UKIP is often described by commentators as a party of inarticulate and angry protest for those ignored by the political establishment, who will come to their senses at the next general election. When I compared UKIP’s local government results with pages 11 and 12 of the slides which accomanied Lord Ashcroft’s analysis of their performance in the local government elections last week I realised that this interpretation is both right and wrong.
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The towns where they are most likely to get their first MPs include those hit hardest by the Common Market Fisheries policy: Grimsby, Yarmouth, Lowestoft. It is no accident that UKIP has a clearer and more articulate policy on fisheries than the mainstream parties. Fishermen are also more techno-savvy than most land-lubbers, having used a wide variety of local and global on-line communications technologies (alias radio), from Morse to Inmarsat, for over a century – to hunt, catch and land those fish for which there is currently a good price. They have also seen their industry destroyed by collusion between Westminster and Brussels.
But that is not what is most likely to drive UKIPs technology policy. The UKIP demographic (C1, C2 and D, including most small businessmen and self employed) is also the Sky Demographic – which BT has just invaded in an attempt to get sports content traffic to drive th e take-up of BT Infinity, where it is available. It is no coincidence that UKIP also tends to be strong in areas where BT Infinity is not available and crapband (both urban and inner city) has a tendency to freeze and collapse when popular events are at their most exciting.
Shortly after Tim Aker (formerly with the Taxpayers Alliance) became Head of Policy and Patrick O’Flynn (chief political commentator of the Daily Express) became Head of Communications, a cogent article on the use of alternative broadband technologies to support rural lifestyles was repeated in UKIP Daily . Meanwhile, on the other side of London, Diane James, is a veteran of the Ewhurst broadband saga and her colleague, Ray Finch, worked for one of the Cable TV companies for 20 years, supposedly entering politics because his wife wanted him to bore others with his enthusiasm.
But it is not just the predatory behaviour of BT that has angered those who just elected to the European Parliament. For example, Janice Atkinson is “involved in a business called www.gotradelive.com which is similar to Amazon and eBay, but has a reverse auction and cataloguing facility and is free. Unlike Amazon and eBay, we pay our UK taxes, employ UK nationals and campaign against corporatism and to return to good old-fashioned capitalism.”
Will UKIP become the home for the competitors to Amazon, eBay, Google and also to those who do not believe that our personal information is their oil – to do with as they wish? If so, my recent blog on what happens when young Turks become old gobblers is apposite. UKIP has a big constituency of consumer anger and frustration with the patronising attitudes of Big Data enthusiasts and Internet industry lobbyists on which it could draw.
When it comes to regulatory issues the UKIP team is likely to also include Margot Parker (one-time head of the European Promotional Products Association), Steven Woolfe (a former general counsel for hedge funds and more recently legal and regulatory consultant to Financial Institutions) and Amjad Bashir, their small firms spokesman. We might therefore make a reasonable guess that UKIP MEPs are likely to favour genuinely open and competitive, but probably unsubsidised, broadband for business plus rigorous action against predatory behaviour by dominant players in on-line markets.
How that support will be expressed and turned into action is, however, less clear.
The Personal Declaration by Gerard Batten, likely to once again be their chief whip, is that he will not vote in favour of any legislation that does not undermine the European Union or facilitate UK withdrawal – because that would be to admit the legitimacy of the European Parliament.
He says that he will therefore abstain, rather than support that which is in Britain’s interests.
It should, however, be noted that Gerard was a salesman for BT for 28 years and protecting incumbents (old or new) from change is not what the rest of UKIP appears to be about.
What happens when UKIP and its new anti-statist, anti-corporatist, pro-capitalist and pro-choice allies across the rest of the EU meet will therefore be interesting.
Will they join forces against the massed ranks of the Brussels Lobbyists and bring a chilling whiff of democracy into the hot house?
Or will they allow themselves to be picked off, venting their spleen but achieving nothing, not even UK withdrawal, because only the Conservatives have promised a referendum on membership?
At this point I should declare my own position – I would much prefer to see reform to withdrawal – but if the current introverted, protectionist, bureaucratic, kleptocracy cannot be adequately reformed I will vote, however reluctantly, for “Brexit“. Having spent over thirty years trying to help bring about reform I will be very sad if I have to admit that UKIP was right. In the mean time I would love to see co-operation in Brussels, if not necessarily in the UK, to bring about change – because the EU in its current form does not deserve to survive. &nb sp;
I look forward to blogging again on this topic during the run up to the party conference season.
P.S. I have received a comment from “geo-investigator” (loath to go through the hassle of registering in order to comment himself) as follows:
“With regard to your penultimate sentence in the blog article, it may be of interest that the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has said she will launch a (non-binding) investigation into the composition and transparency of the European Commission’s many expert groups that advise on policy and legislation. O’Reilly has stated that “it is of utmost importance for these groups to be balanced and to work as transparently as possible so that the public can trust and scrutinise their work.” For example, it seems that ~80% of the expert groups linked to the commission’s tax department, DG taxation and customs union, represent corporate interest, while 62% of members of groups tied to DG enterprise were from the business community. There are apparently no common rules on the selection of experts, and no means for the EU’s other institutions to scrutinise the work of the groups.
The investigation could provide an impetus to the new intake of MEPs to ensure that transparency, wide-ranging consultation and accountability are written in to the selection process of experts, so that the public interest is not subordinated to corporate interests when key decisions on policy and legislation are made. But the question has to be asked – why is this not the case now?
Experts differ, and can be selected to line up on one side of an issue against another, perhaps to be decided by an ‘independent’ arbitrator. The problem may link uncomfortably to the secret negotiations taking place around TTIP and the fact that many see this as a major threat to democracy, not least because of the proposal to subject ISDS cases to secretive offshore arbitration panels that bypass domestic courts and override the will of parliaments. The ability of companies to sue nation states, under a specially-created parallel legal system, is completely new for any trade agreement between states that have well-developed legal systems.”
Geo-investigator is very well informed on the topics that he covers and last night I attended a briefing organised by the European Movement and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on the “meaning” of what is happening (and why). It emerged that opposition to TTIP may be one of the few items on which the UKIP. the Front Nationale and the other “protest” parties (of left and right) are likely to find common cause, other than on the ending of untramelled “freedom of movement.
His comments on the need to reform the selection of “experts” are also interesting. Their pay and status, compared to their earning potential if they are genuinely expert, is one problem. The routines for appointment are another.