chutzpah, putting two fingers up to received wisdom, and telling it as he thinks it is.

I couldn't begin to agree with all he says in his column, but he does start in splendidly acerbic form, telling his readers to "ignore the piffle about Westminster needing to reconnect with a disaffected public". It should be the other way around, he says.

Commenting on the desertion of Labour (Rochdale) voters and Conservative (Clacton) voters, both to UKIP, Parris goes on to tell us to pin back your ears, then, brace your retina for an autumnal babble, in broadcast and in print, about how each of the two mainstream parties must now "reconnect" with its "core".

But, while there are contradictions in the various messages sprayed out by UKIP, he says, there is a deep internal consistency between the voices of Clacton and Rochdale Man. It's called populism, and if you ask it for its manifesto you miss the point. Dislike of the present and fear of the future is what drives it. Fear, in the end, has no manifesto.

But the trouble with populism, Parris concludes, is that it isn't popular: not in our country. Or, rather, it attracts a grumbling chorus of support from its client groupings but tends to repel the rest of us.

And rather than being "out of touch", he asserts that today's parliaments are the most inclusive, diverse, unpretentious, least corrupt, most streetwise, hardest-working assemblies that Britain has ever elected, and by a long chalk the most in touch with the concerns of ordinary citizens.

MPs do know how the other half lives. They try ceaselessly - they try too hard - to understand and empathise. They inquire, they engage, they research, they listen. They're painfully aware of the impact of policy on people.

Politicians do know what to do: in Jean-Claude Juncker's phrase they just don't know how to get re-elected after doing it. So cut the crap about reaching out to Rochdale or connecting with Clacton. There are parts of Britain that need to reach out to reality. Sometimes it's the voters who should try harder to "engage": engage with those who have to govern.

Perhaps the aggrieved citizen who wants lower taxes, higher government spending, cheaper whisky and buckets more money thrown at the NHS, should reach out to the chancellor as he burns the midnight oil with his sums. Perhaps the disaffected pensioner who wants free transport, higher pensions and no tax to pay is the one who doesn't get it?

Perhaps it's the tweed-jacketed squire who should understand the agriculture minister's concerns, the chain-smoking couch potato who's out of touch and needs to focus more on the health secretary's worries?

Here, I have to admit to more than a little sympathy for the Parris thesis. Reading comments on this and many other websites, and discussing political expectations with a wide range of people, one is constantly dismayed by the torrent of ignorant – and sometime quite aggressive – criticisms of ministers, over issues where, actually they are trying to do their best.

What often fortifies the aggression is a child-like naïvety – a fundamental inability to understand the way governments work, and the limitations of power – especially ministerial power.

The Ollivander tendency is alive and kicking, as so many people expect politicians to wave magic wands, and cure their grievances, despite often the fiendish complexities in so doing, the like of which the child-voters don't even begin to understand, or even try to understand. It is so much easier to whinge.

As for the culprits, those who promote this mindset – these simplistic and often irrational expectations - Parris says that, "if you're really looking for arrogant metropolitan snobs then look no further than those on the Right. They are the ones who want to use the poor as a vehicle to lend a fake salience to their own nutty opinions about Europe, immigration, diversity, climate change or whatever".

We could argue long and hard about this, but the point is broadly correct – even if the culprits are poorly chosen. People like Farage, for instance, are quite deliberately exploiting mistrust and disaffection. Like the strangler fig with its seed in Central Africa, Parris says, they lodge their arguments in a host - the poorer citizen - whose welfare is not their first concern; put down their roots; and thrive on the sap of his own despair.

UKIP is not the fault of Clacton: Clacton is just the parasite's unlucky host, he concludes. We do not do best for Clacton by simulating "engagement" with the town's opinions. We do best not by patronising its voters when we know they're wrong, but by levelling with them and telling them so.


Richard North 13/10/2014

 EU Referendum: stupidity on stilts

It is all very well for the Ukipites to complain about being criticised – their belief, which is unique in the civilised world, being that a political party (theirs) should be immune from criticism. But, it they want an easier ride, they should perhaps have a word with the Dear Leader and ask him to stop making such idiotic remarks.

Thus, we see on the Andrew Neill show (around 13 minutes), the Farage person, in all his glory, suggesting as his price for co-operation with David Cameron, that we have a full, free and fair referendum on our membership of the European Union, and for that to happen quickly.

Asked when that meant, Farage opined, "I don't see any reason why that referendum should not take place before the August break", adding that he thought July was the best time.

Now run as a story in The Telegraph, one wonders which fag packet this one was worked out on. Given a Conservative victory in May, Mr Cameron has to get a referendum Bill through both houses, the physical arrangements have to be set up to run a national referendum, and the two sides have to organise their campaigns, and then fight their battles – all in a space of eight weeks.

