First published 23rd April on Parliament Street blog.
The General Election is just 14 days away and still wholly for the taking. No one can call it; more surprising yet, no one is claiming otherwise. The polls show that voting intention remains fairly static with the top spot oscillating daily between the Tories and Labour. Last night’s YouGov had the Conservatives on 35% and Labour on 34%, Sunday’s Populus put the Tories on 32% and Labour on 34% while ICM saw the positions reversed and Ashcroft’s top-line figures put Cameron on 34% with Labour down to 30%. A hung parliament is certain and I have money on a second election called by the end of the year, a financial tragedy for all parties, few more so than UKIP. It is my opinion that UKIP will fail to turn its sustained support into votes on the 7th May and will suffer accordingly with a disproportionately small number of seats in the newly formed parliament; this is not a solitary view, but my reasons contradict much of current mainstream thinking.
As has become custom, UKIP, the party that has arguably rejuvenated both the electorate and the establishment, continues to dominate the news for all the wrong reasons. Last week the party faced criticism from The Telegraph for not having enough “black faces” in its manifesto; this was not just a low blow but an outright falsehood. An unscripted show of solidarity by the ethnic minority party supporters present at the event caused an incidence of depressingly unscripted irony, as the press united to accuse UKIP of “bullying” the journalist. Since, a council candidate in Plymouth has been forced to apologise for a “horrific” tweet mocking the recent Mediterranean migrant tragedy and yet another former UKIP MEP has been accused of swindling taxpayers’ money, this time Ashley Mote and £500,000. Perhaps a greater cause for concern for UKIP has been the party’s showing in opinion polls; to mix a metaphor, UKIP appeared to be losing steam at the final furlong. Their lowest Opinium showing in two years, which at 11% still outflanked the wildest dreams of the Lib Dems, triggered much crowing throughout the press and prompted the Conservatives to redouble efforts to encourage UKIP voters to “come home”. And now, a far cry from Farage’s jubilant claims that UKIP might reign triumphant in 40 seats, the main forecasters predict that UKIP are on course for a mere five seats at best, with Elections Forecast and the brilliant May 2015 website suggesting just three and others foreseeing that Douglas Carswell alone will win under the UKIP banner.
I’ve never been too optimistic about UKIP’s chances in May, even back when a committed party member.
There are a few reasons for this. Of course, there’s the voting system. First Past the Post makes it extraordinarily difficult for smaller parties to break through. UKIP is fielding candidates in 624 of 650 seats and today average 15% in the polls; if this percentage held in an election with a directly proportional system, UKIP would win an impressive 93 seats. As it is, six would be a huge success.
UKIP also lacks the local government presence of the other major parties; just 370 councillors to the Lib Dems’ 2,257, Labour’s 7,127 and 8,296 Conservatives. UKIP Party membership stands at 45,000 to the Tories’ 150,000 and Labour’s 190,000. The age of mass political party membership may be behind us but fewer members tends to equate to fewer activists, just as a smaller presence in local government correlates to lesser organisation at local level. The Lib Dems are the masters of using solid local organisation and a hold in local councils to elect and retain Members of Parliament, a skill that could see them hold far more seats than their 7% polling suggests. What is more, it is not entirely cruel to suspect that a chunk of UKIP’s activists are not quite so able to wear out their limbs delivering leaflets and getting out the votes than the younger activist bases of, say, the Greens. All of this could have a deleterious effect on turnout and share of the vote but there’s little that can be done now. I do, however, believe that Farage will take Thanet South and that the party will come second in unprecedented numbers, particularly in the North of England, leaving the door open for a UKIP triumph in 2020 if Miliband is allowed to drag the country back to the dogs.
Organisation aside, if May’s result has Farage hanging his head in despair, much of the press would have us believe that this is a direct result of its sustained negative media campaign of the past two years. Others, mostly on the left, would have it that UKIP’s ill-fortunes are the result of gaffe after “racist” gaffe; clearly, they will say, the electorate saw UKIP for the sinister racist homophobes they are and voted accordingly. Both would be wrong.
The point that neither the press nor establishment politicians seem to understand is that no headline, no ill-judged tweet by a council candidate from Godknowswhere-upon-Tyne, makes a blind bit of difference to a committed Kipper or even a sympathetic waverer. The negative headlines of whichever latest race row, a shameless (alleged) fraud case by a leading MEP and Farage’s ill-judged attack on HIV positive migrants might shock the Guardian but UKIP lap up the publicity to bounce back stronger. Their temporary lull in the polls has passed and they are back on 13-16% today. The phrase “Teflon politician” is often thrown around about Farage but time and time again it is shown to be true.
