David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party with a manifesto to modernise, though it would appear from the grassroots rebellion in the shires that a worryingly high percentage of Tory Party members have changed their minds. On issues like equal marriage this clearly has something to do with the high average age profile of the party’s membership, as well as the fact that Conservatives are by nature traditionalists. However, the really extraordinary feature of the past few months has been the slow-motion car-crash over Europe. The way that John Major’s authority was undermined over Maastricht in the 1990s should have served as a warning to Cameron that the EU was a potentially explosive issue yet however well he may have handled some other aspects of government — not least getting a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats swiftly in place after the 2010 general election — the way he has dealt with Europe has been a disaster. He has not only dismayed many of Britain’s EU partners by his posturing, instead of winning allies for necessary reforms; he has also failed to make clear what his government’s position on Britain’s role in the EU should be. One minute he is saying that he thinks EU membership is a good thing on balance, providing some reforms do take place, while the next he is pandering to the Europhobes and threatening to pull out. By throwing the red meat of an in-out referendum promise to his more rabid backbenchers he has only made them hungry for more. And he has given succour to UKIP, encouraging some of his more disaffected party members to defect there, while at the same time lambasting Nigel Farage and Co as clowns. As Leader he should have given clear guidance and then insist that the Party sticks to it — especially Cabinet Ministers, who have collective responsibility for government policy or else must resign their post. Instead, the Tory Eurocar is being steered by a driver who doesn’t after all appear to have passed his driving test.
Posts Tagged ‘UKIP’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th May, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th May, 2013
The European Union has a good story to tell; you don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize without one. But alas all too often the story gets lost in a mist of jargon and worthiness. Having covered the European project since Britain joined the then European Community in 1973 I am only too aware of the problem, even while being an ardent supporter of the European project myself. These thoughts came to my mind today at Europe House (the London HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representation in London) when the British Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) held a lunchtime event for Richard Corbett, special adviser to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. Now Richard is a nice and intelligent man and it was a tragedy that he lost his seat as a Labour MEP in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2009 while UKIP noodle Godfrey Bloom hung on to his. Herman Van Rompuy is also a nice and even more intelligent man. But it is a sad fact that the vast majority of Brits ( and many other European citizens) have not the faintest clue what he does or indeed what the European Council is. Richard this lunchtime gave us a very fair and balanced appraisal of where things stand in the eurozone and the wider EU, stressing how Europe has avoided protectionism in no small part thanks to the single market. The major objection to putatative UK opt-outs is that it would mean Britain competing under unequal circumstances. Germany’s Angela Merkel has said she is keen to keep the UK in, but as Herman van Rompuy aptly commented re David Cameron’s position, when someone has one hand on the doorknob and is looking for his coat he can’t expect people to take him very seriously. Indeed, the message the Conservatives are giving, through the crackle of Cameron’s ambiguities, is not so much about an opt-out as about a walk-out. That is of course what UKIP wants. Now Nigel Farage has been getting more than his fare share of publicity recently, including on the BBC, but this is not because his rather vague policies are supported by the media. It’s because he fires witty rhetorical fireworks from every orifice; in short he entertains. So a big chunk of the public warms to him. What the proponents of the EU project — and defenders of Britain’s membership — need is to loosen up, to drop the jargon and worthiness and to present a narrative that will make people in the UK and beyond enthusiastic about being European citizens. Engage them!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Angela Merkel, Conservatives, David Cameron, EU, Europe House, European Council, Godfrey Bloom, Herman Van Rompuy, Labour, Nigel Farage, Richard Corbett, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th May, 2013
After the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Council in Pula, Croatia, the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtables held a seminar on “Illegal Immigration: The Crossing Point” with a thought-provoking initial presentation by Felicita Medved, the (Slovene) President of the European Liberal Forum. Although the main purpose of the ensuing debate was to focus on illegal — or, as Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom has rightly encouraged people to rename it, “irregular” — immigration, in fact the whole issue of immigration in general got debated, with a sharp division emerging between more left-leaning Liberal parties including the UK Liberal Democrats, D66 from the Netherlands and the Swedish Centre Party on the one hand and more right-wing Liberal parties, notably the VVD from the Netherlands and Venstre from Denmark. I was so alarmed by the degree to which one VVD speaker, Mark Verheijen