Posts Tagged ‘Nigel Farage’

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Photo: Abi Begum (www.nwhomebuyers.co.uk)

Let me start by saying I’m no fan of the EU as an organisation. Its president, Jean Claude Juncker, has no popular mandate from the European people yet he presumes to speak as if he has total authority. Its legislature passes law that, if enough of our neighbours vote for it, can be imposed on us without the approval of a single British MEP — though in some cases we can veto it. Those laws are not always in the best interest of the UK. And the EU commission has seldom expressed an interest in addressing this issue.

That being said, part of David Cameron’s renegotiation deal changes the founding treaty of the EU so that it’s aim of “ever close union” between members now explicitly exempts the UK. What that means in practice remains a matter of debate, but in any case the transfer of any further powers to Brussels cannot happen without another UK referendum, as established under the European Union Act of 2011. This, given the economic cost of leaving — reaffirmed repeatedly by experts and entrepreneurs alike — made me incline toward remaining. What sealed the deal is the poisonous bile and often outright lies told by the Leave campaign in recent months.

Immigration

The government pledged to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. Its failure to do so has often been blamed on the EU and undoubtedly this is a factor. But the majority of migration to our country comes from outside the union and restricting this influx is well within the remit of our parliament. It has not done so. Could it be that there’s some sort of need for migrants?

The clearest illustration of this is the NHS. The Leave crowd moan about ‘health tourism’ putting it under stress as foreigners come here for free treatment. The reality is that it wouldn’t be able to function with migrants. EU nationals alone make up 10% of NHS doctors and, in all, more than 100,000 NHS staff are non-British. Big businesses, usually the primary concern of the Tories dominating Leave, have made it clear that migration allows them to fill jobs they wouldn’t necessarily be able to otherwise.

No doubt to ward off accusations of bigotry, the Leave campaign reasons that leaving the EU will make for a fairer immigration system, where those arriving from outside the union do not come second to those from within. We’ll be able to admit more skilled workers from Asia, Africa and the Americas they say. Does anybody really believe that a campaign which has crowed repeatedly about slashing migrant numbers actually just wants more from elsewhere? And aren’t these the same distant lands, according to argument, whose émigrés fail to integrate when they come here?

If not, why did Nigel Farage — perhaps the noisiest voice in the Leave campaign — use an image of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria to illustrate his claim that Britain is reaching, as he called it, breaking point? These are non-EU migrants Nige, give them a fair chance! Of course, these troubled souls weren’t in Calais anyway, they were on the borders between Croatia and Slovenia.

The Leave crowd also can’t seem to decide whether migrants are stealing their jobs, or sitting around unemployed and mooching off the state. To clarify, freedom of movement within does not equal freedom of welfare. New arrivals cannot show up on day one and live off benefits — in fact, abuse of the system in this regard is grounds for sending people home. Yes, the papers may have found people abusing the system — and long may they continue to highlight shame them — but that doesn’t mean these instances are anything like representative.

And besides, if Farage and co. are so keen on non-EU migration, why are they so bloody petrified of Turkey?

Turkey

This one is simple, Turkey cannot join the EU without getting the agreement of all current member states. Half of Cyprus is still occupied by Turkey, do you suppose they’ll be on board? And what about Greece, whose people were forcefully — nay, murderously — expelled from Anatolia by the Turks during and after WWI? The same Greeks spent 400 years being occupied by the Ottoman Empire, which also occupied Bulgaria and Hungary and so on. Perhaps these nations might have something to say about it? That’s before we get on to the legitimate concerns of nations who have no bad blood with Turkey. Furthermore, there’s a raft of requirements new joiners must satisfy before they join the EU, of which Turkey has satisfied one. Turkey joining is such a dim and distant prospect that we can dismiss this whole argument as a red herring.

Trade

If we leave the EU, we’ll be able to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world, the Leave campaign tell us. Yet we’re already negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world as part of the EU. Who do you think is going to get a better deal, an isolated UK facing economic turmoil in a post-Brexit world, or a 27-nation bloc whose members include Germany — the fourth-biggest economy in the world? The answer is perhaps made clearest by the fact that these other countries — non-EU countries — are lining up to tell us Brexit is a bad idea. Yes, most would cut deals eventually. But we’d be bloody lucky to get terms as good as we might otherwise have got.

