This evening saw Round 2 of the Nick Clegg-Nigel Farage IN/OUT debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, this time hosted by BBC2 and that evergreen fixture of BBC political programmes, David Dimbleby. I made a short speech at the National Liberal Club before the screening there, highlighting what for me are the three greatest achievements of the EU: (1) peace in Western Europe, (2) the re-integration of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family, and (3) the European Single Market, including labour mobility, which we must resolutely defend. I also briefly touched on the three strands of Liberal Democrat campaigning in the current European elections: jobs (especially for young people), the environment, and crime & security — the last mentioned including the European Arrest Warrant, promoted by Sir Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England but now threatened with being undermined by the Tories. As for the televised debate itself, I thought Nick performed really well for the first 40 minutes or so — much more strongly than last week — though Farage got the upper hand towards the end. As I said in a Q&A afterwards with Vince Cable and Michael Moore at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars — where a Liberal Business Forum event was in full swing — I think Nick missed an opportunity to counter Farage’s jibe about laws being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Nick reposted that the number of European civil servants is on a par with those working for Derbyshire County Council, but he could fairly have argued that laws are actually passed by Ministers of the member states (most of them elected by popular mandate) and increasingly in co-decision with the European Parliament — directly elected, and surely something we should be pushing hard over the next eight weeks. Moreover, UKIP is vulnerable when it comes to the European Parliament as their attendance record at committees, in particular, is dire, and they often vote against Britain’s interest in plenary sessions. That fact needs reiterating time and again for people to realise that voting UKIP is actually wasting one’s vote if one wants to see the EU changing for the good.
Posts Tagged ‘UKIP’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Crowne Plaza Hotel, European Arrest Warrant, European Parliament, European Union, Liberal Democrats, Michael Moore, National Liberal Club, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Sir Graham Watson, UKIP, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th March, 2014
One should never read too much into one opinion poll, but the YouGov figures researched for the Sunday Times today are a shot in the arm for pro-Europeans in London. They show that the capital’s voters are quite distinct from those in most of the other English regions, by putting UKIP in fourth place behind the Liberal Democrats and the LibDems at around twice their national opinion poll rating. The results are as follows: LAB 34%, CON 22%, LD 18%, UKIP 16%, Grn 7%, Others 2%. Though one cannot predict with absolute certainty the outcome of that under the d’Hondt system of PR used in the European elections (variables being the actual number of votes cast for each party and the total number of votes “wasted” on tiny parties that don’t win a seat), nonetheless were those percentages replicated on 22 May, instead of the current situation in London of 3 Tory MEPs, 2 Labour, 1 LibDem, 1 UKIP, 1 Green, there could be 3 Labour, 2 Tory, 2 LibDem and one UKIP (and no Green). That certainly gives the Liberal Democrats in London a reason to get their adrenalin flowing, and it would confirm what I have increasingly felt over the past couple of years that a majority of London’s population realise that it is not in Britain’s interest to leave the EU, as UKIP wants and the Conservatives appear to be engineering almost by default. Many Londoners have jobs that depend to varying degrees on British membership of the EU and of course the very substantial number of EU migrants living and working in the capital must realise that it is in their interest that Britain stays in and fully signed up to the core principle of labour mobility within the EU. All EU citizens resident in London can vote in both the local and European elections, in the latter instance providing they sign a form saying they won;t vote in their home country. I believe Nick Clegg called it absolutely correctly by making the Liberal Democrats the Party of IN. In fact, we always were, but the party centrally was nervous about saying so. Now we can be out and proud for Britain in the EU, championing the argument that it is good for British jobs and for our place in the world. But we have to motivate those who agree with us to actually vote!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th March, 2014
I often say in speeches that to my mind the European Union has three major achievements to its credit: (1) ensuring that France and Germany — and by extension the rest of Western Europe — would never go to war again, (2) the re-incorporation of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and (3) the European Single Market. A crucial element of the last-mentioned is freedom of movement for citizens of the EU throughout the now 28-member Union. The mobility of labour in particular has been a great boon to millions of individuals but also to economies, not least Britain’s — and in particular that of London. So it is particularly galling for me to hear the tone of the debate about EU migration in so much of the country, egged on by the more inflammatory elements of the popular Press, UKIP and far too many Conservative MPs, who really ought to know better. As was made abundantly clear at a seminar on Labour Mobility within the EU, hosted this morning by the Polish Ambassador, Witold Sobków, a major part of London’s boom has