And this, of course, is from a party leader whose own organisation still doesn't have a credible exit plan, or the wherewithal to draw one up. Given the party's most recent efforts, we might actually be better off if UKIP avoided publishing a full-blown plan.

Either way, we really can do without Farage's train wreck ideas.


Richard North 12/10/2014

 Brexit: incoherent amateurs

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Still up of the UKIP website is its latest post-Brexit position statement. This time, I've reproduced the whole thing:
We would review all legislation and regulations from the EU (3,600 new laws since 2010) and remove those which hamper British prosperity and competitiveness.

We would negotiate a bespoke trade agreement with the EU to enable our businesses to continue trading to mutual advantage.

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.

We would reoccupy the UK's vacant seat at the World Trade Organisation, ensuring that we continue to enjoy "most favoured nation" (MFN) status in trade with the EU, as is required under WTO rules.
Had I reproduced it in full when I referred to it earlier, I might have picked up the inherent contradictions. As it was, I took the last paragraph which, together with the first, which essentially means that UKIP are seeking to adopt the WTO option (with certain caveats).

However, tucked in to the script is the second paragraph which tells us UKIP "would negotiate a bespoke trade agreement with the EU to enable our businesses to continue trading to mutual advantage". This, effectively, is a version of the Swiss Option, which means, effectively, that they are seeking to adopt this and the WTO option together, something that I did not expect.

Probably, the reason I did not take this on board is because the two options are normally considered incompatible. The reason for this is that, under WTO rules, if you adopt MFN status, when you grant someone a special favour (such as a lower customs duty rate for one of their products), you have to do the same for all other WTO members, under what are termed the non-discrimination rules.

Within the framework of a regional free trade agreement (such UKIP is suggesting with the EU), where special concessions are agreed, members are allowed a waiver under WTO rules, which permits them to discriminate against non-members.

If this waiver is not applied, all the concessions applying to members of the trade agreement would have to be granted to the rest of the UK's trading partners. In effect, therefore, the EU would then be in a position to dictate the UK's external trade policy, and prevent it doing special deals with other partners, without also passing on to the EU any concessions given to them.

Being forced into MFN status is precisely what Kenya is complaining about, in respect of its dealings with the EU, and here is UKIP wanting to commit voluntarily to a distinctly unfavourable position. Even I didn't think the party was that stupid.

Back in amateursville, we see UKIP wanting its "bespoke" trade agreement with the EU – presumably within the ambit of Article 50 negotiations. Never mind, though, that it took the Swiss 16 years to conclude their limited "bespoke" agreement with the EU and the negotiations for the EU-Canadian Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) started in June 2007 and still hasn't been concluded. How long does UKIP think it will take to negotiate its "bespoke" agreement?

Untouched by reality, UKIP then gets the idea that it can remove EU regulations which hamper British prosperity and competitiveness, but not a thought is given to those regulations (such as all the Codex rules) which are agreed at international level, which we would have to adopt anyway, even if we left the EU.

But then there is the principle of "national treatment" under WTO rules, which requires members to treat imported and locally-produced goods equally. Thus, if specific rules are applied to imported goods, they – or rules no less rigorous – must apply to domestic goods.

Since this rule also applies to the EU, when importing goods from outside the Single Market, EU member states have to obey internally all the rules (that are relevant) which are applied to imported goods.

In order thus to avoid conflicting regulatory codes between trading partners, the EU seeks regulatory convergence (where all parties apply the same rules, externally and internally), and to make this happen applies the doctrine of "conditionality", making such convergence a condition of agreeing a trade deal.

Currently, this is why there is such a problem with TTIP, where two trading giants – the EU and the US – are having serious problems in seeking regulatory convergence. In then seeking to slash EU regulations, UKIP is going entirely against the grain, and is unlikely to secure any agreements with the EU if it starts making deep cuts in what is still a common regulatory code.

Just to add to the complications, if such cuts are made, the UK could be in breach of WTO rules if it then tried to enforce international standards on imported goods. If it doesn't apply those standards, though, it could end up as the dumping ground for sub-standard goods from around the world.

All of this, though, passes UKIP by. They have their narrative, and nothing is going to stop them parading their ignorance. Than, adding confusion to the ignorance, we have UKIP's Paul Nuttall talking to the Guardian about Brexit.

As he and his party see it, this newspaper is told, the UK should get out as quickly as possible, and replace the economic aspects of our EU membership with "a simple free trade deal, either with individual countries or with the European Union as a whole".

It is Nuttall's good fortune that writer John Harris is probably as ignorant as his interviewee on the finer points of this issue, thus allowing Nuttall to argue that this wholly unrealistic aspiration "would put us in a comparable position to Switzerland, whose dealings with the EU are framed in a series of bilateral treaties – but with one crucial difference".

