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 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

 UK politics: another calculation to make

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Those fragile souls who believe that trust is an issue in politics would have every good reason to cast a jaundiced eye over this morning's headlines, and especially those in the Mail, which have the Conservatives once again promising to end the dominance of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

It would be perfectly reasonable under the circumstances to point out that, long before his "cast iron guarantee" of a vote on the Lisbon Treaty on 26 September 2007, Mr Cameron was promising to scrap the Human Rights Act.

We have him reported doing this on 12 May 2006 and then full frontal on 26 June 2006, more than a year before he was to make his referendum pledge.

Come the 2010 election, however, any idea of scrapping the human Rights Act disappeared from the agenda, sacrificed on the altar of coalition government. Only now does it re-emerge as a key element of the manifesto for the next election, at which point commentators could rightly ask, "what's new?" 

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Nevertheless, if we are to make sense of our immigration policy, then the role of the ECHR and Council of Europe in family reunification must be curtailed. This accounts for a significant proportion of EU and non-EU migration.

Inevitably, the media focus on some of the more high profile cases, where Article 8 of the Convention is clearly being stretched, but the same Article, on right to family life, is invoked in terms of family reunification.

Some of our more problematic immigration comes in under the mandate of the ECHR (and the Strasbourg judges), and that would remain a problem even if we left the EU. Thus, while the issue is under review, there can be no resolution until this nettle is grasped, and the Human Rights Act is scrapped.

What is not fully appreciated, in this context, is the huge scale of family-related migration. The government admitted to 792,230 visas is this category between 2005-2010 (see p.66 on the link above). At this rate, the total from 2005 to the present must be well over a million, despite the government apparently massaging the figures.

For instance, in the July to September 2013 statistics, we see a fall of 20 percent or family-related visas issued (down to 33,747). But we then see grants of permission to stay permanently increasing by 26 percent and a rise of 138 percent in family-related extensions of stay.

Currently, we see persons in the "accompanying/joining family" grouping accounting for something like a third of net migration, a group which is most likely to be economical inactive, and which imposes greatest burdens on public services. 

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The trouble is, of course, is that when it comes to Mr Cameron and his promises, we really have heard it all before. Thus, some will be asking whether we can trust him to deliver on this next electoral round.

The answer to that, of course, is no. But as The Boiling Frog points out (with another post on the way), trust is not the issue. If Labour wins the general election, we can be entirely certain that we will not get a repeal or any modification of the Human Rights Act. If the Conservatives take office – with an absolute majority – then there is a possibility that we might see changes.

This, of course, is an unsatisfactory position. But in grown-up politics, there are no absolute guarantees, even if there is every reason for holding Mr Cameron's feet to the fire, when he makes his promises. The issue is of calculation. In terms of managing immigration, repeal of the Human Rights Act is every bit as important as leaving the EU – if not more so, in the shorter term.

We hear very little of this from UKIP, which means there is a major gap in their policy make-up. This further underlies the fact that any serious developments are unlikely to come from this source. Once again, therefore, UKIP supporters are presented with a conundrum. They will – as will we all – have to calculate the odds on getting serious change after the general election, and act accordingly.


Richard North 03/10/2014

 EU politics: the nine-point wonder

A joint post with Autonomous Mind 

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"Eurosceptics, say half-clever columnists, are 'unappeasable'. Bien pensant opinion holds that any concession made to critics of the Euro-racket serves only to excite further unreasonable demands. It doesn't matter what HMG brings back from the talks, we're told: Eurosceptics will whinge anyway, because whingeing is in their character. Right?"

This is what Daniel Hannan is writing these days, enough to motivate Autonomous Mind to write up a commentary which forms the basis of this joint post.

For myself, I tend to ignore the lad. The world has moved on and our Dan is no longer in the forefront of the debate. But I see AM's point, in wanting to take this one head on. Hannan wants to convince us that his master David Cameron could bomb off to Brussels and come back with nine specific points that would convince "eurosceptics" to love the EU.

To achieve this remarkable piece of legerdemain, however, Mr Hannan has to carry out some intellectual contortions of his own. When commentators talk of "the Eurosceptics", he says, they seem to have in mind only Conservative and UKIP MPs, not the 70 percent of the country who say they want a trading rather than political relationship with the EU.

Thus does Hannan frame the debate by redefining "eurosceptics" – these now become an amorphous 70 percent of the country who say they want a trading rather than political relationship with the EU.

I'm not sure where this 70 percent comes from, but it reinforces my view that we must walk away from the term and call ourselves the anti-EU movement. That way there can be no misunderstanding.

