Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vote on EU referendum looms.....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Exclusive picture of the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP with a 'beard'

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jobless total hits 2.5 million

 Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police proudly shows off the latest addition to its 'Youth Crime' initiative:

White kids may have turned black, but black kids have turned pikey

David Starkey has been something of a lightning rod in recent days after his comment that the riots in London and elsewhere were caused by 'white kids turning black'. On the one hand, and rather understandably, the Black community has attacked him for suggesting by default that there is something inherently 'black' about a wave of rioting and looting. On the other, sections of the right wing have lauded his comments, because they contain both an excuse and an apparent justification which allows them to ignore the reality that there were just as many if not more white kids than kids from the minorities - whatever the racial make-up of the rioters, it was 'black culture wot dun it'.

The truth of all this appears to have got lost in the recriminations, but one thing is certain - Starkey was wrong, but not for the reasons you may think. There was an essential germ of truth in what Starkey said, and we ignore it at our peril: there is a subsection of black culture which wants to emulate the Jamaican Yardie gangs, and the perceived violence which springs from the gang culture. And in those areas, yes, there are white kids who join in - Yardie violence in the UK is no longer a solely 'black on black' affair. As Yardie gangs became the dominant force in many of the areas affected by the riots, so white kids from the same neighbourhoods were drawn towards them. Songs such as 'Pretty fly (for a white guy)' and characters such as Ali G parody the attempts of some to become a part of such a culture, and while essentially comedy items, we should not overlook the reality behind the smile.

Further, Starkey was partially correct over the use of Jamaican patois by these kids, black and white. Where Starkey was crashingly wrong was to overlook the British influence on all of this. British Yardies who found themselves back in the yards of Trenchtown where the culture originated would last about 5 minutes: there is a world of difference between strutting the streets of Tottenham decked out in medallions, sideways baseball cap and the other trappings of 'gangsta', and the reality of poverty on a Caribbean island - something which I doubt Starkey has ever seen.

The British influence is the 'pikey' or 'chav' influence, a sort of instinctive nihilism which has spread across exactly the sort of kids (and the not so young) who were doing the rioting and looting. While the mock patois of the wanna be gangstas is inspired by the Jamaican roots of the Yardie gangs, it is also tinged by the mockney of troubled white youth. It is not a very long trip from Yardie heartlands such as Tottenham to areas in Kent and Essex where the problem is not Yardies, but the 'plastic pikeys': no hope chavs, functionally illiterate and with zero job propects, who model their own lives on a pastiche of what they believe traveller culture to be. The attempt at the use of a quasi-Jamaican patois, while amusing, has been modified by 'pikey speak', with everyone being called 'Bruv' or 'Cuz', and here you find the roles reversed: kids speaking a strange mix of Jamaican patois and estuary English, tinged by shades of US gangsta.

Of course, the reasons are the same. Certain inner city neighbourhoods were effectively taken over by the Yardie culture many years ago - the attraction was that in an area with little hope for the future, the Yardie culture showed an imperviousness to the forces of law and order, a barrier beyond which the Daily Mail reading middle classes could not pass, and a means of escaping the circumstances which had created them. In other areas, the Pikey culture took hold: modelled largely on an imagined traveller culture where law and order was dispensed internally, benefits were taken but taxes weren't paid, and the arrival of a group of travellers on a publicans doorstep raised real fears about how to get rid of them without having the place smashed up.

Over time, these two rather nihilistic sub-cultures have in some respects melded into one, and spread much further than the original groups from which they sprang. Yardie culture has as much to do with Jamaicans as pikey culture has to do with the genuine travelling community - nothing at all.

In both cases the causes of the problem were the same, and something so far beyond the understanding of Starkey that one wonders whether he would even believe it if it was explained to him. There is a fracturing of British society into 'us and them', the leaders and the lead, which is accelerating all the time. The lack of social mobility, the pretence that increasingly worthless qualifications are an indication of a better educated populace, and the slow disappearance of responsibility all play their part, and perhaps are worthy of another post in their own right later on. But what all of these have created is a nihilistic underclass, ill educated, lacking parental guidance and possibly lacking parents who even understand the reasons why they should provide guidance. They own little, have few propects of ever owning more, are consigned to a shrinking pool of jobs which require no qualifications and find themselves competing for even those few jobs with ever larger numbers of migrants who possess those qualities which they lack. Their experience of youth has been that the police are a distant body who have no interest of tackling the problems of a growing underclass, and on the rare occasions they do, the punishment never seems to fit the crime. And so - why should they care?

