Friday, 26 October 2012

Is this what you call a democratic political system?

It is so disheartening to watch the government, supposedly representing its people, filibuster a Private Member's Bill, formed after a call from more than five thousand people, until it is presented before an almost empty house, when that bill relates to the structure via which 75% of UK law passes.

In the end, Douglas Carswell's attempt to get UK membership of the EU debated in the Commons resulted in being a damp squib with so few attendees it held the merit of a discussion down the local boozer. What were we to expect?

 In principle, private members' bills follow much the same parliamentary stages as any other bill but in practice, the procedural barriers are far greater. Such bills are only brought to the house13 Fridays a year. Considering most MPs return to their constituencies on Thursday evening, the meagre five hours of time available on selected each day to cater for several private members' bills make it easy for topics the Government wishes to be brushed under the carpet, to be, well, brushed under the carpet.

Unlike Government bills, these debates are not timetabled, meaning the Government can whip ministers into talking the bill, stopping further progress by preventing a vote.I think it's fair to assume that Jeremy Wright may have tried his hand somewhat at filibusterng today, with a rather circumlocutary soliloquy on Family Courts.

The bill's proponent can force a vote only with the support of at least one hundred members. With a headcount of mere tens, this had the practical effect of blocking Carswell's private members' bill from gathering anywhere near enough momentum to even grace the pages of the newspapers, one anticipates.

Another date for second reading will also be set for bills which have been talked out.We can look forward to part two sometime in March. This is a formality; so the bill will be placed to the bottom of the order paper, and will likely be objected to on each future occasion, leaving it no practical chance of success.

What's the point then? When thousands have pushed for something to reach Parliament and it can be extinguished like a flickering candle, there is something seriously wrong with the passage of a backbench bill through Parliament.

The Government are starting to dangle the carrot of a referendum on Europe in front of the voterate. Why when 16 year olds have been given the vote on Scotland's membership of the United Kingdom has nobody under the age of 55 been given the chance to vote on UK membership of Europe? Even those who have had the opportunity to make a choice would have voted for or against a much different political beast than we have today.

Almost 40 years ago to the day the European Communities Act was debated by the United Kingdom to allow succession to what was then the European Economic Community. We were told "Common Market or broke". What we have four decades later, with gross state intervention and an everly centrist and bureaucratic sclerotic beast in Brussels is the realisation that shackling ourselves to this undemocratic, hulking blackhole of a Union will lead us to be broke, like Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and so forth.

We live in a very differnet world today. A globalised marketplace. We should be trading with all corners of the world, not running at a trade deficit with our broken and clumsy near neighbours and allowing all our former bilateral deals to be subsumed within the quagmire of European legislative dross.

The same is true of immigration. With the UK only just recovering from a double dip recession, with the propensity to go back into economic contraction again more than just a creeping threat, how can we afford the 23,000 new babies born to Polish mothers alone in the UK in the last year? Our vital public services are already bursting at the seams with cuts needed to bring down the state deficit which structurally is one of the highest in the world.

And yet issues that affect our daily lives, underpin the very fabric of society, like police on the streets, nurses in hospitals, teachers in schools, pensions, social housing, energy bills, food on supermarket shelves, working hours...I could easily go on for days...are either governed by laws made in Brussels by faceless bureaucrats, subject to the red tape which costs our economy billions, or are being grossly underfunded because Britain continues to pay out £10 billion every year to Brussels which could be better directed towards things that really matter.

Our farming has been put into the red, our fisheries have been decimated and now we are looknig at having to pay those responsible even more money for the "privilege" of being a member of their club. Meanwhile that money is being poured into other European countries while their citizens are flocking over to the UK to benefit from our welfare systems (again something they are able to access under European law) spreading the burden onto the British taxpayer who meanwhile has absolutely no say whatsoever.

The great European Socialist project will collapse, like all socialist projects before it.

I truly hope we will not go down with it as it sinks.

Now, more than ever, we need a vote. In or out.

I'm afraid just over half an hour of Tory Party private infighting won't cut the mustard.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Nobel Peace Prize for EU not such a noble idea

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU last week sparked a lot of debate.
What qualifies the EU for this accolade? One argument is that it was established after World War II to ensure harmony by pooling resources between France and Germany. The EU began as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, largely at the behest of America, to enable massive rearmament at the start of the Cold War. The original objective was to prepare for war, not peace. Meanwhile NATO, established in 1949, was forged as a unified defence league for peacekeeping not only in Europe but internationally.
The European Coal and Steel Community developed into the European Economic Community and began foisting ideologies of federalism upon currently 500 million citizens who are subject to, but without democratic influence over, its laws. 

