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Friday 29 May 2015

Saying "No" To The EU Is The Right Thing To Do:

So, David Cameron and his new Conservative government have finally come clean about the actual wording of the question that they intend to put to the British electorate with regard to our country's continuing membership of the European Union, which is scheduled to take place before the end of 2017.
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” is the question to be posed to the British people, ostensibly in the hope that most will support an affirmative response, simply because that's human nature; and it's what we're instinctively programmed to do. Because most, though not all of us, are naturally predisposed to take the easiest and most positive option whenever we're offered a variety of choices, especially ones where the potential outcomes may be difficult, uncertain or unknown, it can hardly be a huge surprise to anyone that Prime Minister Cameron has opted to make the "YES" vote, a choice of doing nothing, whilst the "NO" vote becomes a choice of doing something.
Of course, doing nothing, or simply voting "YES" to the question being posed, will offer some degree of security to those millions of British citizens who are rightly concerned about their jobs, their incomes, their vital services, or even their basic ability to travel abroad. After all, why change something that they've grown accustomed to, that on the face of it has little immediate impact on their daily lives, or that is somehow inevitable anyway? Why risk everything they have, everything they know and everything they take for granted, just on the off-chance that things might be better, if they were to gamble what they know they have at present, for what they might have in the future, assuming of course that everything goes to plan? Given those two differing choices, perhaps it is little wonder that as a rule, people tend to stick with the status quo, opt to do nothing; and in this particular case probably vote "YES" for the UK to remain as a member of the European Union, despite any individual misgivings they might continue to have about the European project generally.
At the same time, it will be incredibly difficult for any "NO" campaign to try and persuade these very same millions of British voters to actively "do something" about our country's continued EU membership, when all they can really promise them is a range of possible outcomes, were Britain and its people brave enough to free themselves from the social, economic and legal entanglements that have emerged from Brussels and Strasbourg over the past forty years or so. It would be no mean feat to try and turn back the clock, to a point where Britain first agreed to join a simple European trade bloc, rather than the supranational political union that the EU has since become.
Could it be done? Could Britain return to being an independent sovereign nation that simply wants to trade with its European neighbours, rather than being socially, economically, politically and legally entangled with them and their monolithic centralised organisation? Common sense would suggest that just as it's taken forty years to stitch the UK and the rest of Europe together, so it would take years to slowly unpick the layers of EU  related legislation that have been woven into Britain's everyday rules and procedures, although that isn't to say that such long term unpicking is impossible. By simply invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Britain would begin the slow disentanglement of the country from the European Union; and start the formal two-year process of re-establishing a trade-only relationship with our continental neighbours. It isn't hard, it isn't over complicated, but what such a process does require is for a majority of the British electorate to summon up the sort of self-confidence and courage that used to be characteristic of the nation as a whole. 
Saying "YES" to our continuing European membership is easy, because it simply requires us to put our fears and concerns ahead of our hopes and our confidence, while saying "NO" to Europe requires us to put our hopes and our confidence ahead of our fears and concerns. Each of us in our turn have to decide whether or not Britain is big enough, brave enough, bold enough, or bright enough to confront the modern world head on and if necessary alone, or do we stay as we are, a much smaller and much diminished nation within a much larger European organisation, thereby leaving ourselves reliant on the likes of Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Poland, etc. for any of our future successes.
Speaking only for myself, as and when the UK's EU referendum finally comes around I will be voting "NO" to our continued membership of the European Union, if only because I believe that for us to continue as we are, towards becoming little more than a federal region of a much larger United States of Europe, will ultimately be BAD for Britain and its people.
In voting that way, I am saying "YES" to Europe as purely trading partners, but "NO" to the European Union as my system of government. At the same time, I am also saying....
NO to foreign rule by a foreign parliament based in Brussels and Strasbourg
NO to the usurping of the UK's traditional values, customs and practices by foreign powers
NO to the UK subsidising and maintaining wasteful foreign countries and administrations
NO to the UK being inundated by hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and migrants
NO to the wilful exploitation of our Welfare System by unentitled foreign workers
NO to the inexorable undermining of our sovereign state by continental nations
NO to the reduction of our nation's diplomatic influence around the globe
NO to the restriction of our foreign trade and international treaties by the EU
NO to the unlimited interference in our nation's Social, Economic, Legal and Political life
NO to the burdensome European regulations that blight our business and commercial sectors
NO to the abandonment of UK's traditional global role and its place on international bodies
NO to the EU policy of "Ever Closer Union" and deeper European integration
NO to EU interference in the internal electoral processes of individual nation states
NO to EU's revisionist agenda regarding the history of the European continent
NO to the expansionism of the European Union project into Eastern Europe
NO to the very idea of a single integrated European Union Army
NO to EU control of our national energy markets and other vital infrastructure
NO to the widespread sell-off of our vital services to foreign firms under via TTIP

Saturday 23 May 2015

Will Britain Choose To Remain A Cheap EU Whore?

