Thursday, September 14, 2006

UKIP and the EU conspiracy meme

The devil is remonstrating with Richard North over at EU referendum about his skepticism of the UKIP. I have two experiences of the UKIP which lead me to suspect they are not up to much:

The First was meeting the then head of their delegation to the London Assembly. The man started by sharing out swedish hairdressing magazines; where he made his money apparently. He then introduced himself with a bizarre story about some tangle with a car which I neither comprehended nor really wanted to. His speech consisted of him sharing his sad memories of the ERM while performing a bizarre hitching procedure with his trousers which made the audience vaguely uncomfortable.

When, after the speech, I suggested to him that a strong pound policy might not have originated in the European Union, the Gold Standard being one case he might want to think about, he stared at me vaguely dumbstruck before letting me know that it had, in fact, been a very hard time for us all.

The Second was at a meeting of a venerable speaking group in which, thanks to letting the audience know I was a Tory, a member of the UKIP told me that it would be legally proper for me to be hanged as I was a part of a party that did not advocate withdrawing from the EU and was a traitor (he said this with a matter of fact calmness which made it sinister if amusing). However, he was happy to tell me that he was a moderate and, as such, would be happy to offer me the option of exile.

What made this doubly amusing was that the substance of his speech was letting us all know that he'd switched to the UKIP because the Liberal Democrats had, fascistically, refused to select him to fight a parliamentary seat thanks to his views on Europe. Fascists, eh?

I have no confidence that the rest of the UKIP is much better; I know of so many others with similar stories to tell. As such, even if I did feel the need to leave the Tories for a single issue party because I cared that much about Europe I'd probably retreat to hermitry before being able to swallow my intellectual pride and join the UKIP.

I don't know Mr Farage personally but I don't really demand brains from my politicians: I demand that they turn up to discussions, that they attack things that are wrong, support things that are right. They do not need brains (fuck me, surely the bunch of useless cunts in Westminster have proven that adequately): that is what policy advisors are for.

Now, this makes sense for a single issue party. If you have no aspirations to government then all you really do need is an attack dog and attack dogs can be stupid if they have sharp teeth. However, this does not appear to be DK's chosen path for the UKIP:

But wouldn't it be better if UKIP could actually get people to see them as a credible party of government, not a protest vote? This is what I shall be dedicating my thinking to over the next two or three years.

If you're a government policy advisors are not enough. MPs will be offered different, and all entirely plausible, policy advice from different advisors and it is up to their intelligence and judgement, and particularly that of their leadership, to choose between these options. While there are some in the current government who do not give the impression of having had an identifiable thought in many years even I can, as an occasionally fierce critic of the government, see plenty of intelligent people in the Labour party. Britain isn't nearly resilient enough to survive a true government of idiots.

The question I have to answer is why, if the UKIP as a party is so moronic, it attracts some supporters, such as DK, who are clearly not. I think this is caused by the same thing that makes the UK's blogosphere somewhat stunted by comparison with the US; the EU conspiracy meme. This meme runs as follows:

'The EU is awful; unremittingly sordid, venal, sinister and dreadful. Most of the public agree with us (cite some public opinion poll which highlights public dissaproval of Europe). However, no one appears to care (same opinion poll has Europe towards the bottom of voter priorities). The media rarely gives prominence to stories of European folly. Therefore, voter apathy about Europe must be fuelled by a media which wants us to stay in Europe and avoids stories which reflect negatively on the European project.'

Some see blogging as the solution to this; bypassing the traditional media to get their message directly to the public. There are at least a dozen, some extremely good, blogs dedicated exclusively to cataloguing what is going wrong in Europe. Others aren't sharp enough to see this option and their rage drives them to become UKIP activists.

However, the truth is that, most likely, neither will find an effective means of tackling public apathy about Europe because it is not born out of ignorance. Rather, it is rational and, like most rational public perceptions, mistakes in either direction average each other out to produce that rational result.

Enthusiasm for expanding our commitment to Europe, in the Liberal Democrat mould, is clearly misguided. Those who signed up to the Euro are now regretting it as it does its part in making a mess of the German economy among others. European regulation on working time does not have public support and is economically stifling as well as plain illiberal. Equally, much of European regulation now is flawed and Britain should be pushing for a rethink where this is the case.

However, the EU is also really not going to come for you in the night. It does involve a sacrifice in sovereignty but so do all international treaty obligations, NATO, the UN etc. Unless you wish to go the Switzerland route this is a difference of degree not principle. Given that it does increase, while far from the perfect free trade animal, free trade within the important market of Europe and leaving would cause a severe institutional disruption there seems no driving need to leave immediately.

Britain has played a diplomatic blinder in Europe. Neither side of the debate on Europe in Britain appears to have absorbed this but most of the Continentals know. While the French were shifting their priorities from maintaining their voting equality with Germany, to building up common foreign policy and defending agricultural subsidies we were focussed, even despite changes in government, on pushing EU expansion. EU expansion has probably killed the dream of ever closer union which was feasible between Germany, France, Belgium and the like but cannot function from Budapest, or further, to London.

It is possible I'm wrong. It is possible that the EU will surprise me with the tenacity of its federalist drive but at the moment the integrationists just sound comical. There seems no particular imperative to deal with the possibility of a superstate sooner rather than later.

Whether or not I am right my view of events is, at least, plausible. It is important to recognise that apathy about something important does not always imply ignorance or conspiracy.

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