At present, after putting political will over common sense by creating a single currency, we are left with a crisis that the unelected European Commission is unashamedly using to push forward deeper integration. The relative peace we have enjoyed in Europe for the last ten years is beginning to unravel.
We are seeing the humanitarian fall out of the EU's failed fiscal policy, with thousands plunged into poverty: utterly despicable in 21st century Europe. Just last week the Spanish Red Cross announced that their winter appeal is to create food parcels for Spaniards, the first time the campaign has been focused domestically and not on developing countries in Africa and Asia.

 In Greece 25,000 people are dependent upon handouts from the Orthodox Church. Is it surprising 50,000 protestors turned out on the streets of Athens, some burning Swastikas, to express their anger at the visit of Angela Merkel, who they feel is responsible for the crippling austerity causing so much suffering? A steep increase in tensions is allowing the rise of extremism and inter-country distrust.

Under the current structure of the EU, with inter-reliant energy and agricultural policy, a burgeoning External Action Service and the call for Qualified Majority Voting on Foreign Affairs, what would happen if the international balance of peace tips? Do we want to be part of a giant multi-nation block with no say as a country? Many opposed the merger of EAD and BAE (including the Pentagon in America) on the grounds of undermining international security by creating an arms giant. Yet merging other forms of self sufficiency, from farming to trade, can be equally as dangerous. I do not oppose free trade with Europe, nor do I undervalue the importance of transcontinental cooperation in international security, but I fear the consequences of creating an unanswerable multi-national superpower. History has observed the knife edge upon which the world teetered during the Cold War. The constitution of the USSR and the EU post-Lisbon Treaty is staggeringly 98% similar.

I am rather cynical about the timing of this award. Tensions are running high and the EU desperately needs an image boost to quell growing discontent. Perhaps by posthumously awarding the EU the Peace Prize now, the Nobel Committee is trying to promote a sense of solidarity where nationalistic tendencies are simmering just below the surface of increasingly violent riots.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Catch 22 of Coverage

I read today in the Daily Mail that the BBC are planning to rethink their coverage of the EU after complaints that they are regularly one sided and too pro-EU.

At last a BBC I can get behind!

I have said on my blog before that I often feel that reportage of the EU is handled in a very one sided manner. Let me not even start on how I feel the BBC covers UKIP as a political party. When UKIP are polling just below, and sometimes just above the Liberal Democrats it's hard to understand why one party has every media resource thrown at coverage of the conference, from Live updates, multimedia reports, continuous streaming of interviews, speeches and so forth, while the other barely scrapes a mention. There is the argument that the Lib Dems are currently in power as part of the coalition. Of course this is undeniable and quite rightly the public would wish to know the policies and proposals being outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister. But even before the results of the 2010 general election, there has been a disproportionate amount of air time for the Lib Dems compared to UKIP in relation to where the parties regularly feature in opinion polls.

Of course, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Get bums on seats inside Westminster and surely our coverage would have to increase exponentially. But how does a party raise its profile when even supposedly unbiased public owned news organisations fail to treat the party with the same level of respect as is gifted to the "established" three? The BBC is an organisation that has for years strived, some may argue too hard, to be representative of the public. Whereas in countries such as France it is still shamefully rare to see black or asian television personalities, Harry Roselmack being, I believe, the first black news anchor on TF1, having debuted in 2006 (astonishingly late), in Britain the BBC, ITV and Channel Four have always fought to make sure the faces we see on the news are the faces we see on the street. Some might complain that perhaps the levels of "positive discrimination" have gone too far, but that is another matter.

Yet when it comes to Eurosceptics, as we are dubbed, and according to the majority of public opinion polls, accounting for around two thirds of the population, we are handled as if we are extremists and lunatics.
The BBC has at times come across as the mouthpiece for the EU. If not championing Brussels, then at the bare minimum the BBC seems to be resigned to the opinion that because the EU exists, what is the point of arguing against it.

There is seemingly a connection between the handling of anti-EU sentiment and the coverage of UKIP.
We are the second biggest party in Brussels, striving to become the largest after the next European elections and standing a good chance. Why then, when issues about the European Union are addressed, are we rarely given a platform other than on Question Time, which is essentially the televisual equivalent of sticking politicians in the stocks?

I also have direct experience of the attitudes of certain BBC staff I have encountered and others whom I have heard about. I was once informed how one member of the production team kept referring to UKIP as "BNP-lite", a vile and utterly disparaging comparison that bares no reflection to UKIP's libertarian views.