So yes, in some respects, Starkey was right - the white kids have adopted a measure of black 'culture'. But he was also wrong - the nihilistic attitude we've allowed to gain the upper hand in some areas comes equally from the black kids there turning pikey, and that's a home grown, white 'culture' problem. Unfortunately, Starkey has given (on a flagship news show) a tool to those who attack militant Islam because they can pretend that it's not 'racist' to turn their fire on 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant kids in the city centres. It is a mistake to see the riots as a product of race, whatever the colour of the rioters, and it is an even bigger mistake to see it as a product of immigrant culture, whether Jamaican or elsewhere. The reality is that we've created this ourselves by allowing an underclass to grow up without hope. We will not solve it by pointing fingers unless we point them at ourselves.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pan European Parties and political realism

As always when it comes to receiving money from the EU, debate rages in the corridors of UKIP. Those of us who have been around the party for over a decade now will recall the debates about whether UKIP should use its seats in the European Parliament, and whether UKIP should join a group there. There is more than a little similarity between those arguments and this one.

With the exception of a troublesome and vocal minority, these are questions which have been settled, but now a fresh argument is brewing: should UKIP sign up to a relatively new EU plan, that for pan-national political parties?

The argument within UKIP is split three ways. There are those who think that, if there's free money on offer, we should take it. There are those who think that, as the pan-national parties are inspired by the EU, we should reject it. And, finally, there are those who couldn't care less what we do, as long as by perpetuating the argument they can damage UKIP.

This morning, I read with interest Jason Smith's blog (*1), where he summarizes the principle v. realism argument well, although not completely. Unfortunately, it is the bit that he misses - probably as it has not been widely publicised - which is more important than all the rest.

In April this year, the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee voted by 20-4 (*2) to recommend to the full Europarl that 25 new seats in the European Parliament should be contested on a European wide list system. This is a refinement of, although not necessarily a replacement for, an earlier idea that 5% of seats should be fought on this basis. Naturally, the only candidates for these seats would be those nominated by the aforementioned pan-European political parties, under conditions set by Europarl.

For myself, having some experience of the way the EU creeps forward its plans for a federal Europe, I have no doubt what will happen in 2014 and then 2019 in terms of these pan-European parties. In 2014, we will have the 25 MEPs elected on pan-European lists. Come about 2018, we'll hear what a great success it has been, and how - because of the public acclamation which none but federalists can hear - in 2019 we'll have 5% of the European Parliament elected from lists. To peer further into the future would be largely futile, although it would be foolish not to put a tenner on 10% or even 20% of the European Parliament being elected off these lists in 2024.

As things stand at the moment, the European Commission has a huge advantage. Journalists in Brussels don't much care what goes on in the European Parliament, because they know where the power is, and it ain't in the debating chambers of the Parliament. National delegations in Brussels - the permanent representatives - are all committed to continued membership of the European Union, because that is the position of their national governments. Parliament, with very few exceptions, comes at the bottom of the list, while Eurosceptics come at the bottom of the list of MEPs who should be asked for an opinion.

So what does this have to do with European Political Parties, and more particularly UKIPs involvement or not with them?

We have long opposed this as a means by which the EU can take more power by deciding the conditions under which such parties exist. For sure, the constant alterations to the existing political group structure - particularly the number of nations which need to be represented - have tended to work against UKIP in that it becomes progressively harder to stitch together the consensus needed to create and, indeed, to maintain one.