MP, seemed to have wandered on to the territory of Geert Wilders (just as a depressingly large number of British Conservatives have lurched into the openly xenophobic, even racist, anti-immigrant domain of UKIP’s Nigel Farage) that I argued passionately for the urgent need for a new alternative Liberal narrative and vocabulary on immigration. Of course levels of immigration have to be managed, but the positive side to immigration needs to be championed and due recognition given to how it has helped the economies of many EU member states, including Britain. Indeed, thanks to our greying population continued immigration is going to be a necessity if Europe is going to play a significant economic role in the globalised world of the future. The ensuing debate in Pula was so lively that it was fortuitous that the UK LibDems had already suggested the issue could be the subject of another session, associated with the ALDE Congress in London this November. I believe immigration will be the top issue in the European elections next May, thanks to UKIP, and it is essential we LibDems have a persuasive counter-narrative in place by then.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, D66, EU, European Liberal Forum, Felicita Medved, Folkpartiet, Geert Wilders, immigration, Liberal Democrats, Mark Verheijen, Nigel Farage, Pula, UKIP, Venstre, VVD | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013
The strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in this week’s county council elections and recent parliamentary by-elections has been causing shudders in Britain’s other political parties and strengthens the hand of right-wing Conservative MPs who have been urging David Cameron to drift towards the UKIP agenda in an effort to stop the haemorrhage of traditional Tory voters. I trust we will not hear any such nonsense from Liberal Democrat parliamentarians. Even though sizable numbers of traditional LibDem voters also probably opted for UKIP this time I believe that was mainly as a form of protest. All three main political parties are suffering from voter disaffection and in particular the LibDems, as unfortunately many people in the UK don’t understand Coalition politics and the fact that as a junior partner in government the Liberal Democrats have only a certain degree of clout. But the really important thing, I believe, is that the Liberal Democrats must be bold enough to confront UKIP’s two main policy planks — anti-immigration and anti-EU — and tackle them head-on. I deliberately put immigration first, despite the fact that withdrawal from the EU is UKIP’s most well-known USP, as I believe the scare-mongering by UKIP regarding immigrants was more effective in garnering votes for the party than Nigel Farage’s attempts to ridicule Brussels. Opinion polls consistently show that for the vast majority of British voters Europe is way down their list of political priorities. But Farage and his colleagues have been steering the anti-immigrant bandwagon in a way that used to be more the role of the BNP and National Front. Farage’s repeated warning about the UK “opening its doors” to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January not only ignore such realities as the fact that the more favoured destinations of Romanians who do want to emigrate are Italy and France, and for many Bulgarians Germany is seen as more desirable because of low housing costs and a growing economy but also propagate the distinctly racist implication that all Romanians — and particularly Roma — are criminals. The LibDems — who currently have a working group looking at immigration and related issues — need to stress how much the British economy has benefited from immigration (which of course has to be controlled but not in an arbitrary fashion). Moreover, with regard to the EU the Liberal Democrats need to be brave enough to stand up and proclaim why leaving the EU would be disastrous for Britain. Certainly some reforms of the EU are needed, but you do not reform an organisation by leaving it. The European debate has been hijacked by UKIP and it is urgent that the alternative case is put strongly — by the LibDems.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013
Ken Clarke — the thinking man’s Conservative — has aptly described UKIP as a rallying point for waifs and strays. Though some of its members — and presumably its MEPs — are genuinely motivated by a belief that the European Union is the worst thing since the Third Reich a great many of its supporters are essentially people who look at a ballot paper marked Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and respond “None of the Above”. One reason for that is that none of the three major British political parties manifests xenophobia as overtly as does UKIP. It’s no use party leader Nigel Farage pleading that UKIP is not racist: the party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, including the latest demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, is distinctly racist in tone. Some of the motley crew who have been signed up to stand for UKIP in this Thursday’s County Council elections have expressed openly homophobic opinions as well; one described gays as “termites”. Farage himself has admitted that the party has not had time to vet these newbie candidates thoroughly and that there might indeed be some members of the BNP and convicted criminals among them. It is significant that the hateful English Defence League (EDL) urged that other far-right parties, including the BNP, should not stand against UKIP candidates so as not to split the vote. As Geoffrey Bloom, one of UKIP’s more colourful MEPs, has warned, the party has not had time to draw up a clear manifesto of policy either. Mr Bloom, you may recall, is the gentleman who argued that women should spend more time cleaning behind the fridge. Feminism is almost as sinful as homosexuality