After the Referendum??

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Viviana Durante dances Mary Vetsera

Just one hundred and twenty-five years ago, Crown Prince Rupert, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, took his teenage mistress Mary Vetsera to the hunting lodge at Mayerling, a small village in Lower Austria.  The site is now open to the public, and you may visit it for €3.

To this day no one can say for sure what happened there.  Perhaps it was a suicide pact.  Perhaps a murder and a suicide.  But either way, Crown Prince Rupert and his lover were both found dead of gunshot wounds.  Perhaps for Rupert it was the only way out.  Suffering from venereal disease, and addicted to drugs and guns, he was at odds with his family and his wife, and had been implicated in support for Hungarian separatists.  But the event was a tragedy on a Shakespearean scale, and one which has fascinated successive generations.  Indeed there are parallels with Romeo and Juliet.  Star-crossed lovers with their families against their union, with death the only resolution to their problem.

The story has been treated in many ways, but Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Mayerling is surely one of the most moving.  It uses the music of Liszt, selected and arranged for the ballet by John Lanchberry.  I find that some of the ballets set to music from the œuvres of the great composers are amongst the most satisfying — and they certainly beat modern compositions for modern ballets.  Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, for example, originally choreographed for Fonteyn & Nureyev and recently revived by the Royal Ballet with the stunning Tamara Rojo, also uses Liszt’s music.  “Manon” uses Massenet. It is being revived by the Royal Ballet this year — Sept 26th to Nov 1st.   The Paris Opera’s “La Dame aux Camélias” uses Chopin (and features the delightful Agnès Letestu).

For some time I have had the DVD of the 1994 Royal Ballet Covent Garden production of Mayerling.  Recently I couldn’t resist the temptation to get the later version from 2009, which is technically superior, and in the modern 16 by 9 format, rather than the old-fashioned and squarer 12 by 9.  I bought the later version not least because it featured American Ballerina Sarah Lamb.  I’m a great fan of Sarah Lamb, and would go a long way to see her dance, although I’m not sure that the part of Countess Marie Larisch, former mistress of Rupert, showed her to best advantage.  Nor did I think that Laura Morera as Mitzi Caspar, a courtesan and Rupert’s regular mistress, could hold a candle to Darcey Bussell, who danced the rôle in the earlier version.  Darcey was just extraordinarily beautiful, and seductive, and provocative, and brought alive the nightclub scene in the second act.

But my biggest disappointment was Mara Galeazzi as Mary Vetsera (in 2009).  The part was danced in the 1994 version by Viviana Durante, who radiates mystery and exoticism and romance.  That’s compelling in itself, but it’s also fundamental to the plot.  With Viviana, one could see Crown Prince Rudolph prepared to give up everything, including, in the end, life itself, for the sake of this remarkable woman, and the pas de deux scenes towards the end of the ballet, and preceding the fatal shootings, are simply electric — both the best dancing, and the best drama, you could hope to see.

Mara Galeazzi, who danced Mary Vetsera in 2009, is a worthy and technically accomplished dancer — all credit to her — but she lacks that special magic, that fatal fascination that Viviana Durante had in spades: the fatal fascination that took Rupert and Mary to their tragic deaths.  Mayerling is a great and moving narrative ballet, and unlike so many ballets, based on real events  If you have any interest in drama and dance, do get the DVD.  But my advice would be to get the earlier version, despite the square format.

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Ask a stupid question ……


I’m occasionally astonished to reflect that I’ve now been an MEP for fifteen years.  During that time, and especially in the early days, I used to get people saying to me “A single currency works very well in the USA.  So why wouldn’t a single currency work in the EU?”.  Naturally, now that the débâcle of the €uro project is writ large for all to see, I get asked that question rather less often.

But I was always pleased to get the question.  Because if you understand why a single currency, the Dollar, works in the USA, you understand why the €uro can’t work in Europe.  I’ve written about this many times, but in summary the answer is threefold: (1) High labour mobility; (2) Large-scale, on-going fiscal transfers; (3) A common sense of national identity which underpins consent for the fiscal transfers.  All these conditions are satisfied in the USA: none is in the EU.

As the Scottish referendum started to loom on the horizon, I anticipated a similar question on Independence.  “If UKIP is demanding UK independence from the EU, how come they don’t support Scottish independence?”.  The short answer is simple: one size doesn’t fit all.  Membership of the UK offers major economic advantages forScotland, including (but not limited to) a major and credible currency; a Central Bank acting as lender of last resort; and the Barnett Formula.  But membership of the EU does great economic damage to the UK, for reasons I have set out at length elsewhere.

However I felt a more comprehensive answer was needed, which is why I wrote a blog back in March “Read-across from Scottish to UK independence? No!”  .  I have returned to the Scottish question a couple of times since.

