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 EU Referendum: we need a better vision

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Some might suppose that we would "walk through" the latest Farage statement on immigration, except that the only question to ask is: why is this news? Making it up as he goes is not going to get Farage anywhere near a sniff of power, so his latest U-turn is of very little long-term relevance.

In fact the only thing of any interest that Farage managed to say yesterday was: "You cannot have anything in politics without people obsessing over caps and targets and I think people are bored of it".

Of real relevance in the longer term, however, is the vexed question of "over-regulation" which has been briefly in the headlines. But, except for those who are most engaged in seeking to "expand the envelope", the details would also be regarded as "boring" by most people.

Supposedly one of the skills of the media, though, is the ability to take ostensibly boring detail and put it into a context that makes it interesting, accessible and relevant – and even entertaining. But, such is the nature of the modern media that it is no longer up to the job – if it ever was.

This still leave the essential issues to address, which are very far from boring, and which strike at the heart of the way we are governed. One of those is that the blind mantra of "EU red tape" harming industry, one of those memes that has been doing the rounds for over twenty years.  It is one that, in fact, is way past its sell-by date and one which is no longer of any great service to the anti-EU movement.

For sure, there are many business interests which will complain about over-regulation, usually out of narrow self-interest. If there is financial advantage to be gained, they will argue against regulation, whether it is necessary or not. And if there is advantage to be gained from making the EU the whipping boy, then those self-same business interests will jump on any passing bandwagon.

Yet, for the ordinary voting public, the regulation of business is not that unpopular – most will be largely indifferent to it, or vaguely in favour. And, when it comes to the "banksters" and other malefactors, regulation is more popular than not. Anyone seeking to sell a ticket of cutting regulation on business is going to gain less traction than they might otherwise imagine.

On the other hand, there is some logic in the EU mantra of having 28 sets of regulation replaced by a single set. For exporters, trading across the Community, this does substantially ease business, it does promote trade and, even according to independent academic studies, does reduce costs. To that extent, there is some research to indicate that regulation is a trade lubricant, and the trade in regulated products is higher than in those where there is no regulatory control.

Furthermore, according to such studies, in certain sectors, differences in [national] standards do have a significant negative effect on trade - which is why, of course, industry spends so much time lobbying for regulation, and assists in it formulation, funding studies and providing sector experts. They are aware of what the WTO points out, that so-called "non-tariff measures" – some arising from the lack of harmonisation - "can be as trade-restrictive as tariffs, and even more so in the case of certain high- and middle-income countries".

As the other half of the Booker-North duo who virtually invented the "EU red tape" meme some twenty years ago, I perhaps have a better grasp of this than most. The issue has never been one of regulation per se. It was mostly one of poor regulation, our catchphrase, "the sledgehammer to miss the nut". Then, a major part of the problem was enforcement - the "Mad Officials" who misapplied the law or who were clumsy in its application, creating unnecessary burdens.  

Arguably, therefore – and this is precisely what I do argue – the "red tape" agenda is not going to win us the referendum battle. At best it will capture the support of some in the business community – and the opposition of others. With skilfully exploited FUD, the agenda could backfire on the "out" campaign. If we left the EU without making the appropriate provision, for instance, we would no longer have any hygiene control on food shops, factories and restaurants. 

Nevertheless, in campaigning terms, the arguments that the pro-EU lobby uses can be turned to our advantage. They argue that a single set of regulations for 28 EU member states makes for more and cheaper trade. This is not a problem. That effect must be even greater with standards common to all 160 WTO members, and that is where we should be.

Since so many standards are now made at global level, we would be far better off breaking out of the constraints of "little Europe" and rejoining the world, where we would have a much more powerful voice in setting the global agenda. The globalisation agenda, that so many seem to be determined to ignore, could work powerfully in our favour, and become a game changer.

On top of this, since global business is carried out on an intergovernmental basis, the benefits to be gained from working together do not carry with them the price of loss of sovereignty, and we are no longer subject to the rule of institutions such as the ECJ.

The point thus, in terms of campaigning, is that we must question the old arguments, the old mantras and the same tired old strategies. If we are going to have the slightest chance of winning, we need fresh ideas and new ways of presenting them. "Globalisation" is one of those ideas. As a campaign tool, EU "red tape" is a relic – we need a better vision.

Richard North 05/03/2015

 Rotherham: and now for Oxford

After Rotherham, we get the Oxford report - reviewed by Complete Bastard. Notably, we see that five of the seven men convicted of exploiting the girls were of "Pakistani" heritage and the victims were all white British girls, but the report found no evidence that the agencies had not acted because of racial sensitivities.

Then, says the Guardian, the report called on the government to research why the perpetrators of this type of child abuse – which has been seen in Rochdale, Rotherham, Derby, Bristol and Oxfordshire – were predominantly from a Pakistani and/or Muslim heritage. For a start, though, they could read the Independent, and this, this, this and this. It isn't that difficult to work out.The one place you need not go for inspiration though is Ukip.

Richard North 04/03/2015

 UKIP: spring conference

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It is hard to add to this. There can be little dispute that a credible (or any) manifesto is vital to Ukip's electoral prospects. Thus, by now, even their most ardent supporters must be getting nervous. The party is beyond parody

Richard North 28/02/2015

 Media: embarrassingly amateur

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If one wonders just how naff the Daily Mail can become, one just needs to visit the headline of their piece on the Ukip spring conference in Margate. There, we are told, the Ukipites were "gatecrashed" by "NAZI dancing troupe goose-stepping through Margate in front of a Second World War tank".

Notwithstanding any other errors, the vehicle in question is not a tank – it is an Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun. And it is not of World War II vintage. It was actually introduced into British Army service in 1965. I remember it well as, about that time, I was nearly flattened by one when it came hurtling down a track on which we had pitched our tent (don't ask).

The identity of the vehicle may be a nerdy point, but details matter - not that Ukip would know the difference. But if you are to have any credibility at all, you get them right.

Richard North 27/02/2015

 Immigration: the "pull factors" prevail

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Although it struggled for a place in the television bulletins yesterday after the release of reports into abuse carried out by ex-DJ Jimmy Savile in NHS hospitals, the press nevertheless obliged with details of what the Mail called "humiliating figures" which showed David Cameron's promise to cut net migration to the "tens of thousands" is in tatters.

Supplied by ONS (see below), the figures show net migration for the year to September standing at 298,000, representing the balance remaining after a record 624,000 arrived in Britain, up from 530,000 in the previous 12 months. At the same time, 327,000 left, a figure which has barely changed since 2010.

There were, says ONS, statistically significant increases for immigration of non-EU citizens, which are up 49,000 to 292,000, and of EU (non-British) citizens, up 43,000 to 251,000. It is still the case, therefore, that there are more migrants from outside the EU.

The non-EU figure includes 24,914 asylum applications (main applicants), an increase of six percent compared with 23,584 in 2013, but low relative to the peak of 84,132 in 2002. The largest number of applications came from Eritrea (3,239), Pakistan (2,711), Syria (2,081) and Iran (2,011).

Trying to put a brave face on the overall, Downing Street claimed that the soaring figures were "a problem of success", as people from across the globe flocked to Britain in search of work. Nevertheless, Mr Cameron was said to be "disappointed" after promising voters he would tackle immigration: "No ifs. No buts". The level now is actually higher than when he took power.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman claimed the sharp rise in EU migration demonstrated "the challenge of the UK having a successful and growing economy at a time when many of the eurozone economies are stagnating". He added: "I don't think that was a factor anyone was predicting in 2010".

Given her boss's enthusiasm for remaining in the EU, though, it hardly behoves shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper to claim that Mr Cameron's immigration target is "now in tatters".

She told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "Of course immigration is important and we need top talent, but it has got to be controlled and managed so that the system is fair" – not withstanding that there is no ability to "manage" inflow from the EU. Under a Labour administration, therefore, it is unlikely that the figures would be any different.