in the lexicon of many “Kippers”. It is a fact that several of UKIP’s MEPs later walked out of the party after they got elected, and I won’t go into the criminal activity that landed certain people in jail. But Farage is a good comedy turn and is getting blanket coverage in the media so is an attractive nanny for the “waifs and strays”. For me the most alarming thing, however, is the way that the right-wing of the Conservative Party is cosying up to UKIP because it is afraid the party is taking away Tory votes. It’s a very dangerous strategy, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider that the Tories are in a group in the European Parliament that contains some pretty intolerant and offensive right-wing parties. UKIP’s intervention could lead to some very interesting results on Thursday, with the Conservatives likely to be the biggest casualties. The number of UKIP councillors elected might be small, thanks to Britain’s quirky electoral system, but the party’s bubble needs to be burst — and its shortcomings highlighted — before next year’s European elections, when a sizeable UKIP vote under a proportional system could make them the biggest contingent, doing incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation amongst our continental partners.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2013
This afternoon I took part in a very lively and civilised debate at South Hampstead High School against the Chairman of London UKIP, David Coburn (who was standing in for London’s UKIP MEP, Gerald Batten). The audience were girls from the sixth form (as I tend to still think of those senior years) and David and my 20 minute presentations were followed by some extremely vigorous questioning. David is a very affable chap who has had a distinctly international business career, so there was good-natured sparring from our respective positions, which were pretty much at the opposite ends of the European political spectrum. It was clear from many of the girls’ questions that they were already well-informed on political matters and that they were ready and willing to challenge what they heard. So it was especially gratifying that when there was a vote at the end of the afternoon on whether the girls would opt to stay in the EU or leave if there were a referendum tomorrow, only one voted to leave.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th January, 2013
An interesting opinion poll from YouGov this weekend, asking people how they will vote in next year’s European elections, has UKIP in fourth place, behind the Liberal Democrats (LAB 38%, CON 30%, LD 13%, UKIP 12%, SNP/PC 3%, Grn 3%, BNP 1%). That’s quite a bump down from even a week ago, but more significantly indicates that all the hoo-haa about UKIP over the past few months may actually have damaged the party’s prospects. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has been ubiquitous on the broadcast media, but that blanket coverage of him does not seem to have done UKIP much good. Maybe it has highlighted the fact that while Mr Farage may be an amusing cheeky chappie at times, others in the party are more disturbing. Or indeed simply that people actually don’t trust a cheeky chappie with running something important (think how Ken Livingstone ploughed in last years London Mayoral election). What does seem to be true — unless later developments prove otherwise — is that UKIP has peaked too soon. The Euro-elections are still nearly 18 months away, and public opinion appears to be becoming more objective about the benefits of Britain’s membership of the European Union, despite all the europhobic bile poured out by certain popular newspapers. Indeed, another opinion poll from YouGov released this weekend suggests that 40% of the public would vote to keep the UK in the EU as opposed to 34% who would vote to leave. That is a very dramatic turn-around from even a few months ago and gives one hope that the comments of prominent businssmen such as Richard Branson and John Browne are having some effect — despite the shilly-shallying of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013
It’s 40 years since Britain joined the EU and siren voices among UKIP and the Tory right are arguing that it’s time to turn the clock back and pull out. They couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, this is the time for the EU to integrate more — as the eurozone now seems destined to do — and Britain should be an enthusiastic participant. In the 1950s it was clear to the Founding Fathers (sorry, ladies, they were all men) of what developed into the EU that a degree of economic integration, notably between France and Germany, was necessary to make wars between western European states impossible. That goal was so smoothly achieved that European peace is taken for granted, especially by the young. A second huge victory since 1989 has been the absorption of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe ino the EU. This year, Croatia will be the next. But there is an urgent reason why EU integration should move ahead, namely the way that the global economy is developing, with the rise of new heavyweights including Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRICs. As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rightly pointed out, by 2050 not a single individual European country will be among the world’s top 10 economies* — not even Germany. So in order to compete — indeed, to survive as an economic force — Europe must unite further and start operating more as not just a single market but also a single economic force. It would be madness for Britain to stay out of that, condemning itself to a form of offshore irrelevance. It is not the Europhiles in Britain who are unpatriotic, as some of our critics allege, but rather UKIP and the Europhobic Tory right who want to consign us to the role of an historical theme park.
