We've heard a great deal lately about the expenses claimed by UKIP's representatives in the European Parliament, often as part of the general misinformation campaign being waged by Conservative Central Office, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Only last week we had scurrilous accusations being made in the European Parliament by a former member of UKIP, who rather than having the courage of her convictions and risk being sued, chose to hide behind foreign parliamentary privilege to publicise her unfounded allegations. And in addition to the outrageous personal charges being levied by a former colleague, with her own questionable "axe to grind" against Nigel Farage; and anyone else who she deems has done her wrong, we've even had the BBC trawling through its film archive to fish out a clip of Mr Farage, commenting on the potential value of the possible income that could and can be derived from European Parliamentary Expenses, equivalent it would seem to the salary of a Goldman Sachs employee!
Two million pounds screamed the headlines in one or two of the less reputable newspapers! Two million pounds over ten years, once you get past the outrage. Nigel Farage is thought to have earned two million pounds over a ten year period, in expenses and allowances, to help fund his Eurosceptic message in Britain and abroad, which if you work it out, comes to around £200,000 per year, not quite so impressive as the two million pound headline would first suggest is it? Mr Farage is said to be, not in the least bit apologetic about his claims; and whilst recognising the apparently huge sums of money involved, counters that he doesn't set the levels of expenses entitlement, plus a significant proportion of those monies go back to spreading the UKIP message at home and abroad.
Those things having been said, before critics and supporters choose to take a personal view on such matters, it is worth bearing several things in mind. Firstly, UKIP have never made any secret of their opposition to the European Union and everything that it represents, with its mantra of "ever closer union" and its aim of creating a federalised United States of Europe, an artificial political creation, where the sovereign nation state does not exist, as we recognise them today. This opposition to Europe is UKIP's USP, its Unique Selling Point, its brand if you will, so the people who vote for their representatives in the UK are not being in anyway misled over their primary motivations, or indeed what they stand for; that is, an end to Britain's membership of the current European Union. Being fundamentally opposed to the parliament that they have been elected to, by their British voters, UKIP representatives have two choices, either they attend the European Parliament, or they don't. Clearly, they could employ the same tactics as Sinn Fein representatives did in our own Westminster parliament, being elected to it, collecting the attached salaries for it, but never attending any sessions there. Alternatively, elected UKIP representatives could do what they've chosen to do, been elected to a foreign parliament, exploit the benefits of that membership, both as a form of financing their own party's work and utilising the public platform that it offers them, without facilitating the smooth running of that foreign parliamentary system. Were Euroscepticism more widely represented within the European Parliament, by larger numbers of likeminded MEP's, then no doubt UKIP could and would be more to stifle and hinder the business of the parliament in Brussels, but given that they and their continental colleagues are very much in a minority, there is only so much they can do in that respect.
Secondly, it is all very well for critics of UKIP to point out that the party's representatives have some of the worst attendance records in the European Parliament, which simply isn't true for all UKIP MEP's, but even if it were, why wouldn't they have? The entire raison d'etre of the party is a British withdrawal from the European Union and its parliament, not the complete destruction of the European project as a whole. The battleground for UKIP is not in Brussels, but in the towns, cities and villages of Britain, where British voters reside, not on the continent where the European fanatics live. UKIP's strategy is not to persuade Mr Barosso, or Frau Merkel that they're wrong, but to convince Mr and Mrs Average Britain that their country would be better off out of the EU, rather than better off in it. To make that case, the likes of Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall and other UKIP representatives need to spend as much time as possible in Britain, explaining to our home electorate, the benefits of withdrawal, as opposed to sitting in a European Parliament, which is not only dominated by foreign delegates, who have no love of Britain, but where the rubber stamping and cursory examination of highly intrusive rules and regulations has become almost routine. Given that most people, Eurosceptic and Europhile alike, recognise that the European Union as it stands is largely unreformable, there would be little point in any minor European party attempting to reform the undemocratic foreign body that now holds daily control over the lives of Britain's sixty-odd million citizens.
To put the amount of money reportedly claimed by Nigel Farage into some sort of perspective, over a typical decade, British MP's together are thought to have claimed nearly one billion in parliamentary expenses, around one hundred million pounds every year, not for party funds, not to try and rescue the country from an undemocratic monolithic structure like the EU, but for duck houses, for mortgages, for expensive holidays, for first class air travel, to employ their wives, their daughters, their sons, their boyfriends.
Recently, someone suggested that British MP's probably work around 96 hours per week, what with their parliamentary duties and constituency work. Contrast that with Nigel Farage and other UKIP MEP's, who not only attend the European Parliament as delegates, tend to their constituent's needs, but also travel the length and breadth of the UK to spread the message of "better off out". Nigel Farage has been not only been conducting his "Common Sense" tour of Britain, speaking to thousands upon thousands of British citizens, but has also met virtually all of his media commitments, as is the demand when you become known as the public face of UKIP. For anyone to suggest that he's not worth his monthly salary is completely fatuous, if one considers that he probably works harder and longer hours than most of his UK counterparts; and achieves a great deal more for the British people. Does anyone imagine that Europe, Immigration, Employment, Health Services and Education would be the red hot topics of the day, were it not for the campaign being waged by UKIP? Does anyone really think that the offer of a European Referendum would have been put on the table by David Cameron, were it not for the presence of UKIP?
There is no doubt that £200,000 per year is a great deal of money for anyone, even if you're a Goldman Sachs worker, but such monies have to be put into perspective. The disgraced and soon to be former Labour MP, Eric Joyce, reportedly claimed around £187,000 in expenses from the British taxpayer; and I wonder if people would see him as being as pivotal to the great debates of our time, as Nigel Farage has been? Under Farage's leadership and in unison with his UKIP colleagues, the party has gone from 3.5% in the public opinion polls to around 15-20%; and in many cases is leading the debate, not just participating in them as a minor political player. I wonder how many British voters have a local MP or MEP who is such a recognisable and influential on the national and international stage? Yet they're still paying around £100,000 per year to pay for their MP's anonymity and inaction. Is that better value for money than the reputed £200,000 per year being claimed by Nigel Farage? I doubt it!
Just how much is Britain's sovereign independence worth in cold hard cash? How much are the British people prepared to pay to have full unfettered control over our trade, our economy, our national borders, our immigration, our housing, our jobs, our benefit systems, or armed forces and all those other so-called competencies that Europe now holds sway over? Obviously for some people, those national controls aren't worth a penny; and they're content to hand them over to Brussels come what may, but for others they're absolutely priceless and if that means paying Nigel Farage and his colleagues hundreds of thousands of pounds, of what is after all, our own money, then its a price well worth paying!