been the city’s ability to draw in EU migrant labour of all kinds — migrants, incidentally, who recent studies show pay in about 30% more in taxes to the British Exchequer than they take out in services and benefits. The timing of the seminar was pegged to the looming 10th anniversary of the Big Bang enlargement of May 2004, when eight former Communist states (plus Cyprus and Malta) joined the EU. Britain, Ireland and Sweden gave immediate working rights to citizens of the new entrants, unlike the rest of the EU. And although many Brits were taken aback by the large numbers of Poles, in particular, who arrived, skilled and keen to work, speakers at today’s seminar pointed out that Britain benefited. economically from that influx. Various perspectives on the subject were provided by Prof. Christian Dustmann (UCL), Jonathan Portes (National Institute of Economic and Social Research), Tim Finch (Institute for Public Policy Research) and the moderator, Sunder Katwala (British Future), of whom only Tim Finch really tried to be devil’s advocate in putting forward some of the reasons why some people in Britain might be uneasy about having EU migrants in their midst (though there is an almost equally large number of British migrants on the Continent). Migration Watch, which acts as a doomsayer on the subject had unfortunately refused an invitation to send a speaker for the panel. But it was clear that the mood of the audience was very much on the side of the angels (from my point of view), seeing labour migration as essentially positive for Britain. The negative narrative of so much of the media needs to be challenged head-on, and Liberal Democrats, in particular, as the “Party of IN” should not shy away from defending EU migration in the face of the antis myths and scaremongering.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Chirstian Dustmann, EU migration, European Single Market, Jonathan Portes, Labour mobiity, Liberal Democrats, Migration Watch, Sunder Katawala, Tim Fitch, UKIP, Witold Sobków | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014
Victorian Britain was associated with gunboat diplomacy and there are still some people in this country who think of power in terms of military might. But since the Second World War, Britain’s “soft power” has been more in evidence, not least through the work of the British Council and the BBC World Service. The Council’s Director, Sir Martin Davidson, was the guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime and underlined how the teaching of English abroad and the fact that so many foreign students come to the UK to study both help this country’s economy as well as its global presence. Without overtly criticising the Government for not increasing the Council’s presence around the globe (in stark contrast to China’s Confucius Institutes, for example) Sir Martin did nonetheless point out that the negative coverage in the Indian Press of the immigration and visa debates in the UK had directly led to a fall in the number of students from India applying to study here. I asked him what the British Council is doing or could be doing to counter the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and UKIP on our reputation not just in India but globally, without getting an entirely satisfactory answer; but of course to be seen publicly to criticise influential British media might be difficult in Sir Martin’s position. Politicians and journalists need not operate under such constraints, however, which is why I spend so much of my time offering an alternative British narrative to that served up in the right-wing red-tops or the Faragistas’ pubs. The UK does still have a degreee of soft power, though it is redcued because of reductions to the budgets of the British Council and the ludicrous decision to integrate the World Service into the main BBC new and current affairs output. That soft power is increased by our membership of the European Union and is often a force for good in the wider world, which is why those of us who believe that need to stand up and say so.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: BBC World Service, China, Consfucius Institute, Global Strategy Forum, India, National Liberal Club, Sir Martin Davidson, The British Council, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th February, 2014
Party political broadcasts are all too often toe-curlingly bad, but this evening’s LibDem PPB on “Why I am IN” (the EU, that is) is a corker. It gets across a simple but crucial message powerfully, with a stellar performance by Nick Clegg (really!) in his best relaxed but authoritative style, and three nice vignettes of engaging people explaining in just a couple of sentences why Britain’s continued membership of the European Union is important. I have been arguing for some time that we need to polarise the debate in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May: if you want to leave the EU, vote UKIP; if you realise that to do so would be folly, vote LibDem. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that is unequivocally pinning its European colours to the mast, and therefore should be a rallying point for all those who understand that we are better together in Europe if we are going to thrive in an increasingly competitive, multipolar world. The EU has delivered so much that has benefited this country and its people. Of course there need to be some reforms, but those can be achieved more effectively from the inside, as a constructive member, not by sniping from the sidelines. Nick Clegg promised us that this time the European elections would be different, that the Liberal Democrats would not hide their European light under a bushel and that they would stand up to the doomsayers and scaremongers of UKIP and the Tory Right. Tonight’s PPB shows he really meant it. We now have little over three months to get that message across.
