Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Why John Redwood is wrong

UKIP does not help Euroscepticism John Redwood argues on his blog, claiming that UKIP are part of the problem not the solution regarding the EU question.

Now I don’t doubt for one minute Mr Redwood’s personal eurosceptic views and indeed I have a collection of his publications, but I wonder if this is a case of doth protest too much.

Let’s not forget that he’s a Conservative politician so it is obviously in his interest to try to negate a potential threat to his party’s vote share.

Mr Redwood does seem to be adopting a rather similar attitude to Labour - point out that something doesn't matter thus inadvertently revealing that it does. Labour, of course, claimed to be so unconcerned about The Sun newspaper switching party allegiances - during their conference - that they took to ripping up a copy of the paper on stage in frustration.

According to John, UKIP are part of the problem because voting for them is based on two falsehoods. So let’s look at those two in more detail. The first:

is that a vote for UKIP will take the UK out of the EU. It never has, and on current polls is miles away from doing so. To make that a honest proposition UKIP would need to be polling 40-45%. It is currently polling 3%. Far from strengthening the eurosceptic cause, this specialist Eurosceptic party claims an embarrassingly small portion of the vote allowing federalists to say it proves people are not very worried about the issue.

It is true that UKIP are ‘miles away’ from attaining the lead required to form a government (although UKIP is currently polling 6% not 3%) but that is almost impossible for a mainly single issue party which receives relatively very little publicity in contrast to the three main established ones.

It’s worth noting, however, that UKIP are a relatively new party (formed in 1993) and has established itself in a very short time as the major fourth party often breaking electoral records. It achieved the highest vote ever by a fourth party in a UK election in the EU election of 2004 and surpassed this in 2009, coming second - this is not to be dismissed lightly.

It's intriguing that Redwood should without much resistance succumb to, and acknowledge, the traditional attack line of not many vote for UKIP so it means people are not very worried, rather than point out that there are other issues that don't register strongly either, but are given much more prominence.

Take this list of concerns from, crime and the economy naturally feature near the top but climate change is not even listed as a subject on its own. It would probably come under the 'catch-all' phrase of pollution / environment and yet that still only comes tenth. The Green Party, another largely single issue party regularly polls less than UKIP.

Despite this, all the main parties' try to out do each other on how green they are; green taxes, regular 'urgent' climate change conferences such as Copenhagen next month, and the Tories have even changed their party logo to reflect these new green 'concerns'. It seems that the embarrassing small portion of the vote principle doesn't apply here, why can't Mr Redwood acknowledge this, why doesn't he put up more of a fight?

Conversely immigration comes third in the list of voter's concerns but this is an issue that the parties have tried, until recently, to studiously ignore.

Mr Redwood continues:

By showing how little support its cause has it fails to bully the Conservative leadership,

But that's no reason not to keep trying, bullying of major parties works. That is essentially what the BNP have done with Labour over immigration. For many years Labour’s strategy has been to dismiss as racist anyone who is concerned about levels of immigration into the UK.

As a regular viewer of Question Time, what was significant to me regarding the Nick Griffin episode, apart from his appearance and the inevitable reaction, was that it was the first time I had heard the issue of immigration discussed at all, let alone in the measured way that it was. It was only the threat of a minor (odious) party that forced politicians to discuss the issue.

I'm not suggesting that UKIP adopts the BNP's more repulsive views but UKIP polls much better and so, despite Mr Redwood's rather dismissive attitude, attacking the Tories voting share will work in the long term, and they will not be dismissed so readily come the general election in six years time when the Tories have yet again failed to deliver on the European Union issue.

And that leads me onto Mr Redwood's second point:

There is a democratic Eurosceptic opposition to the Labour and Liberal Democrat federalists in the Commons. It is not UKIP.

It's true that UKIP do not have a Commons seat yet (with one dubious exception Bob Spink) but Mr Redwood's claim that the Tories are a Eurosceptic party is, of course, utter bollocks when considering the principle of judging a man by his deeds and not his words. By this criteria the Tories fail every time.

The Tories have given more power away to Europe than any other party, via the ECA, the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty - a treaty which, in my view, was more of a power grab and betrayal than the Constitution Lisbon Treaty.

To illustrate how non-eurosceptic the Tories are, 'cast-iron' Dave on the Andrew Marr show recently said:

I don’t want an ‘in or out’ referendum because I don’t think ‘out’ is in Britain’s interests.”

And William Hague, Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary said:

There will be no instant bust up with Europe

This is confirmation that the Tories know the voters have reservations about Britain's relationship with the EU, but will carry on regardless. Business as usual in other words.

The inevitable problem comes for the Tories, however, when the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty begins to bite, and bite hard, then their policy of 'please trust us' will fall apart.

Overall, it's hard not to conclude that Mr Redwood is more interested in preserving the Tory Party from UKIP, rather than the UK from the European Union.

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