STRAIGHT TALKING July 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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The euro-elections: a UKIP Triumph
We’ve now had time to digest the results of the euro-elections on May 22nd. But they remain a towering achievement for UKIP – and for the British people. And a huge challenge to the European project – and to Cameron’s increasingly discredited “renegotiation” strategy.
We topped the poll. We now have an amazing 24 MEPs – a long way up from the three we achieved in 1999. The Tories have 19 and Labour 18. And – the cherry on the cake – the Lib-Dems have just one. (But they’d successfully managed expectations down to zero, so they could count a single MEP as a minor success). The electorate (across Europe, not just in the UK) has showed Brussels a Yellow Card, and as I said recently in a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the EU needs radical change if it’s not to get a Red Card next time.
Of our 24-strong delegation, 18 are new. And of those new MEPs, I’m delighted that no fewer than seven are women. That’s almost 30% of our delegation. Polling shows that UKIP performs less well among women voters than amongst men, and historically we’ve always presented a very male appearance on television and in the media. Now we can rely on our Magnificent Seven women MEPs (and other first-class UKIP women like Suzanne Evans) to redress the balance and enhance our message to women voters.
In the East Midlands we got one of the best results in the country (much credit here to a strong candidate list, and to Paul Oakden who master-minded the campaign), and I’d like to thank those branches, and activists, and members who worked their socks off to make it happen. Now we need to build on that new strength, to increase membership (now around 40,000 nationally, and growing) and be ready for the next challenge.
General election 2015
And the next challenge is, of course, next year’s General Election. The Party will be targeting winnable seats, and we aim to create a bridgehead of MPs in Westminster. (No, I’m not going to be drawn on how many MPs. Forecasting is a mug’s game. But a good handful). That means hard graft. It means canvassing, with proper records. It means getting the vote out on the day. And all that needs a party organisation with activists ready to canvass, to leaflet, and to knock-up on Election Day. It also needs funding, so there’s no substitute for the events, the suppers, the raffles and all the other fund-raising activities which are critical at branch level.
Many of our new MEPs will be looking to stand for Westminster next year, and will face difficult decisions as they balance their obligations in Brussels with the need to work their Westminster constituencies. Here again, help and support from branches and activists will be crucial
As you know, I fought the Newark by-election on June 5th. We campaigned to win, we fought to win, but we came second on the night. Of course coming second is never as good as coming first. But in this seat with a huge Tory majority, we cut their majority by half, and we increased our share of the vote six-fold. All this despite an unprecedented campaign from the Tories, and no less than four Prime-Ministerial visits – and some pork-barrel promises. I think we probably had more support from party members and activists across the region, and from across the nation, than we’ve ever seen before in a UKIP by-election, and I want to thank each and every one who made that magnificent effort. I was especially struck by the number of vehicles that arrived in smart UKIP livery. A caravan, lorries, trucks, cars, a Smart car – and even a fire engine! Wonderful. Thanks also to all those who supported the campaign financially, and most of all to Paul Sykes who made a major contribution and funded our ad-vans.
We’ve now demonstrated that we in UKIP are the main challengers in Labour seats (like Rotherham); in Lib-Dem seats (like Eastleigh); and in Tory seats (like Newark). Any sitting MP with a majority of less than five thousand should be seriously worried about 2015. We’re coming after them.
Leading the UKIP MEP team in the EFDD Group
Soon after the euro-elections, I was elected to lead the UKIP delegation in Brussels. This is a great honour, and also a big responsibility. We have to demonstrate that UKIP MEPs can not only get elected, but can actually deliver for the people who trusted us with their vote. We also have to make sure that the three-quarters of our delegation who are new to the parliament get fully effective as soon as possible, and I think we’ve made a great start.
Just to be clear: Nigel previously held three rôles: Party leader, Group leader, and Delegation leader. Clearly he was doing far too much, so he decided we needed a separate delegation leader in Brussels. But of course he remains Party Leader, and Co-President of our new EFDD Group. I’m delighted to be able to help him by taking over the routine management of the Brussels delegation. But as Group Co-President he’ll still get that coveted front-row seat from which to harangue Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker face-to-face. Those video clips will keep coming.
