Eastleigh: a fantastic result
Now that the dust has settled on the Eastleigh by-election, I am still elated by UKIP’s remarkable performance. We had a great candidate, Diane James (who did a great job on Question Time recently), and a great campaign team led by the redoubtable Lisa Duffy.
The old parties have tried to dismiss the result as “mid-term blues” and “a flash in the pan”. But we’ve seen 16% in Corby, 23% in Rotherham, and now 28% in Eastleigh. That’s a trend, not a flash in the pan.
It sets the stage for UKIP’s biggest-ever local election campaign. We’re going to be fielding more candidates than ever in May. And last week we saw three former Tory Councillors join the party — David Sprason and Rob Fraser in Leics; Juliette Stevens in Derbyshire. There will be more to follow.
Councillors for hire
I was shocked by the news that Councillors from the old parties are offering to advise developers on planning permission — for a fee. Some of them may have problems at the ballot box in May (I’m sensing a huge opportunity for UKIP here). But I was also reminded of Betjeman’s poem “Executive”.
Many of us will remember the first verse: “I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner; I have a slim-line briefcase and I drive the firm’s Cortina”.
Less well known, but more apposite, however, are the final two stanzas:
I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need
Is a quiet country market town that’s rather run to seed.
A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire —
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.
And if some preservationist attempts to interfere,
A “dangerous structure” notice from the Borough Engineer
Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way —
The modern style, Sir, with respect, has really come to stay.
A peace process that seems to be working
In February, I was in the Philippines, looking at the peace process which will hopefully bring closure to an on-and-off Islamic insurgency which has blighted the island of Mindanao for four decades, and caused many casualties. And the good news is, that a comprehensive peace deal seems to be working out according to plan. We went out to the headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and met the Chairman of MILF, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.
Their HQ is out in the sticks, and it took some time to reach it. Entering the compound at CampDarapanan, we were greeted by perhaps a hundred — soldiers? insurgents? — dressed in camouflage uniforms, carrying weapons and smartly lined up. For a moment I wasn’t quite sure whether they were a Guard of Honour or a Firing Squad. But the message was clear — “We may be engaged in a peace process, but we’re still here, armed and ready”. As Gerry Adams said of the IRA, “They haven’t gone away”.
But we were greeted very cordially, spent some time discussing the progress of the peace process, and then took tea and ate local snacks with the MILF Central Committee.
That evening we were briefed by the International Monitoring Committee, commanded by a Malaysian General. Next day, we were again out in the countryside for the formal launch of a major de-mining programme, aiming to remove unexploded ordinance from agricultural areas, and allow local farmers back on the land.
No peace process is easy, and confidence takes time to build, but I did get very good vibes about the way this is going. I wish them well.
Beware of Chinese expansionism
While in Manila we were also briefed on Chinese expansion into the South China Sea. Of course the various disputes, with Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, have been widely covered in the media. But it does seem that China is adopting an aggressive, hegemonic, neo-colonial approach to the issue. It seems to be laying claim to the whole South China Sea area, and totally disregarding the Law of the Sea and international agreements. Clearly a significant factor in their thinking is the potential for oil and gas under the sea-bed — and perhaps a natural desire to exploit their new-found economic strength and to start imposing themselves on the region.
This is a matter for concern, both because much of the world’s shipping passes through the South China Sea, and because China’s stance is politically destabilising in the region. Now that the USA has signalled its intention of paying more attention to its Pacific neighbours, the scene is set for a great deal of friction.
Asbestos: The plot thickens
I have it from a usually reliable source that a former policeman has been tasked by a leading asbestos claims lawyer to find out how much the asbestos industry is paying me for arguing the case for white asbestos (which unlike blue and brown asbestos carries no identifiable health risk) in the parliament . Really the claims lawyers could have saved themselves the very large retainer they have offered the man in question. They could simply have asked me, and I should have been happy to tell them.
Not a brass farthing. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. I have taken up the case because I am concerned about the huge and unnecessary costs that would be inflicted on the British economy generally (and in particular on farmers, who often have large corrugated asbestos cement buildings) if they were required to replace this material. I am particularly incensed that this whole attempt to vilify white asbestos is driven by commercial interests seeking to profit from the wholly unnecessary and egregious economic damage they propose to inflict on thousands of businesses, and the economy generally.
