Several things have cheered me considerably over the past year, partly because - for once - I'm in there with the majority.
- They didn't lob missiles at Syria.
- They're negotiating with Iran.
Those two changes of tactics have reinforced my belief that - in some cases at least - public opinion can make a difference. Oh, and the prospect of selling huge amounts of things to Iran helps as well.
And I believe my view on the fiasco that's Ukraine may be shared by at least one or two others. (That somewhere in the EU Parliament, almost certainly within Baroness Ashton's fiefdom, there's a bunch of naive individuals who played with fire without legal authority and certainly without our consent, to interfere in their domestic politics by supporting the dissidents - and that's lead us to a saga that's likely to play for several years at our expense... and we'll lose).
In May 2012 I wrote a piece that highlighted the willingness of the EU to manipulate the electoral outcome of member states. No it wasn't about imposing their chosen flunkies on Greece or Italy; rather their preference for a socialist government in France (1). Had it been Mr. Strauss-Kahn I suspect things might have been different, but he was waylaid in a neat honey pot trap in NYC. I also mentioned that Ms. Le Pen's party had scored 18% of the national vote in the first round.
That was impressive in 2012 and the National Front, despite last minute - and quite desperate - measures by the established parties (mainly involving the Greens) to block them, achieved remarkable things at a local level in March 2014 (2). What's more encouraging is the National Front looks set to achieve even greater things in the forthcoming EU elections.
Ms. Le Pen met with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands in November 2013 and included in their joint statements was "working together, we want to repatriate the ability to decide ourselves how we control our borders, how we control our money and our economy". That's a tall order that goes against a lot of things the EU holds dear. However the article goes on to state:
"In order to form a far-right anti-European bloc, Wilders and Le Pen would have to find like-minded politicians in at least a quarter of the EU's 28 member states and see 25 members elected to the 766 seat European Parliament (3)."
That may have seemed unachievable to a French reporter just six months ago. After all the FN only has 3 MEPs at the moment as did the Dutch Freedom party, until Wilder's chant of "fewer Moroccans". One of his number quit in protest, however his party is still polling a strong second place, almost in spite of Wilders.
During a recent interview, Ms Le Pen made it quite clear that she's going for broke at the EU elections (4). Even is she gets close to her target of 20 MEPs, she still has her work cut out for her if she's to organize a credible block within the EU. So it'll be case of trying to pull together some fairly divergent parties that only have the reform of the EU, or their countries withdrawal from the EU - or Euro, as their prime objective.
I like the Italian Five Star movement because they don't like politicians. I love the irony of it all, yet they seem to be able to command 25% of the Italian vote. It's unlikely they'll join Ms. Pen's block; I suspect they'll continue to represent their voters in their usual style, which is to block or abstain from anything they don't like. It works rather well in Italy where they helped unseat one Prime Minister and are making life quite difficult for his successor (5).
I don't much like the Golden Dawn party of Greece, because there are some genuine refugees out there. However some Greek people feel they've been suckered into a financial black hole through political incompetence and endemic corruption. To them Golden Dawn offers an alternative to the political dynasties that caused this and have plagued Greek politics for decades. That said, Ms. Le Pen refuses to contemplate working with Golden Dawn.
Jobbik has done rather well in recent elections in Hungary. They increased their share of the vote from 16.7% in 2010 to 20.5% in 2014 and certainly look well positioned to send several MEPs to Brussels. They were seen as anti-immigrant, anti-Roma and were none too fond of gays, however with a few minor tweaks they've re-invented themselves as a trendy rebellious party and picked up many more young voters. They're going to do very well at the EU elections, with some forecasting that they'll take 25% of the votes. They most likely will side with Ms. Le Pen, if invited.
There's no doubting the fact that an awful lot of Europeans are sick to the teeth with the old guard and seek radical change. With youth unemployment running at stratospheric levels in several EU countries it's little wonder that their young voters are taking a great deal of interest in these elections. They have no direct experience of European wars and, as that was the prime justification for setting up the EU, they question the validity of decisions made by a generation that screwed up massively in so many ways. As one reporter stated, what we're seeing with the emergence of right wing, xenophobic parties is only a beginning. It will grow with time.