Although the idea of whoring oneself is generally used in an entirely sexual context, in a much broader sense it could just as easily refer to the idea of an individual, or a group of individuals, selling their bodies, their integrity, their rights, their principles, or indeed their very freedoms, for a given price. It doesn't necessarily have to be a fair price, just one that the individual person, or the particular group of people are content to sell their bodies, integrity, rights, principles or freedoms for, while still being able to convince themselves that they've somehow still got the best end of the bargain.
With David Cameron and his Conservative colleagues planning to start the difficult journey to our long promised EU Referendum in 2017, so the cheapest possible price tag for the right sort of outcome is currently being decided by the various parties. It's important to note here, that even though the British people will ultimately make the final decision in 2017, they will play little or no part in setting the price of our continued EU membership, or not, as the case may be, as they themselves are simply the prize that will be awarded to the eventual winner of the ongoing European argument.
On the one side of the campaign we have the very much larger party of "IN", which includes the majority of the political establishment, large numbers of heavily invested publicly and privately owned businesses, much of the mainstream media, and the European Union itself, which will be ably supported by any number of foreign leaders, dignitaries and its army of well paid, highly motivated political advisers.
On the other side of the argument will be the much smaller "OUT" party, a rag-tag army of Eurosceptics drawn from the entire political spectrum, who have been variously described as fruitcakes, loons, gadflies and Little Englanders, such is their resistance to Britain's continued membership of the European Union.
And whilst they have significant support for their cause amongst the general population, small business community and even some parts of the press, it is important to recognise that they will almost certainly be outspent, out-briefed, out-campaigned, out-published and even completely out-propagandised by the much wealthier, much more influential and the much scarier prospects that will inevitably be offered up by the political establishment's entire "IN" campaign.
However, regardless of the eventual outcome of the referendum in 2016 or 2017, we can all probably be certain of one thing and that is the arguments over our membership of the EU will continue to rage on and on irrespective of how the country actually votes in the national ballot. If the UK decides to remain "IN", then it is almost inevitable that the EU will try to extend its authority even further, giving the "OUT" campaign grounds for demanding yet another vote at some point in the future. If the "OUT" campaign were to win, then every single social, economic or trading setback would be sufficient for the "IN" campaign to demand that a future government reconsider Britain's decision to leave. And of course, these take no account of any dormant Scottish, Welsh or N Irish demands that they be exempt from any subsequent "OUT" vote, as the SNP and Plaid Cymru have already made plain.
Such potential future difficulties aside though, ultimately it seems likely that the campaign will continue to be dominated by a variety of discussions, claims and assertions relating to the usual range of subjects including, immigration, trade, governance, national sovereignty, the environment, finance, economic planning, education, welfare, transport, energy, defence, foreign affairs, consumer rights and legal powers, exactly the same old thorny issues that have continued to be bones of contention for the past forty years.
Putting these individual areas of competency to one side however, at the end of the day, only one single overriding issue really matters; and that is the question of primacy, the ability of each national parliament to govern for and on behalf of its own national electorate, as opposed to it having to defer to what is fundamentally a foreign and unelected power, as is the case now with the European Union. First and foremost Britain should be ruled by elected Britons, Poland should be ruled by elected Poles, Spain should be ruled by elected Spaniards, France should be ruled by elected Frenchmen, etc. Whatever the member state, it should be primarily ruled or governed by its own elected nationals, not by a largely unelected, unrepresentative foreign parliament in Brussels or Strasbourg that has authorised itself to usurp the will of national leaders, government ministers or elected representatives.
Were the EU or its European Parliament a congress of equals then perhaps that wouldn't be quite so bad, but clearly that isn't the case at all. Neighbour favours neighbour, economic muscle provides additional influence, individual political and economic influence dictates overall Union strategy and planning. Is Chancellor Merkel's political influence equal to, or greater than any other European leader's political influence; and if so why, in a congress of supposed equals?
Rather than being any great step forward in democratising European nations, wouldn't it be truer to say that the EU is little better than a political, social and economic version of the Eurovision Song Contest, but without the laughs. At least in that debased competition there is an implicit understanding and acceptance that the entire thing is a parody, a spoof of the original Europe wide singing competition, but one where it's clearly understood that nobody is really taking it seriously; and that it's designed to entertain, to irritate, to repay regional favours, but definitely not to be taken too seriously.
Now, where Britain might be content to "whore" its reputation in a European Song Contest and as a result humble its international standing in terms of its singers and songwriters, or obvious lack thereof, that is a whole lot different to "whoring" its long and hard won reputation in terms of border controls, defence capabilities, judicial rigour, international trade, fiscal planning, economic competence, international relations, diplomatic leverage, manufacturing excellence and everything else that goes into making a seriously successful, world leading sovereign state.
The very idea that Britain has been improved or enhanced through its membership of the European Union is a complete nonsense, unless of course the act of shackling itself to a diminishing political entity, whilst at the same time preventing ourselves from making individual trade deals with any number of newly emerging markets, is a sign of success? Historically, Britain built its vast empire, its international reputation, its diplomatic networks and its economic success on the back of its ability and willingness to trade with anyone, anywhere in the world; and it certainly didn't shackle itself exclusively to a stagnant European continent where most of its immediate competitors were based.
Just as it's commonly the case that many of those who willingly, or unwillingly commit themselves to a life of "whoring" in a purely sexual context, find their own self respect is one of the first things to suffer, as a result of their lifestyle, so too one wonders if a entire nation can see their national self-esteem diminish, as a result of seeing their traditional cultural and social values handed away to a foreign power? Few of our national competencies remain completely untouched by the EU's parliament sitting in Brussels and Strasbourg, be it our environment, our courts, our roads, our agricultural sector, our energy production, our fishing grounds, our industries, or even our ability to control our own national borders.
However, having now been a "whore" to Europe's demands for the past forty years, it remains to be seen whether or not our increasingly debased Britain is strong enough, or indeed brave enough to finally walk away from its European Union shackles and return to being the sort of global trading nation that it successfully managed to be for hundreds of years before the EU was even first imagined by its continental creators.
And in closing this, it is perhaps worth making the final point that even the worst sort of "whore" expects to make money from selling their body, their reputation or their freedom; and yet Britain as a nation, doesn't just give them away for free, but it actually pays the EU billions of pounds to regularly f*ck us over each and ever year, at the rate of £55 million per day; and that being the case, not only have we become whores of the great European project, but we've become incredibly cheap ones at the same time. 

