Save our homes in Springfield Park!

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Last week I was invited to visit Springfield Park, a static mobile home park close to the centre of Hinckley, where I met local resident and campaigner Janet Deeming, as well as the indefatigable Phil Johnson – who also campaigns for a throat cancer charity, and manages to make a great deal of noise despite needing to use an external device to communicate, giving him a voice which he compares to a Dalek.  I am with them in the picture above, outside Janet’s home in SpringfieldPark.

The term “Static Mobile Home Park” doesn’t always conjure up a very positive image, but Springfield Park challenges stereotypes.  It’s a mature estate, at least thirty years old, with well-kept lawns, mature trees and ponds.  The residents, though mostly elderly, clearly take a huge pride in their homes and gardens.

The land belonged to a local farmer, Mr. Andrews, who in turn leased it to an investor on a long lease.  This lease is due to expire early next year, giving the residents only another six months.  When they moved in, there had been talk of the lease being rolled over indefinitely, but unfortunately there is nothing to confirm that in the legal documents.

The investor has given notice that he does no wish to renew the lease.  The land, meanwhile, has passed on to the three daughters of Farmer Andrews, and they now — quite reasonably — are apparently looking to realise the value of the site, which will command a high price as building land.

There are around 50 homes, and 60+ residents, and they are naturally very concerned indeed that they will lose the homes that (in some cases) they have occupied for decades, and in which many had hoped to end their days.  If the lease simply ends and the land is sold, the homes will have little or no residual value.  Many of the residents will not be in a position to buy elsewhere, and most could end up asking the local authority to re-house them.  Some of the older residents are said to be very distressed and anxious at the prospect.

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that a “Save Our Park” campaign has been launched, with Mrs. Deeming at the forefront. They have a short YouTube video. There is a petition on the web-site which you may wish to support.  I must be very careful what I say about the legal position, as I am not legally qualified, but I think it is fair to say that the campaign group understands that it has no legal basis to challenge the sale of the land.  On the other hand it makes a compelling case on two grounds: first, that these long-term and elderly residents should not be cast out on the street, whatever the legal niceties; and second, that the obligation on the local council to re-house these people could prove more expensive than (say) having the council buy the land and continue to operate it and to profit from the ground rents.

I have made some enquiries and spoken to the local council, which is well appraised of the situation and (to be fair) seems to be making great efforts to find an amicable outcome.  I understand that negotiations are taking place between the parties (Council and land-owners), and that possible solution is under discussion, but it is for the parties to announce any proposal in due course.

Meantime, the residents of Springfield Park continue to worry, and the months to the end of the lease keep slipping by.  I would urge those involved to come forward with generous and compassionate proposals as soon as possible — and especially before Christmas.  It will not be a very festive season for the residents of SpringfieldPark if their future is not resolved by December.

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IoD warns on immigration

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On the day when net immigration in the UK hit the extraordinary level of 330,000,  the Institute of Directors warned that the government’s increasingly desperate and ad hoc measures to try to stem the tide were threatening to damage British business.  They’re right, of course, but they haven’t carried their analysis through, and realised that the real problem (as with so many issues) starts with our EU membership.

David Cameron has repeatedly promised (“no if, no buts”) to get immigration down to “tens of thousands”.  Yet the real figure keeps going up, with “European citizens” (and especially Romanians and Bulgarians) strongly represented.

Cameron is caught in a pincer movement, a double bind.  On the one hand, net immigration from the EU keeps going up, and as long as we’re EU members, there’s nothing he can do about it.  His proposed changes to welfare rules are merely fiddling at the margin.  What did he expect, when the minimum wage in the UK is many times average wages in Eastern Europe?  The EU’s “free movement” rules might have worked when all member-states had broadly similar levels of prosperity, but the moment you add large numbers of poor people into the mix, there is a huge incentive for people to move from poor to richer countries.