However, even if he's attempting to convince the people he defines as "eurosceptics", if we didn't know better, we might think Mr Hannan is displaying a degree of naivety, or as AM would have it, a "frightening lack of even the most rudimentary awareness and understanding" of the issues.

Looking at these nine points selected to underline his case, Hannan starts with an "Autonomous trade policy"'. The EU's Common External Tariff impacts us badly, as the need for a common EU position on trade means all deals have to take account of a variety of other interests, says Hannan, who tells us that, while EFTA countries Norway and Switzerland have managed to sign a free trade deal with China, Britain is constrained by the EU and therefore cannot.

Surprisingly, though, there is a problem with this. The notion of the UK running its own autonomous trade policy, in a customs union, is plain nonsense. It is impossible, in every sense of the word you can imagine, to remain in the EU and have an autonomous trade policy.

Interestingly there is no mention at all of British self representation on the global decision making bodies and conventions, leading us to wonder if Hannan grasps their significance. In fact, he probably doesn't. But either way, suggesting that Mr Cameron should seek to secure trade autonomy, within the EU, is ludicrous.

Next in line, Hannan wants "Fiscal freedom". There should be "No financial transactions taxes, no green levies, no EU airport duties – and, for that matter, no harmonisation of VAT", because, he argues, "there should be no automatic transfer of revenue to the EU".

At this point, and we are only into the second of nine points, one is tempted to exclaim of Hannan, "Do grow up, Hannan!" He needs to look at Article 311 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the Union, where the "own resource" system is so embedded into the treaty system that messing about with the revenue transfer system would be impossible to unravel without treaty change.

As to VAT, that is an EU tax. Therefore, although Britain gets to keep some of what is collected, VAT results in automatic transfer of revenue to the EU. Rejecting harmonisation of VAT won't make a blind bit of difference to the practice of paying an EU tax.

Number three has Hannan seeking to disapply EU Citizenship. If our relationship is to be primarily economic rather than primarily political, we should scrap something that was created by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Once again, though, this is one of the tenets of the Treaties. And you can't selectively disapply parts of the Treaty. Thus, Hannan's pay-off line vision that the return of stiff blue British passports would be a concrete symbol that things had changed is fantasy land delusion.

By now, though, we're looking nervously at the date of the piece, wondering if this is a re-hash of an earlier 1 April piece. In three out of three of his points, he is talking about treaty change. Hannan must know that this is not on, that it's not going to happen.

He doesn't stop there, though. Next is his sights is the Common Agricultural Policy'. Yes it's wasteful, immoral, bureaucratic and corrupting. But to imagine for even just a split second that Cameron could achieve its demise, or a British opt out from the CAP as a sop to Eurosceptics while remaining in the EU is ridiculous.

Number five is an opt-out from the Common Fisheries Policy. This is another pearler. "Britain should control its territorial waters out to 200 miles or the median line, as allowed under maritime law, making due provision for the historic rights of neighbouring states and entering into sensible multilateral agreements on total allowable catch", Hannan says.

It seems Hannan is weaselling here. He seems reticent to point out to his readers the concept of acquired rights and what this means for the prospect of controlling fishing in our waters. More to the point, though, the whole concept of the total allowable catch is the fundamental flaw of the CFP. We would come out of the policy – not that we can – only to perpetuate its worst aspects.

At this point, though, one begins to lose the will to live, and we've still got four points to go. Hannan wants "independent diplomacy", "Common Law, not EU law", "British Social Policy" and then, for his finale, number nine, the "Supremacy of Parliament".

Yes, here it is, the Hannan solution: "Sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 European Communities Act should be repealed or amended so that EU law no longer has automatic precedence over UK law on our own territory".

Our Mr Hannan thinks that Brussels regulations should be treated as advisories pending implementation by Parliament, and he thinks that Mr Cameron is going to play "go fetch" and bring that back from Brussels.

Yet, the most laughable thing we get is his payoff: "I don't want to be unreasonable", he says. "It might be that Britain is able to secure some but not all of these points. If I had to identify the most important ones, I’d say 1 and 9".

"But, unless I'm missing something", he concludes, "the government isn't pushing for any of them. Which means that, as things stand, the only way to secure them is to vote to leave and then negotiate them from the outside".

Hell will need to freeze over and Sam Cam will go ice skating on it before any of these ideas even gets close to being considered. Of course the government isn't pushing for any of them, for the simple reason that the transfer of such powers is impossible as they undermine the foundations of the EU itself.

The only solution to most of the areas above is to leave the EU, full stop. But then, should we have left, why on earth would we want to negotiate on the issues Hannan sets out? It would amount to the surrender of the powers we would already have recovered.