Economists and entrepreneurs are also lining up to tell us leaving that the EU puts our economy in peril. We’ve just had more than 1,280 business leaders — whose companies employ more than 1.75million people — signing a letter to say that Brexit will put British jobs at risk. What does the Leave campaign say to this? That they don’t care about the experts; that the experts have got it wrong before. I wonder if Michael Gove is so distrusting of expert advice when seeking medical treatment; or if he’d let an amateur represent him in court. This is nothing more than anti-intellectualism.

But, they tell us, we’ll get back £350million a week we currently send to the EU. This can be spent on public services like our NHS. This figure is nonsense and happily ignores the fact that we get a rebate that slashes this contribution to £276million a week. It’s cut down further by EU spending within the UK, such as support for farmers and university grants, bringing the total down to £161million a week. We know how much we spend being a part of the EU — can Leave tell us how much the economic uncertainty that comes with leaving will cost us? No they can’t.

Nor do I believe that money saved on EU membership would be spent on public services. Again, the past record of the Tories at the heart of the Leave campaign gives the game away. This current Conservative government has made real-term cuts to every public service it can, demanding savings even when there are no more savings to be made.

It’s also worth noting that a number of big businesses locate themselves in the UK, particularly in the global financial hub of London, because it provides easy access to the EU single market in favourable conditions. Ireland knows it’ll be a blow to its economy too if we leave, but it’s government does anticipate that a number of these companies will relocate to Dublin should that happen.

Make Britain great again

This whole EU debate has been dragged into the realm of panacea politics. There is no one solution to the troubles facing our country, and only the ignorant or the dishonest can say otherwise. There’s a sense of nostalgia about the idea of leaving; the notion that we can win back some better Britain long lost. To paraphrase Donald Trump, that we can “make Britain great again”.

Will we be greater for it when we’ve snubbed our friends and allies in Europe? When we’re paying the economic price for doing so? What about when we turn around and find the vile SNP agitating for a second independence referendum because of our decision, thereby threatening to leave our Great Britain short a head?

We are different from Europe, on our rain-lashed little rock out in the sea, but there is more that unites us than divides us from our neighbours. These words I borrow from Jo Cox, the MP who was last week gunned down for believing as much. I don’t love the EU as a political body, but I do love Europe, and — more importantly — I love the UK. That’s why I’m voting remain.

The details are hazy; I forget the reason for the party or how the conversation had turned to my education, but what I remember is the interruption – or at least the gist of it. From across the room came the semi-inebriated voice, “well what good is an English degree?”

Art and literature

Photo: Beki Dambrauskas

The speaker, a law student whose mouth would share its last load of bile with the toilet, continued: “All I ever see English students doing is reading books.”

Just one reply occurred to me, “and what did anyone ever learn from those?”

In hindsight, only a bad or hypocritical law student could have made the criticism in the first place, but the original point – however clumsily made – is not an uncommon one: that some educations are not worth having.

This week, Nigel Farage has announced a new UKIP policy. If elected, his party would ensure those studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) do not pay tuition fees.

One could argue that students of these subjects have all the financial incentive they need. Popular perception says that they go into gold-plated careers while those in humanities become starving artists, unhappy teachers or McDonald’s employees.

This view is, of course, wrong – most UK leaders were students of humanities, the arts or social sciences – but even if it wasn’t that wouldn’t make it wise to value STEM subjects more highly.

Asked to assess the worth of William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge, you would be thought to have missed the point if your first concern was with how many copies of Lyrical Ballads they had shifted.

The worth of these works – or of Shakespeare or Beethoven – is not measured in dollars and cents, but through their contributions to world culture. If we are to disparage the artistic endeavours of failed painters, penniless hacks or graduates we should at least apply the same standard.

Good creative work has a real and lasting value all its own. Name some ancient philosophers and odds are you’ll come up with a few names whose ideas are still being discussed today. Try and do the same with ancient engineers and the average person would have a tougher time.

I don’t say this to trivialise the importance of STEM subjects, but to ask why we encourage one over the other. Can you name a healthy state where culture is forsaken in the name of science or maths?

How much poorer would we be if every playwright, poet and composer without immediate or apparent commercial prospects moved on to a more realistic career?

The loss isn’t just one of the mind, but one with real world implications. Look at Zola and J’accuse or Solzhenitsyn and The Gulag Archipelago. These works, as governments knew, had explosive power.

