Divided We Surely Fall

There are only two sides to the EU debate: those that believe that the EU is beyond saving and want out, and those that believe that the EU is worth saving and want in. For the sake of simplicity we’ll call these camps anti-EU and pro-EU. All three of the major parties in British politics are pro-EU in that they all agree that the EU needs reform, but is a good thing for Britain. Sure they bicker about individual items of legislation, and for political convenience it is in their favour to appear more or less in favour of the EU depending upon what slice of the electorate they’re canvassing, but in terms of the grand EU debate, they are all on the same side. Only Farage sits on the other.

So it seems strange that the political establishment can’t win this in a slam dunk. Surely the combined weight of the conservative party, the labour party, and the liberal democrats should be enough to explain to the electorate precisely why an imperfect EU is better than a non-existent one. The Nick Clegg v Nigel Farage debate was a perfect opportunity for the pro-Eu camp to unify, and yet the opposite happened. Today David Cameron appeared on television calling Nick Clegg an extremist, the Labour party have been distancing themselves as far as possible from the subject lest negative fallout stains their trousers, and even the Green party – a party whose objectives are solely dependent upon the EU and global cooperation – couldn’t resist the opportunity to resort to petty politics and opportunism. If our political parties cannot unite when presented with such a basic proposition, is it any wonder that demagogues like Farage triumph?

We see this time and again with the liberal left. The AV referendum was lost because rather than unite to improve an outdated electoral system, the Labour party used it as an opportunity to steal votes from the Lib Dems. I’ll say this for the conservatives, they know how to pull together for the bigger picture, the left simply cannot get past its own factional squabbling.

Take this party political broadcast by the Green party in response to the debate. The Greens have an almost identical outlook on Europe as the Lib Dems, but to gain political advantage they paint them as the very non-existent caricature dreamt up by the daily mail: a sycophantic slave to faceless EU bureaucrats. Pro-EU camps should be arguing that this stereotype doesn’t exist, that it is a paranoid fantasy, but the Greens have cynically promoted it, betraying their own cause. It is yet another sad sign of the continued decline of a once promising party.

Cooperating is a virtue in politics, but Britain is yet to break out of its juvenile mentality and realise this. If we don’t soon change, Farage, may well win by default.

A UKIP Assessment

Google UKIP and the first line in their autobiographical blurb reads: “Libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.” Frankly, if one of the first things an organisation needs to say about themselves is that they’re ‘non-racist’, people should be slightly worried. But before their, slightly guilty sounding, profession of non-racism, they highlight their libertarianism, so they can’t be all bad, surely?

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader by European Parliament

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader by European Parliament

“We, The People” is the title of the UKIP local election manifesto, which carries the rather patronising tag-line of being “straight-talking” which at best means ‘simplified’, and at worst ”dumbed down’. But, without feeling too prejudiced, lets jump on in.

UKIP claim to be a party of localism, pulling power away from national and international bodies and putting it in the hands of local people. A big part of this, unsurprisingly, is withdrawal from the EU, but despite their name, there is more to them than just this one policy.

Like most of the smaller parties, UKIP favour electoral reform, switching from FPTP to AV Plus. They also want to devolve power to local authorities, democratically electing members to controlling bodies of health, police and education. Yet at the same time they would abolish regional government, which seems slightly muddled. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they intend to devolve so much power to councils that these regional governments would no longer be necessary, but this does seem unlikely.

Interestingly, UKIP favour scrapping VAT and replacing it with a local sales tax that would raise money for the council instead of the standard council tax. This is an alternative to the Lib Dem policy of creating a local income tax to counter council tax, and both parties have it right that council tax needs to go. The flaw in the UKIP approach is that if authorities can set their own local tax, then there will be too much competition to cut this tax to draw shoppers to the area. Sometimes it’s easy to cross boundaries and I fear there would soon become tax-haven local authorities in rich areas that do not need as much council tax revenue and can afford to charge less, thus creating more trade and becoming even richer.

On the deficit, UKIP are against front-line cuts, but would scrap all ‘non-jobs’. I’m rather dubious about the existence of non-jobs. I guess people consider all jobs ‘non-jobs’ until they find out what the actual nature of the work is. In reality this policy is rather empty and crafted to simply sound pleasing.

On immigration, the party would like to freeze permanent settlement for five years as well as withhold state benefits from immigrants for five years and stop all cash benefits going to non-Brits. Whilst population control is an important subject, deliberately making life difficult for immigrants would only create a criminal underclass. I fear such policies would have disastrous effects.

Whilst there are policies on all sorts of areas, I’d like to point to one last section on the environment which includes ending all money going towards tackling climate change and banning wind farms. The money saved would be invested in nuclear energy and ‘clean’ coal. Whilst they are right to look at alternatives to oil, simply shutting off the possibility of getting energy from renewable sources does seem blinkered.

In conclusion, UKIP appear to be deeply confused. On the one hand they endorse the importance of liberty and devolved power, but only agree with that power being used to implement conservative policies (which are often very authoritarian).

So is UKIP a party worth supporting? If you want us to pull out of the EU right away, then yes. The Conservative party is split too deeply on the issue for throwing support behind them to have the effect you’d like. On the other hand, if you are a libertarian then the liberals is the place for you. However if you are ‘fake libertarian’ (you believe in freedom, but only freedom for a select few doing things you personally believe in) then the Conservatives is the party to get behind.

My prediction for UKIP is a healthy gain in local elections, but not significant enough to warrant much attention. The real story will be the river of liberal blood flowing through the streets…