Yesterday I was at the BBC in Nottingham to pre-record the East Midlands section of the Politics Show (going out Sunday morning Oct 6th — should be available on i-player). I was alongside Tory MP Heather Wheeler (remarkably sound for a Tory), and Labour MP for Bassetlaw John Mann. Mr. Mann, so far as I can judge, is on the euro-sceptic wing of the Labour Party, so respect is due to him for that.
But he’d come with some pre-cooked anti-UKIP attack lines, and like yesterday’s soufflé they didn’t go down as well as he perhaps hoped.
He criticised UKIP’s “hypocrisy” in accepting payment from Brussels. “You and Farage have each made a million pounds out of it”. (This of course is not true, but let that pass). But hang on, John. OK. We get paid a salary. But you’re an MP. MPs get salaries too, don’t they? And as we’ve been hearing in recent years, they get pretty generous expenses as well. Pots calling kettles black. And anyway, as an MEP, I get paid exactly the same as John’s Labour MEP colleagues get paid. Will he be attacking the “million pounds” that Glenis Willmott has been paid? Or perhaps he thinks that only MEPs who’re fully subscribed to European integration should be paid?
Then he had a real go about my recent visit to North Korea, as a member of a parliamentary delegation. (Given the huge problems in North Korea, including starvation and nuclear weapons, and the difficulty of getting any information out, I thought the visit was well worthwhile). “You demanded that the delegation should go, and you went to represent the European parliament” said John. He needs to check his facts. At no point did I demand that the delegation should go — the decision was taken by the parliament’s “Conference of Presidents” (too many Presidents in the EU), and that’s above my pay grade. Nor did I — nor do I ever — “represent the parliament”. I represent the constituents who elected me.
This is a point often missed by people who ask why eurosceptics would want to be in the European parliament. Our job as elected representatives is not to represent Brussels, or the EU, or the parliament. It is to represent the electors in our region. It would be good if John’s Labour MEP colleagues could bear that in mind.
Then we got on to the question of wages and immigration. John was concerned about mass immigration from other EU countries, which he rightly fears is holding down wages for working people, and he said he’d like to see a visa system so that only foreign workers with in-demand skills would be admitted. My reply: “Spot on, John. That’s exactly UKIP policy. It’s a pity it isn’t Labour Party policy”.
As it happens, I’ll be going to Bassetlaw on Oct 6th to speak to the UKIP Branch there. I look forward to visiting Mr. Mann’s constituency.