I can say that during my nearly fourteen years in the parliament I have never once been offered anything resembling a bribe, or a retainer to lobby for commercial interests. I rather wish I had. At least I should have had the satisfaction of refusing it.
And now for the Bad News!
I’ve just come across a new book by American author Richard Duncan entitled “The New Depression”. Mr. Duncan has enjoyed a stellar 25-year career in financial services, and is now chief economist at Blackhorse Asset Management in Singapore. I’ve had a quick look through his book, though, and it has a pretty fair title — it certainly depressed me.
He fears that the global growth of the last fifty years has been driven by credit and by printing money, and that today’s debts will never be repaid. He compares the present problems to the Great Depression in 1929.
On the up-side, governments may be better placed to react than in 1929. Maybe some lessons have been learned. But on the down-side, the EU has voluntarily landed itself with the €uro, which is making matters much worse — especially for the Club Med countries. Don’t imagine that the €uro crisis has gone away. It’s just in temporary remission.
So do not read this book — unless you want to be depressed too! I don’t know if Mr. Duncan is right or wrong — I’m just letting you know what he says.
Of course it is always bad news when a parliamentarian leaves a party (at least for the Party being left), so I was naturally disappointed when Marta Andreasen decided to defect to the Tories. Her timing was clearly designed to cause maximum embarrassment to UKIP ahead of the Eastleigh by-election, so she must have been sorry that her little story was drowned in the storm over the Lib-Dems’ “Lord Grope” scandal.
At first I wasn’t clear why she’d gone, though she’d been increasingly fractious and critical for some time. But it’s becoming apparent. She will benefit as a Tory MEP from the Conservative MEPs’ incumbency rights. And I’m hearing that James Elles, in the South East, has announced his intention to stand down in 2014, so Marta is a shoe-in with a guaranteed place. She would certainly not have been re-selected for UKIP.
Or I should say, she thinks she’s a shoe-in. It could well be that the Tories will get one fewer SE seat in 2014, and UKIP one more. I think that’s a probable outcome. And Marta will be out in the cold again.
One thing is crystal clear: her decision was all about personal animosity and personal ambition, not about politics. It’s amusing that in just the few preceding weeks, Marta was saying highly critical stuff about Cameron. And it’s worth pointing out that she left her last three employers (and/or political groups) in bad odour. I’ve already heard several of her new Conservative colleagues expressing reservations about her. Read it here.
But that’s a problem for the Conservatives now, not UKIP, and if the election goes to their plan, they’ll be stuck with her ‛till 2019. They should maybe ask her whether she’s prepared to make a home in the UK and pay UK tax.
Germans launch a eurosceptic party
It’s always been a bit of a mystery why so many European countries seem to lack anything that looks like a eurosceptic party. But maybe things are changing. Italy’s recent election turned up a majority of voters backing parties that have serious questions about the €uro and austerity — or €urosterity, as we might call it.
Now we have news of a new sceptical party in Germany, of all places. It seems that their post-WW2 angst may be wearing thin. Catchily named “Alternative for Germany”, it’s been founded by a respected economist, and seems to have the backing of some big names. No appeal to blood and soil here, though. This is all about technocratic criticism of monetary union. The party has described attempts to rescue the €uro as “a fiasco”, and the Greek bail-out as “an offence under the Trades Descriptions Act”.
It’s taken you a long time, guys, but better late than never. Welcome to the cause of freedom and sanity.
Günther Oettinger: It’s that man again!
Extraordinary comments from EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger. Scotland is set to become “The Saudi Arabia of renewables”. And the UK needs the European Union to export its lucrative energy resources efficiently, according to Europe’s Energy Commissioner. How out of touch can one guy get? Read it here.
What’s bugging Janet Daley?
I’ve always held Telegraph columnist Janet Daley in high regard. For years, she said nothing I disagreed with (so far as I can remember). And her trenchant attacks on successive governments, her intolerance of modish nonsense and political correctness, her aggressive common sense and realism, were a weekly tonic.