So on the other hand, all Cameron can do is to suppress immigration from the rest of the world, including the Commonwealth.  He is forced to operate a highly discriminatory policy where we are obliged to accept unskilled Romanians (who are broadly white), but forced to refuse highly-qualified people from (say) the Indian sub-continent, who might make an important contribution to our economy.

So the IoD is quite right: we’ve made it too difficult to bring in necessary skills for our industry (there’s a big issue of why we don’t train enough people with the necessary skills in the UK, but that’s a different and longer-term question).  We’ve given ourselves a policy that represents the worst of both worlds.  We get far too many people, often with difficult language and cultural issues, but we can’t select the skills we need, and the average quality of immigrants is far too low.

And the vital point, which we in UKIP must make over and over as we approach the referendum, is that our membership of the EU is the problem.

We will demand a policy where we first seek to reach a broad national consensus on the numbers we can accept each year without undue strain on social cohesion and social infrastructure.  Without being unduly prescriptive, this is likely to be (in Cameron’s phrase) in the tens of thousands.  Then we will operate a points system, as Australia does, to ensure we get the best value from those who we accept, and ensure that industry gets the skills it needs.

Once we get a grip on the numbers, we may well find we have elbow-room to accept modest numbers of refugees from war zones and troubled areas of the world.  But the message for Angela Merkel is this: while net immigration driven by EU policy stands at 330,000, we have no room to share her refugee burden.

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The Second Amendment

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It would take a heart of stone to remain unmoved by the terrible shooting of a young reporter, Alison Parker, and her cameraman, on live breakfast TV in Virginia, by a deeply disturbed former colleague Vester Haligan, who described himself as “a human powder-keg”, and committed suicide after the killings.

This year, it’s expected that gun deaths in America will reach 33,000 (though this admittedly includes suicides). Startlingly, that could be more than die in auto accidents  and hugely greater than those who die in terrorist incidents.

There is of course a massive lobby in the USA, headed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), a well-funded and vigorous campaign group, aimed at maintaining the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms.  And I must admit that I feel a strong gut-reaction in favour of their position.  There’s something refreshing about the frontier spirit and the culture of self-reliance that they represent.  Some years ago I was in the States, and someone kindly gave me an NRA T-shirt that I still wear from time to time.  The slogan reads:

The Second Amendment: America’s original Homeland Security Policy.

Nevertheless, the sheer level of gun crime in America raises a serious question – and one which may well be answered by the Second Amendment itself.  “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….”.  Hands up those who think that Vester Flanagan constituted part of “a well-regulated militia”.  No one?  I thought not.  It’s very difficult to make the case that down-town drug dealers, or muggers, or survivalists in mountain caves, or disturbed and psychotic individuals, form part of “a well-regulated militia” which is conducive to the public good and to national security.

Of course in America, as in most modern states, national security becomes the province of the armed forces, and the USA has more and better armed forces than anyone else.  So in that sense the Second Amendment, and the need for a well-regulated militia, has been superseded by events.  So is there anything left that those who drafted the amendment would recognise as “a well-regulated militia”?  I guess that the National Guard would qualify.  And at a stretch of the imagination, maybe the police forces.  Not much else.

Of course Americans will want to keep their hunting rifles, and indeed the right to own a weapon for self-protection.  But for once I think that maybe President Obama may have a point when he calls for background checks and proper records on persons buying guns.

Is it possible to have widespread gun ownership but low levels of gun crime?  It is.  In Switzerland, the Second Amendment concept of “a well-regulated militia” appears to work extremely well.   But then I guess there are big cultural differences between the USA and Switzerland.

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On the immigration crisis again – this time on Three Counties Radio

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Following my appearance on Five Live to discuss the crisis at Calais, I was invited onto Three Counties Radio.

Here is the link to my interview on the JVS Show.

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The Migrant Crisis: Europe is letting us down

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On Sunday evening, I watched an extended interview on BBC 4 TV in which Lucy Worsley interviewed Sir Roy Strong, at eighty years old.

