STRAIGHT TALKING April 2014
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for euro-realists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about the climate debate, or developments in the EU. If you receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the e-mail list (or if you want to be deleted), please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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NIGEL FARAGE IN DERBY: May 1st
I’m delighted to confirm that our party leader Nigel Farage, will be speaking at a public meeting in Derby on May 1st. The meeting is open to all, and is free to attend. It’s taking place at the Riverside Conference Centre, Pride Park, Derby, DE24 8HY. The doors open at 7pm, with the meeting due to start at 7:30pm.
This is a fantastic opportunity to come and listen to Nigel speak with his usual style and conviction. You do still need to reserve tickets, which can be done easily by booking online at ukip.ticketsource.co.uk. Or by calling Ticketsource on 0333 666 3366.
I’ll look forward to seeing you there.
A Question Time Virgin
They say that BBC Question Time is the media’s most intimidating show for a British politician. So I’m almost ashamed to admit that I faced my first QT experience in Brighton on March 27th with happy anticipation, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. After all, I’ve had members of the public asking me questions for fifteen years. Huge thanks, by the way, to Alexandra Phillips from the Press Office, who shepherded me down to Brighton and briefed me on the news agenda. On the night, I was expecting a couple of killer quotes from Diane Abbott, next to whom I sat, and I was all set up to deal with them, but they never came.
Thanks also to the many people who made such kind and positive comments afterwards, both to me directly and to Paul in the Market Harborough office. Modesty forbids that I should quote any of them. Well maybe just one, if you’ll bear with me. This came from a well-known figure in the Party: “The best UKIP performance on Question Time that I have ever seen. Calm, magisterial, reasoned, but warm and friendly as well; loved the way he didn’t take any nonsense from the mouthy prat in the yellowish T shirt. My groom arrived for work this morning raving about how wonderful he was – and she used to be a Labour voter!!!”
If you don’t have time to see the full show, find twenty minutes of edited
And an appearance on Swiss TV
A few weeks ago I had a Swiss TV journalist Rito Brennwald shadow me in Straz and UK for several days. Following their recent immigration referendum, the Swiss are very interested in the rise of euro-scepticism within the EU. The twenty-minute programme is pretty fair, and though it’s dubbed in Swiss-German, you can follow most of it. He also came to Spring Conference in Torquay, so you’ll see a number of familiar faces.
The show goes by the catchy title of “Bye Bye Europa”, which suits me just fine!
Great Polling Figures for UKIP
A recent poll in the Independent newspaper for the euro-election put UKIP in the lead on 30%; Labour on 28%; Tories on 21%; and the Lib-Dems (remember them?) on 8%. If these figures are correct, we can make accurate predictions about outcomes, which are arithmetically based on the percentages (but please don’t ask me to explain the d’Hondt System which we use for the calculation!).
In the East Midlands, that would give two UKIP, two Labour and one Tory.
Two ex-Tories on dodgy turf
On the Indy figures, two former Tories who defected to the Lib-Dems seem unlikely to be re-elected. Bill Newton Dunn would lose his East Midlands seat (as he lost his Lincolnshire seat twenty years ago). But also in the firing line is Edward MacMillan-Scott in Yorkshire, who was (believe it or not) Leader of the Conservative delegation when I was first elected in 1999.
I was in York on March 17th campaigning with the redoubtable Jane Collins and her excellent team. They have made a huge leafleting effort, and there were a hundred or so members of the public at their Public Meeting in the York Hilton (I think that UKIP is the only party capable of attracting an audience to public meetings).
Applying the Indy figures to Yorkshire, you get two UKIP; two Labour and Two Conservative. No Lib-Dem. McMillan-Scott would be out.
In Yorkshire, however, we are tantalisingly close to a third place (at the expense of the Tories). We only need to do a little better than predicted (or have the Tories do a little worse – probable!), and it would be 3/2/1 to UKIP.
There are also two former UKIP members who crossed the floor to the Conservatives, David Campbell-Bannerman and Maarta Andreason, and it appears that Nemesis may await them too. Time will tell.
Check your diary, Bill!
It seems that word has gone out from Cleggy that his #1 candidates in each region should challenge their UKIP opposite number to a debate. Bill Newton Dunn sent me such a challenge, apparently having failed to notice that we already have three hustings-type events in the diary where he and I will face up. Indeed there’s another this very afternoon (I write on March 19th) when Bill, Emma McClarkin and I will pre-record a TV debate for BBC Sunday Politics.
Bill and I were also invited to face off in print in the Parliament Magazine, but since no one outside the Brussels bubble reads it, there seemed little point, so I declined.
Bill has now issued an ill-advised press release accusing me of ducking a debate with him (!). Perhaps he should have checked his diary first. He’s ending up with oeuf sur le visage.
To be honest, I seem to be working 24/7 on the campaign, and I’m not at all keen to schedule a one-on-one debate with a candidate from a minor party who’s unlikely to be re-elected.
Lib-Dem President Tim Farron has predicted that the party may get no MEPs at all on May 22nd. Supporters of proportional representation say that “no vote is a wasted vote”. But it’s becoming clear that that a Lib-Dem vote in May will indeed be a wasted vote.
