Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Working With UKIP.....

I've often been asked how I came to work in Brussels.

In a nutshell, I joined UKIP in around 2001 and found myself, having been co-opted onto the London Regional Committee, working with mayoral candidate Frank Maloney. Immediately after that campaign I took myself off to Minsk where I worked with elements of the democratic opposition that have now been absorbed into the Belorussian Popular Front. Its an interesting life...

On my return from Minsk I found a letter on my doormat from Nigel Farage inviting me to come out to Brussels. Thats how it happened. I had studied European Governance and Democratic Theory at Uni, so I suppose I was considered to be as well qualified as anybody in UKIP.

Sadly I fell out with Farage, as so many do, and I have been airbrushed out of UKIP history, and painted as some sort of a right-wing extremist. Anybody associated with me, it is hinted, is also an extremist, something that I find extremely offensive.

Bulletin From Brussels, Issue 1

So lets put the record straight, shall we?

This is from the first issue of Bulletin From Brussels, which I edited for, I seem to recall, 4 issues. It was a bit of fun, and I was quite pleased with it at the time It was a publication of UKIP's Independence & Democracy Group in the European Parliament.

Whilst I remain on good terms with most of the fine folk in these pictures, I wonder what would happen to them if they were photographed with me now?

Bulletin From Brussels, Issue 3

Although the front page of the Bulletin always featured Nigel Farage, understandable given that he was head of the UKIP delegation in the EP, it was Roger Knapman, then party leader, with whom I always had the most pleasure working.

I have always credited Roger with UKIP's landmark election results in 2004. Without his political acumen, contacts, and steady hand (albeit with a little help from Kilroy and Dick Morris!) I think UKIP would have struggled to hold the 3 seats gained in 1999.

But is was not just in Brussels that we produced such literature. I was also tasked by Farage with editing a one-off 'Independence News', similar to something that had been produced previously. This, however, was officially a UKIP publication. If anybody associated with me is an extremist, then this cutting must surely beg some answers!

Of course, Nigel Farage is no more an extremist than I am, despite what some might say about him. It was always easy to write copy for him as he always had a clear idea of what he wanted to say, and generally trusted his staff to deliver.

And so there you have it. Since leaving the Independence & Democracy Group I have worked with Independent MEPs in 2 parliaments, and to this day I am happy to work with, in an official capacity, 2 UKIP MEPs.

 I also had a brief spell working as a journalist, during which period I presented a report on extremism in the EU to the Simon Weisenthal Centre. Life is never dull in the world of politics!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Dissent, or Betrayal?

Society needs dissent.

There are generally considered to be two types of dissentor; disclosers, and contrarians. The former are vital to a healthy democracy, as they help ensure that politicians, big business, and other actors are held accountable. The latter are a waste of space, with their poorly informed prejudices, dysfunctionalism, and half-baked selectively presented evidence. But that's enough about UKIP.

Probably the most prominent and controversial of disclosers at the moment is Julian Assange. This is a story that has yet to play out, but I suspect that one way or another he is going to end up in a jail in the US for a very long time.

I know it is fashionable to support Assange, not least because hands behind the scenes appear to be behaving in a duplicitous way. I make no comment about alleged sexual offences, but it is clear that something is going on at diplomatic level that might not be described as routine.

Wikileaks is not a website I visit, but due to the present controversy I took time to wade through it.

We, and the US, are at war in Afghanistan, and Wikileaks has released classified documents relating to operational activities in-theatre. Until quite recently, a chap would have faced the noose for such an act. This website is potentially compromising the safety of allied troops, and the chattering classes think that this is a good idea?

It is not for Assange to decide what is in the public interest here. The safety of our troops is paramount, and even the slightest scrap of information relating to past events in Afghanistan can reveal details of, for example, operational parameters that would be invaluble to the enemy. Any sympathy I had for Assange has evaporated.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

No Place Like Home!

 I've been spending the week visiting family in Cornwall, which is about as beautiful a place to spend a week as one can find. But I had to take a couple of days out for a spot of business in London (I was never good at taking time off!). But what a pleasure my two day trip is turning into!

A successful meeting with a veteran's group in Westminster yesterday, then a pint with Tom Wise in the Victory Club followed by a nice dinner. Today I have only to drop off some copies of 'Putins Legacy' with a bookseller in the West End, and then I am off duty until the 1903 from Paddington, and a four hour slog down to Liskeard. Why are English trains still so slow? On the train up yesterday I felt like I was on the set of an old Will Hay movie.