Sir Roy, remember, was once the enfant terrible of the art gallery and museum business.  In 1967, at then tender age of 32, he became Director of the National Portrait Gallery.  In 1973, at the age of only 38, he became Director of the V&A.  With his flamboyant style, kipper ties and fedora hats, he became the darling of the arts establishment.

So you might have thought that he’d have been a typical leftie luvvie.  But not a bit of it.  Also an historian, he adopted a very common sense view of immigration issues.  He felt that multiculturalism had failed.  It had been divisive and undermined social cohesion.  Citing the Huguenots and the Jews, he recognised the right of immigrants to maintain and celebrate their own culture of origin, but insisted that if they wished to settle in Britain immigrants must also embrace and recognise the values and culture of this country.

Well said Sir Roy.

That day I was invited to appear on the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Five Live (about 20 minutes in) alongside Don Flynn of the Migrants Rights Network.  Mr. Flynn seemed to take the view that everyone who faced serious problems at home, and wanted to come to Europe, should be free to do so.  And that Britain should take its “fair share” of migrants.  Europe (he said) was rich, and had the space and resources to cope with large numbers (perhaps Mr. Flynn would do well to read the economic and financial pages more carefully).

Germany, of course, reckons it will take in 800,000 migrants this year, and is calling on other EU member-states to take “their fair share”.  Mr. Flynn also reckoned that we had an obligation of burden-sharing: I asked which clause of the EU Treaties committed us to do so.  We need to understand that Germany (and other EU member-states) potentially have a gun to our heads: all they need to do is offer citizenship and issue passports to those migrants, and they will be free (under EU free movement rules) to come to the UK.  Spain has already given large-scale amnesties to migrants.

I argued that Germany had been foolish to accept these large numbers, and had no business to demand that we accommodate its rash policy.  I argued that European policy was failing us twice over.  First, the EU is supposed to have a Border Force, Frontex, whose task is to protect EU borders.  It is failing utterly.  We simply should not be admitting these illegal immigrants in the first place.  Secondly, we have the Dublin Convention which specifies (broadly speaking) that an asylum applicant should apply for asylum in the first safe country.  But Hungary, Greece, Italy and France and other member-states are allowing migrants to cross their territory at will.

Mr. Flynn seemed to assume that just about all these migrants were entitled to asylum, and dismissed my suggestion that many were economic migrants.  The danger is that we have allowed the criteria for asylum to broaden without limit.  Mr. Flynn seemed to assume that anyone from a war zone, or a country suffering civil unrest, ought to qualify.  But the consequent numbers would run into many millions, which surely even in Mr. Flynn’s parallel universe is clearly unacceptable.

I remember an attempt in the European parliament some years ago to broaden the definition of asylum criteria.  It was proposed that any woman who at any time had been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) should ipso facto be entitled to asylum.  Be in no doubt that I unequivocally condemn FGM as a vile and brutal infringement of human rights.  But I cannot agree that (say) a middle-aged African woman who suffered FGM forty years ago should therefore automatically qualify to settle in Europe.  I believe we estimated at the time that at least 15 million would qualify on that basis.  The rules on asylum are predicated on the implicit assumption that the total numbers involved must be tolerable.  Otherwise the whole asylum system will lose public consent and democratic legitimacy.

So with thousands of migrants arriving in short order, many undocumented, how on earth are our border forces supposed to distinguish the genuine asylum seeker from the economic migrant?  (Let us note in passing that at least those Iraqi interpreters now under threat are unequivocally asylum seekers, and deserve our gratitude and protection).  But the broader question is beyond our power to determine, and the court system is bogged down by interminable and irresolvable appeals.

Quite apart from the sheer numbers, and the consequent pressures on social infrastructure and social cohesion, there is the question of how we could accommodate very large numbers of migrants with very different cultural attitudes.  I was struck by a recent press story about a French family who, moved by compassion, offered a home to a migrant in Calais.  He accepted the offer — but also saw fit to criticise the family’s 20-year-old daughter for not being married, and for not covering her hair.  Not an easy attitude to deal with.