Saturday 16 May 2015

Hope Everyone Likes "Fudge"

I think it's interesting that if you were to take the time to look up a list of British politicians who are most widely respected and whose legacy is most highly valued by the British public, you would almost certainly come down to the same three candidates every single time; and they would be Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Conversely, if you were to look for lists of British Prime Ministers whose reputations have suffered most over the course of time; and whose legacies are mostly viewed in a highly negative way by the British public, then once again you would find a similar three candidates, only this time in the form of Neville Chamberlain, Gordon Brown and John Major, although not necessarily in any fixed order of disrepute.
At the time that most, but not all, of these various lists were actually being put together, Tony Blair was still the British Prime Minister; and so it is pretty fair to say that if these same lists were put together now, or in the near future, his name too would feature prominently on any lists of Britain's worst politicians, not least because of the widespread unravelling of his own personal legacy, as significant numbers of his New Labour "chickens" have inevitably come home to roost, so to speak. In the same way, David Cameron currently fails to feature on many of these lists, generally because they were constructed before he became Prime Minister, although on at least one of the more up-to-date lists, he had at least begun to feature, right down at the bottom, alongside one of his Conservative predecessors, Sir John Major.
It is desperately sad to think that politicians from several decades ago are now still much more respected and esteemed than those who would seek to govern us today, that Margaret Thatcher, one of the most socially divisive and ideologically driven politicians of the 20th Century even today, stands head and shoulders above her political successors. While Winston Churchill undoubtedly deserves his plaudits for helping to rally the country and the wider international community in opposition to the Nazi menace, some of the lists referred to, see Clement Attlee, the post-war Labour Prime Minister as being the greatest peacetime political leader this country has ever had, easily overshadowing the reputations of the likes of Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Perhaps it's a case of history often being kinder to political reputations, as time passes, memories fade and long term policies ultimately come to fruition, although for the likes of Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement towards Adolph Hitler, his reputation still continues to suffer, albeit not on the same scale as it did in the 1940's and immediately beyond. Maybe too, it's because our modern day country hasn't faced the sort of catastrophic events that confronted the likes of Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee or Margaret Thatcher, whether that be the threat of Nazi invasion, the devastating wartime destruction of our country, or indeed the threat of unionised labour bringing the entire country to the very brink of social and economic ruin.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman) goes the old expression; and perhaps it is precisely because we haven't faced such a grave crises since the late 1970's that none of our leader since then has had the opportunity to shine, to prove what a great national leader they are in the face of an impending disaster ? But then, that isn't exactly true is it? We've had a range of political, military and humanitarian disasters in Eastern Europe where the outcome of our country's intervention has been mixed. We've had the Exchange Rate Mechanism disaster that occurred under the Major government, that was thought to have cost the country billions in lost revenues. We've had our involvement in the Iraq War thanks to Tony Blair, that not only removed Saddam Hussein from office, but also helped turn that country into an almost biblical disaster area, which is continuing through to the present day. We've also had Gordon Brown selling off the nation's gold reserves at knock down prices, raiding pension funds, with the result that investors lost out; and we've had a failure to properly regulate the city, which resulted in near financial meltdown when the world markets caught a cold. We've had military interventions in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Libya and almost the very same thing in Syria, which but for a dose of common sanity, might well have been an even bigger disaster for our country than both Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
And over the same period of time, we've had hundreds of patients dying because of NHS incompetence, billions of pounds being wasted on ill-thought-out computer projects, the NHS and schools being put into hock for billions of pounds under the PFI program; and we've seen billions more wasted on wasteful procurement programs for our Armed Forces. In addition, we've seen millions of foreign migrants come into the country, both from the European Union and elsewhere in the world, while at the same time spending hundreds of billions to maintain our membership of the EU's political union, which in return has surreptitiously supplanted our elected British legislature, with an un-elected foreign one based in both Brussels and Strasbourg. It is hardly any wonder then, that when people are asked to name a British political leader who they believe has brought credit, character and strength to our nation, they don't choose the likes of Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, or even Chamberlain, because for the most part these men are examples of failure, of weakness and of poor judgement, definitely not the sort of characteristics that we would look for in our national leadership.
Okay, okay, some people will point out that the country has just re-elected David Cameron and his Conservative Party to a second term of office, although it's equally fair to point out that only one in four people actually voted for him; and even that was with a weak opposition and the country being scared witless by the threat of an insurgent political party, the SNP, taking substantive control of the levers of government. Hardly a ringing endorsement then of David Cameron's political status within the country as a whole, or indeed of him as a political leader, but rather just another compromise candidate that the country has got into the habit of electing to high office ever since the early 1990's. Of course this dearth of serious political candidates for the job of Prime Minister isn't David Cameron's fault, because he along with the likes of John Major, William Hague, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, are simply symptomatic of a British political that is fundamentally broken. And it is broken to the point that the British electorate have little or no faith in it, to the extent that in this most recent election more people chose NOT to vote at all, than chose to vote Conservative, making the entire electoral process a complete and utter sham. How can any political party that only attracted one in four votes possibly claim to have any sort of democratic legitimacy in the country, when three out of four voters chose to vote elsewhere, or not to even cast a ballot in the first place. It is absolute madness!
