Monday, 25 June 2012

Motorcycle Protest

This weekend I joined hundreds of bikers before they embarked on a protest cavalcade down the M4 - one of 12 major demonstrations up and down the UK, organised by the Motorcycle Action Group to protest against proposed EU legislation that will limit the right to modify new bikes and make on board diagnostics compulsory.

At 1300 the motorcyclists set off from the12 meeting points - representing the 12 EU Parliamentary Constituencies.

 In Wales, the protestors embarked upon their ride at Junction 49 of the M4 and were accompanied by police escort.

There is no evidence to support this notion that modifications are unsafe or environmentally unfriendly. Compulsory ABS and automatic headlights will render older models illegal and also shift more responsibility onto motorcyclists and away from dangerous road users.

 Similarly the proposed On Board Diagnostics are a breach of liberty and will force motorcyclists to take bikes into dealerships, preventing any mechanical work from being done at home.

The burden of the regulation far outweighs any sort of justification and will cost motorcyclists heavily. 

The turn out is incredible which just goes to demonstrate how passionate many motorcyclists are about their vehicles and the disgust that is felt about the EU interfering with probably the most liberating form of transport.

The message from Brussels demonises motorcyclists. 

Everyone I spoke to agreed that safety and respect are paramount in motorcycling, which is why they take such umbrage at being persecuted this way. 

It's simply another example of the EU churning out legislation simply because it thinks it can.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Teach Your Children Well

I once read an opinion piece in a newspaper which said that if the Tories wanted to turn back the clock twenty years, then UKIP wanted it turned back fifty. The comment was likely designed as a slur, a reference to some sort of idealistic nostalgic retrospect of the way things were. However, isn't this more and more society's inclination, and if it is, what is so bad about that?

From buying organic to local provenance and the sudden return to popularity of "old fashioned" cuts of meat and traditional British dishes, to the ever evolving cycles of fashion and music, remodelled classic cars and remakes of films, the presence of our past is pervasive throughout popular culture, and so it should be. It is our identity

But what about in politics?

We often hear the phrase "old fashioned values". You rarely hear the past being spoken about as something dire or squallid. Not in the UK anyway.

History has shown us that everything from the maxims that bind a society, to geo-political landscapes, to the earth's climate changes, are bound by varying concentric circles of change. Empires come and go. Benchmarks for prudency, decency and hedonism undulate. Some summers are good. Others are a washout.
When it comes to judging things from a latterday era, it is fair to say that nothing was perfect. Looking at the world through rose tinted glasses will not help push forward an ever changing global population. But learning from history will.
Forgive me if I have come across rather Keatsian in my introduction. I remember learning his works at school. Something which sadly, few peoples could lay claim to today. Which brings me on to the topic of this blog post. Education.
As an individual and as a party, UKIP and I resolutely support the announcement by Michael Gove of the restoration of the O Level. In our manifesto we champion the need to return to previous methods of teaching and examination.  

From effectively teaching the "three R's" and using phonics to teach reading, to reintroducing the traditional methods of arithmetic and basing targets around those expected in the 1950s, I strongly believe the school system needs a big shake up

We are falling behind, and nowhere more so than in Wales.
In recent PISA rankings Wales scored below average in reading, maths and science, putting it below a number of developing countries and former soviet satellite states in educational acheivement.
Yet the younger generation are our investment in the future. With an ever increasing global economy and access to education improving around the world, without inspired minds, our future is bleak.
When the GCSE was introduced in 1988, it was quickly extended to accommodate the full range of academic abilities. The result was inevitably one of "dumbing down". The system then extended upwards to A Levels, and with Government targets on getting more and more school leavers into University, the value of the degree began to plumment and students who otherwise may have excelled in vocational courses that would contribute invaluably to manufacturing and design in the UK found themselves with Mickey Mouse qualifications, little life experience, reduced job prospects and in debt up to their eyeballs.
There are two reasons why society however continues to champion this vain pursuit of pseudo-academia. First of all, it's the centrally imposed social status of those with a degree. We have been told repeatedly that you 'need' university to get on in life. That it would be ill perceived of to not have spent 3 years in full time education after leaving school. It is also a trick played by Governments to bring down youth unemployment statistics, yet what it creates is a bottle neck of jobless graduates who cannot contribute to the economy.
It also comes down to the very tetchy subject of ability. 

The differences in our capabilities must be papered over. Whilst we cannot deny that some people are naturally better at maths, others are proficient linguists and others are just generally good all rounders, we tend not to like to separate children on ability  too divisively for fear that it will harm those who, for want of a better expression, don't make the grade.
When it comes to sports, music and arts, these are often regarded as more inherent, and as such, less teachable skills, so promoting ability in these areas tends not to come under the same level of scrunity.
I am a firm believer that every child deserves the best possible education. 

Is selective education about separating the wheat from the chaff or about tailoring the classroom environment to the needs of the pupil to the closest possible degree?