So I was surprised and disappointed by some of her comments on March 3rd. Reflecting on the Eastleigh by-election, she dismisses UKIP as “a party they (the voters) know will never form a government”. Are you so wedded to the 2½ party system, Janet? Do you not recall that in 1900 you might have described the Labour Party as “a party that will never form a government”, and that you would have been wrong? Have you noticed that this party, UKIP, has come from almost nothing a few years back to third place in the opinion polls, regularly out-polling the Lib-Dems, that well-respected “party of government”? Have you noticed that in two recent by-elections, UKIP polled over 20%, and came close to winning in Eastleigh?
It’s not really a choice now between four parties, because as Janet Daley concedes further down her piece, the old parties are virtually indistinguishable. They are “three social-democratic parties”. There is little to choose between them. So it’s a two-horse race — between the old social democratic parties on the one hand, and UKIP on the other, which talks about the real issues that concern real people.
She goes on to say that UKIP is a party “which has vilified all the plausible governing parties”. Just hang on there a minute, Janet. Who has vilified whom? Remember it was Conservative David Cameron who described UKIP as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, (or alternatively, “cranks and gadflies”), thus gratuitously insulting (and slandering) not only a legitimate political party, but many thousands of his own supporters who agree with UKIP policies. And Cameron, presented recently with an opportunity graciously to withdraw his egregious comments, signally failed to do so.
Ms. Daley argues that UKIP’s vote in Eastleigh was “a protest vote but not just a protest vote”. It was (she says) a legitimate use of electoral politics to send a message. Maybe she should spend some more time on doorsteps talking to voters. I have no doubt that UKIP is indeed benefiting from the “none-of-the-above” vote that used to go to the Lib-Dems before they got into Coalition. But I also know from the work I have done and the conversations I have had with voters, that the majority of people voting UKIP do so because they want to see UKIP candidates elected, and Yes, they’d like to see a UKIP government. They are concerned about immigration, or Europe, or energy prices and wind farms. And UKIP are the only people with anything useful or distinctive to say on these issues.
We shall make great progress in the County elections in May. We shall win the €uro elections in 2014. And we shall start winning Westminster seats in 2015. Some of our candidates, like Margot Parker (Corby) and Diane James (Eastleigh) deserve to be in Westminster, and will be. This is not a protest vote, Janet. This is a new political force on the march.
March 2nd/3rd, Stephen Nolan Show
Midnight on March 2nd saw me doing the Sunday papers review on BBC Five Live’s Stephen Nolan Show, along with leftist journalist Vince Graff @vincegraff. It was one of the liveliest sessions I can remember.
Of course that fantastic Eastleigh by-election result featured large. Vince was trying to characterise UKIP’s policies — on immigration and access to the NHS — as “right wing” (typical of the lazy and biased thinking of many in the media). I said “Hang on a minute, Vince. I spent some time canvassing in the Rotherham by-election, and the number one issue on the doorstep was immigration. But Rotherham is a solid Labour area.
Don’t try to pretend that these are right-wing issues. They’re common-sense issues.”
We had a similar discussion on Foreign Aid. Both Stephen and Vince tried to use the line “But don’t you agree that if we cut foreign aid, children in poor countries will die as a consequence? Is a life in Botswana less valuable than welfare benefits in the UK?” To which the answer is “Today’s papers report 1,165 people dying of starvation in NHS hospitals. The first duty of the British government is to British citizens. If you want to support dying children in poor countries, that’s an excellent thing, and you can give privately to charity, but it’s a personal choice, not what our government should be doing with tax-payers’ money. If Cameron wants to play Lady Bountiful, let him use his own money, not ours. And in any case, trade (if the protectionist EU would get out of the way) is a far more cost-effective way to take poor people out of poverty”.
The first caller on foreign aid was a guy called Martin, who said “Well I think Roger Helmer is talking a lot of common sense on this issue”. I could have hugged him.
Watching the Bond movie “Skyfall” for the first time, I was delighted to see M (Judi Dench) quoting from Tennyson’s Ulysses, when in a parliamentary committee she was seeking to shrug off suggestions that she was “past it” as head of MI6. Delighted, but not surprised, because my henchman Paul Oakden had mentioned it in advance. It’s worth quoting, as a tribute to all those who work on beyond the statutory retirement age:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I’ve loved that poem for years — yet it’s only recently I’ve noticed that it’s actually blank verse. Reading modern blank verse, I wonder whether it’s verse at all, or just rather pretentious prose. But Tennyson leaves us in no doubt. And while I’m at it, four more lines that hit the spot:
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org