The question about the current Conservative government's democratic legitimacy aside however, perhaps we should be more worried by the fact that one of this country's worst performing Prime Ministers is now back at the helm, making some of the most important decisions that will ultimately come to define Britain's role in the world, now and into the future. There's the major constitutional issues over additional Scottish devolution, along with Mr Cameron's proposals to devolve more powers down to the various city states and regional centres, as in the case of Manchester, where the Conservatives hope to create their much talked about "Northern Powerhouse".
There's the issue of implementing the second round of the Conservatives previously promised austerity measures; and the reduction of billions of pounds in the nation's welfare bill and other vital services, while at the same time squandering billions of pounds on Foreign Aid and vanity infrastructure projects like HS2, etc. Then of course, there's the ever thorny issue of Britain's EU membership, the fabled renegotiation of our treaty terms with the other twenty-odd member states, followed by a national IN/OUT referendum by the end of 2017. On top of these major time consuming issues, the Conservative government of David Cameron will also have to deal with protecting the NHS, our national defence capabilities, the threat of religious extremism, the plight of African refugees in the Mediterranean, and carry forward parliamentary boundary reforms. In addition, Mr Cameron will need to find extra public funding to finance the myriad of "pet" projects that he has agreed to support, help solve the issue of the Libyan refugee crisis (that he himself helped to cause), try to protect Britain's interests in the face of a militarily resurgent Russia; and come to some sort of conclusion as to what action, if any, he intends to pursue with regard to IS and the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Just looking at that brief list of political objectives that David Cameron and his Conservative colleagues have to address during the 5-year term of this parliament, one well might imagine that the Labour Party will subsequently come the view that they have ultimately "dodged a political bullet", in terms of not having to deal with some of the most divisive and intractable issues that are currently facing the country today. With the Scottish independence genie firmly out of its nationalist bottle, thanks in part to Mr Cameron's own political actions, the very idea that Britain, or more properly the United Kingdom, can remain "united" is patently absurd, if only because Cameron is facing two of the shrewdest political operators in the country, in the shape of Nicola Sturgeon and Alec Salmond. No matter what executive powers he offers, no matter how much ground he cedes, it will never be enough for them, or more importantly their nationalist electorate, to settle the issue, unless or until full independence is offered.
In similar fashion, the issue of regional devolution is a social, political and economic accident that's just waiting to happen; and in my own mind is simply a modern equivalent of the Anglo Saxon "Heptarchy" and medieval city states that preceded our single unified nation. For those who might point to London as a shining example of what the likes of Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool or Leeds could become under such a devolved political system, simply consider the disparity between London and elsewhere in the country, in terms of social and economic costs, or the fact that some London boroughs are known to be exporting some of their poorer inhabitants to other cheaper parts of the country, a form of socio-economic cleansing if you will.
As regards the other great pressing issue of our time, our membership of the European Union and all of the vital national competencies directly associated with it, including trade, immigration, transport, energy, education, welfare, justice, defence, foreign affairs, etc. there is probably little to no chance that David Cameron's Conservative administration is going to allow us a referendum campaign that is balanced, fair or informative, simply because as a dedicated supporter of the European project, it isn't in his personal interests to do so. It is almost certain that the "IN" campaign will be financed and supported by big business, the CBI, the BBC, the Trade Union movement, most of the British press, the European Union itself and in fact by any number of UK and foreign based third parties who have a direct financial interest in our country remaining as a fully paid up member of the European Union.
Opposing them will be a mixed collection of small to medium sized British businesses, individual politicians from all sides, a very small number of national newspapers and almost the entire membership of UKIP, the political party that was specifically founded to fight against Britain's continued membership of the European Union. By any measure, this particular subject will be the defining issue of David Cameron's second premiership, simply because, as a committed Europhile and undoubtedly as one of the leading figures of the "IN" campaign, were he to lose the referendum on the question of our membership of the EU, it is surely inconceivable that he could or indeed would, want to be the man charged with renegotiating Britain's exit from the European Union.
It is impossible to imagine any circumstances under which a British Prime Minister has led a referendum campaign, be it fair or foul, who has lost the argument, only then to expect that he could continue in his previous role, even though his personal judgement had not only been questioned, but his entire argument rejected? Either David Cameron is brave enough, or foolhardy enough to take the risk of such a ballot, or more cynically one might actually question whether the entire referendum process is being organised in such a way, as to guarantee a more favourable result for the Prime Minister, in other words, a complete stitch-up?
Perhaps it is worth remembering, that as with all political pledges, the promises are cheap and it's the actual delivery part that tends to be expensive, as we'll undoubtedly find over the course of the next five years, assuming of course that David Cameron and his Conservatives don't fall foul of a Scottish nationalist ambush, or they don't unexpectedly lose the European membership referendum to a largely disadvantaged OUT campaign. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the problems that they might face, if they were to cut our military forces ever further, or were to renege on their promises regarding the NHS, the Human Rights Act, housing, education, taxation, apprenticeships, employment and everything else they promised to increase, at the same time that they promised to keep spending budgets under control. But then again, just like the previous issues of MP's expenses, the phone-hacking scandal, NHS waiting times and any number of the pledges that they made in 2010, including the promise to eradicate the deficit, David Cameron and his Conservatives are extremely good at finding excuses for why they haven't managed to keep their promises; and where they can't find a viable excuse to give to the public, well then, they simply fudge the answer, so I hope everyone is prepared for plenty of fudges over the course of the next 60 months? 