One thing is for certain. Any selective education should be based purely upon how the child will perform in a set environment via empirical testing, not upon socio-economic background.
It's an emotive subject. However, in terms of segregating different groups of pupils, what is the difference between establishing grammar schools, and organising year groups into sets based upon ability within one school? 
I tend not to look at the debate from the angle of pushing on the brightest, although I do applaud the access a great grammar school can give to a pupil from a low income background with great potential. 
I look at it more from the perspective of what is most likely to demoralise the young, and through which structure we can best achieve creating an education system suitable for all.
The reintroduction of the O level will see better performing students siphoned off to sit a separate test. Is it therefore logical, if there is to be a two speed of teaching, to conduct this via separate educational establishments where each can focus upon its own needs and requirements and as a result, offer the best fit product for the greatest number of people?
Have we become far too sensitive about matters which, when I was growing up, were taken more as "facts of life"?

I believe social mobility and broad spectrum inclusion have certainly improved over the decades. There was a lot wrong with the incredibly schismatic wrenching apart of teenagers under the former system 

Some pupils were destined to only ever learn tertiary or blue collar skillsets while others were pushed towards white collar professions. Opportunities were denied and potentials abandoned in favour of a drachonian and cruel intellectual class system. This cannot be allowed to happen again.

But taking on board the positives that grammar schools have and still offer, is it not time we open our minds to their re-establishment?

It is a thorny debate often dependent upon your own life experiences and political persuasions and one perhaps with no right answer. However one thing is for sure.  

Our schools are simply not performing. I welcome a radical change with open arms.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Power and the money, money and the power, minute after minute, hour after hour.

It's not often one feels compulsed to entitle a blog post with American Gangster rap circa 1995. But it's a rather apt extract.
First of all let me praise the industriousness of our emergency services for their hard work during the flooding in Aberystwyth ad Machynlleth. Until something of this nature happens to you it is difficult to understand the traumatic affect it can have. As parts of Ceridigion were submerged under five foot of water and clean up operations continue to take place in Talybont, Dol-y-Bont and Llandre I trust that the Welsh Government will do all it can not just to help households and businesses seek compensation but to prevent such incidents ever happening again. It is also imperative that authorities thoroughly screen flood waters for potential contamination which could affect farms or even the local water supply.
While it poured here in Wales, the rain in Spain thundered down from a dark economic storm cloud hovering over the banking sector. Indeed despite weeks of protestations we all knew to be vacuous, Spain finally had to plead for a bail out to stabilise the country’s inexplicable nexus between state funds and banking finance. The Spanish Government had borrowed extensively from the banks to fund a burgeoning structural deficit, yet after the property bubble burst in the 2008 credit crunch, the Government was then forced to start bailing out the banks. Now however finances ministers have agreed to pour £100bn to shore up Spanish finances. However a more conservative estimate for the figure needed is £400bn. Even though the sticking plaster may calm the markets temporarily, what is startling is how this will have a knock on effect across Europe. Mediterranean neighbour Italy is responsible for providing no less than 22% of the bail out at a shrivelled repayment rate of just 3%. But in order to cough up the funds, Italy herself must borrow from the markets, at a rate of interest of 7%, inevitably dragging her below the gathering rip tide. Meanwhile the loan to the Spanish Government itself will actually add a further 10% on top of already astronomical state debt. You could hardly make this stuff up.
And still the problems with Greece are not solved. In fact on the 17th June Greece is set to go to the polls again – a day which could see a newly elected government steadfastly refuse to abide by the austerity measures conditional of receiving future financial aid. No wonder. These imposed cuts have ripped the economy to shreds throwing hundreds of thousands out of work, leaving pharmacies empty of life saving medicines, slashing welfare payments as the state finance pot runs totally dry forcing families onto the streets to beg for food. A ‘Grexit’ is liable before the month of June is even up. The exposure of the European Central Bank to bail out countries such as Greece is almost €500 billion. If Greece leaves the single currency, that is likely to cause the ECB itself to go bust, unless it can recoup money from Portugal, Ireland and Spain.
Speculation among Eurosceptics and Financiers alike is that the whole sorry mess was intentionally engineered to force Europe into becoming a European Republic. It has been common consensus for years that a single currency cannot work with so many different Exchequers. As the crisis struck, instead of Brussels shrinking from its disastrous fiscal errors, instead the call has been for deeper integration, forcing the burden of debt to be passed from neighbour to neighbour dragging each and every country into the same calamitous myre. The next country veering headlong towards bail out is Cyprus, and while we are not in the single currency, the exposure of British banks to European debt is an eye watering $430bn, or 19 per cent of our GDP.
Customers of Santander may fear the fate of their savings given the bank’s Spanish parent, but the bank is one of the least vulnerable in the wake of a dramatic and increasingly likely Euro crash. Barclays and RBS, the latter having been already bailed out by the British taxpayer, have the greatest amount of money tied up in the Eurozone. A total of £191.8 billion is estimated to be at risk.
Should the Eurozone fail to repair its problems, the global financial sector would breach under a ripple effect far greater than observed in 2008 after the Lehamn Brothers collapse. Yet it is more and more apparent that perhaps Brussels does not want the problem to be solved. Whilst economic crisis may lead to human misery as we are seeing in Greece, it also, rather conveniently, allows Brussels to conduct the most flagrant power grab for the final slice of federal pie – fiscal integration. For he who controls the money also controls the power