It is also increasingly common to label UKIP as "Right Wing" or even "Far right".

I myself am from a Labour background and do not associate myself with Conservative politics at all. UKIP serves largely as an umbrella organisation for people disenchanted with the fickle and unreliable policy making of the two main parties who are able to dominate politics and thus change direction and betray the voting public whenever they see fit as they are protected by the first past the post system.

I do not believe the terms right and left wing have any place in today's politics. A highly interesting article on the Libertarian Press website discusses how this linear description of politics is outdated and unhelpful to voters who deserve to be better informed. The article proposed replacing the left and right wing system with a more astute political compass with the four points differentiating between Socialist, Socially Liberal, Free Market and Authoritarian. On this political compass, Stalin and Hitler are found at exactly the same point, when history has them down at opposite ends of the spectrum.

While we cannot expect the newspapers (being partisan by nature and vessels for the privilege of opinion of a few wealthy magnates) to give us an unbiased report on politics, it is to the BBC as a publicly funded organisation we should be able to turn for a broad spectrum of opinion.

Yet from programming to news reportage the BBC increasingly occupies the same territory as the Guardian newspaper. (It has even been said by people within the BBC that all the young guns are observed in the cafeteria or walking into the newsroom with the Guardian tucked firmly under an arm).

The Guardian, which has carefully molded itself to occupy green and inoffensive territory of being seemingly inoccuous and friendly, is in fact possibly one of the most preaching and harshly critical, one-sided of broadsheets in the UK. Dressed up in hemp clothing, vegetarian recipes, folk festivals and a penchant for everything humanitarian, it is the one newspaper that will not only scathingly attack anything they deem as 'right wing' but also let it be known what you should be eating, watching, wearing and listeneing to.Whilst it is hard to protest against tips on allotment gardening as being culturally subversive, there is an increasingly accepted sense that there is a right and a wrong way to conduct your life, which is endorsed not just by the pitchfork waving Guardian, but also by the majority of BBC programming. The right way is eating only organic food, listening to PJ Harvey, growing a beard and wearing ethically sourced designer latex wide rimmed glasses. The wrong way is, amongst other things, disliking the EU and therefore voting UKIP.

Interestingly the biggest threat to purported freedoms and values, farming standards, animal welfare and ethically sourced latex wide rimmed glasses is probably Brussels. And the biggest champions of libertarianism, a reduction in bureaucracy,  real democracy and the welfare of fish, fishermen and farmers is UKIP. So while the Guardian waxes lyrical about buying local and eating in restaurants were the provenance of their ingredients and credentials of their suppliers is highlighted on their recycled environmentally friendly menus, the only way to really ensure local trade prospers and British farmers are able to turn out high quality, environmentally sound and economically viable produce, is by leaving the EU.

UKIP as a party struggles with image. This is without doubt a sorry truth. It is normal for a small, upcoming party, as a threat to the established powers, to be at the receiving end of mudslinging and dirty politics. But you don't expect the BBC to join in, albeit unwittingly.

Meanwhile the Green Party, with two MEPs and a coveted seat in the Commons, gets not only equal coverage to UKIP, with 13 seats and 3% of the vote in the General elections, but somehow manages to get the red carpet (or should I say biodegradable astro-turf) rolled out for free speech, despite only garnering less than one percent of the vote in 2010.

As I write this, yougov's daily poll reflecting voting intention shows the projected vote share as:

CON 34%, LAB 41%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 10%

Yes, that's right. We are a full 2 per cent clear of the Lib Dems.

That is without the fair share of coverage and in spite of the propogation of negative reportage by main media outlets.

Just imagine what that poll would look like if we were given the fair and balanced and accurate coverage we rightly deserve.

I welcome with open arms this review commissioned by the BBC to be published sadly not until 2013.
But while it may be a small step forward in our favour, it is a giant leap that is needed if UKIP are really going to get parity of coverage.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Is this what you call a Union?

Not since Captain Corelli's Mandolin have images of the Swastika in Greece been so prevalent on our TV screens.

Is this really the 21st century reality of the European Union?
Chillingly, yes.

Fifty thousand people took to the streets to protest against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Athens as she made her first visit to Greece in five years. Despite strict security measures and a ban on public gatherings, police still resorted to firing tear gas at protestors and arrested almost 200 people.

The Greek people blame Merkel for overseeing the strict programme of cuts that have been conditions of receiving financial help.