Just whose side is he on?


Richard North 03/10/2014

 Immigration: no easy answers - part I

Part 2 has been posted below this ... the comment thread here serves both posts

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Conservative Home picks up on a Conservative fringe event, jointly hosted by British Future and ConHome, "provocatively" entitled "Immigration: How can we make promises we keep?" Interestingly, the four panel members, including Paul Goodman and Owen Paterson, all refrained from offering easy answers. They indicated that they would leave such disreputable behaviour to UKIP.

Nevertheless, Owen Paterson turned up to point out, in formidably well-briefed remarks, that leaving the EU and following the border control path of Norway or Australia would not guarantee lower migration.

He observed that immigration was "a huge recruiting agent" for UKIP, which was "quite ruthless" at exploiting the issue, then going on to point out that "we do need to have open borders to have a dynamic, thriving economy".

This was against the background of Reckless's defection, and his claim that unless we leave the EU we shall be unable to restrict immigration. This is quite wrong, Paterson averred. About 13 percent of the UK's population consists of immigrants, but the equivalent figure for Norway is 14.9 percent, for Switzerland it is 23 per cent, and for Australia, with its much-vaunted points system, the migrant level stands at 27 percent.

None of those countries, as we are well aware, is in the EU, which had Paterson arguing that, "there are no glib, easy, quick-fix answers". Copying Australia's points-based immigration system may sound to some like the answer, he said, but it’s it was "glib and Ukippish".

On this, Paterson is absolutely right, and in more ways than are immediately apparent, with Australia providing a fascinating example of how the superficial case made by UKIP – which wants to adopt the Australian system – falls apart the moment it is examined in detail.

The crucial thing to appreciate is that, as with every country, immigration policy is in determined by many factors, but especially strong drivers are geography, neighbourhood relations, and the state of the economy, both in absolute terms and relative to its neighbours.

The particular points to note with Australia though are its geography, and its neighbours – or relative lack of them, close to hand. The closest country at an equal stage of development is New Zealand, and that is separated by 925 miles of sea. Arguably, if Australia was separated by a mere 22 miles from a major continental land mass, its attitude to migration might be very different, specifically in terms of freedom of movement between close neighbours. 

And there's the rub. There is freedom of movement between Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand citizens are able to live, work, and study in Australia indefinitely on special "temporary" visas due to reciprocal arrangements between the two countries. New Zealanders settling in Australia are included in total settler numbers but are not counted as part of Australia's Migration Programme unless they choose to apply for permanent residence as skilled or family migrants.

In other words, between Australia and New Zealand exist more or less the same "freedom of movement" arrangements as exist between EU member states.

As for the points-based immigration system, this limits immigration visas to applicants who conform to certain criteria, and who have certain skills. Potential applicants have to stack up 60 points but basically, if you are under 50, can speak English and have a pulse, you can get in. There are so many "skilled" occupations almost anyone could find a fit, whether a cook, florist or community worker.

Even then, for an applicant who has no skills, there is the unskilled migrant entry scheme. Then there is the "family stream", where relatives of existing immigrants can join them, and then there is the humanitarian stream, for the substantial number of asylum seekers who are given entry.

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On top of all this, there is a holiday worker scheme, and for those who do not qualify for permanent visas, there are temporary visas. Through either of these, workers can acquire points to go towards qualifying for a permanent visa, as work experience in Australia is weighted in favour of the applicant.

Looking at this in the round, one might conclude that a skills-based quota system works brilliantly, with just a few provisos. Taking from the Australian model, the skill-set has to be relaxed, it shouldn't be applied rigorously and there must be plenty of exemptions.

And that is why, for the 2014-15 programme, the Australians intend to admit 190,000 migrants. On a pro rata basis, this is equivalent to the UK admitting half a million people, making it an interesting choice as UKIP's poster child for its immigration policy.

As Owen Paterson says, there aren't any easy answers. And we should not pretend there are.


Richard North 02/10/2014

 UK politics: Booker's Law looms

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On the basis of Lord Ashcroft's " snapshot ", delivered to the Conservative conference yesterday, the number of losses [in Conservative seats] could extend to the point where Labour gains a comfortable working majority at the general election.

At the moment, we're getting very close to Booker's Law cut-off: whoever is ahead six month before the election tends to win it. So far, it doesn't look good, and with recent events, it doesn't look as if the Tories are going to make it. 

As we get closer to the election, Miliband must be feeling more and more secure, so much so that we're not hearing anything from him about a referendum. This has become private Tory grief.