The irony of all this is that the cultural exports of the UK are worth their weight in gold anyway. We are punching well above our weight here.

At time of writing, three of the top ten places in the American Billboard Chart (including numbers one and two) are held by British acts. Authors like the inescapable J.K. Rowling are read by paying readers the world over. Are these exports of so little value at home?

It’s true to say that great works aren’t dependent on a university education, but the whole field of culture is cheapened for those trying to find their direction when a state shows it will only invest in other fields of learning.

Banksy graffiti in Clacton-on-Sea. Photo: Duncan Hull (www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk)

Banksy graffiti in Clacton-on-Sea. Photo: Duncan Hull (www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk)

I once saw a Chihuahua – a male Chihuahua, no less – attempt to have sex with a man’s leg. I daresay you’ve seen something similar, but the conclusion you drew was probably quite different from that which John Rees-Evans, the UKIP candidate for Cardiff South, might draw. He finds such scenarios good evidence of a latent preference for bestiality in the homosexual community.

The inconsistencies with his reasoning are too numerous to explore in any depth, but suffice to say that a self-aware human homosexual and an amorous donkey are two separate things. Also, whilst we’re at it, the ass would technically be illustrating a sexual preference for animals by going after any quadruped, donkey or otherwise.

Anyway, if this past month is anything to go by, there’s nothing unusual in a UKIP member going off the reservation with their remarks. Candidate Kerry Smith last week quit after reportedly using colourful language like ‘poofter’ and ‘chinky’ while Councillor Rozanne Duncan was expelled from the party at the weekend for bringing it “into disrepute.”

Typically, the mitigation offered for such offences – be it by UKIP officials or supporters – is that members of all parties make similarly outrageous remarks, but the establishment media moguls will only pick on the plucky upstarts in their party.

According to this worldview, the media – as in the minds of the most paranoid conspiracy theorists – is a homogenous group, happily ignoring the indiscretions of mainstream parties and politicians. Yet we know this is not true. Last year, we saw a paper so eager to take a potshot at Ed Miliband that it dredged up the adolescent diary entries of his dead father, citing them as evidence of the deceased’s hatred of Britain. When it was alleged that former chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, used some colourful language of his own in Downing Street, the media frenzy was so intense that – even while protesting his innocence – Mitchell resigned, citing “damaging publicity.” Nor was the coverage limited to left-leaning media. These are not isolated examples.

Ours is one of the most competitive media markets in the world. News providers don’t run these stories as if grudgingly conceding that one of their own has been caught out – they fall over each other to be first to embarrass  our politicians. No establishment politician could whip out a word like ‘chinkey’ and expect to walk away unscathed because they lack a purple rosette.

True, these are not the parish councillors or paper candidates whose babble has drawn UKIP such unwanted attention recently, but then controversial comments are not limited to the party fringes. It was Godfrey Bloom, one of the party’s MEPs, who used the phrase ‘bongo bongo land’ to refer to other nations. He also yelled ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ at a fellow Parliamentarian from Germany. I could go on, but suffice to say he and UKIP went their separate ways last year.

Another UKIP MEP, Gerard Batten, said he would ask British Muslims to sign a charter rejecting violence while another, Roger Helmer, called homosexuality “abnormal” and “undesirable” in remarks since disowned. Both men are still party members and, in fact, party spokesmen.

Even Nigel Farage flirted with disaster when he said to one interviewer in a wink-wink nudge-nudge fashion that ‘you know the difference’ which makes Romanians such concerning neighbours. He was also among the many party members who spoke up in defence of an anti-immigration song written and later withdrawn by Mike Read, recorded – tastelessly – in a faux Jamaican accent. The blowback from the song, said Farage after its withdrawal, was the sort of “confected outrage” only UKIP get. Does anyone seriously believe that the Tories are so short on critics that they could record a song which was only one stop short of blackface without getting called out on it?

A friend of mine once said that UKIP wasn’t a racist party, but it attracted racist supporters. As if to concede the point, the party chairman has warned Kippers off Twitter and revoked unauthorised use of the party logo by supporters, members and officials. It’s a move which says ‘of course the anti-immigrant hysteria is justified, but for god’s sake don’t go telling everyone about it.’ It’s true the party gets plenty of press for colourful comments, but there’s a reason for that and this time it’s not the fault of the establishment.