The problem is, of course, that Mr Cameron and his Conservative colleagues are mainly right when they attribute the increase in migration to the economy. Despite assertions about welfare payments, the overwhelming draw for many migrants is jobs, and with the rest of Europe struggling for growth, it is inevitable that they will gravitate to the UK.

And, although Ukip are likely to enjoy a boost in the polls from these figures, neither do they have a credible policy. Any attempt to clamp down on immigration flows from Europe would see a massive rise in illegal immigration – in the unlikely event that we could negotiate an exit deal without agreeing a free movement provision.

That apart, 292,000 migrants (gross figure) are from non-EU countries, and there is nothing directly in EU law that would prevent us excluding these people. With net total migration of 298,000, that would have brought the figure down to 6,000 – which no doubt would be tolerable (to some).

Where that might create problems is that 31 percent of migrants have come here to study (192,000), which is a major revenue earner for the UK. Then 14 percent have come in to join their families (90,000). That puts us almost back where we started. 

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Addressing the "pull factors", therefore, remains the best bet for bringing numbers down overall. The main issues here must be the enforcement of the minimum wage, the policing of housing standards and the removal of child benefit paid to children resident overseas.

Ensuring that all employers paid the minimum wage would make immigrant labour less attractive, while taking substandard lettings off the market would remove cheap accommodation and make low-paid jobs less attractive to migrants – as indeed would ending overseas child benefit payments.

Given the lack of progress in any of these three categories, one suspects that the current government remains of the view that immigration is beneficial, and is not really trying to cut back the flow. They may also have been reading the runes, in the form of a YouGov poll. This suggests that, while there is public concern about immigration, the majority of people do not favour the Ukip stance on the issue.

Nevertheless, the Economist suggests that the current round of immigration is perhaps not as beneficial as even this government thinks, which means that it may eventually be motivated to implement some curbs.

Yet, despite the failure, Dan Hodges reckons the figures have arrived too late to arrest Ukip's decline, which he reckons will accelerate as we approach the reckoning of 8 May.

But a failed policy is still a failed policy and whichever party does win the election (if any) has a timebomb on its hands. By any measure, a net inflow of nearly 300,000 immigrants a year is unacceptable.

Richard North 27/02/2015

 EU referendum: a prelude to defeat

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Picking up on my piece from last night, we find Steven Tindale, an Associate Fellow at the Centre for European Reform, exulting in the fact that the "anti-EU side" does not have an agreed alternative plan to the EU, which he finds "encouraging".

That the opposition can so easily make this comment says a great deal about our so-called movement. After all these years, it is not only the leading eurosceptic party that has failed to come up with a coherent "plan". It is the movement as a whole – discordant, disjointed, fractious and antagonistic.

It can be no coincidence, therefore, that YouGov is now reporting that, from its routine EU referendum poll, 45 percent would vote to remain in the EU and only 35 percent would vote to leave. This is YouGov's largest "in" lead since its records began in September 2010 (see graphic below).

There is, by contrast, the recent Opinium Poll which gave us 44 percent ion favour of leaving and 41 percent who want to stay in – a slender margin at best, but one which uses different methodology and cannot give comparable results.

YouGov's data are comparable over time, and find support for EU membership at an all-time high of 45 percent, up from 42 percent last month, presenting a sombre picture for those amongst us who have ambitions of fighting and winning a referendum. 

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For Ukip, the polls present a similarly gloomy picture (for party supporters), at 13 percent on a downwards trend that has yet to reach bottom. And perhaps even more telling is the poll on the future of Ukip. In October last year, fresh after Douglas Carswell's victory in Clacton, the polling company measured the public mood about Ukip’s future as a force in British politics – if it would fade away, or remain an important feature for at least the next ten years.

At that time, the public fell on the side of longevity, by 49-35 percent but, in the months since, that position has reversed, and by a wider margin. Currently, the majority (53 percent) think the party will fade. Only 30 percent think it will endure. And more than twice as many Ukip voters (12 percent) express doubts about their party's future than in October (5 percent).

This is hardly surprising. As Autonomous Mind points out - and despite the denials – the "big fish" in the stagnant Ukip pond are shaping up for a battle for the heart and soul of what remains of the party after it's electoral defeat.

Given that the Conservative Party then manages to form a government, our ragged, uncoordinated, leaderless troops will then be facing a battle for the a greater prize, the end of our membership of the European Union.

Here, YouGov illustrates the odds against us. Imagine the British government under David Cameron has renegotiated our relationship with Europe, it says, and says that Britain's interests were now protected. Against his recommendation that Britain remain a member of the European Union on the new terms, respondents are asked how they would vote.

In this instance, the 45 percent who would vote to stay in the Union climbs to 57 percent and those who want to leave drop to a mere 21 percent.

Given that Mr Cameron – the man who "vetoed" an EU treaty – is quite capable of bringing back a real treaty from Brussels, with a renegotiation "package" sufficient to garner support from a gullible media, we will have been comprehensively outflanked and risk almost certain defeat.

Collectively, we have the better case, and the means to win the fight, but as time passes that looks less and less likely. Within the eurosceptic "movement" there is no will to win – that burning commitment to victory that is required for us to prevail.

The trouble is that, in order to reach rock bottom, and thence to develop that "killer" instinct that will eventually see us prevail, I think we must fight the battle – even if it means losing. But it must be a heroic failure, the lessons from which will lead us to understand what it takes to be successful.

The tragedy is, though, we do not have to lose – and even now our defeat is not certain until the final results have been declared. But for those who have led us to this pass, those who have put personal ambitions before the needs of the campaign, there will have to be a reckoning. They will have cost us dear.

Richard North 25/02/2015

 UKIP: directionless fumbling

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"What I notice about the people in Ukip Thanet is that there is a real passion and determination to get this job done well", says Nigel Farage. "I couldn't have a team anywhere – anywhere in England - who I'm more comfortable with than these people".

I can hardly bring myself to review the rest of "Meet the Ukippers" which was aired last night on BBC2 television. The programme focuses on Liz Langton, Ukip's press officer for South Thanet, who – as the Telegraph archly notes, collected china figurines of clowns, with over 1,000 in her front room (and the real thing out on the streets wearing purple and yellow).

In truth, Complete Bastard got it right – not malicious, malevolent or evil-minded, just "incompetent, naff and quite a bit stupid".

The rot, of course, starts at the top. When Nigel Farage is asked during a training session how to deal with media accusations of "racism", he answers thus:
Well, prior to the European elections, the percentage of people who thought Ukip was racist party was very small. But by the time May 22 came, the percentage of the population who thought Ukip was racist was very much bigger. Why? Frankly, because of the hatred of the tabloid press against us, against the party, against any comment anybody makes. So that is a problem, and I do accept that. That is a problem.
In other words, Farage doesn't answer the question but instead plays the victim card, blaming the "hatred of the tabloid press". It is left to the hapless Liz Langton to lecture her troops about message discipline. But she is on her own. That message does not come from Farage.

Then we get Rozanne Duncan's comments on "negroes". The context is admirably summed up by Sam Leith in the Evening Standard: "Do you see a face contorted with hate?" he asks. "Do you hear the 'racist rant' blazoned in headlines? Or do you, rather, see a dim and confused woman being almost painfully ingenuous?"

After the debacle – which the Telegraph calls "directionless fumbling" - we see a saddened Liz back in her front room reflecting: "Do I really want to be involved with these people?" One really feels for her when she adds: "I was interested in a change of scenario because … the EU is eroding our sovereignty and our ability to make decisions about all sorts of things … I did not sign up for that sort of attitude".

The programme has our Liz and her husband thinking about their future with Ukip, placing them very much where many of us have been. We joined Ukip to deal with the EU and found it was more concerned with something completely different – in my case, Farage's electoral ambitions.

"Terrifyingly watchable", the Guardian describes it as, but it does illustrate beyond peradventure why Ukip cannot be taken seriously as a political party.

Thanet South is Ukip's flagship constituency, the one which it hopes will take its leader to Parliament and thereby launch his career in Westminster, preparatory to leading us out of the EU. And if Ukip cannot manage the publicity better than it did on this programme, than it doesn't deserve to win.