Rather to my surprise, however, this question on Scottish and UK independence has not come up a great deal — perhaps because the answer is so self-evident.  It was, however, raised on Twitter a couple of days back by someone calling himself Hashtager.  He writes:  LOL why is UK EU independence a “good” when Scottish independence “bad”…UKIP hypocrisy over dry run for EU ref!  I have, of course, referred him to my blog post on the question (above).

This Hashtager is perhaps my most loyal follower.  I have the strong impression that he has been tasked by some person or organisation with following me relentlessly and whingeing from the sidelines.  (I wonder who might have given him that rôle? Answers on a postcard, please….).  In fact in all probability he’s employed by the European Institutions.  If he denies it, let him come forward and identify himself.

It’s clear at least that this Hashtager is a coward, since he chooses to veil himself in anonymity.  Fair enough, Hashtager.  You can hide your identity.  But you cannot hide your ignorance and folly and prejudice.  It’s very evident in every Tweet you post.

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Scottish Vote: “A YES vote is forever”


So says David Cameron.  But as in so many things, he could well be wrong.  Most economic commentators expect a very negative reaction to a Yes vote, if that’s what happens on  September 18th.  This could happen quickly: indeed it is clearly happening already.  Funds are moving out of Scotland; investment and house purchases are stalling; mortgagees are worrying about the future status and currency of their debt.

And of course, pace David Cameron, nothing is forever.  The original and hugely successful union of Scotland and England has lasted 300+ years, and that’s a good long time.  But if the Scots vote Yes, it won’t have been “forever”.  And in this modern, internet age, things happen so much more quickly.

The European Union has set a key precedent here which Alex Salmond would do well to keep in mind.  On June 2nd1992, the Danes voted No to the Maastricht Treaty.  But on May 18th 1993, they voted again, and reversed the decision.  The first decision lasted less than a year – just 350 days, if my arithmetic is right.

Then came Ireland, and the Lisbon Treaty.  The Irish voted No on June 12th 2008.  This decision, at least, saw its first birthday.  But not its second.  On October 2nd 2009, the Irish (after a disgracefully biased campaign) voted Yes, reversing the earlier decision.

It seems to me that something rather similar will happen in Scotland.  There are at least three good reasons to expect a re-think.

A narrow margin.  Surely a major constitutional decision should command widespread support – not the one or two per cent edge that opinion polls are predicting?  In Ted Heath’s weasel phrase, such a decision requires “the full-hearted consent of the people”.   We can argue about the threshold that would constitute full-hearted consent, but 51% it ain’t.

Economic consequences:  I and many commentators believe that there will be immediate and very visible negative economic consequences of a Yes decision.  As those consequences become visible, that 53% advantage could rapidly turn to 75/25 against in the polls.  How could Scottish independence proceed on that basis?

For what it’s worth, my bet is that Scotland would muddle on with “the pound in your pocket”, but without any formal currency union agreement (and as Mark Carney said yesterday, “A currency union is incompatible with sovereignty”), effectively using a foreign currency over which they have no control.  They will exclude themselves from EU membership the day they celebrate “Independence” (whether you think that’s a good thing or not).  They simply don’t meet the criteria to start negotiating to re-join (for which you need a currency and a central bank).  The consequences of using another currency will be dire for households and businesses.  (Ask Greece).  Scotch whisky exports to the EU will be subject to the Common External Tariff.

A pig in a poke: As the No campaign has been relentlessly repeating, in many respects the Scottish people don’t know what they’re voting for.  It is quite scandalous that Salmond has failed to set out detailed and credible plans on the currency, on the debt, on EU membership.  A Yes vote is surely little more than an authority to negotiate.  In that negotiation process, the answers to these questions will become clear, and the Scottish people may well take fright.  Are they to have no say on the outcome of the negotiations, and on Scotland’s proposed new status in the world?  That seems to me inconceivable, especially as (I predict) when the Scots see the detail of the deal, they won’t like it at all.

No.  Cameron is wrong.  If the Scots vote Yes on Thursday (and we in UKIP hope they don’t), I predict a new referendum, and a resounding NO, within a couple of years.

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Anna Soubry doesn’t get it


A small postscript to my piece about Any Questions, which you’ll find below.  There was a question about child abuse, and the recent scandals.  I took the opportunity to air a point that I know has been of great concern to UKIP members.  I started my reply more or less as follows:

“This discussion of child abuse was raised, of course, by the Rotherham scandal.  It’s worth noting that the Labour Council in Rotherham took decisive action to remove three foster children from two very competent and experienced foster parents, because those foster parents supported UKIP.  Yet they allowed serious child abuse to continue on an industrial scale for more than a decade”.

This seemed to shock a number of people, including Jonathan Dimbleby, who immediately cut in to ask whether I was sure of my facts.  I said I was sure.  Indeed thinking about it afterwards, I am a bit surprised and concerned that someone so in touch with the media and the news agenda as Jonathan Dimbleby felt the need to ask for confirmation.

