My 2014 UKIP Conference Speech as Energy Spokesman

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Enthusiastic, effervescent, exhilarating! UKIP’s 2014 Conference in Doncaster

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In my political career I must have been to twenty or so political conferences, Conservative, and in recent years UKIP.  After so many, it’s easy to get a bit cynical.  But any cynicism was blown away by our 2014 Doncaster Conference which closed on Saturday.

I have simply never seen such a level of enthusiasm, involvement, commitment.  Mostly at conferences I’ve got into the habit of avoiding the predictable and formulaic speeches in the main auditorium, and instead focusing on the trade stands and the fringe meetings, and simply networking.  At the last few Tory Conferences I went to before I joined UKIP, I focused almost entirely on The Freedom Zone (run by TFA and Simon Richards) where real people had real debates — in contrast to the official programme.

In Doncaster, I found I wanted to be in the main auditorium (and was acutely disappointed when I found I had to miss Diane James’ presentation on Justice & Home Affairs to go and chair a Countryside Alliance fringe).

We had an amazing array of speakers: women and men; young and old; former Tories and former Labour Party members.  And if you are concerned about ethnic diversity, we had a British Muslim of sub-continental extraction (Amjad Bashir MEP), and the irrepressible Winston McKenzie, our Commonwealth Spokesman, who is black.  And former Labour activist Natasha Bolter.

Many of our spokesmen were drawn from the ranks of the 24 UKIP MEPs which I am proud to lead (remember — the largest UK delegation in Brussels, ahead of Tories and Labour, and twenty-four times the Lib-Dem strength!).  Although of course I know them all, I have never before had the opportunity to sit and see them each make a political presentation one after the other, and I have to say I was impressed — as were the audience.  I even started to worry that my own speech on energy would not stack up to the others’ standard.  But it seemed to be well received.

So by lunch-time on Saturday, spirits were high, and the mood was positive.  Nigel arrived at 2:30 and started by presenting some recent polling data from marginal seats, which were just astonishingly good.  But at 2:40, he said “That’s me done.  Nothing more to say.  You can go and have a cup of tea if you want.  Or you could stay and listen to my next guest”.  We all realised that something important was in the offing.  “It’s a Conservative MP”.

Then Mark Reckless walked on to the stage, to a tumultuous and ecstatic reception.  Stepping up to the rostrum, he started out with exactly the words that Douglas Carswell had used a few weeks before “Today, I am leaving the Conservative Party”.  Huge burst of applause — and when it died down, he added “And joining UKIP”.  He made a speech which received repeated standing ovations, until we realised we were standing up so often, we might as well stay up.  So we did.

And when he’d finished, the reaction was almost beyond description.  As the BBC put it, “It was like a football club which had just won the Cup”.  You’ve heard the old metaphor about people “dancing in the aisles”.  Well in Doncaster they really were.  At least a dozen people, mostly women but a couple of chaps too, spontaneously dancing between the seats and the podium.  Unbelievable scenes.  A day to remember for a life-time.

Now comes the hard part: we have to ensure that our two new recruits are re-elected in the up-coming by-elections.  Let’s go to work.

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Eejits on Twitter

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I never cease to be amazed by the nonsense and folly and downright vindictiveness you find on Twitter.  Mostly I don’t respond, but let me share some choice items with you.

In September, like migrating birds, a new batch of American interns appeared in the European parliament.  I have one, Melina from Philadelphia, who’ll be with us two days a week for four months.  So I Tweeted “It’s that time of year again: the arrival of the American interns.  Good to have them around”.

This produced an outburst of spleen.  We had “Helmer changes his position on immigration”.  “Bloody foreigners – send ‘em back, eh, Rog?”.  And “Are they taking jobs that an English person could have done?” from a J.P.Janson de Couet.  Maybe Janson has something against the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish?

So let’s unpack this one.  First, these are not immigrants.  They are genuine students spending the third year of an American University four-year course in Belgium, and they welcome the opportunity to have some exposure to the European parliament.  Secondly, even if they were immigrants, they’re not coming to the UK.  Third, they’re not doing “jobs that an English person could have done”.  In a sense, they’re not doing jobs at all (though they do help out).  They’re on unpaid work experience.  And before you ask, they’re not being “exploited” as cheap labour.  They’re happy to have the experience.