Thus, while last night we were writing about Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind – two excellent reasons why one should vote Ukip – the party itself was providing multiple reasons why one should not, and demonstrating why, in the general election, it will be lucky to win even one seat.

Richard North 23/02/2015

 Greece: told you so

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I hate to say, I told you so, but I did:
My guess … is that we will see from the new Greek government some ritual chest beating and some scare headlines from the pundits, followed by a few minor concessions from the "colleagues" and some none-too-subtle waving of the big stick. Then the Greeks will knuckle under like they always do, and some sort of stability will be restored, with limited disruption to the EU as a whole.
God knows how much excitable rubbish has been written and talked about "Grexit" – almost as much as has been talked about Ukip, I'll warrant, and will be about the EU referendum.

But, it was never going to be. At the eleventh hour and 59 minutes, a deal was done - an outcome, the nature of which was pre-ordained. Dick "with one bound he was free" Barton has nothing on the EU.

For all that, readers might want to note the more prominent of those who so earnestly prattled on about "Grexit" - to say nothing of those who were so certain there would be a 2016 referendum - and remember them when the next hystérie du jour comes rushing round the corner.

Empty vessels, and all that ...

Richard North 21/02/2015

 UKIP: a revolution postponed

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

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

Three other polls in Castle Point, North East Cambridgeshire and South Basildon and East Thurrock, also find the party running behind.

Thus, hopes that Ukip is on course to grab up to dozens of seats from the Tories and others, says, "now look grossly exaggerated". The polls, it adds, "are seriously bad news for the Ukip leader, who is also running narrowly behind the Tories in Thanet South according to an earlier Ashcroft poll".

With pollsters suggesting the Eurosceptic party's vote is likely to be squeezed between now and May, the findings suggest Ukip will struggle to win more than the two seats it already holds. Possibly, it may end up with only Carswell. 

The poll is also picked up by the Mail, which headlines: "Blow for Farage as polls reveal Ukip is poised to lose ALL its key marginal battles against the Tories" – publicity which is almost as damaging as the hilarious Independent headline, "Ukip candidate Victoria Ayling asks: 'What happens when renewable energy runs out?'".

Perhaps just as relevant though is a recent report from the newly re-emerged Autonomous Mind. It records the result of a by-election in Harlow Council, held by UKIP councillor, Jerry Crawford, elected in 2014 and stepping down citing health reasons. Here, says AM, was Ukip's opportunity to show they are a serious electoral proposition. This wasn't a case of trying to overcome an incumbent and snatch a seat, it was a defence of a seat they already held.

Last May, the two Ukip candidates, Crawford and Janet Doyle, had swept home with 662 and 646 votes respectively, 38 percent of the votes cast, paving the way for another famous Ukip victory. But it was not to be.

Far from energising the contest, the chance to return another Ukip candidate motivated only a mere 26.4 percent of the electorate to turn out. And, despite that, Labour's vote, at 586, was only 16 short of the May figure, where the turnout had been a third higher. Ukip's vote, on the other hand, dropped by 41 percent to 353 votes – less than 20 higher than the Conservative vote.

And this is Essex, the county considered as one of Ukip's strongest, the county where Farage declared in his speech the other day that his party was "picking up support from across every social spectrum".

However, as Complete Bastard points out, much of the expectations of Ukip are built on the flawed analyses of academics who have made the fundamental error of believing that Ukip behaves the same way as a traditional political party.

It was a rather appropriate comment on, that observed that, "Only the terminally dim and politicial 'pundits' eager to justify their expense account, ever thought that UKIP was/is a political threat, to anybody but themselves".

Said John Tomkins of Swindon, "In the unlikely event that Ukip does manage to retain/pick up one or two seats, everything suggests that Farage will not be one of them". He adds: "If this comes to pass, then Ukip will implode and tear itself apart". And having alienated themselves from all the other political parties, he avers, the party "will disappear like an unpleasant smell in an elevator".

The final words in this piece, though, should go to Geln O'Hara who serves to articulate the obvious reasons why parties such as Ukip are so attractive to some people. He says they are able to indulge in "magical thinking" – simple solutions to complex problems, which give them the aura of being straightforward and honest. It allows people to imagine, to speculate and fantasise – a harmless and beneficial daydream, personally – but a worrying pathology when applied to a whole country.

Reality, though, is complex. Real choices and the actual practice of governance involve marginal trade-offs that involve using scarce resources for some purposes – and denying them to others. And in dealing with that reality, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats end up speaking like robots.

There's only an element of truth here – O'Hara's complex reality is even more complex than he makes out. But, when you don't have to implement policy and then take the responsibility for the consequences, it is easy to come up with simple, superficially attractive nostrums, which make real political parties sound wooden and unconvincing.

What it's beginning to look like, though, is that more of the public – Ukip supporters amongst them – are waking up to that reality. Instinctively, they know that Ukip is offering fantasy politics. And with that is coming the realisation that, with no substance to support it, the Ukip "revolution" will have to be postponed.

It didn't have to be that way.  There was a time when I thought Ukip could break the mould. But the fantasy took over. We will have to wait longer for that revolution.  

Richard North 20/02/2015

 EU Referendum: back where they started

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David Cameron, we are told, has downplayed the chance of an early referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and said he needs time to renegotiate the best deal.

The Prime Minister says that calling a snap vote on membership risked forcing the electorate to choose between two "unappetising" options. A "better choice" would be to hold a vote by the end of 2017 after having had a chance to convince other allies to reform the EU and give the UK more freedoms.

And so, ten days after the Sunday Times set the hare running, and the Express made a fool of itself, we are back where we started, with 2017 remaining the preferred date for a referendum.

Getting back to where we started has very much been the theme for the week, with the IEA l;ast Monday rehearsing the same old block of exit options that have been floating around for decades. More an exercise in nostalgia than forward thinking, the Institute even dredged back into its own archives to resuscitate a 14-year-old-idea that didn't even have much going for it when it first appeared.

All this was in the pretence of promoting debate on "the best way" of leaving the EU, and so unsuccessful has been this endeavour been that, after killing debate stone dead after its abortive competition last year, the best the IEA was able to manage was an article in the Telegraph telling us that there are four paths that the UK can take out of the EU … and they're all bad.

Along with the IEA in its original Brexit competition, Telegraph writer Ben Wright simply cannot grasp the idea that leaving the EU cannot be a single event. It must be a multi-stage process, probably unrolled over a several decades, on the premise that undoing forty years of economic and political integration cannot be achieved with any speed.

This was what the idea that the IEA peremptorily rejected last year, although it is now published online as the Flexcit plan, offering far more than the totality of the IEA offering. Yet one of the IEA authors - who hadn't troubled himself to make a submission to the original competition, had the nerve to tell us that, "the debate has been far too myopic".

For "myopia", though, we have to turn to Campbell Bannerman's continued efforts to sell his aptly-named "EEA-lite" option, so lightweight that it almost completely lacks substance. The only forward-looking glimpse allowed during a seminar held in Europe House yesterday was a video recording from Owen Paterson telling us that a "spectacular future" awaits us outside the EU.

This moved the Express to remark that: "Convincing those who are undecided that Britain would be better off out of the EU is a vital way of strengthening the campaign for an exit". The paper adds: "Articulating a positive vision of a free Britain is central to achieving that", even if this is the paper – like so many – which has made no effort whatsoever to break out into the sunlit uplands and articulate such a vision.

At least this week we've seen some solid work from the Democracy Movement, in association with Global Britain, debunking the "three million jobs" meme. This is the unglamorous end of the campaign, doing work that must be done if we are to build a solid case for exit.

That is all the more necessary with Hannan, completely misreading Mr Cameron's "renegotiation" strategy, so much so that Peter Wilding, of British Influence, believes that in any referendum the case for staying in would "triumph". If it was left to the likes of Hannan, Wilding is not wrong. It would be a walkover.