On Friday March 14th I was listening to the BBC’s Any Questions as I drove south from Yorkshire (where I’d been buying the UKIP East Midlands Battle Bus). They were discussing Scottish Independence. A panellist — I think it was historian Michael Fry — said that the reality of Scottish nationhood was demonstrated by the fact that after 300 years, it was still perfectly practical politics to consider Scottish independence, whereas other formerly independent entities like the Kingdom of Bavaria, or the Venetian republic, were now wholly absorbed into larger countries (Germany and Italy respectively), so that it was inconceivable that either Bavaria or Venice could ever consider re-establishing independence.
Oh dear. It seems he spoke too soon. The very next day the Telegraph carried a story “Venice votes on breaking away from Italy”. Ouch.
Poking the Russian Bear
UKIP has criticised EU actions in Ukraine, and has immediately been branded “Apologists for Putin” by the press. We are, of course, no such thing. Russia has behaved reprehensibly and is clearly in breach of international law (though sadly there are too many precedents when the West has also intervened in third countries, on questionable grounds and with doubtful legality). Nevertheless I do blame the EU for creating a problem where there was no need to do so. President Roosevelt’s advice was “Tread softly and carry a big stick”. In Ukraine, the EU has talked loudly and made extravagant promises and raised improbable expectations, while wielding no stick at all — so much for “influence”.
Imagine if the situation were reversed, and Russia had made generous offers implying very close links – and maybe membership of the CIS – to, say, Austria. How would the Germans feel about that? Or to Ireland? What would be the UK reaction?
The Ukraine is in the Russians’ “Near Abroad”, their historic sphere of influence. For decades, Ukraine was governed from Moscow. The Crimea (bizarrely) was handed over as a gift from Russia to the Ukraine, but with the clear expectation that Ukraine, now including Crimea, would remain part of the USSR. Khrushchev would never have dreamed that Ukraine might join Western Europe, taking Crimea with it.
So I am not justifying Russia’s action. But I am condemning the EU’s approach to Ukraine, which was bound to infuriate and humiliate Moscow, and was always very likely to provoke a hostile reaction – as indeed it did.
Voting participation rates
Voting rates are a poor indicator of the work an MEP does, but because the numbers are firm and accessible, they seem to be featuring in the campaign.
In his debate with Nick Clegg on March 26th, Nigel Farage remarked that he did not vote more powers for the European Commission. But our opponents are losing the last four words, and saying “Nigel Farage says he doesn’t vote in the European parliament”. I had to rebut this point the next day on BBC’s Question Time. Of course Nigel does vote, and his participation rate in Strasbourg is a great deal better than Nick Clegg’s or David Cameron’s in Westminster.
Bill Newton Dunn has tried very hard to paint UKIP MEPs as lazy members who don’t participate. He simply couldn’t believe it when I told him on air (Daily Politics) that my average rate over the current parliament (since 2009) was better than the average of Lib-Dem MEPs (below 86%). In fact he denied it, and ended up with egg on his face when the BBC (no less!) confirmed my numbers. For the record, at around 88% my rate is also higher than the Tory average (around 80%) and the Labour average (around 84%).
But the fact is that Members of Parliament have lots more things to do besides voting. I arrived in Brussels yesterday, for example, around three in the afternoon, and walked straight into a half-hour TV interview. I then had a representative of the Thalidomide Trust in to talk to me.
Then I was packed off to the Renaissance Hotel to a debate on Ukraine where I had to present UKIP’s position on the crisis. After that, I attended the leaving party of my old friend Giles Chichester, who will be leaving the parliament this year.
I could instead have sat in committees all that time, but I wouldn’t have got any work done. MEPs have to answer correspondence, study voting lists, make speeches (where UKIP MEPs have a rather positive record), deal with individual constituents, groups from the region, industry bodies, NGOs and so on. And follow social media and write newsletters. Frankly, any MEP who did nothing but vote and listen to debates would not be doing his job.
Similar comments apply to the frequent criticism that during important debates the Commons Chamber or the Strasbourg Hemicycle are virtually empty. Contrary to popular myth, that doesn’t mean that MPs/MEPs are in the bar, or in the gym. They probably have other work engagements three-deep in their diaries. I usually do.
An unfortunate turn of phrase
I appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics on March 23rd, with Emma McClarkin, Glenis Willmott and Bill Newton Dunn. Find an edited version here. As mentioned above, Bill mistakenly criticised my voting record. His problem is that he believes his own propaganda.
But looking back at the show, I noticed an odd thing. Asked about the up-coming (April 2nd) Clegg/Farage debate, Bill said “I believe that Nick Clegg will enervate the pro-EU vote”. According to my dictionary, “enervate” means “To make someone feel weak and without energy”.
Read it here. I think he probably meant “energise”, but that’s not what he said.
We mustn’t be too unkind. We all make mistakes – I certainly do. But to say, on air, that your party leader will make your supporters weak and helpless is carelessness of a high order.