How many times do we have to repeat – UKIP has nothing against foreigners.  Nigel Farage is married to a German.  My lead Brussels staffer (she’s been with me for three years) is an Italian lawyer, and is doing a cracking job.  What we oppose is uncontrolled immigration to the UK on a scale that puts undue pressure on social cohesion and infrastructure.

UKKITTY: Then we had an exchange regarding Exxon-Mobil.  I Tweeted a newspaper headline that the firm was defying EU sanctions by working with Russia in the Arctic.  Next day I met a senior Exxon-Mobil executive, so I asked him about it.  He insisted that the company conformed to US and EU sanctions, so I felt the only decent thing to do was to Tweet the denial.  One of my regular followers and critics Tweeted: “How much did you get paid for that retraction?”.  What a twisted and bitter response!

Just for the record, I have been a prominent opponent of climate alarmism for best part of a decade, and I have never at any time received any financial inducement from the fossil fuel industry.  I’m trying not to sound self-righteous, but my position is based on firmly-held convictions and I believe it is in the interests of sanity and prosperity.  We shall all profit from it when common sense finally prevails (and there are some promising developments on that front).

Third example.  I tweeted from a breakfast briefing on carbon capture and storage.  A certain Don Collier Tweeted: “Advertising he is getting a free breakfast! @RogerHelmerMEP clearly thinks it’s a good thing to sponge off of his opposition”.   Anyone who thinks it’s worth getting up early in the morning for a cup of European parliament coffee has obviously never tasted it.  Another Tweet criticised me for attending an event (and accepting minimal hospitality) from an organisation I disagreed with.

In the European parliament there are constant breakfast, lunch and dinner events dealing with one issue or another.  That’s because most MEPs are tied up with committee meetings during “normal office hours”.  I attend many such events which are related to my key issue, energy, and I make no apology for doing so.  As an elected parliamentarian, and as UKIP Spokesman on energy, it’s part of my job to be as well-informed as I can be on these issues (and I am keenly interested anyway).

But what the critics fail to grasp is that the organisers actually welcome contrary views.  What sort of debate would there be on important issues if they were just cheer-leader events for one view, and no one argued the other case?  Do they imagine we should invest billions in Carbon Capture without airing the issues?  And do they really think that getting the right answer is not worth a cup of coffee?

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You say “Populism”: I say “Democracy”

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You won’t find AfD marching down here

Recently we received an invitation from something calling itself “The European Liberal Forum” to a round-table sandwich lunch event to launch the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable Study, entitled “The Unstoppable Far Right?  Populism and the Aftermath of the European Elections”.

We suspected that this was a veiled reference to UKIP – and we were right!  Deputy Whip Ray Finch, along with Margot Parker’s new assistant Erna, had the neat idea of getting a posse of UKIP folk, members and staffers, to listen in (and help eat the sandwiches).

We were all very eager, of course, to chip in, and it was first challenging, then boring, to try to keep quiet in the face of so much nonsense (and for me, to keep the troops on the leash and to prevent any premature skirmishing).

But at the end of the first (rather long) presentation, I broke the advice which I had previously given to colleagues, and out-shouted the chairman to make a point.  I demanded the “Right to Reply”, as UKIP had been criticised by name, and I brooked no opposition.  Fortunately I have a loud voice, which always helps in politics.

The speaker had insisted that UKIP, and AfD in Germany and NF in France, were all ‘far-right populists”.  Now I can see their point (perhaps) with NF, but AfD?  A group of serious-minded German jurists and academics?  You won’t see these guys in jackboots or black-shirts, or marching down Unter-den-Linden singing the Horst Wessel Song.

The truth was that they didn’t really know what they meant by “populist”.  A Green think-tanker let the cat out of the bag when she pointed to the etymology and admitted that “democracy” and “populism” meant almost exactly the same.  Wild applause from the UKIP posse.