Looking at it from the point of view of a 25 year old unemployed in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland or Spain. They've experienced nothing but economic contraction for the past seven years and they see this lot of decision makers piling up debt they know will be passed on to them, their children and their grandchildren. It's a farce, it's not sustainable and if the said 25 year old ever gets a job, all the decisions about marriage, kids, mortgage and so on will be handicapped still further by draconian taxes, the threat of a Cyprus style bail-in, and it'll only get worse once interest rates rise.
To them the old cliché of their forefathers passing on a better world is just so much bull. They know perfectly well that during the past seven years of recession and stagnation in Europe, the economies of Asia, Africa and South America have grown at a steady clip. It's telling that the unemployed from Portugal have been flocking to Mozambique and Brazil, where they have the advantage of a common language (6). For the Irish, Greeks and Cypriots it seems Australia is the chief beneficiary of an almost unprecedented brain drain that in turn leaves Europe devoid of swathes of the most determined, qualified and skilled people. Once gone they ain't coming back.
Another aspect that I factor in is the way these youngsters were taught at school and by parents to be considerate, tolerant and accommodating to other people. Yet many, especially those who smoke, now have first hand in-your-face experience that says it was a sham. Like the Tooth Fairy and Santa, it was nothing more than a mind-game played on them. This war on smokers has done more than just kick cherished family members outdoors, it's also destroyed many seasonal and part time jobs that were ideal for young workers. The political and medical elite who visited this upon them don't appear to notice these things, nor do they care. Unemployed youths do and yes they care - very much indeed.
And it's not just in France, nor Italy (both founding members of the EU), where disillusion with the status quo is bubbling through. Even in Germany, probably the greatest beneficiary of this turmoil, there's increasing disquiet about the sustainability of the EU in its present form. Their answer is the Alternative For Germany (AFD) party. They scored an impressive (for a party that was founded a few months prior to their General Election in 2013) 4.7% of the vote in those elections and are gaining ground in the polls for the EU elections. I like their take on things, which is to ditch the Euro, because they believe it's failed, and to streamline Brussels, even if that means sacking at least half of the people working there! Pundits think they'll get at least one seat. I feel that may turn out to be rather pessimistic. Two sounds about right.
I suspect the AFD suffered the same fate as UKIP prior to 2014 of a wall of silence by the mainstream press. Seems their supporters did much the same as UKIP's by using the web as well as social media and in so doing have created a very active youth wing. In fact they're so controversial as to cause quite a stir with their anti-feminist Facebook campaign, started by young women who don't agree with recent legislation that forces large companies to fill 30 per cent of non-executive board seats with female candidates from 2016. They firmly believe in meritocracy - something I agree with wholeheartedly (7). Recent press publicity has helped AFD's cause and I believe the feeling of being forced to cough up funds to bail out failed states rankles many in Germany. There's mileage in the message, it's just a case of getting it out to a wider audience.
Looking at the Eurosceptic parties listed in Wikipedia (8), I'm confident Ms. Pen will be able to form a very credible block that'll have many more than the required 25 MEPs from 7 states. Indeed Left Foot Forward points out it could be as high as 30% of all seats (9). And that means an awful lot of the 766 MEPs currently caught up in their own self importance in Brussels will have to bog off, which shouldn't present a problem for most of them, having milked the system for years and entitled to a handsome pension. But I don't expect them to give up without a fight.
The most blatant example of trying to present a positive image of the EU was the much publicized "return to the market" by Greece, when they managed to borrow funds at 5% (I smell the stench of coercion with that one). Around the 22 April it'll turn nasty, so lots of inflammatory accusations about supporters of "right wing, anti-immigrant parties", mutterings about wanting to "turn back the clock", the cost of the EU experiment failing, paid trolls prowling anti-EU media and blog comments and so on. Same, same, just different languages, building to a crescendo a couple of days before the elections. And finally, the most desperate tactic of all; blanket media coverage that the new kids on the block will cake-walk x percent - all designed to lull their supporters to stay at home.