Greece is set to miss the fice year debt reduction target that was set when the country's €100 billion bail out was negotiated, that's despite the extraordinary measures taken by the Government that has seen thousands reduced to poverty and homelessness.

Across Europe the situation is deteriorating. In Spain the Red Cross has appealed to the public to supply food parcels for stricken countrymen and has launched a massive appeal for millions of Euros to help those most in need in the country. It is the first time such an appeal has been launched to help those in need domestically, with usual campaigns targeting the world's poorest in Africa and Asia. The charity say some 2.3 million Spaniards are now extremely vulnerable and in need of food aid.

Yesterday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaris pleaded with the German Chancellor that his country was "bleeding" from all the internationally imposed cuts, however she showed no sign of backing down on German sanctioning of the demands, instead choosing to compare the situation in Greece to that in her own East Germany after reunification with the West.

You would think with so many Nazi-themed insults being bandied about by the disgusted people of Greece,  she would avoid alluding to the war.

Yet what we got from the Greek Government was more of a tail between the legs grovelling about rectifying mistakes, perhaps in reference to the image being portrayed by German media as a nation of lazy and workshy complainers. Similarly Merkel has been tarnished with Nazi Overlord representations through out Greece. Yesterday's meeting was more a PR stunt to show solidarity between the two nations, rather than a meeting to discuss a productive settlement and reinforce both sides' commitment to maintaining Greece within the Eurozone.

Yet for many, the cards are still very much in German hands.

German-led conditions attached to emergency loans have made Merkel the face of austerity for Greeks. Merkel has been depicted in the Greek media wearing jackboots and an SS uniform.

Yet the austerity is not working. The Greek economy is set to contract for a sixth year in 2013 while the government continuously fails to meet deficit-reduction target. The economic downturn is the worst since World War II, post Nazi occupation. Which brings us onto the thorny matter of war reparations.

Under German occupation Greece was forced pay war loans to Hitler, leading to hyperinflation and a famine in which more than 500,000 Greeks, or 7 percent of the population, died between October 1940 and October 1944, a quarter of a million from hunger.

It is believed that under  occupation from 1941 to 1945, Greece paid Germany some £86 billion, which many believe the German's still owe. Despite Greece receiving reparations from Italy after World War II in recompense for Mussolini's occupation of the country, Germany never paid Greece. Fast forward the clock sixty years and the irony that the Greek people see the German Chancellor as transforming their country into a "German protectorate" is evident amidst calls for the occupation loan to be repaid, which would go a long way to securing Greece future financial security.

Is this what the European Union, set up in the wake of World War II, was supposed to lead to?

One country dominating the affairs of another, peoples at loggerheads over who is right, who is wrong, and who owes who what?

It amazes me that the international community has failed to speak up on the issue. When it is falling to charities in 21st century Europe to make appeals for food aid due to political measures being enforced by other countries or unelected organisations, it is staggering that nobody is speaking up.

The UN's Development Policy and Analysis Division (DPAD) notes that the debt crisis in the euro area, especially in Greece, remains the biggest threat to the world economy. An escalation could trigger severe turmoil in the financial markets and a sharp rise in global risk aversion, leading to a contraction of economic activity in developed countries. In their World Economic Situations and Prospects report, they advise

"Breaking out of the vicious cycle of continued deleveraging, rising unemployment, fiscal austerity and financial sector fragility requires more concerted and more coherent efforts on several fronts of national and international policy making.
On the fiscal front, it is essential to change course in fiscal policy in developed economies and shift the focus from short-term consolidation to robust economic growth with medium- to long-run fiscal sustainability. Premature fiscal austerity carry the risk of creating a vicious downward spiral, with enormous economic and social costs.
Fiscal austerity has already pushed many European countries further into recession. This is particularly relevant for the debt-ridden euro area economies. Euro area countries have fallen back into recession, following fiscal retrenchment over the past two years. Clearly, the efforts at regaining debt sustainability through fiscal austerity are backfiring in low growth and high unemployment."

What is so staggering is that Europe, and when I say Europe I mean a few figures from the European Commission in Brussels, the European Central Bank and leaders of the wealthiest Eurozone member states, are being allowed to dictate policy that is having a very human cost.

One wonders if a similar situation was being faced by ECOWAS or with the CFA Franc whether or not Europe would be muscling in to dictate what be done to rectify the situation.

Without a doubt.

Although Central African CFA francs and West African CFA francs have always had the same monetary value against other currencies, they are separate currencies. They could theoretically have different values from any moment if one of the two CFA monetary authorities, or France, decided it.

Why does the Euro not break up and follow the same agenda?

Answers on a postcard please.