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Personal Judgements And Public Perceptions:

Winston Churchill once wrote "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop"
Of course nobody could legitimately argue that UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage haven't received more than their own fair share of criticism over the past few months and years, a great deal of which is entirely unreasonable; and often arising from an individual critics own personal antipathy for the party, or the man, or even perhaps both. However, that isn't to say the both UKIP and its leader are completely blameless when it comes to having giving its critics grounds for complaint, because believe it or not, they are fallible, they are human and they do make mistakes, as shocking as that might seem to some of its most fervent supporters.
But before anyone assumes that this blog article is just another critical piece, attacking UKIP for the sake of it, let me just say, I'm generally a fan of Nigel Farage; and a UKIP voter, but I'm not blind to the fact that he and they are not perfect, because if they were, he and they would now be sitting in 10 Downing Street, putting the finishing touches to implementing their election manifesto. No, the truth is that UKIP and its election candidates did fantastically well to garner nearly 4 million votes on May 7th 2015, taking around 13% of the popular vote, but still, one cannot help but think, that it could have been so much more, if some pretty basic mistakes and oversights had been eliminated by the party right from the get-go!
First of all and like it or not, one of the most common criticisms levelled against UKIP is that it's a one-man-band, something that the most recent piece of theatre involving Nigel Farage's resignation, or un-resignation, will have done little to dispel that particular myth amongst wavering or non-UKIP voters. Quite apart from the fact, that by linking his entire political future with electoral success in Thanet South, Mr Farage incentivised his opponents to throw everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, at the seat, making his task almost impossible to begin with. There was never any need to make such an offer, in a book, or in person, because there is no actual rule that says the party leader has to be a member of Parliament, unless of course there was a real likelihood that the party was going to help form the government, which even by UKIP's own electoral expectations wasn't going to happen.
But there is a wider point here, for me anyway. Quite whether it was personal vanity, or just a political miscalculation on his part, the fact that Nigel Farage inextricably linked himself and therefore the party's perceived success almost entirely to Thanet South was a mistake; and one that he was under no obligation to make. Don't get me wrong, I believe that Mr Farage is an outstanding politician, standing head and shoulders above the most of the political pygmies who now inhabit the House of Commons, but even our greatest parliamentarians have their personal flaws; and that is also certainly true of Nigel Farage, because he wouldn't be human if he didn't.
As regards the un-resignation debacle itself, it just seems to me that a new role might have been created by the UKIP national executive, which would have allowed Mr Farage to continue as the principal figurehead of the party, whilst at the same time allowing someone else to take on some of the more mundane and arduous aspects of promoting the party throughout the country. It is also true to say; and I don't imagine that everyone will agree with me, but Nigel Farage is fundamentally a "Marmite" politician, loved and loathed in equal measure by the British electorate; and for every vote he gains for UKIP he'll lose another one just as easily. That's just plain human nature for you, but not to recognise it, or to deliberately ignore it, does disservice to the party and will almost certainly continue to damage the party's electoral prospects going forward. Unless and until the UKIP members can resolve that particular dilemma, then the commonly used allegation of UKIP being a vanity project, or a one-man-band will continue to persist, probably right through to the next election and beyond.
Mercifully though, unlike the 2014 European Elections, the party's campaign this time round wasn't completely dominated by instances of new UKIP candidates making complete "tools" of themselves and the party, by making ill conceived and often outrageous statements via their Twitter or Facebook accounts, although the fact the mainstream media chose to try and make the party largely invisible to the voting public during this election campaign, ultimately proved to be a double-edged sword for UKIP. Overall and from a purely personal perspective, I thought UKIP's campaign this time around was very slick and highly professional, even though it obviously suffered from a lack of coverage in the media, most notably regarding its outstanding manifesto being generally ignored by the likes of the BBC.
However, on a small number of occasions in the print media there was a suggestion that UKIP would unreservedly back a Conservative budget, in return for an early EU referendum, which I would have thought would have been an immediate red line for any Labour voter who was thinking about switching their vote to UKIP this time round. After all, why would anyone who was implacably opposed to the Tories, consider voting for a party that was threatening to support or endorse that particular party's proposed austerity measures? In truth they wouldn't and although there is little doubt that some former Labour voters actually did lend their votes to UKIP this time round, who knows what will happen in the next election, with a different Labour leader, a different set of Labour policies, no actual SNP threat, with austerity just a distant memory (hopefully) and the question of our European membership having been resolved once and for all? Just as careless talk was said to cost lives during wartime, one would imagine that careless quips, or off-the-cuff remarks can just as easily cost a political party votes and for a relatively new party that loss of votes can prove to be particularly damaging.
One only has to look at the mileage that's been made by the British media today over the subject of what is referred to as "short money", public funds set aside for the smaller political parties to help offset their lack of civil service help. Although not a subject that is generally discussed in polite society, because of someone's personal involvement in the matter, it has now become yet another stick with which the Fourth Estate, the press and media, can beat the UKIP cause, in addition to the already discussed issue of Nigel Farage's un-resignation. And it is no use the party complaining about the heightened press interest in such matters, or the amount of negative publicity that it generates in the media, because that was entirely foreseeable, given that the British media have been so determined in their pursuit of anti-UKIP stories over the past five years. Surely it must have been anticipated by the UKIP leadership that such a highly emotive issue, the allocation and handling of public funds, would not only be picked up by the media, but would be ruthlessly spun by virtually all of them, in order to damage the UKIP brand?
Of course, purely as a UKIP voter my personal investment in the project is minimal; and if the party disappeared tomorrow I probably wouldn't bother voting at all, along with possibly hundreds of thousands of other voters, who lent their support to UKIP ostensibly on the basis of improving our country's current situation and its archaic electoral system. It would be a shame though if the poor judgement of a small number of individuals were to undermine the invaluable work that thousands of party members, up and down the country, have invested in the project, simply because some well placed person has not used good personal judgement and therefore has shown scant regard to the public's perception of the party as a whole. Only time will tell I guess, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens!  