Nevertheless, with Civitas also having produced its new paper on the Norway option, and the new edition of Flexcit having been published, it has been a busy time on the eurosceptic front. The only absentee from the debate, it seems, has been Ukip.

This is perhaps just as well, as it does look as if that referendum is getting closer. Rafael Behr in the Guardian notes that here is palpable confidence in the Tory party that David Cameron will still be prime minister after the general election. It flows, he says, not from any surge in public enthusiasm for the idea of Conservative government, but from a lack of evidence that voters are ready to trust Ed Miliband with power.

The subsequent referendum, Behr believes, will be a nightmare for Britain. But it will be a bigger nightmare for us if we lose. Yet, the bulk of the activity we have seen this week has brought us no closer to victory. Happily, though, not everything is on the media map. While most are back where they started, some of us crossed the start line - of which more will be revealed in good time.

Richard North 19/02/2015

 UKIP: the last 100 days

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The most disturbing thing that came over from the UKIP: The First 100 Days was the facility with which writer-director Chris Atkins was able to make the case for massive job losses following the announcement of the Ukip "government" that Britain was to leave the EU.

That is a reflection of the total failure of Ukip to break the link between membership of the EU and participation in the Single Market. It is also an accurate reflection of the consequences of the sort messy exit that Ukip has on offer.

Thus has the party of "out" allowed itself – even if by default - to be associated with the graphic images presented in the programme, lending more substance to the job loss meme than a thousand hours of Europhile chat shows could ever do.

The association between Ukip and an immigration policy committed to deporting illegal immigrants was also made clear, and – however much the "kippers" might squawk – the consequences of such a policy would involve an aggressive programme of raids and not a little violence.

Where the programme falls down – rather like Ukip policy – is that there was no attempt to explain how Mr Farage's "government" would manage to deport so many migrants, without first establishing agreements with countries willing to take them. That all previous governments have been unable to do this is one reason why so few have been deported.

Also missing from the fictional scenario is any reference to repealing the Human Rights Act – which might take rather longer than a year, after the repeal Bill had been blocked in the Lords. In real life (not that we are dealing with such an elusive thing) - and in any case during the first 100 days - there would be very few deportations. Most orders would be tied up in endless appeals in the courts.

Thus, the idea that the fictional Deepa Kaur MP would be put on the spot so quickly, with the situation deteriorating to the point where there was rioting in the streets, lacked any credibility whatsoever – entirely in keeping with Ukip's policies, which are about as fictional as was Chris Atkins's story line.

Not at all fictional, though, is yesterday's Guardian/ICM poll which not only put the Conservatives four percent ahead of Labour, but had Ukip going down two points to score a mere nine points, the second poll in a week to put Farage's party below ten percent.

With Farage's own personal rating also taking a dive and the Ukip "brand" becoming even more toxic than Labour or Conservative, the "kippers" now seem to be on their way down.

Soon enough, this might even become apparent to the professionals, although Matt Goodwin will probably be the last to realise. But when Ukip does crash and burn at the general election, there will be more than a few pundits marking "UKIP: The First 100 Days" as the turning point.

It won't be, of course, but it will give "experts" like Goodwin the excuses they need for having missed the downturn that should eventually lead to Ukip's last 100 days and oblivion.

Richard North 17/02/2015

 EU referendum: a confusion of campaigns

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In last night night's post, I highlighted an article from the Daily Telegraph which asserted that David Cameron's "planned timetable" for renegotiating EU treaties had been "torpedoed" by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

This was on the basis of his scrapping an "analytical note" on "stronger economic policy coordination, convergence and solidarity", where Downing Street had hoped that the paper would "put treaty change firmly on the political agenda", thereby opening the way for Mr Cameron to push his "reform" agenda.

Far from being "scrapped", however, it appears that this "analytical note" has been seen by the Financial Times which, after all that, tells us that Mr Juncker has indeed "raised eurozone integration proposals". Furthermore, his note is being taken as "the first signal" that he "intends to press for further consolidation within the eurozone" – treaty change by any other name.

That the FT managed to track down the document, though, is no great feat - the Commission has helpfully posted it on its website. And it is there that we see the Commission talking about the short term (within the next 18 months), and then of developing "a long-term perspective" on "how the framework of EMU should develop".

The "framework of EMU" is, of course, EU-speak for treaty change, thus completely trashing the Telegraph story, possibly explaining why no other newspaper has followed up on what might otherwise have been regarded as a hot tip.

Nothing of this rules out the possibility of a separate "simplified procedure" treaty on Part III issues – or says it will happen - but it does confirm that which we have been asserting for some time. There is no possibility of Mr Cameron being able to hijack treaty negotiations on the eurozone to get his way. Essentially, if he is to come up with a treaty change, it is Article 48 "simplified procedure" or nothing.

As to the timing, we see a candid report from CER which draws attention to the average of 19 months it takes for the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to reach consensus on a piece of EU legislation. This gives something of a datum by which we can measure the time 28 Member States will need to negotiate and agree a new treaty – even under the simplified procedure. Thus, the idea of Mr Cameron being able to bring home the bacon in time for a 2016 referendum remains absurd.

Outside in the real world, though, we see pressure building up on the immigration front, with tension building in Hungary, while deaths mount in the Mediterranean, putting pressure on Italy and other receivers.

Although there are distinct areas of law covering freedom of movement for workers, and asylum seekers, the issues tend to become intertwined in the media, and as the migration season picks up, there will be more and more Member States looking for a political gesture to reassure their voters that measures are being taken to control the flow of migrants.

Mr Cameron, therefore, stands a chance of being able to manipulate political opinion, enough to surprise us all and bring home a usable treaty. And that will leave us with the problem of how to fight a referendum campaign where the existing "reformists" - and Ukip – have been sidelined by attention-grabbing promises to bring immigration under control.

Should the Conservatives succeed at the general election, therefore, we may have to be prepared to fight on grounds which are not of our choosing, also having to cut through some of the groups that already think they "own" the campaign and who are seeking to control the debate.

Already we are seeing this with the "Norway Option" issue, where the media have all but ignored the Lindsell Paper, as indeed they ignored my Bruges Group paper when it came out.

Interestingly, a day before the Lindsell Paper, British Influence published a paper by the Senior European Experts (SEE) group and Regent’s University (financed by the EU), on the Norway Option, purporting to analyse eurosceptic claims, but in fact ignoring them, trotting out much the same arguments they were using in 2011.

In their supposed (and extremely brief) analysis, they refer to euroscpetic support for the option, but only to a 2011 Bruges Group paper – not nearly as comprehensive as mine. However, if you Google "Norway Option", it brings up my 2013 paper at the head of the search results. There is no way these people could not know of its existence, so the absence of any reference has to be deliberate.

Bizarrely, though, those supposedly on our "side" are doing the same thing. We have, for instance, Allister Heath in the Telegraph blithely declaring that eurosceptics must "focus" on explaining how the City can to "continue to sell financial services to Europe and car makers to export their wares to the continent".  "They need", says Heath, "to make their case, and fast". Yet this is precisely the case we have been making in Flexcit which he studiously and quite deliberately ignores.

The same goes for Matthew Elliott. As he and his Business for Britain rehearse a twenty-year-old narrative about over-regulation in the Finanical Times, we get the Institute of Directors noting that "many EU rules are global in nature and that … British business would have to continue to comply after it left the bloc". The Institute adds that, since EU legislation is transposed into UK law, there would be no overnight change to what many regard as its regulatory straitjacket. 

These are issues also rehearsed in Flexcit but EU Referendum is not invited to the debate, and nor are many others. Longstanding eurosceptic groups complain privately that they are being excluded from the debate, while the prima donnas regard it as their private fiefdom, with the complicity of the media which is muddying the waters with inaccurate and distorted reporting. 

Those players seem to believe that "owning" the campaign is far more important than winning it, putting us at grave risk of losing.

Richard North 14/02/2015

 UKIP: believe, believe, believe ...