Another point that Conservatives especially miscomprehend is that empty promises and desperate pleas from David Cameron will not bring back UKIP voters to the Tory fold. This week Cameron promised that his party would “do more” on immigration and the EU, two issues on which the Conservatives cannot win against UKIP. UKIP supporters from Marsden to Middleton believe emphatically that Cameron is weak when it comes to Europe; they think the last five years gave ample opportunity to hold a referendum if the Prime Minister was serious. They also know, like many Conservatives in their hearts, that freedom of movement is not up for renegotiation, even if Cameron held greater influence among European leaders.
But there is one tactic that Cameron has found that may well stump UKIP come polling day: fear. Fear of a Labour/SNP alliance. The fear that will niggle at a voter when alone in the ballot box; the fear of a Labour government propped up by Sturgeon. In my mind, this is the one sure fire way to scare a Kipper into home-coming submission in that ballot-box moment: the thought of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister with Sturgeon pulling the strings. By marrying the SNP with Labour, Cameron is putting the onus on formerly Conservative UKIP voters to prevent the “toxic tie-up” that would lead to everything a classical UKIP voter hates: higher taxes, weaker defence, no EU referendum, ever more stringent “Green” policies, higher levels of immigration and unbearable, hand-wringing left-wingery for the next five years. Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University, arguably the authority on all UKIP matters, argues that a UKIP vote could damage the Conservatives in 69 key seats and deep-down many of us with UKIP sympathies know it; as the election draws closer and Sturgeon continues to flex her muscles, this is a powerful argument that may yet save Cameron’s bacon. Depressing though it is, Cameron would do better to focus his energies into over-emphasizing the SNP effect than making useless pleas to the hearts of voters; promises will be overlooked, but the threat of 1970s style socialism cannot be ignored.
Yesterday UKIP launched their long-awaited election manifesto, a seventy five page policy document laying out the Eurosceptic party’s proposals for what they would do in government in areas ranging from tax to foreign affairs via crime and culture.
Back in 2012 I joined UKIP for their tax policies, not Brexit. Yesterday’s manifesto didn’t disappoint. Despite watering down proposals for a flat rate of income tax, UKIP remains the party with the most liberal tax policies by an autonomous-country mile. Ending income tax on the minimum wage, cutting income tax overall, ending the death tax and increasing the transferable personal tax allowance for married couples and civil partners are all vote winners.
Cutting business rates for small businesses, replacing the Barnett formula, slashing the costs of government and increasing defence spending to ensure our armed forces actually have basic equipment are solid, sensible, costed policies for a better Britain. And ‘costed’ is key; UKIP is the only major party to have its manifesto independently audited to ensure that every tax cut and spending commitment is affordable, a world away from outlandish spending promises from the Conservatives , Labour and the Greens.
However, it wasn’t all soundness and roses. UKIP’s promise to scrap the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is a little piece of spineless populism and the removal of the brilliant health and education voucher policies hammered another nail into the coffin of UKIP’s libertarianism.
The manifesto also confirmed that just like every other political party, UKIP has fallen into line to worship at the altar of Britain’s national religion, the NHS.
But given that they are trying to win the hearts of their ‘people’s army’, not of a few SW London classical liberals, adjustments in line with public opinion are to be expected as UKIP completes its metamorphosis into a serious, major political party with an impressively broad manifesto.
And among the proposals to cut the cost of Westminster was a hidden gem, a promise to clamp down on so-called ‘fake charities’ or state-funded political activism.
Government funding of charities is a huge issue; estimates suggest that in the UK between £3.1 billion and £6.5 billion of large charities’ funds comes straight from the taxpayers’ pocket. Historical evidence from the Institute of Economic Affairs, cited in the CEBR audit of UKIP’s manifesto, reveals that “between 1997 and 2005, the combined income of Britain’s charities nearly doubled, from £19.8bn to £37.9bn, with the biggest growth coming in grants and contracts from government departments.” Since 2008, Britain’s multi-billion pound charity industry has received more money from government than it has from individuals, entirely undermining the “voluntary” element of charity.