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Voters Still Get Suckered By The Fourth Estate:

As much as we'd all like to think that things have fundamentally changed in our modern 24 hour society, in that our traditional media of newsprint, television and radio, the so-called Fourth Estate, has or is being replaced by the new electronic mediums of personal blogs, Twitter and Facebook, in reality, the pervasive and oftentimes malignant influence of the old established media remains largely intact, because guess what? they have websites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds too!
Of course, truly objective reporting by the media is generally good for any democracy, as so the theory goes, it helps keep government honest and accountable to its electorate, which in an ideal world is what most people want and expect. However, that all pre-supposes that the media, along with its owners, managers, editors, correspondents and presenters are prepared to offer their readers and viewers a completely unbiased view of the subject under discussion, which overlooks the basic fact that they are people too, with their own personal views, opinions, prejudices and bias, so just how or why should we trust their version of events anyway?
Studies undertaken in the United States has shown that public attitudes and therefore voting intentions can often be swayed and manipulated by the deliberate use of particular words and sometimes wholly misrepresentative headlines, something that most newspaper proprietors have become adept at employing. Whilst academic studies have proven that opinion polls can sometimes help affect voter intentions by up to 3-4% in elections, similarly good or bad newspaper headlines, or media coverage is likely to be no less instrumental in affecting the outcomes of important public ballots.
These same American studies have found that it is due to the influence of the Fourth Estate, the traditional print press and broadcasters, that party and policy are no longer the principal determinants in most voters minds, but rather the individual candidate themselves, thereby helping to create the idea of a "Presidential" election, as opposed to a party political one. By backing or attacking an individual leader's personality, character or stand on a particular issue then the media can directly affect the election hopes of that particular candidate, depending on whether they choose to pursue a highly positive or negative campaign against them.
One only has to look at the recent press and media campaign that was waged against the Labour leader Ed Miliband in the UK General Election, to see how damaging such an approach can be. Condemned for not being able to eat a bacon sandwich, castigated for supposedly being anti-business and charged with being held to ransom by rabid left-wing Scottish Nationalists, who would take the entire country to hell in a handcart, the Fourth Estate's strategy of attacking the candidate, rather than his party, proved to be a highly effective approach; and one that was both endorsed and echoed by his main political opponent David Cameron.
For his part, Cameron was not only portrayed as competent and experienced, but also as business-friendly and resistant to pressure from other political interests, qualities that were not necessarily accurate reflections of the man himself. In fact, Cameron more than Miliband had already shown himself to be susceptible to outside pressure, not least by the way he had been forced to offer the country a public referendum on the question of Britain's EU membership, as a direct result of the presence of the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP. To help counter the impression that UKIP were in fact driving the political agenda in the UK, once again the ranks of the press and media used their still considerable influence to selectively undermine its electoral presence by both highlighting the negative and downplaying the positive aspects of its overall election message.
Obviously it is no secret that the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers, Richard Desmond, the Rothermere family, Alexander Lebedev, etc. consider themselves to be the "king makers" of Britain's political system, bringing with them the circulations of their various publications to help influence the voting intentions of the wider British electorate. Of course, were they just only in their traditional print format, then their electoral influence would have been greatly lessened by the emergence of online content, but they too have recognised the change in reader's habits and have invested heavily in the new electronic media, thus allowing them to retain a large proportion of their traditional readerships, who are still readily inclined to follow a newspaper's lead when it comes to political and economic "truths".
Interestingly, according to most polling, journalists are much more likely to be trusted by the public than politician's are, with an estimated 22% of people likely to trust a journalist, rather than the 16% who say they would trust an elected politician. And yet that 22% is still well below the 31% who say that they trust bankers, who the press would have us believe are some of the most despised and reviled people in the country? All the same it does seem astonishing that according to the polls less than one in four people would actually trust a journalist to tell them the truth; and yet there is some evidence to suggest that a great deal more people seem to take them at their word when they're badmouthing or undermining a political figure. Of course that then begs the question, are we just naturally inclined to believe anything that's bad about a politician, just because he's a politician; and did people choose David Cameron over Ed Miliband, just because he wasn't quite as bad a politician as his opponent was? Maybe a case of a "plague on all your houses, but less so on his"?