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"So I urge you", preaches The Great Leader from on high, "when you go to the ballot box … believe. Believe in Britain. Believe in real change. Believe me when I say this is not just another election and yours is not just another vote. If you hold onto those beliefs, if you want that change, then we believe, that together, we can achieve great things".

Yet, as Compleat Bastard tells us, the media still doesn't "get" Ukip. They still think it is a political party.

Nevertheless, I hope no one is going to try to convince me that Nigel Farage is a real politician, especially as this is the man who is claiming that voting for Ukip is a "state of mind", and not about policies. In due course, one wonders whether he will be telling us that leaving the EU is also "a state of mind"? That's probably his idea of an exit plan.

Richard North 12/02/2015

 EU Referendum: the Express parodies itself

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In what is a classic parody of itself, the Express has written a comedy script for its front page, announcing that the Prime Minister has "privately told Tory MPs" that he would be "delighted" to trigger an EU referendum earlier than the end of 2017.

This is based on the phrasing of a letter to "Tory backbenchers", where Mr Cameron says that, "The sooner I can deliver on our commitment of renegotiation and a referendum, the better" – essentially a reiteration of his comment in early January on the Andrew Marr show.

And on that slender basis – and solely on that basis - we get the front-page headline: "New plan for an early EU vote".

The rest of the article is pure, distilled boilerplate, an example of the black art of fabricating a story out of absolutely nothing. This extends even to the point of publishing as weak a rebuttal as they can get away with, having: "Downing Street insiders deny there is any specific plan to hasten the referendum time table to ensure that the poll would be held next year".

Worryingly, thought, they get a comment from Luke Stanley, of "the cross-party Eurosceptic campaign group" Get Britain Out saying: "Britain deserves a say on our continued membership of the European Union as soon as possible", then adding: "We all know Cameron's reform agenda is a joke, and we shouldn't have to wait around until December 2017 to hear how bad the punchline is".

This does nothing more than demonstrate a disturbing lack of situational awareness, typical of certain quarters of the "eurosceptic" community, which seem to take great pride in keeping themselves ill-informed – almost parading their own ignorance as a badge of honour.

The point, of course, is that Mr Cameron is the man who sold a non-existent treaty veto to the media. He can be expected to dress up a "renegotiation" deal in the very finest of Brussels taffeta, and with the prospect of a new treaty on the cards, there is every reason to believe that his offering will be, at the very least, plausible.

And this is the trouble with much of our own side, who seem determined to obsess about irrelevant trivia, failing lamentably to keep their eyes on the ball, drifting into a contest which for which they will end up completely unprepared.

With the comprehensive failure of the media correctly to read the runes (sometimes, I think, deliberately), the media face of the eurosceptic argument is left to the charlatans of Business for Britain who still hold that we should wait to see what Mr Cameron comes up with before we decide to vote whether to stay in or leave.

Should we do that - with the likes of the Express and others muddying the waters and Ukip (perhaps fortunately) having vacated the field – it would be too late to come up with a credible alternative. Fortunately, though, we are nearly there.

Richard North 12/02/2015

 Rotherham: an obsession with Islam

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Melanie Phillips has been in The Times complaining about the failure to acknowledge that the cultural factor behind the Rotherham grooming gangs is not that they are Pakistani but Muslim.

Harking on about "persistent, almost pathological denial", she asserts that: "It's not Pakistani Christians, Hindus or atheists who are involved in these crimes. Nor is it just white girls who are targeted: Sikhs have been complaining for years that their girls are attacked by Muslim men".

We must, therefore, she opines, "say the unsayable about Rotherham", her analysis extending to the view that the abuse happened because, "in Muslim society women are treated as inferior people, and non-Muslims are widely regarded as trash".

Personally, I find this superficiality offensive – it is an affront to the art of analysis and an insult to the intelligence of her readers. At least as important a factor in motivating these men were the tribal mores, and specifically the influence of the tribal background, about which I have written in detail.

Apart from my own writing, more recently I linked to a piece in the Independent from 2012, in which Alyas Karmani, a Bradford psychologist, is cited. The piece thus tells us:
"Many British Pakistani men live in two worlds," he begins. "The first is encompassed by family, business, mosque. It is a socially conservative culture where there is no toleration of sex outside of marriage, and little emphasis on sexual gratification".

Many are emotionally browbeaten into preserving their family honour by marrying a cousin from their family's village in north-west Kashmir, the part of Pakistan from which the forefathers of Bradford's Asian community originally migrated.

These new wives can bring with them "an unhealthy attitude towards sex and sexuality". It is not Islam which induces that, he says, but a traditional rural Kashmiri culture.

"The second world in which British Pakistani men live," he continues, "is the over-sexualised, material and lust-driven English lifestyle, where women are scantily clad, binge-drinking is a mainstream form of entertainment and porn is a massive factor." You might have thought that, as time passed, British Asians would have found middle ground between these two worlds.

But that has not been happening. "Patriarchs and matriarchs within families have huge influence," says the imam. "Conservatism is maintaining its grip. Around 60 to 70 percent of British Asians, men and women, are still virgins when they marry",

For those Asians who work at night –such as taxi-drivers and takeaway workers – these two worlds collide dramatically in their workplaces which are filled with young women from a culture in which drinking to insensibility is commonplace.

"Many of these men do not understand what is appropriate behaviour in wider society and what is not," he adds. "They are so lacking in social skills – because relationships between men and women in Pakistani culture are characterised by a real formality – that they can misconstrue an ordinary conversation with a white girl in their taxi and think she is indicating that she is open to a sexual advance when that is not what she means at all".

Others cannot resist the temptation aroused by women – and young girls – whose cultural assumptions are so alien from their own.
Also in the piece, Adil Ray, a DJ and comedian with the BBC Asian network, is cited. He sets out a hypothesis that points specifically to the Kashmiri culture, asking whether there was something particular about it that nurtured abusive attitudes.

But, if there are tribal influences, they are disputed. Alyas Karmani says: "It's not about education. It's about access and opportunity". These men "are not targeting white girls specifically but going for those who are most easily accessible and vulnerable, and that is by definition mainly white girls as young Asian teenagers are within the protection of the home at that time of night".

"The issues around ethnicity and sexuality are complex," he continues. "Some powerful gangsta types have white girlfriends as status symbols. They would not dream of sharing them with anyone".

"But other 'big men' think it adds to their status and kudos if they pass their conquests around to their 'brothers' under biradiri – the system of clan (i.e., tribal) loyalty which has been brought here from Kashmir. That is often the case with those who abuse young girls. They involve brothers or cousins or friends from their clan".

That observation, we are told, is confirmed by academic researchers working on child sex exploitation. Analysis by Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley at University College, London's Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science shows that abusers' networks were "tightly knit and characterised by strong social bonds predating the abuse, such as kinship".

"Gangs did not develop around a shared furtive interest in child sex abuse. Rather, abuse was introduced into pre-existing social networks".

This piece, now three years old, is one of the better analyses I have seen, and it does give some insight into why grooming gangs exist in the Asian communities. By comparison with this, the commentary from Melanie Phillips is trite. But it is also fundamentally dishonest. In arguing her "Muslim thesis", she calls in aid Australia, where gang rapes in Sydney in 2000 were committed by Lebanese (i.e., Muslim) Australians.

What she, the Jewess from a Jewish immigrant family, fails to point out is that, currently in Australia, there is a Royal Commission investigating child abuse, which is now looking at the orthodox Jewish community and the appalling treatment of young children and the attempts to cover it up, using rabbinical law as a cover.

As Compleat Bastard points out, We're looking at criminal exploitation of children by men in alien subcultures, existing beyond the reach of authorities who lack informants and intelligence - and exploit a lucrative opportunity.

What then happened in Rotherham is the same old, same old culture of denial, which so typifies public service in the country, from Donnygate to Mid-Staffs NHS trust and Baby P, which has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with lack of accountability.

For sure, there are many aspects of Islam – and the political exploitation of the religion – which are offensive and difficult to deal with, but this block, leaden obsession with it, and the tendency of some – like Melanie Phillips – to blame all ills upon it, is intellectually lazy and not at all helpful.