Then Anna Soubry, in her response, said “Helmer’s remarks show that UKIP just doesn’t get it”.  I waited, agog to hear her explanation of just how my remarks showed any such thing.  But no further explanation was forthcoming.

So for the avoidance of doubt, and to ensure that Anna is entirely clear on the issue, let me spell it out plainly.  Here we have a Labour Council which was prepared to use its child protection powers in pursuit of its own particular political prejudices, but totally failed, over many years, to use them to protect children.  It is clear from Professor Alexis Jay’s report that those responsible for child protection in Rotherham ignored appeals from victims, ignored complaints from parents, and indeed ignored earlier reports which the Council itself had commissioned.  We can speculate about why they may have behaved in this way, but the fact is that they did, and their failure was utterly reprehensible.

This seems to me to be an important point to make, and I should be glad to hear from Anna quite how my remarks relate to her criticism.  I’m afraid, Anna, that we do get it.  And given that your parliamentary majority is only 390, perhaps that should worry you.

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Any Questions Sept 5th


Westonbirt School for Girls

On Friday Sept 5th, I appeared on the BBC Any Questions panel at Westonbirt School, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, along with Anna Soubry MP (Tory, Broxtowe); Caroline Lucas, former Green MEP and now MP; and Michael Dugher, Labour MP, Barnsley East.  We were under the watchful eye of Chairman Jonathan Dimbleby.

With both Caroline Lucas and me on the panel, you might have thought that climate and energy would rear its head — but it was not to be.  However they had a warm-up question: What do the panellists find gives them real joy in life?  So after grandchildren and music, I added “And with apologies to Caroline, driving fast cars”.

Nor did the EU come up (despite one MEP and one former MEP on the panel), nor Scotland, which I had been expecting.

 We did however spend some time on Iraq, and the “British Jihadists”.  I objected to the use of the term “British Jihadists”, in that these people had demonstrated in the clearest possible way that their allegiance was given not to this country but to their “Islamic State”.  They are “BINOs” — British in Name Only.  They have sacrificed the right to be British.  This point got some very positive audience reaction.  But I added that Cameron had got himself into a muddle by floating the idea of withdrawing passports from these people, only to find that his hands are tied by international agreements on statelessness, and by European law.  (Anna Soubry insisted that it was nothing to do with Europe.  She’s wrong).

So the other panellists explained, in a rather worthy way, why we couldn’t leave these people stateless.  I suggested that as they had clearly abrogated their British nationality, they should apply to their “Islamic State” for a passport, and see how they got on.  Both Anna and Caroline threw up their hands in mock derision, and Caroline insisted that “Islamic State” was, well, not a state.

Well spotted, Caroline.  But that is exactly my point.  I know it’s not a state.  You know it’s not a state.  But these Jihadists have chosen to find out the hard way.  It will be a salutary lesson for them.

One other point came up, raised by Jonathan Dimbleby.  There are now reports of disillusioned would-be Jihadists, who believed (however mistakenly) that they were going to Iraq to fight for the rights of their co-religionists, only to discover that they were engaged in little more than gang warfare, internecine strife between different terrorist groups vying for supremacy.  Thoroughly discouraged, they now want to return (we are told) to the UK, but are afraid they will be jailed on return.

I suppose one ought to have some sympathy for young people fired by the misplaced idealism of youth, who go to fight for a cause they believe in, only to find they’ve been betrayed into barbarism.  Moreover if their repentance is genuine, they could perform a critical role in fighting extremism and radicalisation in British Muslim communities.  Of course I explicitly exclude any who have committed crimes in Iraq (though evidence is hard to come by).

The real problem here is to separate the sheep from the goats — the disillusioned and repentant idealists from the hardened, committed fanatics.  We might feel that MI5 should be up to the job.  But we know that psychopaths in our prisons can convince Parole Boards that they are reformed and ready for release, only to offend again as soon as they get out.  The fear remains that these Islamist psychopaths may be at least equally plausible.

I can’t conclude without a word about the venue, Westonbirt School, which is housed in a simply stunning country mansion, Westonbirt House, near the National Arboretum.  It was built in the Nineteenth Century by Robert Holford and clearly no expense was spared.  It out-Trusts the National Trust.  The 200+ girls who study there are privileged indeed.  Few will be destined to live in such splendour again.


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The physics of a boiling kettle – my question to the commission!


“I understand that the Commission proposes to introduce measures to limit the power of electric kettles. Is this the case?

Does the Commission have any grasp of the basic physics of boiling a kettle?

Is the Commission aware that so far as the water itself is concerned, it takes just the same energy to boil a litre of water slowly as to boil it quickly?

Is the Commission aware that in boiling it slowly, over a longer time, more waste heat will be lost to the environment through conduction, convection and radiation?

Does the Commission therefore recognise that this proposal will increase electricity consumption, generate more waste heat, and tend to increase emissions, both of CO2 and water vapour?”

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