UKIP are not the first to identify this problem. Chris Snowdon wrote an excellent paper entitled ‘Sock Puppets’ for the Institute of Economic Affairs that looked into this abuse of public money in detail. He concluded that there are three significant problems that arise when the state funds the charity sector: primarily, there is the questionable use of scarce public funds; secondly, through doing so the democratic process is subverted and finally, by amplifying the voices of state funded “charities” through artificial financial means the real civil society is marginalised.
State funding blurs the lines between civil society and government, between charity – which by its very definition is voluntary – and state aid; through doing so the government distorts the voice of its citizens by putting causes in their mouths, magnifying the voices of left-wing groups and in doing so quietening dissent, resulting in a highly distorted version of what civil society desires.
In reality, when the government promises to ‘match’ every pound donated to a certain whimsical cause, ‘government’ is not donating a penny: taxpayers are. And while this sort of involuntary charitable giving constitutes a tiny proportion of the monumental sums spent by government in our name each year, it is exactly this that many of us imagine our gigantic £11.7 billion aid budget should go towards, rather than yet more cash being pumped in on our behalf.
The great thing about using the so-called charity sector to lobby for parliamentary change is the halo effect of ‘charity’; it’s harder to shout down Save the Children or Oxfam in public than it is to publicly battle the left-wing mantras or policy chiefs, a startling number of whom are former Labour Special Advisors, that are pulling the strings.
Yet given that so many charities use this money to lobby the government for policy changes, we end up back to that old chestnut, so beloved by the EU, of policy-based evidence-making rather than evidence-based policy-making. The government uses our money to fund “charities” that then lobby the same government in our name to affect policy change, often thereby legitimising pre-existing governmental plans.
If we put aside concerns for democracy, transparency and the public purse aside, this sort of patronage can be dangerous for the charities themselves; dependency on government grants renders them vulnerable to the whims of successive governments. If a cause goes out of fashion then income may quickly be lost, perhaps explaining why modern charities feel the need to shriek all the louder and the litany of hyperbole over melting icecaps and vanishing tigers.
It goes without saying that any organisation dependent on taxpayers’ money will argue for more of it, just as vested interests tend to oppose reform. This is a challenge that any brave incoming government will face, just as the Tories did when attempting to enact their ‘bonfire of the QUANGOs’. As a policy it would be hard to regulate for determining which causes are ‘real’ and which are thinly guised campaign mobs would divide opinion, but it is vital that the independence of the voluntary sector be restored.
UKIP are so very right to put this at the heart of their reform proposals; the “people’s army” must take on Gordon Brown’s people. It is time that taxpayers’ money is protected and charities are rebalanced from government propagation to grass-roots activism. Something UKIP is all about.
First published by Breitbart London on 16th April
I was asked what is UKIP’s red line, what would the first 100 days of a UKIP government be like and are there any political parties that UKIP won’t work with.
But the left is the true face of modern “fascism”
The short campaign has started and inevitably the political gloves will come off. Unfortunately for me, and indeed many current UKIP candidates and supporters, the fight is getting far too close to home.
Over the past few days I have received dozens of warnings or threats, depending on how you choose to see them, from someone who is ostensibly a member of the British Labour Party and part of ANTIFA – a group that self-describes as “a collective of militant anti-fascists committed to opposing the rise of the far-right in Britain and abroad.”
ANTIFA support the ‘no platform’ philosophy that is behind the stifling of debate on university campuses across the country and they openly advocate direct action – not talk. They also claim to have my home address and the desire to use it to hold a “peaceful” protest outside my house. My crime? I was once a member of UKIP, a party they have denounced as fascist.
Irony appears to be a concept that has passed ANTIFA by. Fascism is, in essence, radical authoritarianism, the stifling of debate through force; Orwell wrote in 1944 that “the word ‘fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless… almost any people would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’”. And bullies is almost the perfect definition of what these people are.
Fascist as an insult is appallingly over-used and one that, when used in the context of UKIP, renders the argument meaningless and its user ignorant. UKIP as a party may well have its issues but to label it a fascist organization is pure folly. The party’s immigration policy is usually the reason it faces these sorts of accusations and while an Australian points-based system may not be to everyone’s tastes it is one that treats would-be immigrants as individuals and assesses their application on their own merits, not whether or not they hold an EU passport.
First published on 31st March by Breitbart. Read the rest here.