When, among the Ukipites, it replaces sentient thought, it becomes positively harmful, especially when it comes from the mouth of Farage, who sounds more like Nick Griffin with every passing day.

We owe it to ourselves to explore our own society – good and bad – and to understand what is happening, in order better to hold to account these responsible for the failings. This blind, ignorant obsession with one part of a complex interaction of multiple factors simply does more harm than good.

Richard North 10/02/2015

 Rotherham: pursuing an interest

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Is one to assume that, having been safely escorted by the police from his Rotherham hideout, Mr Farage will now be able to pursue his new-found interest in child abuse? If that is the case, we look forward to him visiting Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where there is clearly a hotbed of child abuse that demands his attention.

One trusts that his crusade against the evils of child sexual exploitation (CSE) will also include a pilgrimage to Dolphin Square where Conservative politicians and others have been involved in all kinds of evil, in what has been acknowledged to be the Westminster "abuse conspiracy", carried out under the very noses of the local authority and the police.

His quest, one presumes, will also take him deep into the pop industry and the world of celebs, where just one of its most famous stars has got his come-uppance.

Necessarily, we should expect him to have mugged up on the Casey Report where there are suggestions that most abuse happens within the home, where it is almost invisible – children living with it into adulthood, too ashamed to tell anyone.

With the limited resources available, some felt this should be the priority, so we look forward to Mr Farage taking up their cause as well, insisting that social services departments throughout the land are properly resourced, so that they may take zealous action to root out this evil.

Bearing in mind his concerns that multiculturalism is greatly responsible for events in Rotherham, and his enthusiasm for things Australian, we suggest also that he should follow their example and insist on the authorities bearing down on the Jewish community, where hidden abuse could be rife.

He should also take care to see that cults such as the Jehovas Witnesses are thoroughly scrutinised, to ensure that there are not involved in covering up sex abuse over here. And then there is that insidious organisation, the Roman Catholic Church, which is forever up to no good.

Or is it the case that Mr Farage is only concerned about CSE when he can attribute it to "Pakistani" males, and pin it on "multiculturalism"? In that case, must we assume that his real interest is to gain local electoral advantage from exploiting concerns about immigration and the growth of Islam in this country?

If it is not the case, then - now that a new head has been appointed to the historic child abuse inquiry, which will be looking into, amongst other things, the Dolphin Square affair - can we expect that he will allocate Ukip resources to shadowing the inquiry, with a view to developing a coherent, nation-wide policy dealing with CSE in all its ramifications?

After all, we wouldn't want anyone to think that Mr Farage was an egotistical opportunist, following in the footsteps of Nick Griffin. That would never do.

Richard North 07/02/2015

 Moderation policy

Some readers have noted we have recently become more aggressive in policing comments. The decision to install Disqus was to make it more convenient for people to join in the debate and to reduce overheads on comment administration. In that respect it has been successful. Long time readers will know we had a comments forum which we did not police as vigorously because, in the main, we didn't need to. The very act of signing up for an account was enough deterrence against drive-by commenting. 

Because it is now more convenient we have had an upsurge in commenters depositing their opinions in the same way dogs pee up lamp posts which means our moderation policy has to be as much quality control as anything else. Our first test is "does this add value?", secondly "Is it original?  Many are not. We've been in this blogging game for a decade or more and we have seen every variation of troll. More than anything, they're boring.

As much as this blog is a news and opinion site, it is also a reference database we often use to refer back to issues the last time they appeared in the news cycle. Quality comments stand the test of time and are a valued resource. Chatter and invective motivated by party agendas is merely clutter which detracts from what we have always tried to to do: - add to, and inform the debate.

While we have no particular love of The Guardian, they show what a properly moderated debate platform can offer, and it is because quality moderation the standard of comment there is very often better than the content - and comments become part of its value. What we won't stand for is personal abuse directed at either us or our valued contributors, nor will be tolerate half-witted anonymous ogres and Ukip trolls. They add nothing to the debate and waste our time. Nor do we owe these people either a platform or an explanation. For the kind of garbage they post, there are plenty of unpoliced platforms where their chatter is welcome.

Those wishing to be insulated from views with which they may disagree have Breitbart, where any opposing views are very rapidly dispensed with. If you want childish prattle, The Commentator has made a bid to corner the market - where, evidently, moderators work without quality guidelines. Idle chatter suits their platform and matches their low grade material.

With that end of the market covered, we are keen to host a high quality debate - in fact, there wouldn't be much point writing a blog if we weren't interested in comments. Readers are free to disagree with us - and in fact some of the best comments over the years have opposed our views and have formed the basis of new content, stimulated debate of fresh territory. They have even on occasion changed our minds. 

That said, quality is far more important than quantity. We see no value in quantity since, as far as we can see, there is no direct relationship between hits and number of comments. They are very much independent variables.

As for Ukipist tolls, this blog really isn't for you. We have an interest in detail, nuance and technicality. Very rarely are there straightforward answers to difficult questions and Ukip's hostility to those seeking better answers is simply a distraction. To date, that we know of, we are the only blog which has ever received a direct ministerial reply in the comments. That is the standard we demand of ourselves and our commentators, and we seek to promote a comment environment where that level of debate is possible.

It would be nice to have a higher circulation but we have consistently proved we numbers don't shape the debate. We can do that without the echo-chamber efforts of tribalists. Consequently, their contributions are a matter of supreme indifference. We don't even understand what they gain from coming here, because they don't come here to be challenged or informed. All they do is waste their time and ours.

We are happy for them to waste their own time, but ours is valuable. We would prefer them to go elsewhere. 

EU Referendum 07/02/2015

 Rotherham: a failure of government

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If you're going to have any chance of fixing a problem, you first have to make an attempt to understand it. That is the essence of problem solving – so much so that there are few things more certain to guarantee failure than to act on a misdiagnosis, or incomplete analyses.

Despite this, when it comes to the Rotherham "grooming" scandal, the likes of the Commentator, followed by the Telegraph and, predictably, the Mail choose to attribute the situation to "political correctness".

Yet, to say the very least, support for this thesis is slender, the papers relying mainly on the Casey report into child abuse in Rotherham MDC, where it tells us that: "The Council's culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced 'political correctness' have cemented its failures". Effectively, though, that only tells us that "political correctness" was a "cement", alongside all the other factors that catapulted Rotherham into the media limelight.

This, therefore, must be seen in the broader context of all the other factors set out in the 154-page report, based on investigations carried out under the control of Louise Casey since 1 October 2014.

What she says about Rotherham is that it was in denial about serious and on-going safeguarding failures. It displayed an archaic culture of sexism, bullying and discomfort around race and had completely failed to address past weaknesses, in particular in children's social care.

The Council had weak and ineffective arrangements for taxi licensing which leave the public at risk; ineffective leadership and management, including political leadership; no shared vision, a partial management team and ineffective liaisons with partners. And all of this was reinforced by a culture of covering up uncomfortable truths, silencing whistle-blowers and paying off staff rather than dealing with difficult issues.

The interesting thing is that Casey was specifically asked, during her investigations, to determine whether the local authority "was and continues to be subject to institutionalised political correctness, affecting its decision-making on sensitive issues", yet she does not include this as a factor in her coruscating summary of the failures of the Council.

In the report, she writes that "the responsibility for the abuse that took place in Rotherham lies firmly with the vile perpetrators, many of whom have not yet faced justice for what they have done". But, she says, both today and in the past, Rotherham has at times taken more care of its reputation than it has its of its most needy:
Child abuse and exploitation happens all over the country, but Rotherham is different in that it was repeatedly told by its own youth service what was happening and it chose, not only to not act, but to close that service down. This is important because it points to how it has dealt with uncomfortable truths put before it.
Whatever else one might say of the situation, therefore, on the basis of this official report, it cannot be fairly or accurate said that the heart of the problem was "political correctness". The failings, Casey says, "rest on the collective responsibility of the Council's political and managerial leadership as a whole. Through their action or inaction, many senior managers and Councillors have allowed failings to persist over long periods of time".

