The final efflorescence of the Lib-Dems?

Sir Graham Watson (Centre) and Edward McMillan Scott (right) with Andreas Bummel (left)

Sir Graham Watson (Centre) and Edward McMillan Scott (right) with Andreas Bummel (left)

Is it worth devoting a whole blog post to the Lib-Dems? Well maybe once in a while.

On Friday (Oct 11th) I was on Andrew Neil’s Europe Politics Show  alongside Edward McMillan-Scott. Edward was, of course, the Leader of the Conservative MEP delegation when I was first elected, and our exchanges in the first five minutes of that first delegation meeting in Brussels in 1999 established the battle lines of the wets-versus-sceptics tussle in the Tory delegation which lasted (for me) until I joined UKIP in march 2012. Andrew Neil took great delight in introducing us as “two former Tory MEPs, one now with the Lib-Dems, one with UKIP”.

Edward is a pretty affable fellow on a personal basis. I often see him on flights into Birmingham. But he couldn’t resist slipping on a sly dig by referring to UKIP as “an extremist party”.

Hang on a minute, Edward. Just which of our policies is “extremist”? Leaving the EU? But some polls show that a majority of our voters agree. Controlling immigration? The public agrees overwhelmingly — it’s a huge issue on the doorstep. Ensuring that bright kids from any background, especially disadvantaged backgrounds, can have access to a grammar school? There’s widespread agreement on that, too. Cutting energy prices by scrapping green levies? I think you’ll find that’s pretty popular. Scrapping HS2? Popular too.

Face it, Edward. Like Labour and Conservative, UKIP is now main-stream. But unlike Labour or Conservative (or Lib-Dem), UKIP is also common-sense, and in touch with public opinion. There are three major parties in the UK today, and your party is not one of them.

I was amused to see an article recently by McMillan-Scott’s colleague Sir Graham Watson (I’ll drop the “Sir” from here on, to spare his Republican blushes). In it, he discusses university research funding, and makes the strange claim that in this area, Britain gets £1.40 back from Brussels for every £1 we put in. “You wouldn’t see this in the Daily Mail”, he crows. (He also argues that Bristol University would “lose £10 million of funding” if we left the EU, oblivious to the fact that if we spent less money on Brussels bureaucrats — and MEPs — we’d have more for Bristol University).

Back in 2001, I did a fairly extensive study of the money we get back from the EU, and published it in my book “Straight Talking”. I concluded that each pound we get back costs the British economy around £2.50, in budget contributions and administrative costs. Since then, with more EU finds diverted to poorer new member-states in Eastern Europe, and with Tony Blair giving away a hefty chunk of the Thatcher rebate, the figure must be far worse — perhaps four or five pounds.

Now we know what university funding we get out of Brussels. But our budget contributions into Brussels are not pre-allocated or hypothecated, so there is no way in which we can say how much we paid in for this particular purpose. Therefore Watson’s statistic cannot be based on any meaningful analysis (and even if it were, it would be completely outweighed by the overall figures).

But what brought me up short was a paragraph towards the end of his piece: “But Roger Helmer MEP, UKIP’s representative on the committee, didn’t even bother to turn up for the vote (in Committee) last week. As a democratically elected representative you would think he would be there voting every thing down – doing his bit for his voters – but apparently not”.
Now as Mr. Watson knows perfectly well, at any committee meeting there will be empty seats for MEPs who could have been there but were absent. And for any given MEP, there will be times when he (or she) is there, and other times not. MEPs have many calls on their time, and voting in committee is not always top priority. So if I had nothing better to do, I could easily go through Mr. Watson’s records and find occasions when he “didn’t even bother to turn up”. His comment is therefore simply pointless and silly — although entirely appropriate for a Lib-Dem. In fact on the day concerned, I had two speaking engagements at The Freedom Association’s TFZ mega-fringe event in Manchester alongside the Tory Party Conference, which on the whole I considered more important.

What I find a bit of a mystery is why he chose to single me out for the comment. I can understand why Lib-Dems would want to attack UKIP ahead of the Euro-elections next May — but they’ll have to do better than this. And why me? And why this trivial, half-arsed attack line? Who can tell?

Of course plenary votes are much more important than committee votes, and I did take the trouble to compare our participation rates in plenary votes. My most recent figure is 87.57%, his is 88.36%, both well above the average for UK (and all) MEPs.

The fact is that the Lib-Dems are on the wrong side of most of the major issues that concern voters. Their latest initiative to oppose proposals to moderate green taxes and levies so as to mitigate energy price rises suggests an electoral death-wish. They may be enjoying a final efflorescence as junior coalition partners, but the public are not impressed. They’re on a hiding to nothing next May. Annihilation looms.

P.S. I’m afraid Andrea Bummel only got into the picture above because this was the only photo I could find of Watson and McMillan-Scott together. I was amused to see that on his web-site, Bummel is described as “an international advocate of a global parliament and world federalism”. So apt for Lib-Dems.

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3 Responses to The final efflorescence of the Lib-Dems?

  1. Mike Stallard says:

    Well written!

    What with the Libdems under Mr Clegg, UKIP, the unjust boundaries and postal voting, and now John Major against the Conservatives, I think we can be pretty sure of a Labour victory in 2015.

  2. So true Roger. I have a sophisticated workbook that attempt to predict (based on best evidence from real elections and polls) the order in which seats would fall to UKIP, based on increasing swings to us. Before we even start to take votes from the Lib Dems, my prediction engine shows them with ZERO seats from the desertion of their voters in 2010/11. Perhaps they will retain a few staunch pockets in Northern Scotland and Devon, but other than that they are dead in the water.

    The main battleground in 2015 will be a three-cornered fight: UKIP-Tory-Labour. How many Tory votes can Labour steal (precious few I suggest) and how many Labour votes can we grab, on top of all the Tories we have bagged already, plus some more. And then there is our “secret weapon” the non-voters who are now minded to vote for us, waking up to what is going on around them and not liking it.

  3. Neil Craig says:

    As a former LibDem (expelled on the charge that my belief in economic liberalism and the need for nuclear is “illiberal and incompatible with party membership”) I am naturally going to agree that the party’s decline is entirely because they have given up everything that the founders of liberalism would have understood by the word. Original liberalism – economic freedom, individual freedom/liberty, national freedom and I suggest the scientific method – is not only sweeping the world but bringing wealth to much of it.

    In many ways UKIP is the reinvention of gladstonian Liberalism because the anti-liberalism of the “Liberals” has left a void in our political culture.

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