Last night was the first of the greatly anticipated election debates hosted jointly by Channel 4 and Sky News, featuring the Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour’s Ed Miliband. I say “debate” with a pinch of salt; after Cameron’s blatant refusal to face the Labour leader head to head, the set-up took the form of both leaders facing the formidable ex-Newsnight journalist Jeremy Paxman for 18 minutes of hard questioning followed by a gentler Q&A from a hand-picked audience, moderated by Sky’s Kay Burley.
Speculation over who “won” was rife, as was to be expected. An instant Guardian/ICM poll showed that 54 percent of viewers claimed victory for Cameron while 46 percent judged him to have the more appealing personality, compared to 42 percent who preferred the dulcet tones of Miliband. However, hope sprung anew for Labour among the crucial wavering voters, with 56 percent of the sub-sample choosing the Labour leader for their own, compared to just 30 percent supporting Cameron.
And after all the fuss, what did we learn? Very little, really. No new policies were announced. Cameron squirmed through difficult questions on food banks and zero hours contracts before being forced to admit his catastrophic failure to meet his own immigration targets. Miliband apologised for aspects of the 13 years we endured of New Labour yet, crucially, answered “no” when asked whether Labour borrowed too much money, before causing the entire watching public to simultaneously cringe as the “north London geek” cried “hell yes, I’m tough enough”. I am very rarely on the same page as Polly Toynbee, but agree wholeheartedly that the whole event was “dull, dull, dull”.
With a record to defend there’s no doubt that the questioning of Cameron was tough; without such experience, the interrogation of Miliband was more personal. And yet, it was not just the politicians on display and open to judgment last night but Paxman and Kay Burley as well.
First published by Breitbart on 27th March. Read the rest here.
There is absolutely no defence for suspended UKIP MEP Janice Atkinson. I’ve tried – really, really hard – but no; through arrogance and stupidity she has landed herself up a certain creek without a paddle or a hope.
Last night it emerged that The Sun newspaper has gathered extensive footage of Atkinson’s office attempting what appears to be large scale criminal fraud.
After hosting a pre-conference event at The Hoy restaurant in Margate, Kent less than a month ago, allegedly her UK-based parliamentary office requested that the true invoice for £950 be inflated to £3,150 with the intention of pocketing the difference.
Atkinson’s chief of staff has been filmed saying that “the idea is we overcharge them slightly because that’s the way of repatriating (the money)”.
She later emailed the manager to barter over how much they could inflate the supposed price of the bottles of wine drunk by the party, which included UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP and Tory defector Mark Reckless MP, before requesting that the marked up invoice be addressed to the IDDE group in Brussels. Unsurprisingly, an itemised bill was declined by the office in favour of a single, vastly inflated statement.
The question on the lips of everyone both inside and out of UKIP is: what on earth was she thinking? And did they really think they would get away with it? For legal reasons I should probably mention that no one has been charged with anything – yet – but the evidence is mounting and serious enough for UKIP to immediately suspend the MEP and general election candidate.
First published by Breitbart on 20th March. Read the rest here.
“It’s all bollocks!” says UKIP’s David Coburn MEP after finding himself at the centre of the latest political witch hunt; and I’m inclined to agree with him.
The pressure is mounting on Scotland’s only elected ‘Kipper after he compared Scottish Nationalist Humza Yousaf MSP to convicted Islamic terrorist Abu Hamza. Referring to BBC Two’s The Big Immigration Debate, Coburn told a Scottish Mail journalist that “Humza Yousaf, or as I call him, Abu Hamza, didn’t seem to turn up”.
Unfortunately for David, the conversation wasn’t quite off the record and the “jest” was referred back to Yousaf who, along with the entire Scottish political establishment, went nuts.
For those who haven’t had the questionable pleasure of meeting Scotland’s only UKIP MEP, he was described by British journalist Rod Liddle as “somewhat flamboyant — kilt, sporran, the whole works — and both morbidly obese and very gay”.
David is no stranger to controversy; last year he came under fire for calling the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, a “fat lesbian” and former Labour leader Johann Lamont a “fish wife”. In response, he claimed “I don’t see the problem. I couldn’t possibly object to anyone calling me a fat poof. It would be entirely accurate.” And, with typical Coburn charm: “Well I’m a fat Scotsman… I don’t recall any of this”. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has not evaded criticism herself, labeled “helmet hairdo” earlier this year.
First published by Breitbart 18th March. Read the rest here.