I have a high regard for John Redwood, who I believe is one of the most decent men in politics. In fact he wrote the preface to my most recent book “Sceptic at Large”, and I was most grateful for that.
But here we are with an election looming, so it’s all hands to the pump, and criticising other parties becomes de rigeur. John has joined in, but as you might expect of such a man, in a measured and indeed rather academic way. He asks a series of questions. Asking such questions is a time-honoured tradition, but it does carry the risk that someone will answer them. Here goes.
1. Would it continue to be UKIP party policy not to try to amend or block much EU legislation, leaving the detailed work of the Parliament to others? It would not continue to be our policy, because it never was our policy. We do rather take the view that there’s quite enough EU legislation and we don’t want to create any more, but we do also work very hard, in committee and in plenary, to “amend and block” EU legislation, and to limit the damage for our constituents and our country so far as we can. And I may say, having experienced both the Tory Party and UKIP, that UKIP MEPs get rather better pre-vote briefings than the Tories.
2. Should people wanting an MEP to represent their view in Brussels look to MEPs of the other parties, given UKIP’s view on the irrelevance and undemocratic nature of the EU? Given that we’re elected by voters who generally share that view, I should think they’re getting exactly what they voted for. The many thousands – sometimes millions – who watch Nigel Farage’s speeches on YouTube clearly feel he’s doing rather a good job of representing their views.
3. Would UKIP MEPs continue to draw salaries and allowances whilst not wishing to be participating Parliamentarians in a full sense? What will the support money to spent on? The labourer is worthy of his hire, and UKIP MEPs largely do participate in the full sense. They just have different objectives from the €uro-luvvie cannon-fodder that constitutes the majority of MEPs, but they pursue those objectives with equal (or greater) vigour. In my own case I have a plenary voting rate close to 90%, in the top quartile. But I respect the views of colleagues who place more emphasis on political work in their home regions. In a smaller party, there is relatively greater pressure on the party leader and deputy leader to do a range of other additional tasks which reduces their voting participation rate. This is exactly what you find with the leaders of the old parties, whose voting participation rates in Westminster in the current parliament are 36% (Miliband); 23% (Clegg) and 17.4% (Cameron). Pots and kettles, John, pots and kettles. UKIP MEPs spend their support money in similar ways to most MEPs – on staff, and on communication with their voters and constituency.
4. How would the presence of UKIP MEPs speed the UK’s exit from the EU ? What have the current UKIP MEPs done to speed our exit? Well we forced Cameron into another Referendum promise. We have the Tory Party running scared on Europe. We will probably force Labour to make a referendum commitment too. We have led and driven and rallied support for British Independence, and made it a main-stream concern. And we have struck a blow for democracy by offering voters, at last, a genuine choice. We are the only significant party that takes a clear and unequivocal position on the EU – and on a range of other issues. So Redwood may be right that a wedge of UKIP MEPs after May can’t directly take the UK out of the EU. But we’ll be able to put enormous pressure on the British political establishment to end Brussels hegemony.
5. How will UKIP MEPs be whipped to ensure the elected party sticks together and delivers in relation to its manifesto? Redwood is right (sadly) to point out that in the 2009/14 parliament, a number of UKIP MEPs have fallen by the wayside. In 2009 we were fairly astonished by our success, and a number of candidates got in that had not necessarily been expected to succeed. In 2014, by contrast, we have had a much more rigorous and open selection process. I can’t promise that every one of our candidates will be perfect (any more than Redwood can of Tory candidates), but I can say we’ve got an impressive bunch, and I hope to see rather a lot of them in the parliament in July. As for whipping, one of the great strengths of our party is that we try to get good people elected who will vote in the interests of their constituents, and we tend to run on light or advisory whips. But because we share common objectives, we tend to vote together
John adds that “some UKIP supporters see the euro-elections as some kind of referendum on the EU”. Yes we do, John, and I’m one of them. There are three old parties that all promised EU referendums but failed to deliver; that are all committed, with more or less enthusiasm, to staying in the EU. It is no use John’s saying ” It makes more sense to recognise the Euroscepticism of the Conservatives, and to accept that it will take Conservative votes in the Commons to sort this problem out”. I believed that once, but I finally realised I was wrong. Cameron has said he’ll “fight tooth and nail” in any referendum to stay in the EU. He’s determined not to be the Prime Minister who takes Britain out of the EU. No one who is serious about British Independence can vote Conservative ever again.
I concede that there are some genuine eurosceptics in the Tory party. Carswell, Hannan, Philip Davies, Redwood himself. But they’re a small and beleaguered bunch. I would hesitate to give them advice, but at least I can draw attention to my example. I chose to move from a party where my position on Europe (and, indeed, on energy) was anathema, to a party where my views were mainstream (and where on Day One I was invited to become the Party’s Energy Spokesman). And genuine eurosceptics are always welcome in UKIP.