This is actually the point that many pundits are missing. One can allow all sorts of motivations for individual episodes of child abuse, and pick out individual and group failings that allowed such episodes to happen. But the crucial thing is the longevity of the abuse, and the refusal to do anything about it, long after it had become publicly known.

Interestingly, The Times focuses on this longevity. As early as 2010, it says, there was good evidence of organised gangs of mainly Pakistani men in Rotherham grooming and raping dozens and possibly hundreds of teenage white girls, and had been for more than a decade. Furthermore, this was picked up by the national media. Currently, the Mail is pointing this out, but others in the field were the BBC and the Independent which did detailed comment pieces on the issue.

At the time, Derby was in the frame as well, with Derbyshire Police warning that instances of abuse were a growing problem in the UK. Other episodes of gangs operating were in Rochdale, Bristol, Oxford and Telford, but – as The Times remarks - it was only in Rotherham that evidence of a systematic problem was ignored.

Crucially, instead of action, we got a culture of denial. In September 2012, The Times published an investigation revealing that a confidential police report had warned thousands of child sexual exploitation crimes were being committed in South Yorkshire by networks of Asian men. Yet, turning aside the opportunity to carry out a thorough investigation, some councillors rejected the details "were first reported in a newspaper assumed wrongly to be a political enemy of a Labour-run council".

If we then go to the first of the most recent official reports, the  Jay report, commissioned in the wake of The Times's revelations, we find that, from the beginning of the inquiry period in 1997, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation (CSE) was a serious problem in Rotherham.

Initially, Jay finds, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and 2006 with three reports known to the Police and the Council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. 

The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the Borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them. Then, as the litany of dereliction continued, we come to one key paragraph, which tells us:
By far the majority of perpetrators were described as "Asian" by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.
Perhaps on this basis a charge of "political correctness" might survive (not that one is made in this report). And indeed, there was a "general nervousness" about discussing the issues for fear of being thought racist. But, but only in "the earlier years", and could only explain the slowness of the initial response.

Eventually, though, the racial issue was addressed. Good work, the report says, was done by officers in developing a protocol on child protection issues in the mosques in 2008. Each mosque appointed a designated person responsible for child protection, and training was provided for imams and others.

In other words, the racial dimension was recognised and the Muslim community was approached through the appropriate channels. But, the report found, although the current chair of the Rotherham Council of Mosques demonstrated a "strong personal commitment" to dealing with child protection and CSE, he was "disappointed" not to have had any contact from the Council's Safeguarding Board set up to deal with child grooming.

In two separate posts, therefore, Compleat Bastard comes to the very obvious conclusion that "political correctness" cannot be the primary driver of this affair.  Instead, we are dealing with something that is wearily familiar across the entire spectrum of local authority activity. The Rotherham affair is another rank example of municipal dereliction.

Quintessentially,  to come to that conclusion, we have to deal with not just the nature of events, but their scale and duration, and the multiple opportunities the Council had to deal with them, which they failed to take up.

Those are the issues here. That is what makes Rotherham special and lifts it into a league of its own. And Casey acknowledges this. Rotherham is different, she says. Many local authorities have had problems with Asian gangs, and grooming. There were multiple failures at all levels, not only in Rotherham but in Rochdale and elsewhere, especially at official level by social workers and the police. But only in Rotherham have there been so many reports, so much evidence of failure over so long a time, and so many opportunities to put things right, where so many senior politicians have failed to get a grip and take charge.

Thus, although many want to turn this into a race issue, or pursue an anti-Muslim agenda, the Muslim communities are the fall guys for municipal dereliction here, perpetrated at the highest political level in the borough.

What started off as small scale criminality could have been nipped in the bud a long time ago, if the local authority officials and the police had been on the ball. But the escalation, the longevity and the failed opportunities to put things right does put this in a league of its own, with the buck stopping at the politicians who failed so many times to intervene.

As for the CSE problem, it is not even as if we are on our own. No fault, per se, can be attributed to local authorities just because it happens in their districts.  Multiple websites make it clear that this is a global problem. The top five countries named are Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil, the United States and Canada.  In the United States alone, it is estimated that at least 100,000 children are used as prostitutes each year, as part of the $9.8 billion sex trafficking industry. Even the FBI is struggling to cope with the scale of the problem.

Furthermore, this is a problem that spans all races, communities and religions. It happens in entirely different countries with different administrations. It is a problem with complex aetiology and a long, ugly history. Linked closely with child pornography, in the UK it is still perpetrated mainly by while males, who often go unpunished for their part in child exploitation.

In fact, so complex is the subject that only racist zealots such as Nick Griffin, have easy answers. Back in 2012, he was content to say that: "The mass street grooming of young girls from the English community is only being carried out by Muslims. All the paedophile groomers in this particular sort of crime – on the street, in gangs – are Muslims. That's the common denominator".

"You only have to read the Koran or look at the Hadith – the expressions of what the Prophet did in his life – to see where Muslim paedophilia comes from", he continued. "Because it's religiously justified so long as it's other people's children and not their own".

Startlingly, between this and the more extreme Ukip rhetoric, there is not even a fag paper. The Griffin line has been adopted almost to the letter. This is not so much "BNP-lite" as BNP replacement, naked in tooth and claw.

Others have their own personal axes to grind, whether it is social workers, police or any other culpable groups. But to repeat what Casey said, the failings "rest on the collective responsibility of the Council's political and managerial leadership as a whole. Through their action or inaction, many senior managers and Councillors have allowed failings to persist over long periods of time".

That it persisted for so long, in the face of so much evidence, boils down to a failure of the local government, one of many that parades litanies of failures across the board. There may be special factors to do with social services, but the essential issue is that local government has failed once again.

For decades now, criticism of the failures of local government has abounded, and especially of these "rotten" Labour boroughs in the north - a by-word for corruption, inefficiency and unresponsiveness.

Likewise, the police forces - South Yorkshire amongst them, thugs in uniform - racist, inefficient, corrupt and medacious ... Hillsborough stadium anyone? Did the police then treat football fans with any more respect? And was "multiculturalism" at fault there?

So, when confronted with a complex, multi-agency problem such as child sexual exploitation, it comes as absolutely no surprise that they get it wrong. There were perhaps factors in Rotherham that made it a bigger problem than elsewhere, but the fact is that the lacklustre response and the attempts at cover-up are absolutely typical of local government in the region.

People either have short memories, or they are so locked into their narrative that they're not thinking straight, or at all. In quantum terms, there is little different between the behaviour of Rotherham and Doncaster in the "Donnygate" scandal.

There, the issues were different, but we saw the same corruption, inefficiency and unresponsiveness in another Labour fiefdom where democracy takes a back seat, that eventually ended up in the council having to be taken over. Plus ça change ...

In the final analysis, the buck stops with the politicians - locally and nationally. Locally, they've failed and they've been replaced. Now we must look at the system defects that allowed events to happen, and to persist for so long, unchecked. Pinning it all on "political correctness" doesn't even begin to cut it.

Richard North 06/02/2015

 EU politics: Germany in stasis

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It is a given that the European Union is unfinished business. Thus, once the tortuous Lisbon Treaty process was out of the way in 2009, it was only going to be a matter of time before another treaty process started. And, with the eurozone under stress, a treaty to strengthen economic governance in the eurozone was generally regarded as essential – and inevitable.

By early 2012, though, there were hints of serious differences between France and Germany and, by the September, there were extremely strong signs that plans were running into the sand.

Nevertheless, there were still signs a month later that hopes for a new treaty had not died – although these were not to last. When in May last year Barroso failed to fire the starting gun for a new treaty, it was clear that plans had been shelved for the foreseeable future.

Now, effectively confirming that this is the case, we have Die Welt. But it goes further than that. The failure to exploit the hard years of the financial crisis for far-reaching reforms of the eurozone, it says, was a "miscalculation".

