There’s a criticism of UKIP policy which I’ve seen several times, but Michael Deacon in the Telegraph (Sketch, Sept 21st) is a good example. He reports that Nigel Farage said at our Party Conference that we shouldn’t be fighting foreign wars, and fifteen minutes later Paul Nuttall said there should be no defence cuts — as though that were an absurd contradiction. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
The first duty of government is the Defence of the Realm. To do this, we must maintain adequate armed forces — yet this government has cut the Army to a level not seen since Waterloo.
We must ensure that men are attracted to soldiering as a career. We owe it to them to ensure that they are properly equipped, that their families live in decent accommodation, and especially that those who are wounded in the call of duty are properly cared for. We need more attention to helping retired soldiers readjust to civilian life.
We are not fulfilling these tasks at the moment. That’s why Paul say “No more cuts”.
At the same time, UKIP says we should not go to war unless there is a clear and immediate national interest, unless we have a real prospect of success, unless “success” makes things better rather than worse, and unless we have an exit strategy. None of these conditions was satisfied by Cameron’s vague plan to bomb Syria.
So UKIP was right to oppose a Syrian adventure, and was yet again in line with public opinion — and given subsequent events, we may well be able to claim credit for stopping the US as well, and preventing yet another fruitless Middle Eastern war.
“Defence” is very much the same thing as “protection”, which enables me to sashay neatly into protectionism. I’ve been astonished to see a couple of Twitter comments recently accusing me of protectionism. This is rather a shock, as I’ve always been a committed free trader. There may be Euro-sceptics who want to put up a wall around Britain and blow up the Channel Tunnel, but I’m not one of them (and to be honest, I’m not sure they exist outside the fevered imagination of Guardian hacks).
This all seems to go back to a blog piece I wrote a while back arguing that we should do more to support our farmers.
I make no apology. It is the duty of the government to create conditions in which industry and agriculture flourish, and our people can earn a living. Surely no one will disagree with that? But in my view, building tariff or non-tariff barriers to imports invites retaliation, damages trade generally, and makes us all poorer. In the end, it does nothing to help the economy.
The government should ensure that education delivers the knowledge that makes young people employable. It should ensure that our infrastructure is adequate to the needs of industry. It should make certain that our regulatory régime is no more onerous than those of overseas competitors. It should seek to ensure that taxes and energy prices in our country are competitive. None of these measures can be described as protectionist.
And while the “Buy British” campaigns of the past have never seemed to work, I would certainly not criticise a consumer who chose to buy a British product rather than an imported one. That’s consumer choice, not protectionism. And the job he saves may be his own.