But the speaker gave the game away be saying “We observe that populist parties are always euro-sceptic”.  What he meant was, “We choose to use the word ‘populist’ to describe euro-sceptics, because we think it’s a pejorative and negative term.  And we’re entitled to use pejorative language about euro-sceptics, because all sensible and decent people know perfectly well that they’re a dangerous, damaging and dishonest bunch”.

They are simply not prepared to contemplate that genuine, honest people might believe that the European Union is damaging our prosperity and undermining democracy.  Yet it is, and more and more people recognise the fact.

The speaker announced the major conclusion of their research: that insurgent euro-sceptic parties do better when mainstream media present the established parties as more pro-EU, and vice versa.  As they said in Fawlty Towers. “Specialist subject: the bleedin’ obvious”!  Europhiles faced a Catch22: If the mainstream parties go positive on the EU, sceptic parties will prosper.  But if not, and mainstream parties get more sceptic, that also damages the EU cause.

But he had a plan: get the media to explain to the people that membership of the EU is not about Europe’s interests, but about their own national interest.  In my response I not only pointed out that UKIP was not far-right, nor to the right of the Tory Party (as had been implied).  But I concluded that his strategy would fail in the UK, for the simple reason that no one would believe it.

That’s the Brussels bubble for you.   Totally out of sight of reality and real people.

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Sadly, Salmond’s statesmanship is short-lived

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Time for a re-think, Alex?

Recently on my blog, I paid tribute to Alex Salmond’s dignified and honourable reaction to the defeat of his YES Campaign for Scottish independence.  He called for reconciliation and unity.

Alas I spoke too soon.  As soon as the Scottish First Minister had come to terms with his immediate shock and disappointment, we saw the old Alex in his true colours.  “We wuzz robbed” was the gist of it.  Having insisted that the referendum was the one golden opportunity in a generation – or even in a lifetime – for the Scots to have their say, he is now hinting at a re-run in short order.  Or even a unilateral declaration of independence.   The well-rehearsed threat of a “neverndum” springs to mind.  By stoking the flames of separatism again so soon after the event, he is surely energising those Yes campaigners – and indeed No campaigners too – to further hostility and strife.

But I was particularly struck by one straw to which Mr. Salmond appears to be clinging.  He observed that the YES side had won amongst under-55s, while the NO side predominated in the older demographic.  All we have to do, he implies, is to wait until those timid, reactionary old folk die off, and the Yes vote can be won!  Just give it another ten years for the older demographic to move on, and the Yes side will win!

Of course we’ve heard essentially the same proposition in other contexts.  Talk to any social organisation – the Church of England, the Rotary Club, political parties – and you’ll hear the same complaint.  We’re all elderly.  Where’s the young blood?  How do we recruit younger members?  What will be left when the current generation of elderly members dies off?  Of course the Church of England may well be in terminal decline.  But for many of these organisations, the fact is that people in younger and middle life, juggling jobs and mortgages and child care, simply don’t have time for voluntary activities as well.  But as the children grow up and the mortgage is paid off, they look for new activities.  Hence a preponderance of older people in voluntary organisations.  It may be an older demographic, but generally speaking it renews itself as time moves on.

Similarly with left-right politics.  Older people tend to be more conservative (small “c”).  So we just wait for all the older people to die off, and then the whole world will be leftie and progressive, right?   Wrong.  Life is a journey.  Younger people can afford to be capricious, impulsive, idealistic.  But as life’s journey starts to include homes, and mortgages, and families and children, people start to attach more value to physical, emotional and financial security.  They understand and value stability, and property rights.  Call it conservative.  Call it Jeffersonian principles.  Call it reactionary if you must.  But in the rather dated terms of the left-right spectrum, they tend broadly to drift to the right.

As is so often the case, Winston Churchill put this clearly in his famous aphorism: “Unless you’re a liberal at twenty, you have no heart.  But if you’re not a conservative at thirty, you have no brain”. (Both the words and the attribution are disputed, but it sounds so Churchillian, and makes so much sense, that I have to believe it).