In fact, it never was a realistic option. Simply, according to the mood music at the time, a new treaty was deemed impossible – not least after the hostility built up over Lisbon, more than one country might have had difficulty ratifying. And there was always the possibility that David Cameron might attempt to hijack the process for his own purposes.

But, with Alexis Tsipras as the new Greek prime minister on the scene, Die Welt argues that things have got more difficult. And that is indeed the case but, in my view, it would be wrong to attribute all of the EU's troubles to the Greek election. This is just one more stress to add to all the others.

Despite this, Die Welt persists in its view that Germany has wasted its chance, with Merkel delaying too long. The two years just past, 2013 and 2014, should have been "the great years", the paper says.

Now, the reality is different. Greece is lurching to the left after the election, Italy is still ailing, with Matteo Renzi, the third Prime Minister in less than five years, ruling a "weary" land. France is hardly better off. A weak Hollande has not initiated any of the reforms necessary for the economy to pick up, and the financial situation is so bad that Paris has threatened to tear up the EU stability criteria.

For "Europe", therefore, 2014 was a wasted year. In Brussels, there is a new parliament and a new commission. Politically, however, hardly anything has changed. And Europe's economic situation remains dire.

Looking at the year, Die Welt adds, one can not assume that European governments are aware of the seriousness of the situation, anyway. On the contrary, some are making it worse. The economically strongest power on the continent is not doing its job. Berlin is simmering in its own juice and is no longer a role model.

Worse still, economists - both conservative and the left – seem frightened to make a move. "Europe has ceased all efforts to make the currency union robust," writes one expert observer. Instead, they talk about trivialities like the car tolls.

Reforms are not even up for debate, and Germany simply laments that it is difficult to enforce change on other countries. It is no longer even pushing to start the process, and has lost the will to do battle with partners who do not want change.

That is as far as Die Welt goes with the story, but what they are doing its describing the creation of a political vacuum. The politicians know that something has to be done – some of them even have an idea of what must be done. But they are sitting on their hands, afraid, unwilling or unable to do what is necessary.

Enter now Pegida or – more specifically - Verner Patzelt, founding professor of the Institute of Political Science at the Technical University of Dresden. He is making it big in the German press right now, including Die Welt under the headline "Every third Pegida follower is xenophobic".

This is the way the press wants to play it. But the point Patzelt is actually making is that two-thirds of Pegida – the great majority - aren't xenophobes. They are actually "concerned citizens". Elsewhere on an English language site, we see that these people are those dissatisfied with mainstream politics, and feel unrepresented by the political consensus.

Interestingly, they are not so much anti-Islam, as anti-religion generally. They express "dissatisfaction" with the process of immigration because it is felt to be "uncontrolled". Immigration is thus, not specifically or even primarily the issue. Patzelt calls it the "crystallisation point" for indignation.

In this, the more one reads of Patzelt, the more similarities one sees with Ukip supporters. Pegida followers are the same "indignant unrepresented", using immigration as their touchstone – a focus of their anger but not necessarily the cause of it.

For the cause, one has to go back to the bigger picture painted in the first part of this posting – the inability of the politicians to deal with the pressing problems of the day. This is bolstered by the sense that the politicians have "ceased all efforts" to get things back under control. For all that, though, Patzelt believes that Pegida is a spent force. With its emergence in Dresden a volcano had erupted, he says. "It's only raining ashes now". 

The new movement, "Direct Democracy for Europe", Patzelt speaks about favourably. It certainly has "a chance", he says, a man who is demonstrably no great fan of representative democracy.

Those who want more democracy must resort to other means - referendums initiated by citizens, regardless of elections. The problem with representative democracy is that, after the vote, the citizen has no voice. "The most important instrument of political influence between elections", he says, "is the referendum".

However, not all referendums have the same value. If they are top down, they are a tool in the hands of professional politicians. The must work from the bottom up, with citizens deciding on the topics. He who fails to make this distinction will miss the opportunity of making a truly democratic system of government, Patzelt says.

And there is the Harrogate Agenda writ large – out of the mouth of a German political scientist. There may be a long way to go before this doctrine reaches the top but, with Germany in political stasis and "Europe" frozen into immobility, it's time to give direct democracy a chance.

Richard North 05/02/2015

 Overseas aid: policy incoherence

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In several posts on this blog, we've argued that foreign aid should be linked with development, specifically as a tool to help relieve reduce migration pressure in less developed countries in a way that will directly or indirectly reduce unwanted immigration to this country.

Currently, the UK is committed to spending 0.7 percent of GDP (GNI) on overseas aid, equivalent to about £12 billion a year. Yet, according to the OECD, when it comes to directing that spending, it takes what is called a "selective approach", working on "a limited number of policy areas".

The UK has, we are told, chosen to focus on anti-corruption, transparency, trade and, in particular, climate change, where £3.87 billion has been allocated to the International Climate Fund (ICF).

Diplomatically, the OECD regards this approach as "useful" but, it observes, while this approach is effective in supporting coherent action on selected topics, there is no systematic way to ensure that conflicts between policy objectives are addressed.

Crucially, it then observes that focusing on "win-win opportunities" has meant less attention on mitigating the risk that other policies – notably migration – impact negatively on development. The awareness of potential trade-offs, it adds, "is low".

Now go to last Monday and we have the report of the House of Commons International Development Committee, where we see another term introduced: "policy coherence for development" (PCD). This, says the Committee, is supposedly at the heart of a "new" approach to overseas aid spending - the idea of "working across Government in the UK, and with global partners in the multilateral system, to maximise the impact on development of all the UK's actions".

The idea that government departments working together "to maximise the impact of development" should be regarded as a "new" approach tells its own story. The OECD, however, is less reticent. It says:
… the lack of a comprehensive approach to ensuring its development efforts are not undermined by other government policies means potential incoherence in other policy areas can be overlooked. It also means opportunities might be missed for stakeholders to provide evidence on and solutions to problems of incoherence. For instance, little has been done to address potential links between migration policy and development.
Of the amount spend on aid, however, about £1.4 billion was contributed to the EU aid budget amounting to about, some 16 percent of Department for International Development's (DfID) total aid spending.

However, it will come as no surprise to learn that, in a review of DfID's overview of EU aid spending, it was found that there was no effective performance management system in place. And while the EU's scale and influence provided an opportunity for development impact, this was not being effectively harnessed.

In other words, not only is the direct spending by DfID not properly directed at attainable and necessary policy objectives, the Department has no effective means of making sure that money going to the EU is properly spent either. Yet, despite all this, the Committee "strongly endorses" the continuing need to maintain development spending at 0.7 percent of GNI, something which The Times picked up in what was actually minimal media interest.

Weak as ditchwater, the Committee actually lacked any substantive recommendations, that would indicate serious scrutiny. It simply recommended that cross-Government working should be improved and that DfID should make policy coherence for development "a higher priority".

Yet, despite the high profile of immigration as an issue in this country, and the global refugee crisis, which is putting unprecedented pressure on the asylum system in Europe – with more to come this year, there is barely any reference to migration, and no criticism of DfID's failure to address these issues.

Even a modest redirection of spending, though, could have a dramatic effect in improving policy coherence. For instance, the UNHCR in 2013 presented a global budget of US$3,924 million, revised to the unprecedented level of US$5,335 million. Diversion of just the amount paid to the EU to the UN agency could significantly enhance its capabilities.

Directed at improving the conditions of refugees close to their countries of origin, such spending might have a real effect in reducing migratory pressure, tackling the problem of asylum seekers at source.

Strangely, we don't see any recognition from Ukip about the role of aid spending in reducing migration, nor any questioning as to why DfID has been given huge amounts to spend without having "policy coherence for development". You would have thought that this should come first, so that our money achieves a worthwhile effect.

Thus, while cuts in overseas aid might be an easy option to demand, a more considered response might be to ask what outcomes we could expect from aid spending, how best those can be achieved, and how much we would have to spend to achieve them.

Then, and only then, would we be able to make rational decisions as to what the aid budget should be, something which neither the MPs in the International Development Committee nor any political party seem to be able to do.

Richard North 04/02/2015