There are many misunderstandings about the way the group works, and of these the one most frequently bandied about by UKIPs enemies is that because UKIP is the only withdrawalist party, membership of a group is selling out to a tacit acceptance of some form of European Union. Of course, this isn't true, but since when have UKIPs enemies worried about the truth? My understanding has always been that UKIP does not oppose the European Union as such: it opposes UKIPs membership of it. If other nations want to continue in a European Union after the UK leaves, surely that is a decision for their electorate, not for UKIP? The structure of the EFD Group to which UKIP belongs is based on exactly this: the British want withdrawal, the Italians want less centralisation and more regional power, the Danes want reform of the UK, not withdrawal. There is no conflict here: the national delegations are free to use the resources available to the group to campaign for what they see as being in their national interest.

These resources are only a part of what we gain from the Group: we also gain exposure, and that exposure often represents the only dissenting voice on offer to the plans of the Commission and the Euro-federalists. If, over the coming few years, we are going to see a shift towards MEPs elected on a pan-European list, this can only be to the detriment of the group structure: indeed, the plan is that the parties will replace the groups.

And it is here that the realities of politics come up against the ideology. The question over whether UKIP should join a pan-European Party has thus far been debated as far as I can see on the basis of what will it cost UKIP in terms of ideological purity, but that is surely to look at it the wrong way round. A more pertinent question is what will it cost UKIP to not take part, and what effect will non-membership have on UKIPs cause in the UK, and more widely what effect would it have on Euroscepticism more widely in the EU.

For a start, there would be the loss of influence, and a concomitant loss of media access. As holders of the co-presidency of a group, UKIP gets to make a formal response in the European Parliament, and these responses are some of the most watched output from the much derided Europarl TV, and some of the most popular political speeches on YouTube.

Then there are the seats in the parliament itself. If there are 25 MEPs reserved for pan-European parties in 2014, are we not to fight them? How about in 2019, wen maybe 5% of seats are reserved for them: that is potentially 5 fewer UK seats to be contested. Will we stand up for Euroscepticism by not contesting them? If that figure is 20% in 2024, will we content ourselves with contesting only the remaining 64 UK seats? If we're lucky, and our vote continues to grow in Euro elections, we could find ourselves capturing ever larger shares of the vote, while still seeing the number of seats we hold decrease!

And finally, the resources. Popular as it is in certain sections of UKIP to moan and bitch about the influence of the MEPs on the party, I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to how we would replace the resources we would lose. Our MEPs bring regional offices, regional staff, political advisers and researchers alongside the electoral credibility which goes with a seat in the European Parliament, and the membership of a group. The group itself brings further positions: researchers, press officers, and an international structure to work within. If the group structure disappears and is replaced by one based on the new political parties, where will that leave UKIP in the future?

UKIPs position in politics is one of punching above its weight, and a large part of that comes from its success in spreading its message through the European Parliament. This success in turn is based on UKIPs membership of, and ability to, forge alliances which spread across the EU.

UKIP can not succeed by remaining identical and failing to adapts its position to the times, and the times, they are a' changing. The very existence of UKIP, and its position as the official opposition to Euro federalism within the European Parliament, has strengthened Euroscepticism across the EU by striking at the heart of Europe, and in the Commissions' weak spot: its lack of democratic legitimacy. The benefits to UKIP are that a wider feeling of Euroscepticism across the European Union effectively acts as a brake on the road to a federal EU, by forcing national governments to at least consider the domestic effects of their own growing national Eurosceptic groups. Where they fail to do so, they wake up increasing sections of their own populations to the very lack of democratic legitimacy the EU seeks to hide. We should not underestimate the benefits to the UK of this undermining of a previously unquestioned system and the instability it brings to the Commission way of doing things.

It is clear to me that, should UKIP vote not to join a pan-European party, we will see our influence wane. Worse, the encouragement we have provided to other Eurosceptic movements across the EU will become less visible, as UKIP finds itself sidelined through procedural means in the European Parliament - we'd be just another small bunch of independents in the non-aligned group, rather than a driving force of opposition. And come 2024, when we find ourselves running just to stand still, we will recognise the folly of a 'no' vote now, as the number of seats we can contest dwindles, meaning a reduction in MEP resources coming into the party.