In case you missed it, here is a link to the broadcast: http://t.co/2v3Rgljk4T
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th January, 2014
I guess many people go into politics out of a sense of frustration; I know that’s true in my case, in particular frustration that the debate about Europe in the UK is so skewed by the ignorant and at times malicious content of rags such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and, more recently, the unrestrained rants of UKIP and the Tory right. That sense of frustration has been heightened further recently by the disgraceful prejudice that has been whipped up in this country against EU migrants from Romania and Bulgaria by those same culprits. Nigel Farage — who is a dangerous political menace behind his jolly man-in-the-pub facade — famously warned that 29 million such migrants were eligible to come to Britain (and other EU member states, of course) from 1 January. In fact, according to statistics provided by the Romanian Embassy, in consultation with the UK Border Agency, precisely 24 Romanians have arrived in the UK this month to date. Not a flood, not even a trickle. Moreover, the stigmatisation of Romanians in particular in the popular right-wing Press, as if all are those minority of Roma who beg and sleep out at Marble Arch, has helped lead to unpleasant acts of discrimination and voiced hostility to Romanians working here, the vast majority of whom contribute to British society, and I don’t mean just by paying their taxes. They work in a whole range of jobs from dentists to nurses, fruit pickers to waiters, in some cases doing jobs that indigenous Brits don;t want to do. So the next time you meet a migrant worker from Romania — or from Bulgaria — remember that it is highly likely that they have borne the brunt of prejudice that has been orchestrated against them, so please smile and make them feel welcome.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th January, 2014
The Long Room at the Oval in London may normally be the scene for the relating of cricketing yarns, but last night it hosted a fundraising dinner for the London Liberal Democrats’ European elections campaign, at which Vince Cable was the keynote speaker. For a long time Vince was known as one of the least Euro-enthusiastic of LibDem MPs, but since being in Coalition government with a Conservative Party that seems ever more in danger of leading Britain to the exit door from the EU he has been one of the strongest champions of British membership. As Business Secretary that is hardly surprising. On a daily basis he has to deal with foreign companies and politicians, many of whom are getting increasingly alarmed by the possibility of a “Brexit”. As he said last night, this is seriously undermining investor confidence, and with the Tories failing to show proper leadership on the matter it is up to the Liberal Democrats to be unequivocally the party of “IN”. Of course, the Party recognises the need for certain reforms, but such reforms will only happen if we are fully engaged with our EU partners. Vince has been widely quoted as saying that there is a five per cent chance that the UK will pull out, but last night he acknowledged that the possibility was probably higher than that. UKIP is of course doing well in the European election opinion polls, and Vince acknowledged the conviviality of its leader, Nigel Farage. But he said we should be blinded to the fact that the “Faragists” appeal to some very unpleasant instincts, xenophobic and at time outright racist.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th January, 2014
A local councillor belonging to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — not in the photo — has declared that the recent floods in Britain were caused not by climate change but by gay marriage. If you thought that sort of Christian fundamentalist bullshit only existed on the other side of the Atlantic, think again. Moreover, this is not an isolated incident. A fair number of UKIP’s local councllors (they don’t have any MPs) would fit well into the US “Tea Party” of right-wing Republicans. Moreover, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, despite his Hugeunot origins and German wife, has nailed his basically xenophobic colours to the mast by declaring the other day if stopping EU migrants coming to work in the UK meant that Britain’s economy declined, so be it. In other words, let’s keep the foreigners out. Of course, there has always been a Little Englander minority in this country — by which I mean England, rather than Britain, as this is an essentially English phenomenon — tapped into at various times by far-right groups such as the National Front and the BNP, and urged on by rightwing toe-rags like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. And the Conservative party has always had within it those Sir Bufton Tuftons in the shires, regaling pub and golf club bars with tales of the perfidy of Johnny Foreigner. Tory Central Office is scared stiff that those insular Tory voters and activists will defect to UKIP, and alas David Cameron does not stand up to them. I do not for a moment believe the Prime Minister shares the narrow-minded views of some members of his party, but he has made compromises in a vain effort to humour them. They’ll probably vote UKIP in May anyway. But despite that, I wouldn’t be surprised if UKIP peaked this year and then fell back. As Tomn Jamieson of Private Eye put it brilliantly in a tweet this afternoon, UKIP is not so much a political party, more a League of Gentlemen sketch that got out of control.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th January, 2014