Letter to a new UKIP Member
A new UKIP member suggested that energy prices should be a big issue for UKIP (as indeed they are, of course), and that we should cap the profits of energy companies, I replied as follows:
Many thanks for writing to us – and for joining UKIP! Welcome. I am replying as UKIP Energy Spokesman.
You have an excellent point on energy prices – it’s a key issue, and UKIP is committed to delivering secure and affordable energy. But the old-party politicians have been very clever in blaming the energy companies. You speak of “outrageous profits”, but if you look at their balance sheets and accounts, you find that broadly speaking their profits are in line with other large companies. The real problem is with energy policies, and politicians, driven by the green lobby (which we help to fund with our taxes via the European Commission).
We have a whole range of subsidies and green taxes. We are paying through the nose for very expensive “renewable” energy which simply doesn’t deliver, and which exports extra costs and inefficiency to the essential conventional back-up.
Part of the problem is global energy prices, which they say “we can do nothing about”. But we have chosen to close lower-cost generation, like coal, because of the EU’s Large Power Plant directive. Germany is building a couple of dozen new, cleaner coal-fired stations, burning cheap American coal, but our government has been intimidated by the green lobby and dare not talk about new coal capacity. At the same time we are dragging our feet on indigenous shale gas, which would free us from the high prices and supply threats of Russian gas. The Ukraine crisis has pointed up the urgency of securing our own resources. We have also dragged our feet on new nuclear to replace existing ageing capacity which will be phased out in the next decade. We have left it so late that we are now forced to accept rather unattractive prices for the new Hinkley plant.
We desperately need massive new investment in energy infrastructure – new power stations – and we look to the industry to invest. I’m afraid that any move to cap profits, as you suggest, or to cap prices, as Labour plans to do, would utterly block new investment.
So yes, UKIP believes that energy prices are a major issue, and I talk about them constantly. They are undermining industrial competitiveness and driving industry, jobs and investment offshore. But the solution is to tackle green subsidies, green taxes and green hysteria, rather than to target the industry.
Thanks again for writing.
Trolling for Brussels?
Guido reports that the EU is spending £2 million (of our money) during the €uro-election period to fund folk who will follow social media on EU issues, and engage in the debate from a pro-EU standpoint. Or to paraphrase that into more demotic terms, the EU is funding internet trolls to harass sceptics (and to give a wholly false impression of public support for the project).
I have a very loyal follower on Twitter calling himself (or herself) @hashtageruk. Maybe that should be @hashtagereu. Funny how these people love to hide behind pseudonyms, and lack the courage to show their true colours. Personally, if I say something in public, I like to put my name to it.
I don’t have any evidence that @hashtageruk is on the Brussels payroll, or has taken the Berlaymont’s shilling. Sometimes people behaving in this way have turned out to be over-zealous staffers of Lib-Dem MEPs. But let’s put it this way: if @hashtageruk isn’t being paid by Brussels, then I think he needs to find a good psychiatrist, and seek treatment for obsessive behaviour. Nevertheless, as I Tweeted recently, he may be worth following. He has descended so far into self-parody that he’s actually (if inadvertently) quite funny.
A word from Giles Chichester
“My immediate neighbour (in the hemicycle) is my former Conservative colleague, Roger Helmer. I think it is fair to say we are on even better terms since he defected to UKIP, something I spent years urging him to do because it is his natural political home. I may add that I have another colleague who ought to do the same, come out of the closet and switch to UKIP but he is too canny for that and prefers to pursue his aim of getting us out of the EU from within the Conservative Party”.
Quote of the Month (1)
This month’s Quote comes from Matt Ridley’s brilliant response to the recent hysterical IPCC report. I’d like to quote the whole thing, but space forbids. Find it here.
“Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated including the population “bomb,” pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees. In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued. Global warming is no different”.
Quote of the Month (2)
Theatre Luvvie Sir Trevor Nunn recently wrote a rather silly essay about the Bible and Shakespeare, in which he said that Shakespeare was wonderful and the Bible was rubbish (I paraphrase, but that was the substance).
A number of people have written spirited rebuttals, pointing out that each of these two works is both a monument and a foundation stone of English language and literature, and that Shakespeare draws extensively on Biblical references. You don’t enhance the standing of either book by denigrating the other.
But the best such piece (at least that I read) was by Jane Shilling in the Telegraph. The quality of her writing, and her references to her own experiences, were remarkable. And she used some delightful turns of phrase – which brings me circuitously to my quotes.
Dealing with her experience of Shakespeare at school, she writes of the “dismal connotations of dog-eared editions dutifully thumbed in stuffy classrooms on somnolent Friday afternoons”. And she speaks of “everyday clichés worn smooth with centuries of repetition”. Wonderful stuff.
Perhaps few (even of those who remember him) would class Ivor Novello as “culture”. But I was listening to one of his songs this morning while shaving, and delighting in the naïve and touching simplicity of an earlier and kinder era: “Fling wide the gates of Paradise, and let the glory of the dawn break through. Fling wide the Gates of Paradise, and let the yearnings of the World come true”. If only.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org