"We're not Switzerland", Nuttall triumphantly declares. "We're the seventh-largest economy in the world, and we're Great Britain. And because we run a huge trade deficit with the EU, they'd need us far more than we would need them".

This is the great mantra, the get out of jail free, that covers every eventuality. But, for the 27 remaining trading nations in the EU, it simply would not wash. No matter how much the UK is "needed" – and perhaps not as much as Nuttall thinks – the EU is not going to breach its own fundamental rules, or those of the WTO, just to accommodate the UK.

And the thing is, we may have a trade deficit with the EU but, in the absence of a trade deal with the EU, is the British government really going to stop British traders importing BMWs and Mercedes, and all the other high value goods we get from the Continent?

But, in the UKIP book, anything goes. Their 24 MEPs – of which Nuttall is one – are over the five years of the parliamentary session, going to cost us the best part of £140 million, and this is what we get for our money: incoherent amateurs, man-in-pub blatherers with not the first idea of how the world works.

And the interesting thing is that it is this writer who gets complaints for being "negative" about UKIP.


Richard North 11/10/2014

 UKIP: the Carswell event

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Commemorating what may well be UKIP's first elected MP, the Guardian offers on the front page of its print edition a story about Farage wanting to ban HIV-positive immigrants, leaving him to be accused of stooping to a "new level of ignorance".

This is a measure of the state of the political debate, which has UKIP irrevocably locked in as the anti-migration champions, a role it is happy to take on board as it publishes a website statement setting out its stall on immigration, saying:
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.
Never mind that the UK isn't actually in EFTA, so it could hardly remain in, after departure from the EU, and gloss over, if you will, that EFTA doesn't actually have a treaty agreement with the EU which maintains the principle of free movement (the agreement is with the NIL members). This is the sort of facile amateurishness one comes to expect from UKIP.

Simply focus on the issue that this makes UKIP a serious liability should we ever get an EU referendum, as the party abandons any idea of continuing with the Single Market, and wants to leave our trading arrangements in a shambles. I've updated Flexcit, reworking Chapter 6 (page 85), to take account of this development, and will have more to add later.

But for that, Douglas Carswell back in Parliament should have been an asset to his new party- even with a reported turnout at 51.2 percent. One MP, properly organised, can be a fearsome antagonist. I recall Owen Paterson in oppostion taking the government apart over Bovine TB, with 600 Parliamentary questions, a record for one subject.

But with his party totally compromised, and tactically inept, even Carswell's self-acclaimed acumen and experience could be to little avail. UKIP is working itself out of the script, standing for something which could lose us a referendum.

Meanwhile, in Heywood and Middleton, where a second contest has been declared, the turnout has been reported at 36 percent. Not even (or especially) UKIP could energise the by-election, that Labour won on 41 percent of the vote, 600 votes ahead of the Farage party, after a "bundle check" being declared. That means it sends its MP to Parliament on a popular mandate of 14.8 percent. 

Labour sources were claiming through the count that the Conservative vote has dropped to ten percent, down from 27.2 percent in 2010, with the Lib-Dem vote collapsing. If the bulk of the displaced vote has gone to UKIP, it would blow out of the water any claim that the Farage party is "ripping lumps" out of old Labour. Labour is doing what it usually does in these events - staying at home.

In the long run, however, I see UKIP as an irrelevance – which it needs to become - petulant children squabbling about how badly treated they feel by the LabLabCon in Westminster, with not the first grown-up idea of what they would do in their stead.

As to Clacton, it wasn't worth staying up to wait for the result of what was a foregone conclusion, leaving the morning news that Carswell had "swept" to victory with 30.5 percent of the popular vote, in what could hardly be considered a ringing endorsement of his idea of how to spend public money.

With the collapse of the Conservative vote, he took 21,113 votes (59.7 percent of those that voted) ahead of the Tory candidate Giles Watling on 8,709 votes. The Conservative vote fell from the 53 to 24.6 percent on a dismal turnout of 51.2 percent. Popular movement, this is not.

In Carswell, though, we have a man who is at odds with his own party on leaving the EU. He favours the "Swiss option", telling us in January that the Swiss "have control over their own borders by virtue of being outside the EU".

The Swiss, of course, signed an agreement on 21 June 1999 with the EU on the Free Movement of Persons. This extended the right of free movement to citizens of EEA Member States, complemented by the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, the right to buy property, and the coordination of social security systems. This gave them a posted immigration rate of 23.3 percent, as opposed to the UK's 13 percent, and an ongoing (and as yet unresolved) constitutional crisis, following a referendum requiring the federal government to breach the free movement agreement.