So I’m sorry, Alex, but you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.  It’s not a case of waiting for older Scots to die, so that you can win an independence referendum later on.  It’s a case of individual Scots getting older and wiser, and seeing the benefits of a political union that has survived and prospered through all the vicissitudes of 300+ years.

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Education: here we go again

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A Dame-School

The rot set in for British education in the sixties and seventies, when teachers stopped being teachers and started being “learning facilitators”.  Don’t teach the little darlings any facts or skills — just help them to work it out for themselves.

This was driven by trendy academic educational institutions, staffed by left/liberal “specialists” recruited through the columns of the Guardian, where chairs and tenure go to those who get noticed.  And the best way to get noticed?  Make a case, however spurious, to show that all the assumptions which previous generations of teachers have made, and have proved in practice, are quite wrong, and instead  that theoretical ideas dreamed up over a sherry in the Senior Common Room are the way to go.  And hang the pupils first, and the economy later on.

Thus were centuries of experience and human knowledge relegated to the trash-can of our schools system.  Thus was the literacy rate of school leavers in the late 20th century driven below the level that obtained in the late 19th century, before the advent of free universal education.  Today things are not much better, though there were signs of a tentative return to common sense.

So imagine my horror to see a story in the Telegraph of September 20th: “Ofsted inspections in primary schools could be overhauled to focus less on English and maths, because the regulators fear that pupils are missing out on a broad and balanced curriculum”.  It goes on “An over-emphasis on the three Rs often came at the expense of children’s understanding of other subjects”.

No, No, No!  You idiots!  For heaven’s sake!  The ability to read and write (and understand numbers) is not a distraction from other subjects — it is absolutely the key to learning anything, to taking up other interests in school or outside, to getting a job, to career success, to economic progress.  These madmen are like a housing developer who says “In order to spend more money on a quality building, we’re going to sell houses without front door keys”.  We need to make the three Rs the top priority until children are confident and fluent in them.  Then they’re ready to for their “understanding of other subjects”.

My sister spent her career as a teacher.  At one time she was taking the reception class in a primary school, and she prided herself that every child, after a year with her, went on to the next class able to read and write.  Her reputation spread.  Parents milled around at the start of the school year to demand that little Johnnie be in her class, and nowhere else.  But the Inspectors said “She was bringing them on too quickly”.  Sometimes, I despair.

I am reminded of a book I haven’t read for many decades: Charles Kingsley’s “The Water Babies”. In it, little Tom the Chimney Sweep’s lad has escaped across the moors, and scrambling down from Lewthwaite Crag, the first house he finds turns out to be a dame school.  Kingsley describes it thus:

And a neat pretty cottage it was, with clipped yew hedges all round the garden, and yews inside too, cut into peacocks and trumpets and teapots and all kinds of queer shapes. And out of the open door came a noise like that of the frogs on the Great-A, when they know that it is going to be scorching hot to-morrow — and how they know that I don’t know, and you don’t know, and nobody knows.

      He (Tom) came slowly up to the open door, which was all hung round with clematis and roses; and then peeped in, half afraid.
And there sat by the empty fireplace, which was filled with a pot of sweet herbs, the nicest old woman that ever was seen, in her red petticoat, and short dimity bedgown, and clean white cap, with a black silk handkerchief over it, tied under her chin. At her feet sat the grandfather of all the cats; and opposite her sat, on two benches, twelve or fourteen neat, rosy, chubby little children, learning their Chris-cross-row; and gabble enough they made about it.

But even more telling is Kingsley’s later comment:

“And there was a new schoolmistress in Vendale, and we will hope that she was not certificated”.

Let’s hope there were no Ofsted inspectors in Vendale, either.

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Right choice in Scotland — but what next?

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Now that the dust is settling, maybe it’s time for reflection.

First of all, the choice of the Scottish people is a tribute to their sound common sense — despite the blandishments — and later the pressure and threats — from the Yes campaign.  The fact that the result defied predictions and was much more decisive than opinion polls indicated suggests that some voters preferred not to say what they really thought.  “I won’t argue with you in the street, but I’ll vote against you at the polling station.”