But the day ahead is a blank canvas, and what a rare treat that is for me.

This is where I guess my roots start to show through. With all London spread out in front of me, my plans involve - breakfast in Bethnal Green, a stroll along Brick Lane to pick up some stuff I can't get in Belgium (or indeed anywhere other than Brick Lane), and then a pint in the Blind Beggar. Unless any other diversions present themselves, down to Bermondsey to call on a few friends in Jamaica Road, and probably yet another pint at The Boatman.

Now I know that the East End is not everybody's idea of a beauty spot, but to me it has no rivals. To me, the bustle of Brick Lane, or Columbia Street flower market on a Sunday morning, have as much of an appeal as the Cornish coastline, or the lovely gardens in Paris where my son and I spent our day a couple of weeks ago.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Moral Relativism and Libertarianism: Some Musings......

In 1931, Dr Alfred Salter - who in my opinion is amongst the greatest of all Englishmen who has ever lived - visited the Soviet Union. Despite being one of the first of the Independent Labour MPs to enter the House of Commons, he was no "useful idiot", and his rejection of the Bolshevik regime was both profound and unambiguous.

In particular, he was appalled by what we now refer to as 'moral relativism', an affliction generally associated with Marxism. (Actually, I disagree with this diagnosis, I think that moral relativism, like fatalism and materialism, owes more to the Russian mindset than to Marxist ideology, but that is maybe a subject for another posting.)

Salter wrote (and here I quote from Fenner Brockway's excellent biography of Salter 'Bermondsey Story' George Allen & Unwin, 1949) "The facilities for 'divorce while you wait', the provision of abortion clinics..., the encouragement of promiscuity..., all seem to me to point to a steady drift into sheer animalism. Human beings were meant to live a higher and nobler life than this."

Why do I mention this? Firstly to arouse interest in Alfred Salter (who I just happen to be writing a book about!) and also because I want to draw parallels between moral relativism and libertarianism.

I am not a libertarian. I know many people who do put themselves into that category, and very fine people they are: the world benefits from their freedoms of expression. But sadly not everybody is like that. Libertarianism is, as any political scientist will tell you, one step away from anarchism. (Please note: anarchism, not anarchy - they are two different things altogether).

Salter gave everything he had - quite literally - to the service of working class people in Bermondsey. But the working class that Salter gave his life for has changed beyond all recognition. I am working class, and I am very proud of that. I went to university, and I enjoy a very rewarding career in politics. My children attend private schools and are multi-lingual. Thanks to Alfred Salter and people like him, that is what we working class lads can achieve for our families now. It doesn't make us 'middle class' (whatever that is) it just shows us how far we have come.

So who are those people in shell suits who never work and who seem to display every social problem known to mankind? They are not working class, they are underclass, and they are growing in numbers very rapidly. They are living proof of what Salter referred to as the "drift into sheer animalism". How I wish that it were possible to observe this underclass in the company of Salter, Scott Lidgett, Herbert Morrison et al and to hear their thoughts on what has happened. Possibly the nearest I could ever come to that dream is to read Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, or dare I say H.G. Well's Time Machine which is the strongest possible warning of the dangers of dysgenics.

I do not approve of the concept of eugenics, but nor do I approve of dysgenics, and we seem to live in a dysgenic society. For this, I refer you back to Salter's words, and I lay the blame at the door of the moral relativists and the libertarians. My very good friend Gregg, whose blog A brief encounter is linked to on this site, will disagree with me, and I look forward to engaging in debate with him and with other libertarians.

The question I am asking, is can we trust people with the freedoms that come with libertarianism? If the answer to that question is no, then do we reject the concept, or do we restrict those freedoms. If the latter is the case, then we cease to be a democracy, and surely that would be the worst possible course for us to take. Liberal democracy has entered an interesting phase. Fukiyama was so very wrong when he wrote about the end of history. Democracy is still evolving, and it will never cease to do so. I have always argued that a stagnant polity is an unhealthy one. As a post-materialist (and I know at least one person who follows this blog who will equate post-materialism with Marxism - I look forward to that debate!) I think that we need now to be looking at new directions, and new priorities. We need to stand back and look at our values. I just don't think that libertarianism is the way forward - society is not yet sufficiently developed for that.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Elvis: Still the King!