Looking at this pragmatically, the chances of a 2017 referendum are receding. But, if not then, when? The next window of opportunity would seem to be 2022, and even that requires a lot of things to come together.

Failing a referendum, we are looking at what could loosely be called the "UKIP model" – where Farage's party thinks it can get enough people into Westminster to hold the balance of power, and force the party in government (presumably the Tories) into taking us out of the EU.

In the meantime, we suffer five years of Labour, while – one assumes - the Conservatives backbenchers tear themselves apart.

But even if the "UKIP model" had a chance of working, it could not happen in a hurry. We are, thus, no closer to leaving the EU. In fact, the whole idea of withdrawing seems to be receding, almost to vanishing point. There is no satisfactory end game in sight, and no play that brings us closer to an exit.

This morning, David Cameron on Sky News Sunrise articulated the conundrum. "The fundamental point", he said, is this - the next election - is going to be a straight choice. Do you want Labour in power, who haven't learnt the lessons of the past, or do you want the Conservatives to continue with our plan?"

Responding to Mr Reckless's claims that his promised renegotiation of Britain's EU membership would not deliver real reform, Mr Cameron said: "He can say what he likes, but the truth is if you want that 'in-out' referendum on Europe - and I think Mark Reckless does - if you go to UKIP you make it less likely that you will get it, because you will end up with Ed Miliband in Downing Street, Labour in office, and they won't give you a referendum".

That's the perplexing thing. All those who are so quick to discount Mr Cameron's referendum don't seem to have any credible alternative. We are in the land of aspiration, with a timescale stretching to infinity. And that, to me, is not an improvement.

There ought to be a law against it.


Richard North 30/09/2014

 UK politics: frankly, they are wrong

Conservative MPs who defect to the UKIP should be treated "with great respect", says Owen Paterson. He also said the party had to make it clear to MPs tempted to defect that "protest will not get you what you want".

Asked on Sky News how many more Tory MPs might defect after Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless he said: "I have no idea", adding: "They are misguided sadly. I think we should be respectful of their decisions - they have set a new constitutional precedent of standing down unlike Shaun Woodward and Quentin Davies who just pushed off to the Labour party".

Mr Paterson went on to say: "They are setting themselves up to be voted back which one has to respect and I think we should treat all those who are currently not supporting us with great respect. But we also have to confront the fact that frankly they are wrong".

"We have to politely point out to people – many of whom are good, sensible Tories – who are minded to support UKIP, that they are mistaken. We have to make really clear why they are mistaken in a polite, logical and measured manner and get them back".

He also hit out at Mr Reckless' suggestion that the UK could curb immigration by leaving the EU. "When you see Mark Reckless saying getting out of the EU would solve it, I'm afraid his facts are wrong". He pointed out that Switzerland and Norway have higher immigrant populations than the UK, despite not being EU members.

Asked if he might defect, Paterson says: "It's absolutely laughable. How am I going to deliver (my) agenda through any other organisation apart from the Conservative party?"


Richard North 29/09/2014

 UK politics: a high water mark?

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While Mr Carswell might have the approval of his voters, it seems that Mr Reckless isn't getting the same treatment. Instead, he has been forced to abandon plans for a walkabout in Rochester with Farage, after facing a hostile reception from local media and angry Tory activists, then having to escape through the side door of a pub.

He also got a rough ride from Tory chairman Grant Shapps. In Birmingham, Shapps told the Conference, "We have been betrayed. Every Conservative in this hall, and everyone you represent: We all know individual MPs don't succeed on their own. They do so by standing on the shoulders of others. Your shoulders".

Shapps added: "People who volunteered for Mr Reckless, they supported him as a Conservative. People who pounded the streets, they supported him as a Conservative. People who donated money from their own pockets, who worked tirelessly for him, they supported him as a Conservative. They did so in good faith".

However, the former Tory MP insists he was trying to "keep faith with my constituents and keep my promises to them", but his experience raises the interesting possibility that he won't get re-elected, making his gesture a career-ending move.

This is not a prediction, by the way – just an observation. We have yet to see any local opinion polls, and it is always possible that Mr Reckless is wildly popular and will romp home under his new colours.

But there is also the possibility that defections cut short promising careers. This might dampen the ardour of potential copycats, and stem what some hope is becoming a major political realignment.

Instead, we might be looking at a high water mark, making Mr Carswell a very lonely man in Parliament, and cutting short a political revolution. And, in a topsy-turvy world, we could even have David Cameron campaigning for Britain to leave the EU – or not.

Whichever way the dice falls, though, politics just got a little bit more interesting.


Richard North 29/09/2014