But congratulations to those business leaders, and those voters, who defied the intimidation and saved the United Kingdom.

I have no doubt at all that a Yes vote would have been an economic disaster for Scotland, and a major economic set-back for England (OK, for those pedants out there, yes, I mean “Rest of UK”, or “rUK” — but let’s accept England as shorthand).  And of course the immediate question we eurosceptics will face is “So why don’t you reach the same conclusion about Brexit?”  I’ve answered this in some detail on this blog. But in summary: Scotland andEngland have enough in common in terms of history, culture, language and economic interests that a legitimate shared democracy can exist, and can work.  And Scotland benefits hugely in economic terms from the relationship.  But in my view, Britain and our 27 EU partners do not share enough in terms of culture and language to make meaningful democracy work, and rather than benefiting, Britain suffers dire economic consequences as a result of EU membership, not least in terms of over-regulation, and energy policy.

A word about Alex Salmond.  I have criticised him roundly, but I hope fairly, in this blog, on the grounds of policy. I have some sympathy with Allison Pearson’s use of Lewis Carroll’s phrase “slithy tove” to describe him.  But outside politics, he’s not a bad guy.  Regular readers will forgive me for repeating my Alex anecdote, but I first met him many years ago on a boat trip in Singapore harbour organised by the local Scottish diaspora.  When I later asked for his help with a Burns Night speech I’d agreed to give, he very kindly sent me a script he’d used himself.  Much appreciated.

And in politics, while I think he was profoundly wrong, you have to admire a man who devotes his whole life to a passionate cause, a man who believes in his country, and who comes so near to achieving his dream.  Like the Cavaliers, Alex Salmond was wrong but romantic.  And the dignified and timely manner of his resignation deserves our respect.  No doubt we’ll see him in the House of Lords very soon.

While we’re extending bouquets to political opponents, let’s not forget Gordon Brown.  I’ve often said that the only good thing he ever did was to keep Britain out of the €uro, with his cunningly-crafted “Five Tests”.  But blow-me-down he’s now saved our country a second time.  I have no doubt that his passionate and heartfelt intervention played a major role in the outcome.

Both Salmond and Brown have called for reconciliation after a divisive campaign, and that call also deserves our respect.

So where next?  The leaders of the Old Parties (but not the House of Commons) made some extravagant promises in the last days of the campaign.  Maybe they were sincere at the time, but now those promises are un-ravelling in the face of reality, and in the face of the back-benchers who will vote on any proposal.  Everyone seems suddenly to recognise the danger of England being short-changed, and the need for constitutional change in rUK as well as Scotland.

Cameron insists that the change must be balanced, and that the timing must be the same for the whole country including Scotland.  In principle he’s right, and he may be sincere.  But he’s also looking at politics and party management.  He fears his own backbenches won’t stay on-side without reforms for England (and his promise to retain the Barnett Formula is a real problem for him).  And of course he’s keen on any solution that would cut the Labour numbers in the House of Commons by excluding Scottish Labour MPs from English votes.

But Cameron’s timetable is clearly unachievable, as many commentators point out.  To be quick enough to satisfy the Scots, progress needs to be too fast to guarantee a properly thought-out solution for the UK.

Miliband, on the other hand, lacks any whiff of principle and is driven purely by immediate political tactics.  He wants to deliver in Scotland very quickly, and claim credit in Scotland ahead of the 2015 General Election.  But he also wants to delay as long as possible any threat in Westminster to his Scottish Labour lobby-fodder.  As Kathleen Mavourneen put it so eloquently, “It may be for years, and it may be forever”.

Contrast, then, the UKIP position.  Given the powers promised to Scotland, we call on Scottish Labour MPs voluntarily to desist from voting on English issues in Westminster.  But we also call for a great Constitutional Conference to develop a plan that can command broad consent across the United Kingdom.  The process can’t be open-ended in terms of time, but it must provide at least enough time to get to a viable and durable result.  This is the clear and principled position which Nigel Farage has set out.  Cameron’s suggestion of a small committee chaired by William Hague will not do.

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