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Welcome to my club

How easy it is to jump onto the bandwagon of popular opinion.
For years, UKIP have been labelled everything from fanatically anti-European to xenophobic for holding the view that the European Union was bad for Britain. As recently as a couple of years ago, throughout the early months of my tenure as an MEP, I received accusations of scaremongering if ever I suggested the Eurozone was doomed. Those critics have fallen strangely silent of late.
Now politicians from across the political spectrum are championing a British exit from the EU, warning of the dire economic consequences of prolonging the single currency without fiscal unanimity and bandying about suggestions of an in-out referendum. All of a sudden our party line is trendy.
One thing is for certain. For the single currency to survive member states must forge closer economic bonds, to the extent of becoming a single federal entity (the argument is that the EU has borders, a flag, an anthem, a Parliament, an army, foreign policy, a currency and laws, so the only thing separating it from a federal state is the lack of tax raising powers). If this does not happen, the Eurozone will, eventually, implode, and in doing so, force the UK into a decade of depression.
Of course, the UK would resolutely not wish to be part of a federalised super-state. It raises the question of what sort of relationship we could have with a new Europe. UKIP has always championed a relationship akin to the current Swiss model, where free trade and continental cooperation remain priorities, despite not being a member. This is now being mooted by politicians who but a few months ago championed a more integrated European Union, only to find their subject today ridiculed by fate.
Either way the tapestry that has been woven by Brussels over the last five decades is unravelling at an alarming rate. Spain requires a £100 billion bank bail out to save her finances. The incomprehensible nexus that has formed between the Spanish state and the banking sector means the Government can no longer sensibly bail out the very banks that have been bailing out the Government. The Spanish Finance Minister has resolutely denied needing a bail out, but we’ve heard this before. Greece, Portugal and Ireland all said the same thing. In the UK, the Government recapitalised British banks to the tune of £1 trillion, a measure that was widely criticised on the continent as too closely bound to Anglo-Saxon capitalism. But it saved us from the economic disaster we are now seeing affect banks in the Eurozone’s largest economies – even in Germany. It’s estimated at least £200 billion must be injected into Eurozone banks to stimulate borrowing capacity, but in order for this to happen Germany must essentially underwrite all single currency loans.
It’s understandable that Germany doesn’t like the idea of so-called “Eurobonds”. Why would they? Holding them culpable of the debts of their neighbouring countries is hardly going to seem fair to the majority of Germans. Meanwhile Spain wants a bail out with no strings attached. Of course they would. They can see what has happened in Greece, where desperately ill people are queuing outside pharmacies for life saving medicines as stocks run dangerously low. Germany does not want Spain to get a free handout without agreeing to fairly stringent conditions. And thus we are left trapped in an ever revolving circle of national self-interest that is leading critics to cry out for the greatest seismic shift in political power ever seen by Europe – the move to federalise the Eurozone before the clock ticks down, despite such a schismatic resolution flying in the face of democracy.
What about the UK? What do we want? We need Eurozone banks to be protected. Barclays is exposed to Spanish banks to the tune of £26.5 billion. RBS is liable to £14.6 billion if they do collapse, while Santander, one of the high street’s biggest financial retailers, is actually Spanish owned. Then there’s our economy. In many respects inextricably intertwined with European markets, not just through EU membership but as the result of simple geographic positioning.
The most sensible answer would be the UKIP option. Leave the EU, enhance trade with traditional partners in the Commonwealth and demonstrate neighbourly cooperation and free trade with Europe as is the modus operandi of Switzerland and Norway.
As part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, a lunch with Commonwealth leaders was hosted at Buckingham Palace. We were reminded that our Queen is not just the head of state in the UK. She is Queen of Antigua, Barbados, Bahamas and Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica and New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts, St Lucia, The Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Australia, as well as being head of the 54 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations, including India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa and Kenya. These are long established natural allies of Britain, countries with a diverse diaspora, different geographical landscapes and as a result, present true international trade opportunities.
This year Commonwealth GDP will soar past the Eurozone’s. While the Eurozone will grow by only 2.7% if it manages to avert fiscal disaster, the Commonwealth will be boosted by 7.3% growth.
I’m not bitter that my views are now being championed when for so long they have been slated. I would be a poor politician were my pride more important than my conviction. I just hope the newest recruits to Eurosceptic ideology have strength enough to hold as steadfast to their beliefs. For what Britain and Europe needs more than anything right now is a steady hand on the tiller.