The Tory Party – and especially Dan Hannan – made extraordinary efforts to prevent us forming a group, and managed to pick off a couple of delegations we’d hoped to recruit. For example, the ECR Group approved the membership of the German AfD delegation by a very narrow margin, and much to the chagrin of both Cameron and Merkel. Merkel is horrified to see a significant new opponent of her party now sitting in a group with the Tories, whom she’d like to regard as allies, despite their having left her EPP Group. I actually Tweeted the suggestion that as the ECR had caused Cameron and Merkel such embarrassment, maybe the Tories should now leave the ECR.
Despite the Tories’ best efforts, we have successfully formed a group, re-named EFDD – Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy. This was at the request of our new Italian colleagues who are keen on referenda, but it suits us as well. We are after all demanding a UK referendum on EU membership. Interestingly, however, Marine Le Penn of the French National Front, having done well in the euro-election and boasted that she would form the flagship euro-sceptic group in the parliament, has failed to form any group at all. She recruited only five national delegations, against the seven needed to form a group. She is in limbo, and some of those who were ready to sign up with her may now look elsewhere.
Cameron’s “renegotiation” policy in tatters
David Cameron has promised repeatedly that he’s going to renegotiate our EU membership. We know, and have said for years, that this is wishful thinking. The EU doesn’t do reform. It goes in only one direction. The Acquis Communautaire. The occupied field. It takes powers from member-states, but it doesn’t give them back. (“At charity functions it stands at the door and collects, though it does not subscribe” – Lewis Carroll, the Hunting of the Snark).
But Cameron had the chance to demonstrate his negotiating skills, and the strength of the alliances for change that he could drum up in Europe, when it came to the appointment of a new Commission President. The Council now has to take account of the views of the parliament. The parliament interprets this as meaning that the largest group, based on the election results, has full powers to choose the next Commission President. This is clearly an over-interpretation, but it seems widely accepted. They claim that Jean-Claude Juncker has “a democratic mandate”. This is nonsense. Almost no voter thought that he or she was electing a Commission President, and still fewer had any idea who Juncker was. The EPP (the largest group to emerge from the election) can claim the right to nominate a candidate, but the Council can surely reject their first nomination and call for an alternative.
So Cameron boldly set out to deny Juncker’s claim. He lobbied around Europe. He established allies (he thought); he published high-profile letters in European newspapers. All to no avail. He’s getting Juncker whether he likes it or not. His renegotiation strategy falls at the first fence.
Of course we’ve been here before. In 1994, John Major vetoed Jean Luc De Haene as Commission President. Instead he got Jacques Santer, who turned out to be equally federalist – and eventually resigned in disgrace. Even if Cameron had succeeded in blocking Juncker, all he’d have got was another arrant federalist of the same type (reminds me of the suggestion that the Odyssey was not written by Homer, but by another Greek of the same name). The tiger doesn’t change its spots. Whoever gets to be Commission President, you can bet he (or she) will be a passionate federalist.
I remember during the election campaign, my former staffer, now Tory MEP, Emma McClarkin, said we needed “to peel back the powers of Brussels until the EU was like a free trade area”. Spot on, Emma. I agree. But the only way to achieve that is for the UK to leave the EU, and then to negotiate a free trade deal. If Emma thinks that her objective can be negotiated within the EU, she is fooling herself. Fortunately, she’s not fooling us.
Climate and Energy
For the moment, I remain the party’s energy spokesman. We are now getting some very helpful contributions to the energy debate from people with a deep knowledge of the industry, not least from Diane James’ husband John Forrest. I have used one or two of these as guest postings on my blog. It is increasingly clear that current energy policy fails to deliver either secure or affordable energy. I commend this following article.
Pity the poor penguins
There was a piece in the Daily Telegraph on June 30th, “Melting Ice threatens emperor penguins”. Biologists have taken the predictions of the IPCC about future temperature trends, and extrapolated for the impact on sea ice and penguins. They have based their work on forecasts, and on computer models – not (as science should be done) on real observations.