There can only be one sensible vote, and that is to support UKIPs membership of a pan-European party.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Same problems, no answers: Parliamentary beer group misses the point

Hardly headline news today is an interview with the new chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG), Andrew Griffiths MP (Con, Burton) in the publican's trade press.

In the interview with the Morning Advertiser (#1), Griffiths promised to 'give the industry more clout', before trotting out the tired old 'red tape and supermarket pricing' panacea which has been wheeled out by politicians speaking about pubs for the last decade.

Griffiths also announced that he was 'beefing up' the APPBG. His version of beefing up is, perhaps, a reflection of his years spent working as a policy wonk for the Conservatives, both at Westminster and Brussels: he has increased the number of vice-chairmen to 8 from the current 3. Beyond that, the interview seemed remarkably free of content, and while he describes an increase in vice-chairmen as an attempt to make the group 'more heavyweight', he fails to describe how having almost half the 20 member group fighting over seats at the top table will do this.

A more interesting guide as to how he will represent the industry can be found in the register of interests for the APPBG. Under 'Benefits received by group from sources outside parliament' on the House of Commons website (*2), in the last year it lists £4800 from each of the following: Enterprise Inns Plc, Greene King Plc, Diageo Plc, Heineken UK, Molson Coors Ltd, Mitchells & Butlers plc, Marstons plc, Punch Taverns plc, InBev UK and Carlsberg UK, with a further £2860 from SABMiller and £1787 from Admiral Taverns. In other words, it has received £53,000 from the largest breweries and pubco's in the UK.

So, when he said in his interview "Everything we do has to be about improving the profitability of breweries and pubs”, one wonders who he meant? The long suffering tenants of pubco's, who are constantly nailed to the floor by their landlords while being forced to buy overpriced beer on tie? The small brewers, who are shut out of the pubco's pubs because they can't get a distributio deal with the large breweries? Or, more likely, the pubco's and large breweries whose business model relies on misleading and mistreating tenants and who, coincidentally, fund the APPBG?

Tough if hackneyed words from Griffiths on 'supermarket pricing' are all very well, but do not accurately reflect the situation on the ground. It is not just supermarkets which price 1pt tins of Stella Artois at about 50p each, most corner shops do the same. This is not what parliament, pubco's and breweries like to pretend are 'loss leaders', sold at below cost: this is a clear result of brewery pricing structures. But, with the UK's largest breweries funding the group which is supposed to oversee them in parliament, what is the betting that we'll go on pretending that 'supermarket pricing' is a supermarket problem?

Lets face it. When I had my pubs back in 2008, I could buy - on tie, from the pubco - a 10 gallon keg of Stella Artois for £167 + VAT. I could buy the same keg, off tie, from a local distributor for around £110 + VAT. These are 80 pint, aluminium kegs, fully re-useable, for the bulk wholesale of beer. At the same time, I could buy 80 pints of Stella Artois, retail packed, in tins, boxes and trays, for £92 including VAT from Tesco. I could buy the same for about £4 more from Mr Patel's shop down the road, so this is not the large supermarkets selling at a loss to attract customers - Mr Patel could hardly afford to do that, could he? - this is a major difference in wholesale pricing which puts the pub trade at a disadvantage.

I flatly refuse to believe that it is cheaper to produce retail packed, non-recyclable tins than it is to fill an 80 pint re-useable keg. Be honest, common sense tells you that, doesn't it?

But now we come on to the nub of the problem. One would have thought that the pubco's would have an interest in keeping down the wholesale cost of beer, but nobody knows what the pubco's - who are the largest purchasers of it - actually pay. That said, if I can buy Stella for £57 a keg cheaper from an independent wholesaler than I can from the brewery, and the wholesaler is making a profit on that, then it is not unreasonable to assume that for the quantity Enterprise Inns or Punch Taverns purchase, the cost per keg is probably rather less than Tesco (or Mr Patel) pay for their retail packed beer.

It is this skewing of the open market which is causing the huge price differentials between supermarkets and pubs. The question is to what extent can a parliamentary group funded by the same pubco's and breweries which are making considerable profits from this outrageous price rigging be expected to come up with an honest solution?

