I noticed on Twitter recently that UKIP MEPs had been accused of “voting against equal pay for women”. Of course we did no such thing. We voted against Brussels’ interference in UK labour markets.
Equal pay is a highly emotive issue, especially with the feminist lobby, so let’s talk about something (very slightly) less emotive. Like Motherhood and Apple Pie. Let me say it up front: UKIP is in favour of Motherhood and Apple Pie. Absolutely. If it hadn’t been for my Mother (God rest her soul) I shouldn’t be here today. And without apple pie, the world would be a sadder place, whether you like it with custard (Sauce Anglaise over here – I write in Strasbourg), or cream, or ice cream, or even Greek-style yoghurt.
But now imagine a European Directive on Motherhood and Apple Pie. It might do a number of things, like regulating the size of the pie, and restricting the ingredients (less sugar, less salt, less fat). Maybe it would endorse traditional Bramley apples and exclude other varieties (the EU is very good at outlawing rare varieties – or making them unaffordable and uncommercial). (I dread to think what it might do to Motherhood). Or providing EU funds at the tax-payers’ expense to promote Motherhood. Or Apple Pie. Or both.
So while we are passionately in favour of both Motherhood and Apple Pie, we would vote against any such directive, because we would say that it was unnecessary, and that rules on Apple Pie should be made at the national level (or better still, not made at all). Nevertheless, we get the knee-jerk reaction that “UKIP voted against Motherhood and Apple Pie”. No we didn’t. We voted against Brussels’ regulation of Motherhood and Apple Pie.
So please bear this in mind when you read that UKIP voted against this, or that, or the other. We’re not against clean beaches and pure drinking water and fresh air, but we’re against giving new powers to bureaucrats, and to the proliferation of EU rules. It often happens as well that quite regardless of the EU vs. Member State issue, we find that their method of dealing with (say) Motherhood and Apple Pie is sub-optimal. Or more often, counter-productive. A classic example would be the EU’s Climate & Energy Package. No matter what your view of climate issues, the fact is that the effect of the EU policy is to force up energy prices, to drive energy-intensive businesses out of Europe, taking their jobs and their investment with them, and to leave households and pensioners in fuel poverty. It also arguably increases the very emissions it seeks to curb, through the process known as “carbon leakage”.
So no, guys. We didn’t vote against equal pay for women, and in principle we’re in favour of equal pay for equal work. I would add that having spent over thirty years running businesses (I had a proper job before politics) I think any employer who deliberately undervalues and underpays a section of the workforce will damage his own business. What we voted against was Brussels’ heavy-handed involvement in UK labour market regulation. We have too much of that already.
In conclusion, I had hoped that Cameron’s shopping list for his much-trailed EU renegotiation would at least include the reinstatement of the opt-out on the Social Chapter, plus the Working Time Directive (see the damage it’s doing in the health service) which John Major thought was included in the Maastricht opt-out. (The way Brussels managed to exclude the WTD from the opt-out is an extraordinary lesson in EU subterfuge). But sadly Cameron’s vague, ambiguous and unambitious list of demands had nothing to say about it.