*A new entry at number 10, however, could well be Turkey, which makes it all the more important that Turkey be embraced into the European family.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th October, 2012
I confess that when I heard that the European Union had been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize I was somewhat surprised — and I was even more taken aback today when I learnt that it had won it, against competition from over 100 other organizations and individuals. Predictably Nigel Farage, UKIP and the Tory Euro-sceptics immediately went on the offensive, and they got far more coverage in the British media than they deserve. But such is the nature of the UK tabloid Press (and the Daily Telegraph). The more I thought about the award, however, the more I realised how well deserved it is. The EU and its various predecessors have made war between France and Germany unthinkable, which was the prime motivation of the founding fathers. And even more remarkably, the EU has enabled formerly Communist countries of central and eastern Europe to glide back into the mainstream of Europe where they belong, with astonishing speed. Of course the eurozone is going through a difficult patch, but let’s not forget that the global financial crisis began with the sub-prime mortgages in the United States, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and irresponsible practices by bankers, not least in the City of London. That is not the EU’s fault; on the contrary, a more cohesive EU offers the best possible route out of the current problems. It is also notable that the Peace Prize is decided by the Norwegian Nobel committee and that Norway is not a member of the EU. That is basically because Norway has a relatively tiny population and an enormous sovereign wealth fund based on its huge earnings from hydrocarbons extraction. But that did not stop the committee understanding what has been happening in the wider Europe. And I can see Norway one day joining the EU, just as one day Britain will probably be forced to join the euro, after the pound sterling slides into oblivion. But in the meantime, what the Norwegians have said is: ‘the EU has brought peace and stability to our often war-torn continent, and shows every sign of continuing to do so, once the current troubles are over.’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th September, 2012
The Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) and Liberal International British Group (LIBG) joined forces last night at a fringe meeting at the LibDems’ autumn conference on the place of Britain in the European Union and Europe’s place in the world. I was the first speaker, stressing how important it is that the Party continues to publicise its commitment to internationalism and to the UK’s European future (as Nick Clegg had indeed done just minutes before in a speech to diplomats at the International Reception). I was dismayed that there was virtually no mention of international or European issues in the main agenda of the Brighton conference, though there have been several related fringe meetings. The Coalition government as such is hampered in its championing of the importance of Britain’s EU membership by David Cameron’s perceived need to appease his eurosceptic backbenchers. I fear that in the 2014 European elections the Tories will be tempted to try to out-UKIP UKIP, too, in an attempt to staunch the haemorrhaging of votes. And Labour is too split on the issue of Europe to be a reliable advocate. The City of London and business in general seems too nervous to stick its head above the parapet, although most businesses recognise the vital importance of EU membership. So it is going to be up to the Liberal Democrats to make the case. A few, very simple messages need to be honed, to be used on the doorstep, of which perhaps the most important is the fact that in an increasingly regionalised, globalised world, in which big new players such as China, India and Brazil are making their presence felt, Europe needs to be more united in order to be a powerful force. Britain on its own in the 21st Century never could be, despite what the Little Englanders think.