In an ideal world, one wouldn't have a print media that was dominated by private capital interests, but then we don't live in an ideal world, so there's no point in whining about people like Rupert Murdoch acting like political king-makers, because after all, he's paid millions of pounds for the privilege; and we don't have to listen to him if we don't want to. However, when it comes to publicly-funded broadcasting, such as the BBC, then we have a right to expect that it should be transparent, even-handed and above reproach, something that it clearly isn't and hasn't been for a number of years. Quite apart from the fact that it has been proven to be a safe, well paid haven for any number of paedophiles and sex-pests over the years, the fact that it has been allowed to become partial and wholly biased in its political output should be a worry for any democratic nation, let alone one that attempts to export that same ideology to other less enlightened states around the world.
Like I said at the beginning of this blog article the problem with the Fourth Estate is that it "all pre-supposes that the media, along with its owners, managers, editors, correspondents and presenters are prepared to offer their readers and viewers a completely unbiased view of the subject under discussion, which overlooks the basic fact that they are people too, with their own personal views, opinions, prejudices and bias". And the problem for the BBC, which is after all funded by the British people through the licence fee, is that they have still not managed to eliminate those personal views, opinions, prejudices and bias, meaning that all too often their output is still being tarnished by those same personal partialities.
Depending on ones political persuasion of course, the BBC's bias might be manifested in any number of ways, with the Conservative Party now bitterly complaining that the corporation had exhibited extraordinary levels of bias towards the Labour Party and against the Tories themselves, In what can only be described as the most risible complaint ever made against a national broadcaster, one wonders just what the reaction would have been had the Conservatives been subjected to the level of partiality and bias that was levelled at UKIP and its representatives. Not only were the party maliciously misrepresented by the entire Fourth Estate, with the exception of Richard Desmond's Express group, but the BBC also seemed to adopt a very clear and blatant strategy of publicly demeaning the party whenever possible, whether by purposefully avoiding any mention of it at all during electoral bulletins, by focusing on negative news stories surrounding the party, or by giving less weight to its policies, most notably in terms of its fully costed election manifesto.
Despite having been accorded major party status by the communications ombudsman OFCOM, due to its electoral support in the country; and by virtue of it having won the 2014 European Elections, the first time a third party had done so in electoral history, the BBC seemed to have taken the view, in direct opposition to OFCOM's ruling, that UKIP would be treated as a minor political party, ostensibly on the basis of its own questionable argument that UKIP were a regional party, as opposed to a national one. Leaving aside that UKIP had electoral support and were standing candidates in all four home countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, unlike the likes of other minor parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP, etc. it is worth considering that both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party do not put up their own candidates in Northern Ireland, the Conservatives defer to affiliates, as do UKIP, so any suggestion by the BBC that UKIP lacked national legitimacy as a major party is entirely wrong. It is also worth pointing out that both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Green Party are by definition regional groupings, so once again the corporation's basic argument that UKIP failed to reach the guidelines for what does, or doesn't constitute a major party is both wrong and misleading.
Clearly, crying over spilt electoral milk serves no real purpose, other than to highlight both the inadequacies and the inequalities that our current electoral system produces, not least when the more malign and influential elements of the Fourth Estate decide to take a hand in shaping the outcomes. In addition to the malignant effect of the privately owned press and the publicly owned media, it is also perhaps mentioning the role of the often privately owned polling companies whose pronouncements on the state of the two major parties were thought to have contributed to the eventual result, although whether this was by accident or design, people have to figure out for themselves?
Even though I have little more than my own experience, research and natural cynicism to guide me, I tend to take the view that opinion polls are designed to influence, rather than to guide, or inform; and on that basis they should play no part in any election campaign, let alone one that will determine who gets to run other people's lives. Although some studies suggest that only 3-4% of voters are actually influenced by opinion polls, common sense and logic would seem to suggest that very few people are going to willingly admit that they've allowed an anonymous poll to actively sway their choice of candidate, implying that those who are directly influenced by polling is far, far higher than these few studies would indicate. After all, who is going to publicly admit that they're incapable of choosing a candidate on the strength of his character, or his arguments, rather than relying on a polling company to make up their minds for them? Aside from the fact that everybody loves a winner, just how many voters are actively discouraged from casting their ballots for their favoured candidate, if and when a polling company announces that they've got no chance of winning? And then we wonder why so many people can't be bothered to vote?  