It is true that penguin numbers are under threat, but not just in the Antarctic. There is a wide range of adverse circumstances faced by penguins, including predation and ocean pollution. But they are not threatened by the loss of Antarctic ice, because (as these biologists would know if they’d looked at the facts, not the theory – if they’d relied on real data rather than artificial models and projections) Antarctic Sea Ice, far from disappearing, is actually hitting new records, at least for the last forty years during which satellite records are available.
This is so typical of the news coverage of the climate issue. The media seem largely oblivious to the fact that there’s been no warming for seventeen years, that actual temperature trends are way below all the IPCC predictions, that Antarctic Sea Ice is increasing, not melting. The new way of doing science is to focus on the theory and ignore the data.
Of course the other poster child for rare animals threatened by climate change is the Polar Bear, famous from that photo that Al Gore is so fond of. Again, news coverage largely ignores the fact that polar bears or their ancestors survived perfectly well through the last inter-glacial 100,000 years ago, and that they are thriving today, with most populations increasing. The modern approach seems to be “Don’t trouble me with the facts. I prefer the theory”.
Welcoming the Italian Presidency
The EU’s rather farcical six-month rotating Presidency, in which member-states take the helm one after another in a frenzy of headline-grabbing initiatives, trundles on, though it has been overshadowed by the creation of the (semi-permanent) President-of-the-Council post currently held by Van Rompuy. Nevertheless, it’s now the turn of Italy for its short sojourn in the limelight, starting July 1st.
It’s customary for the pompously-designated “Conference of Presidents” to go to welcome the incoming member-state. This committee consists of the heads of political groups in the parliament, led by the parliament President, or in this case Acting President Gianni Pittella of the Socialist Group. Nigel Farage, as leader of the EFD Group, would normally be part of this group, but as he had other commitments it was necessary to find some other returning MEP from the EFD Group as a substitute, and I drew the short straw.
There will of course be members of our party who will question whether we should attend events like this at all. I take the view that we are elected to represent the views of our electors, and it is right – indeed, especially important – that those views should be represented on formal occasions like this. EU leaders should never be allowed to forget that a large and growing proportion of the peoples of Europe reject the basic premises of the European project.
We started the day at 8:30 with an internal meeting of the “Conference”, where Pittella sought to establish a parliamentary consensus position on key issues, and especially on the proposed candidacy of Jean Claude Juncker for Commission President. Naturally he could not do so, since I and one or two others disagreed. We had a thorough airing of our different views. Clearly there’s a parliamentary majority for Juncker, but there’s certainly no consensus.
Pittella mentioned that it was the job of the EU to “stabilise the position in Iraq”. That’s wishful thinking taken to extremes. I asked if he was also going to turn water into wine.
We then had a good meeting with Italy’s new young Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his team, and again we took the opportunity to air our differences. All agreed that Europe needs jobs, growth and investment. But the solution offered by most of the group leaders was more of the same. More integration, more regulation, more EU policies, more programmes, more spending, more borrowing, more debt.
By far the worst was Liberal Leader and obsessive federalist Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister. He accepted that member-states could not afford to take on more debt, but he had the solution. Massive new borrowing and “investment” (=spending) by the EU itself, as if EU borrowing wouldn’t add to the problem. One can’t blame the man for being wrong. But perhaps one can blame him for making the same mistake over and over, and for failing to learn from experience.
The problem isn’t a lack of new policies. The problem is the old policies. Over-regulation. The €uro débâcle. Open borders. Lunatic energy policies undermining competitiveness, blocking investment, forcing pensioners into fuel poverty. As a wise American once said, “You don’t have to teach the grass to grow. You just have to get the rocks off the lawn”. To solve Europe’s problems, we don’t need new policies. We need to unwind yesterday’s policy failures.
I was encouraged that Renzi recognised that the results of the euro-elections underlined the need for change. He said “For many, the European dream has become a nightmare”. He’s right there. But he remains committed to the EU project.