The Liberal Democrat President, Tim Farron, rightly won plaudits from liberal quarters when he said on the BBC’s Question Time last night that immigration is a blessing, not a curse, and that more politicians should be saying so. Doubtless his twitter and other social media timelines are now receiving a lot of very hostile comments, as well; immigration is an issue that tends to polarise the public, with some pretty extreme language being used by those who sing to the tune of the late Enoch Powell. Some of these viscerally anti-immigration voices are motivated by what can only be described as racism, but more often the problem is fear: a fear that immigrants will take jobs at a time of high unemployment among local people, that they’ll put an undue strain on council housing (not that there’s much of that around these days) or the social services and education. Fear can make people say irrational things, which is why it is important to have a measured debate about immigration in this country, based on facts not emotions, avoiding the xenophobic rhetoric and Armageddon prophesies of the more unprincipled Press, such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Let me state at the outset that it is a given that no nation in the modern world can have an “open door” policy for unlimited immigration. Britain doesn’t (despite what some UKIPers seem to believe), and shouldn’t. But controlled immigration for a country like Britain is not only desirable but necessary. Given demographic trends among the indigenous population, we need a regulated influx of younger, energetic workers to help pay for the pensions and social care of older citizens. Moreover, as most big businesses accept, for Britain to retain a leading role in key sectors such as financial services and the knowledge economy, we need to attract the brightest and the best from overseas to keep ahead of the curve. There are a couple of other important matters to be taken into consideration, which should also temper the UK immigration debate. The first relates to freedom of movement within the European Union, or EU migration, which should be seen as one of the greatest achievements of the single market and of huge benefit for Britain, both in terms of the workforce that has been attracted here — in all sectors of the economy — and in the opportunities it has given to British subjects living, studying or working in the other 27 EU member states. Instead of adopting the red tops’ negative narrative on freedom of movement, the Conservatives who lead the Coalition government should be championing the benefits. The other issue is the perception of many Brits that the country is “full” and therefore should shut the door completely to EU migrants and immigrants from other parts of the world. This is a false perception largely based on the fact that the UK economy and population are concentrated to an unhealthy degree in London and the South East. The solution to that is to regenerate areas of the country that saw a sharp decline in the post-War period because of the collapse of manufacturing, mining and other industries — and immigrants could play an important role in making that regeneration happen.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th January, 2014
With just five months to go before the European elections, the junior partners in Britain’s governing Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, have been showing just how much they differ from their Conservative partners when it comes to the country’s relationship with the European Union. The Party Leader, Nick Clegg, as well as its President, Tim Farron, have made abundantly clear why the LibDems are the party of “IN”, not “OUT”, as many Tories appear to be, aping UKIP. This weekend, the LibDem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, has a strong piece on Liberal Democrat Voice (Link here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/danny-alexander-mp-writes-we-shouldnt-fritter-away-our-eu-influence-when-we-can-lead-drive-for-jobs-and-growth-37788.html) arguing that Britain mustn’t fritter away its EU influence when it could be leading the drive for jobs and growth. Danny is well placed to comment, having followed EU affairs closely since working as a young man for the European Movement. But I would go further than him and say that without Tory shilly-shallying, Britain could be leading the EU, as an equal patrner alongside Germany. The Germans would love that, especially now that France has a rather flakey President in Francois Hollande. And we have so much to offer the EU. We could be championing reforms that do need to occur, but are franklçy unlikely to do so long as Britain has its coat on and one hand on the door to leave, as European Council President Herman van Rompuy once brilliantly put it. So in the run-up to May, the two Coalition government partners will be singing from very different hymn-sheets when it comes to Britain in the EU — and it is vital that that LibDem voice be amplified, in the best interests of this country.