I have such vivid memories of the night of August 16th 1977. There was a heck of a thunder storm, and the windows were literally shaking in their frames. It was very impressive - I do love a good storm.

Then about midnight the storm ended and my father came into my room. He had bad news: "Elvis just died", he told me.

Its a bit of a generational thing, I know, but folk raised on the manufactured garbage that passes for popular music today cannot understand the power of Elvis. After his death RCA Victor had an entire factory working around the clock just producing his albums. On the morning of the 17th every radio station was playing his music, and the story of his passing was on every front page. I remember that evening a tearful Joe Brown talking about his memories of Elvis and playing I don't care if the sun don't shine. Joe was always a better guitarist than a singer, but he did ok. A couple of days later Carl Perkins - who wrote Blue Suede Shoes amongst other great tracks - appeared on Roger Scott's excellent Cruising on Capital Radio (back in the days when Capitol broadcast on 194 mw). Carl and Roger have also left the building now, and both are much missed.

35 years on, although it is impossible to be precise, Presley's estate claims that his record sales have now topped 1 billion. That's a hell of a fan base!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Cross Border Enforcement - A One-Way Deal?

Under a new agreement, French and Belgian Rozzers are exchanging driver information. As a result of this, over 100,000 Belgian drivers have been issued French speeding tickets since June. That strikes me as quite a lot, but given the way that the Belgians drive, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

Actually, this is a taste of things to come. Although the Franco-Belge deal is bilateral, there is a legislative package called 'Brussels 1' hovering in the wings. This will make recovery of cross-border fines, and indeed other stuff, a lot easier in future.

But a word of warning.....

If you renege on a debt in the UK, you may end up with a County Court judgement against you. In Belgium, a court order can end up with armed police paying a person a call along with the bailiffs. Debt is a criminal offence here.

So in theory, and I have followed Brussels 1 through various committees, this is what could happen.

A person leaves Belgium, after a holiday, business trip, whatever, and has an unpaid bill. It may be as a result of oversight, dispute, or whatever. The aggrieved Belgian gets a court order - and pay attention here, this is now a criminal matter. As it is a criminal matter, the Belgians can issue a European Arrest Warrant, which the UK plod are obliged to act upon. As a result, the British citizen can be taken in and deported without any appeal at all. So much for Her Britannic Majesty demanding that Her subjects be treated with respect and all that.

Now I have to say that unlike in the UK now, Belgian coppers are a decent bunch, and are allowed a huge amount of discretion in how they deal with people. Its a nice change from the "we are above the law and if you look at us you are f***ing nicked" attitude of the Peelers.

But a European Arrest Warrant? Get one of those under your belt, and you will be lucky to work again, that's the reality of life in Britain.

On the other hand, if a Belgian runs off owing you money, you can get your County Court Judgement against him or her, but that is a civil matter, and so there will be no warrant for the Belgians to enforce.

Does that sound like a fair deal to you?

Incidentally, HMG is very keen on Brussels 1.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Going For Gold - But UKIP Didn't Want it to Happen.

I don't watch much TV, I just never caught that habit, but yesterday I was glued to the set for hours as GB took medal after medal. The evening's athletic performances were just magnificent. At the time of writing, Team GB is third in the medals table, with the certainty of more to come today. Despite initial misgivings, many of which I shared, family and friends back in London tell me everything is running as well as can be expected - and those of us who have depended on London Transport for most of our lives generally have low expectations - that there is a carnival atmosphere, and most importantly, our athletes are winning. Equally important, sport has become an obsession in schools, and that primary school youngsters in particular are becoming aware of sports they never heard of before. That can only be good.

But UKIP did not want this to happen.

In 2005, UKIP members on the London Assembly backed the Paris bid. They did not want London to host this mega sporting event, and to become the centre of world attention. This little chapter appears to have been discretely forgotten. In fact, the party leader is quoted on the UKIP website as saying "It's been a tremendous Games so far, Britain have excelled and best of all, there's still a week left!...Congratulations to everyone involved.I'm looking forward to even more success."

An example of utter hypocrisy, and carrying all the sincereity of Tony Blair appearing on the steps of 10 Downing Street to offer his condolences to the American people on the death of Frank Sinatra.

So take a look at the UKIP website and read all the praise being heaped on our athletes, and the London Olympics, and then remember the truth. UKIP Assembly Members tried to stop it!