Knowing this I always turn the tables by responding to polls, surveys and the like with a statement that I'll support one of the mainstream parties. Yup, two can play that game.
Voter turnout at EU elections is pathetic, averaging 43% in 2009 for the then 25 nation block. Britain managed a dreary 34.7% in 2009, putting us 6th from the bottom (10). At no point have these elections stimulated more than 38.5% of eligible British voters to get out and vote. That's something the EU and the mainstream parties rely on. For all their talk, they love voter apathy... and they love socialist parties.
I can understand why some British people can't be bothered with the EU elections. They rarely get much publicity and the mainstream parties know that under PR they'll always get a bunch of seats so, until this year, they've only made half-hearted attempts to persuade folks to vote for them. Voter apathy is wonderful so long as you can get past the 5% threshold, then the d'Hondt system kicks in and that means they're very likely to pick up more votes, essentially from the parties that didn't make the minimum threshold (11).
It may seem that the system is rigged in favour of the big boys, however UKIP has long been one of the parties we've chosen to represent us in Europe and then the boot's on the other foot, as it was with the BNP and the Greens in 2009 (12).
Having won a very qualified ruling that allows UKIP equal broadcast status as mainstream parties (but only for EU elections (13)), Mr. Farrage has used this opportunity to his advantage. He wiped the floor with Mr. Clegg in recent radio and television debates. Some may question why the Deputy Prime Minister should engage in this exercise, however when seen from the Westminster bubble it makes sense: he's almost certainly the very best they've got to stand up and defend our membership of the EU!
The message I take from this is every single vote counts and if I want to make a difference, even if it's just to screw the mainstream parties, then I'll have to get off my butt on Thursday 22 May 2014 and vote for whichever party best represents my views (14). As someone who smokes I'm mainly concerned with their position on amending the smoking ban to allow separate smoking rooms along the lines of the Netherlands (15) and Belgium. I say this because they're the only outlets tolerated by the FCTC treaty, (though they're welcome to tear up the treaty as soon as convenient).
I realize this will have no direct impact on domestic policy however, as Redhead pointed out, many of the anti-smoking initiatives emanate from the EU, including vaping (16). So I'd much prefer to see representatives in Brussels, whether from Britain or anywhere else in the EU, with a healthy scepticism of that establishment and the methods they employ.
Hopefully one or two others may they think along similar lines as myself. If so these parties have all stated the smoking ban is not a dead issue and they will do something about it. To the best of my knowledge only the first three intend fielding candidates in Scotland. UKIP (17), the BNP (18), Britain First **, Liberty gb (20) and The English Democrats (21).
Brussels may think their greatest enemies are Vlad Putin and the Fundamentalists. They're oh so wrong. Their greatest enemy is embedded within - and they're better informed, far more intelligent, increasingly cohesive and remarkably discriminating. They know a con from a thousand yards and they've had it with being forced into performing unnatural acts by people who are essentially myopic, lying, self-serving morons. This is not a UK only phenomenon, it's worldwide. And, like the morons they are, their only saving grace is they have absolutely no idea of the depth of feeling, the sheer loathing and utter contempt felt for them by those they claim to represent.
Abstaining from voting is a form of capitulation; it's what's allowed this to go on for way past dangerous. Every vote for any of the five above mentioned parties is a vote denied to the smoker-hostile mainstream parties - and that includes the SNP. I don't expect to be in with the majority on this one. However I'll be only too pleased to be with a growing minority on one more thing, that 2014 will mark the beginning of the end of the EU in its present form.
Britain First has seen several changes of key personnel in recent months, so I called them on 29 October 2014 to re-confirm their position on the smoking ban. This time I was told:
"Smoking? We have no position on the smoking ban, we've got bigger fish to fry."
Quite a change of attitude in just over six months.
Britain First is contesting the Rochester and Strood by-election on the 20th November 2014, so best leave them to the misocapnists, anti-smoking zealots and tobacco control employees. They certainly have nothing to offer anyone who wants to see the smoking ban amended.
1st November 2014