Of course, we do have the trade press to fall back on, don't we? They, surely, will back up the independent operators, tenants and other licensees who don't enjoy such cosy closed shop relationships with the breweries, won't they?

One only had to flick through the pages of the Publican and Morning Advertiser a few years ago to see why this isn't true, and won't be at any stage in the near future. Page after page of glossy, full colour advertising extolling the virtues of the latest products from the very breweries which fund the APPBG. Features on how wonderful it is to be a Punch, Enterprise, Mitchell & Butler or Admiral Taverns tenant, alongside advertising from these giants in the pubco game.

The trade press might claim to represent the industry, but in reality it can't afford to upset its advertisers, particularly since they became reliant on advertising: they are free publications to the trade.

So, our new chairman of the APPBG and its 8 vice-chairmen have their work cut out. They are funded by the very companies whose closed shop operations ensure pubs are priced out of the market, and informed by a trade press which is in the pocket of those same large corporates. Where, in all of this, is the voice of the small businessman, the publican who since the banning of smoking in pubs has seen their profits continuously squeezed by all of the above? If you spot the group which will speak up for them, by all means let me know.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Campbell Bannerman, and all that's wrong with politics

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Bannerman's self-aggrandizing explanation for his defection to the Tories, there was one little piece which was missing. When selected as an MEP candidate, he signed a declaration which clearly said:

"Our MEPs will be expected to… remain as members of UKIP for the full 5-year term or otherwise retire from the Parliament"
Now, I accept that such a declaration may not have any legal force, and the courts may well view such an undertaking as being unenforcable. But haven't we heard all this before? The MPs who fleeced taxpayers with dodgy expenses were working 'within the rules', but such a defence hardly lead to public acceptance of their case.

The simple reality is that some things are clearly right, and some things are clearly wrong. If you sign such a declaration, you do so knowing what it means and, one would hope, with an intention of sticking by it voluntarily. To break such an undertaking on the grounds that it may be legally unenforceable is no different to the weasel words used by David Camoron to excuse the Tory's ditching of his 'cast-iron pledge' to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

David has said he's received no promises other than to be treated the same as any other Conservative MEP. In other words, he is guaranteed selection on the Conservative list for the next Euro elections in 2014: and with a very good chance of re-election in his new Tory clothes, with the likely retirement of 66 year old (ie 69 in 2014) europhile Geoffrey Van Order and his europhile conservative colleague, Robert Sturdy, who will be 70: UKIP can take an extra seat or two, and DCB'll still be in. Doubtless, it won't have escaped the Tories notice as to how useful it is to have a former UKIP MEP to boost their own faltering Eurosceptic credentials amongst their party faithful either.

Which brings me to the title of this post, or at least a part of it: all that's wrong with politics. The defection of a minor politician may be a small thing when viewed in the context of the worlds problems, but didn't we constantly hear during the MPs expenses scandal that it was all 'within the rules'? Does anyone reading this think that that is an acceptable defence?

The point is simple. Those who seek election by their peers - and certainly those who've been elected - should be prepared to not just follow the law of the land, but to hold themselves up to a higher standard. I've just finished reading a novel by Philip Kerr, and one phrase from it sticks in my mind: "We gave the people of whom more was expected severer sentences when they turned out to be crooks. Lawyers, policemen, politicians, people in positions of responsibility. They're the crooks who should know better."

When politicians have their next outpouring of angst, wringing their hands and wondering why the public don't hold them in the respect they feel they deserve, think of Campbell Bannerman. The Tories are as much at fault in this as he: they know, of course, of the existence of the undertaking, and aren't much interested in what he said previously, or whether, in defecting, he is proving that his word is worth little, if anything. Rather than forcing him to stand by his earlier committment, they are happy to take him because it helps in the game of party politics, the pastime of climbing the greasy pole which keeps the idiots in charge of our nation at the top. That is what's wrong with politics and politicians. Shame on David, for proving that his word is not his bond, and even more shame on the Tories, for simply failing to do what's right by accepting him.