Thus, as it stands, we have UKIP going for the WTO option, while their only MP, Carswell, plumps for something else, the nature of which he shows no sign of understanding. His famous "plan" (p.125) calls for: "Replacing EU membership with a Swiss-style bilateral free trade accord". Carswell and his new master need to get their acts together. In particular, Mr Farage needs to have some stern words with his newest (only) MP, about this little gem:
Immigration, many Outers seem to believe, is our strongest card. It links one of the public's number one concerns with the question of our EU membership. Perhaps. But the Out campaign must not descend into any kind of angry nativism. First and second generation Britons must feel as comfortable voting to quit the EU as those whose ancestors came over before William the Conqueror. An independent Britain is not going to have no immigration. It will have democratic control over immigration – like Switzerland, where one in five workers is non-Swiss. Or Australia, where thousands of new arrivals become new Australians each year.
Mr Carswell's "democratic control" gets him 23 percent in the case of Switzerland, and 27 percent in Australia, as against 13 percent in the UK. In the EU, only Luxembourg's migrant levels are higher (see table below, which also shows that the UK has twice as many non-EU migrants as those from the EU - click to expand).

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In the longer-term, we face the prospect of more ill-considered "policy" statements emerging from UKIP, of the same ilk as the party's rejection of EFTA/EEA, leaving the party in its usual quagmire of inconsistency. Thus, the more successful in its own terms that UKIP becomes, the more work it will create for the rest of us in trying to undo the damage it is doing.

Weary as I am with having our own side as the biggest handicap in our fight, that really isn't anything to celebrate. Every "victory" simply gives UKIP yet another opportunity to undermine the rational case for managing our departure from the EU. That leaves us, Kasserine Pass style, having to fight through our own side to get to the enemy. We can defeat the enemy, but I'm not so sure about our own side.


Richard North 10/10/2014

 Booker: weirder than I can ever remember

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At the end of those party conferences, Booker writes, the political scene presents us with so many anomalies that it is weirder than anything I can remember.

The most glaring anomaly of all, he says, is that, while the ineffable Ed Miliband looks less fitted to be prime minister than any party leader in history, the polls have for months been showing that, next May, that is what is likely to happen.

Almost the only member of his dismal potential Cabinet most people could recognise is the thuggish Ed Balls, who shared with Gordon Brown in that hubristic decision in 1998 to double public spending in a decade, which landed us with the most catastrophic government deficit in history – the one Mr Miliband forgot to mention.

David Cameron may have enjoyed his conference triumph and a bounce in the polls, on the back of what looks like a surprising recovery from the economic shambles he inherited from Labour. It has enabled him and George Osborne to win headlines with those promised cuts in benefits and taxes.

But to get all that excitable fluff into perspective, the £3.2 billion we are told the Treasury might save on benefits, and the £7.2 billion it might lose on taxes, are as nothing compared with the £11.6 billion we yet again had to borrow in August, which was £700 million more than in August last year. Our national debt has soared above £1.4 trillion, having almost doubled since this Government came to office.

Mr Cameron and his colleagues may wish to pose as robust Conservatives by talking tough on the Human Rights Act and sending a handful of our remaining Tornados – at £1 million a mission – to lob £100,000 missiles at the odd black-flagged Toyota pick-up truck. But what too many disaffected Tories cannot forget is all those years when, after Mr Cameron became their leader, his only desire seemed to be to create what I called a "Not the Conservative Party".

He imagined that he could woo the Lib Dem centre ground by espousing green garbage and political correctness, while reversing pretty well every core principle his party once stood for. Appropriately, his reward was to find himself having to form a coalition with the Lib Dems themselves, shoulder to shoulder on everything from wind turbines to gay marriage.

Theresa May may be trying to position herself as the "heir to Mrs Thatcher", but it was she and her Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get gay marriage on to the statute book.

All this may have lost the support of a great many natural Conservatives, but the Coalition has been equally disastrous for the Lib Dems, many of whose voters felt "betrayed" by their party ganging up with the hated Tories. The pitifully wimpish Nick Clegg seems as likely as many of his colleagues not to survive next May.

Meanwhile, still on a roll is UKIP, as the new "plague on all their houses" protest party, even though its only hope of getting an "in-out" referendum on the EU rests on a Tory victory, which its own votes next year will do as much as anything to make unlikely.

These contradictions leave us with the prospect of seeing the Tories, for all their shortcomings, replaced by a coalition comprised of a bunch of much more incompetent Labourites, led by the most implausible prime minister in history, and the rump of a Liberal party having suffered its worst electoral reverse in decades.

The Ukipites will not get their referendum, and the rest of us will be left with the legacy of those 30 years since the fall of Mrs Thatcher. In that time, we have seen our "political class" losing all touch with conviction and principle, as well as with the majority of voters, who are left wondering what on earth they did to deserve such a ghastly fate.

But, who knows, maybe some miracle will intervene …


Richard North 05/10/2014