Then we went to the Quirinale Palace to meet Italy’s President (and former MEP) Giorgio Napolitano, a distinguished elder statesman. I decided at this stage that it would be pointless – and perhaps discourteous – to go over the same points again. So I surprised myself – and, I think, everyone else – by offering a few personal observations. So far as I can remember, I said:
“Mr. President, I’m speaking today on behalf of the EFDD Group, and of our leader Nigel Farage, who is unable to be here. You will be aware that we in the EFDD Group take a radically different view of the European Project. We believe that the EU is the problem, not the solution. But I’m not sure it would be helpful in the three minutes allotted to me to make those arguments over again in this meeting. Instead, I’d like to offer some personal observations.
Like many people across Europe, I feel a strong sense of affinity to Rome, and to Italy. Europe is full of the history, and the legacy, of Rome. My own home in England is just a couple of miles from the Fosse Way, that great Roman Road linking Exeter with Lincoln, in my East Midlands region. On the flight down from Brussels yesterday evening I was playing Verdi and Rossini on my headphones. My lead assistant in Brussels is an Italian lawyer, Francesca Salierno. She is doing an excellent job, and – like you, Mr. President – she comes from Napoli.
So it is a huge pleasure and a privilege to be here today in this ancient and beautiful palace. I should like to thank you, Mr. President, for your hospitality today, and to offer you my best wishes for your Italian Presidency”.
I was glad to have the opportunity to make this intervention, because I think it’s important that we should challenge the Brussels stereotype, which see sceptics as ranting ideologues with two heads, four horns and a tail. It’s important to show them instead that we can be serious people with intelligent ideas, and that while we absolutely reject the EU as a model of governance, we can nonetheless appreciate and engage culturally with our continental neighbours.
We then visited the Italian Senate and had a meeting with Senators. I was very pleased to be able to meet Maurizio Buccarella, a new (March 2013) Senator from the Five Star Movement. Five Star have of course joined our EFDD Group, and with seventeen MEPs will be our second largest delegation.
Have you stopped beating your wife yet?
There are some questions that have no right answer. During the Newark by-election, I was asked by a Times journalist “Would it have helped your campaign if Nigel Farage had come more often?”. How to answer? If I’d replied “No it wouldn’t”, the headline would have read “UKIP candidate says Farage is useless in campaign”. If “Yes it would”, the headline would be “Helmer attacks Farage’s absence”.
In fact I said something like “Of course Nigel is a very effective campaigner, but I quite understand that as Party leader he has many other calls on his time”. To no avail. It still came out as “Helmer criticises Farage’s absence”. This alleged complaint was faithfully quoted by my old sparring partner Bill Newton Dunn at a school debate in North Nottinghamshire on June 27th, and I was obliged to correct him.
Bill’s last hurrah
Bill and I had been invited to debate “Should Britain remain in the EU?” at the Meden School in Warsop, Mansfield, on June 27th (yesterday, as I write). That’s Mansfield Notts, by the way. Not Mansfield Pennsylvania.
It may well have been Bill’s last outing as an MEP, having lost his seat in the recent euro-elections. Indeed he was introduced as “Former MEP Bill Newton Dunn”, and I was obliged to point out that in fact he remains an MEP until Monday June 30th.
At one point he was seeking to belittle UKIP, and to talk down our chances of winning Westminster seats next year (I hope you noticed the Bow Group prediction that we’ll win a dozen seats), and he remarked that “Roger stood in the Newark by-election and got a very poor result”. Bill has twenty-five years’ experience in politics, so it’s surprising that he didn’t manage to avoid setting such an elephant-trap for himself.
I seized the opportunity to remind him, and the audience of 180 pupils, that we had gone to a strong Tory seat and cut their majority in half, that we had increased the UKIP share of the vote by a factor of six — and that the Lib-Dems had lost their deposit. This was greeted with considerable mirth by the audience. And a rueful smile from BND
Welcome to Imogen
I’ve just heard from former Brussels staffer Joe Bono, now in Washington, that his wife Brenna has given birth to a daughter, Imogen. Congratulations Brenna and Joe.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org