Monday 11 May 2015

There's More That Divides Us, Than Binds Us:

Rightly or wrongly I've always held the view that the Thatcher government of the 1980's did more to undermine the idea of a single British nation than any other leader before or since, although not in the sense of dividing the Union along purely nationalistic lines, despite the fact that Scotland's more recent rush to secure full independence, almost certainly can trace its origins back to that particular period. Whether it was just the widespread de-industrialisation of Scotland's traditional manufacturing industries, or the imposition of the hated Poll Tax, or a combination of these two, along with a latent nationalist fervour to free the country from the political heel of an increasingly distant and indifferent English Parliament, either way, there seems to be very little likelihood that we can or will ever return to the pre-Thatcherite days, when England and Scotland were generally content to stay together for their mutual benefit.
I guess it's a matter of personal perspective, moral values and individual choices, as to whether or not you believe in the concept of Margaret Thatcher's free-market, aspirational, Libertarian society, where small government, low taxes and minimal public spending prevail, much as they often do in other developed economies like the USA. If you wholeheartedly buy into the idea of personally keeping almost everything that you earn, believe that most welfare recipients are nothing but indigent scroungers, would much rather see private enterprise handle the charitable side of a society's health and social needs, then clearly you will have welcomed some, if not all of the changes that Baroness Thatcher introduced to the country; and perhaps wished that she had done more?
Maybe some British citizens still wish that she had dismantled the Welfare State entirely, thus heralding an almost unprecedented era of private insurance-based healthcare, food stamps, fees-based education, local taxes, homeless shelters, charitable (tax deductible) donations and a complete end to any sort of publicly funded project or organisation that wasn't directly related to national defence, revenue collection or law enforcement? Clearly, we are already moving towards such socially divisive measures in the United Kingdom, what with hundreds of food-banks supplying hundreds of thousands of needy individuals with foodstuffs, with an estimated 6% of our public healthcare sector already having been handed over to for-profit businesses ventures; and with local communities and businesses being actively encouraged to take on the sorts of social welfare roles that had previously been undertaken by central or local government.
Of course, such criticism of government policy isn't to overlook the fact that individual people must take some sort of personal responsibility for their own predicament, always assuming that government gives them the means to do so. Being a huge enthusiast for our country's long and turbulent history, I'm only too aware that lazy, exploitative and bone-idle people have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, willingly taking advantage of any free handouts that might be on offer from their fellow citizens, or indeed from the State; entirely on the basis that they won't or don't have to work for it. However, history also suggests that those who are deliberately indigent or workless are very often in the minority, whilst the majority are often in that same position simply because of unforeseen individual circumstance, infirmity, age or disability, rather than through their own character defaults.
It cannot after all be a coincidence that significant levels of unemployment and Welfare dependency followed on directly from the massive de-industrialisation of the country by the Thatcher government in the 1980's, who then subsequently squandered billions of pounds worth of valuable North Sea oil revenues maintaining millions of former workers on the dole queues, in those areas where thriving shipbuilding, mining, steel production and fishing communities had once existed? It also cannot come as any surprise that regions that were previously some of the most affluent, by virtue of thousands of well paid skilled jobs, have now become some of the poorest, by virtue of some of the lowest paid work in the country. No doubt billions of pounds of public money was and has been poured in by central government, to help mitigate the effects of large scale de-industrialisation in certain regions, but what use are part-time unskilled supermarket jobs in areas where fishing, mining, engineering and such used to be the norm?
Just where is the personal job satisfaction in stacking supermarket shelves, selling mobile phones, or serving a customer with a Big Mac ready meal? Just where is the long term future in a job like that, or indeed where is the prospect for progress, to build a life, to own your own home, to buy a car, or even go on a foreign holiday once a year? And national government's wonder why the unemployed are not flocking to the likes of Tescos, Morrisons, or McDonalds to find themselves a career, but prefer instead to stay unemployed, or in full-time education, where they can then wrack up thousands of pounds worth of personal debt that in all likelihood will never be repaid?
So just whose fault is it that some 40% of the British electorate couldn't even be bothered to cast a ballot for one of the major political parties standing in the recent General Election, thus disenfranchising themselves from our national political life? Whose fault is it that hundreds of billions of pounds worth of British taxpayer's money has been squandered over the past thirty-odd years maintaining and resuscitating former industrialised communities, which are now little better off than they were when their traditional industries were closed down and wiped out? Who was to blame for robbing Britain's children of their industrial heritage, leaving them with little option but to find low paid, low prospect careers in Britain's burgeoning retail or service sectors? Just who was responsible to creating the selfishly divided Britain, where the "haves" utterly despise the "have-nots", where the "wealthy" purposefully ignore the "poor", where the "homeowner" doesn't care about the "homeless", where the "landlord" regards his "tenant" purely as an income stream and where the billion dollar business can legitimately avoid his taxes, yet the small struggling sole proprietor cannot?
The answer as to who lies at fault for these catastrophic events and divisive attitudes is of course national government, principally that of Margaret Thatcher during the 1980's, but also those of Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, as well as the previous and current governments of David Cameron. Between them all, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat allies, these various administrations have acted, connived and conspired to not only alter the industrial landscape of our country, but also to manipulate its ethnic base, its social cohesion, public attitudes, accepted norms and its cultural practices, to the extent that what was once a tight-knit homogenous society, has now become a loose-fitting, ill-at-ease heterogeneous one instead. As a result, where once there was commonality and understanding based on a shared history, sense of values, culture, language and laws, now there is misunderstanding over any common theme, with increasingly little in the way of shared histories, values and cultures, as well as too many foreign tongues and no widely accepted view of a common law.
As well as national governments, Britain's employers and trades union movement must also bear their fair share of responsibility for the almost inevitable breakdown of the country's previously accepted norms in terms of working practices and employment guarantees. With the country's industrial base wracked by endemic restrictive working practices, the closed shop and extortionate wage demands, employers were thought to have responded by delaying much needed financial investment, or by refusing vital manufacturing orders altogether, with the result that Britain's deteriorating industries were further undermined by the very same people who relied on them for their personal livelihoods. So it was that in an increasingly globalised marketplace, which was itself affected by the rise of new Asian industrial giants like Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China, with their huge untapped industrial capacity and extremely cheap labour, Britain found its own manufacturing base largely undone by the very people who were supposed to be protecting and overseeing its existence, the government, employers and workers.
For communities around Britain, the loss of their hugely important industrial heritage and futures is undoubtedly one of the major reasons why so many of them have been beset by an ongoing culture of rising and long term unemployment, social decline, economic stagnation and personal antipathy to the very concept of personal responsibility. It can hardly be a surprise to anyone that a generation of British workers seemingly abandoned by the State, employers and even the traditional Trade Unions movement, feel it is entirely appropriate to put aside their duty to society, when that same society has so clearly abandoned them to the prospect of an uncertain low wage, few prospects future, that offers them little to build a safe and meaningful future on.
Perhaps, it is that sense of hopelessness, futility, anger and resentment that explains the rise of the Scottish National Party north of the border, its message of hope, rebirth and better times ahead resonating amongst the deprived and the dispossessed who were essentially abandoned by the English dominated parliament in London. These feelings of abandonment, frustration and anger at government, employers and trade unions are not just present in Scotland, but undoubtedly exist in many of the great cities of Northern England, in the Northwest, the Northeast and down along the entire East coast, in numerous former industrial heartlands, where hundreds of thousands of people are forced to labour for a minimal level of pay, or face the prospect of unemployment and the various punitive sanctions that can be levied for not playing by the rules.
Is it any wonder then that Britain feels more divided than at any time during the past hundred years or so, with an almost semi-independent Scotland, being joined in its rejection of a Southern based centralised government by the likes of a Northern Powerhouse centred around Manchester; another one in Liverpool; and yet another in Yorkshire. We have seen Cornwall call for its own devolved assembly, whilst Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own working and well established regional legislatures, which sort of begs the question, what's the future for; or more importantly what's the point of a single Britain anymore? If the people of the various parts of the United Kingdom, be it Scotland, the Northwest, the Northeast, Wales, Northern Ireland, or even Cornwall, feel as detached from, or as indifferent to the rest of the country, as London clearly does, then what does that say about us as a single country? Does it actually mean that there is far more to divide us, than to bind us; and if that's the case, then does that mark the end of our nation as a single United Kingdom; and if so, whose fault is that?