Quite apart from cultural attitudes, there is also the possibility that the flood of migrants includes terrorists and jihadis deliberately infiltrating at the behest of ISIS.  Mr. Flynn dismissed this as mere prejudice and anti-Islamist propaganda.  But there is no doubt that ISIS has claimed to be engaging in this activity, and it would be a brave man who assumed they were lying.

I argued that our policy of rescuing boats in the Med and bringing the migrants to Italy is in effect, if not in intention, collaborating with the people-traffickers.  “Just get out on the water”, they can say, “and the Europeans will rescue you and take you to Italy”.

So what should we be doing?  First, we should intercepting the boats in the Med (yes, and rescuing the drowning), but returning them to North Africa.  Do that for a few weeks, and the trade will wither on the vine.  The boats will stop, and the drowning will stop.

Secondly, we should urge our European partners to make their borders secure (however little faith we have in their will or ability to do so).  But for Britain, we should put in effective border controls.  We should have a rigorous and rapid approach to asylum, and only accept asylum claims that are clear-cut and specific.  The onus must be on the applicant to prove the case.  And any illegal immigrants arriving in the UK from other EU member states (as most do) should be returned under the Dublin Convention to the last country they were in (and the Mayor of Calais can just get used to the idea).

Many commentators say that the only way to solve the migrant crisis is to take action to bring peace and prosperity to the countries from which the migrants are coming.  It’s a great idea.  But we’ve been trying to do that for many years without conspicuous success — indeed some would argue that our interventions have made matters worse.  By all means we should seek peace and prosperity in the world, but that’s an uncertain and long term project.  In the meantime, the migrant problem is real and immediate.  We in UKIP criticise the UK’s grossly excessive level of foreign aid — but as long as the budget is there, it should be used to facilitate the return of would-be immigrants to their countries of origin.

And how will we afford the extra border guards?  Well it is clear that the long-term costs of coping with a massive migrant influx will be greater that the costs of controlling our borders.  And again, we could divert money from the foreign aid budget to border control.

Sadly, I don’t see the present government adopting these measures any time soon.  And I fear that a few million pounds spent on wire mesh at Calais won’t really hack it.

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Radio Five Live – on The Stephen Nolan Show

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You can hear me on  The Stephen Nolan Show on Radio Five Live discussing immigration and the crisis at Calais.

You can hear my views from about 20 minutes in.

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Legacy of the ‘Green Deal’

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I have written before about the previously lauded (by some) ‘green policies’ of successive governments. In fact, as far back as 2012 I was arguing that green policies and the folly of playground technologies such as wind and solar were driving up prices.

Of course, alongside the expensive renewables plans the then Coalition Government introduced the aptly-named Green Deal. The plan would enable householders to economise and cut their energy consumption – power would cost more but we would use less. Well, that was the plan.

The reality was that in its first six months 38, 259 Green Deal assessments were carried out on households. That led to four, yes four, Green Deals being taken out. Hardly surprising, considering the costs of loans.

Did the Government seriously think householders – many forced into fuel poverty – could afford to pay £10,000 for, say, home insulation, and pay the interest, and the capital, out of the savings they would make? That was on top of a £150 non-refundable Government assessment to determine whether work was suitable.

If they did, it was clearly a huge misjudgement. In fact, the deal cost jobs  as some companies pulled out of the scheme entirely, shedding their workforces.  More generally, there is plenty of evidence that green policies and renewables destroy more jobs than they create.

As the public became less and less interested in the deal (or no deal) a second Green Deal was launched – this time with grants rather than loans. Guess what? With a year (last month) the whole deal was off with Energy Secretary Amber Rudd calling time on it at last.

Sadly, for many people the Green Deal con rumbles on through. My press officer tells me that people who had signed up for the deal before the Government killed it, would not be eligible for the grant – despite having paid the £150 assessment fee. They also, of course, lost their £150.

So tough luck says the Government – I would say what a dog’s breakfast the whole scheme has been from day one.

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