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Sunday 1 March 2015

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It was scarcely believable, writes Booker, that Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw should have been so shameless and so naive. Both were caught out by exactly the same trick that, five years ago, led to Stephen Byers happily admitting to a carefully placed Dispatches briefcase that, when it came to "cash for access", he was "like a cab for hire".

But at least those former ministers were only touting for thousands of pounds a day after they had left their positions of direct power and influence over government policy. What, then, are we to make of those politicians who receive astonishingly lavish rewards from firms engaged in "renewable energy" when they are still in a position to influence government policy, or have only just stepped down from having responsibility for it?

Last week Booker referred to the speed with which Charles Hendry MP switched from being minister of state for energy and climate change to the chairmanship of Forewind Ltd. That is the consortium to which his old ministry has just given the go-ahead to build the world's largest offshore wind farm, which in its first ten years of operation is likely to receive some £9 billion in public subsidies.

Mr Hendry, we see from his declarations of interest, last year earned £48,000 from Forewind, at up to £1,000 an hour; and also earns £60,000 a year from a company called Bombo, which hopes to build an "interconnector" to bring renewable energy to Britain from Iceland.

He, of course, replaced Lord Deben (aka John Gummer), who was persuaded to resign from Forewind when he was appointed chairman of the "independent" Climate Change Committee, on which the Government relies for advice on its energy policy. But he still, for a while, managed to retain his directorship of Veolia, a company which hopes to make a fortune from connecting wind farms to the grid.

Then, of course, there was the controversial case of Tim Yeo MP, who long served as chairman of the also supposedly "independent" select committee on energy and climate change, despite earning £200,000 a year from various renewable and "low carbon" energy firms. These included his directorship of Eurotunnel, which plans a new interconnector to bring French electricity to Britain, specifically to provide back-up for our unreliable wind farms.

Mr Yeo eventually had to step aside as chairman after being allegedly caught on video admitting to having "coached" an employee of a solar energy firm in which he had an interest on how to handle questions from his own committee. But he was cleared by the Commons standards watchdog, and still remains on this hugely influential committee.

These men had no need to become "cabs for hire". They have been able to cruise, all above board, in that strange twilight zone between positions of influence and the greatest public subsidy bonanza Britain has ever seen.

Richard North 01/03/2015 link

Saturday 28 February 2015

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It was actually in 2006 that we were pointing out that Open Europe wasn't a eurosceptic organisation. How could it be with a "mission statement" almost identical in tone to the robustly Europhile organisation Business for New Europe. And by 2012, we were openly calling it the "enemy within", so obvious were its pro-EU sympathies.

That, however, did not stop the media routinely labelling it a "eurosceptic think-tank", and continuing to do so almost to this day. Amongst their number, as you would expect, was Conservative Home, helpfully reinforced by the European Commission which in 2009, according to Mary Ellen Synon, declared Open Europe "a eurosceptic think-tank to the right of the conservatives in the UK".

Reuters routinely called it "a eurosceptic think-tank", the Economist in 2010 backed up the Commission, calling it "a small but assiduous Eurosceptic campaign group", and the Guardian in June 2012 also helped the lie on its way. It told us that: "Britain should stay in EU, says report by Eurosceptic think tank".

A month later, the Financial Times chose a variation on the theme, referring to OE as a "broadly eurosceptic think tank", even though the think tank had "acknowledged recently that EU membership remained the most beneficial arrangement". And, of course, the BBC was to the fore, observed as late as June 2014, referring to the "influential Eurosceptic think tank Open Europe".

Even the supposedly eurosceptic Spectator went along with the myth in November 2012. And predictably, The Times fell into the trap, calling Open Europe a "Eurosceptic think-tank” in October 2013. Sadly, the Telegraph was no better. It used the term "Open Europe, a Eurosceptic think tank" in November last year, as indeed did the Express and the Daily Mail.

But one other media outlet that was giving Open Europe the "eurosceptic" accolade was EurActive. It was keeping up the charade into 2013 but, by December of that year, OE had become "the Euro-critical think tank Open Europe". Then, as of yesterday, it has been fully outed to become "a critical but pro-EU think tank" (see illustration).

This is a major step. After all these years, the truth it out and, as a false flag operation, Open Europe is no more. However, a replacement is already in place, in the form of Business for Britain - or Business for Elliott as one critic calls it, after its founder and major beneficiary, Matthew Elliott. He is the man who started Taxpayers Alliance - ostensibly an independent organisation but in fact a Tory front to broaden the attack on Labour's public expenditure agenda.

Elliott's latest cash cow has stepped into the breach with a "renegotiation" agenda identical in principle to that of OE. And it has already spawned the first of a number of Münzenberg-esq "front organisations", the equivalent of the "Innocents' Clubs", stacked with "useful idiots", used to bolster Soviet Russia.

This "clone" of BfE, Historians for Britain, is to be followed by others, all adopting the same basic pattern, launched on the back of a list of prominent signatories willing to perform the "useful idiot" function to a gullible media. In due course, we can expect the likes of "Nurses for Britain" and even "Roadsweepers for Britain", the aim being to swamp the anti-EU movement with "false flag" operations and to suppress the established "outers".

With the media corporations inherently sympathetic to "renegotiation", and the average journalist apparently unable to tell the difference between a WWII tank and a mid-sixties self-propelled gun, they are hardly going to bother outing these sham anti-EU organisations, any more than they did Open Europe. More likely, they will suck up the highly polished propaganda that Elliott can provide them, as a cheap substitute for real journalism. 

Willi Münzenberg would have been so proud to see his work so deftly exploited. Maintaining plausible "front organisations" is a demanding process and the pro-EU faction has made the most of his pioneering work.  

Richard North 28/02/2015 link

Saturday 28 February 2015

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It is hard to add to this. There can be little dispute that a credible (or any) manifesto is vital to Ukip's electoral prospects. Thus, by now, even their most ardent supporters must be getting nervous. The party is beyond parody

Richard North 28/02/2015 link

Friday 27 February 2015

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If one wonders just how naff the Daily Mail can become, one just needs to visit the headline of their piece on the Ukip spring conference in Margate. There, we are told, the Ukipites were "gatecrashed" by "NAZI dancing troupe goose-stepping through Margate in front of a Second World War tank".

Notwithstanding any other errors, the vehicle in question is not a tank – it is an Abbot FV433 self-propelled gun. And it is not of World War II vintage. It was actually introduced into British Army service in 1965. I remember it well as, about that time, I was nearly flattened by one when it came hurtling down a track on which we had pitched our tent (don't ask).

The identity of the vehicle may be a nerdy point, but details matter - not that Ukip would know the difference. But if you are to have any credibility at all, you get them right.

Richard North 27/02/2015 link

Friday 27 February 2015

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Although it struggled for a place in the television bulletins yesterday after the release of reports into abuse carried out by ex-DJ Jimmy Savile in NHS hospitals, the press nevertheless obliged with details of what the Mail called "humiliating figures" which showed David Cameron's promise to cut net migration to the "tens of thousands" is in tatters.

Supplied by ONS (see below), the figures show net migration for the year to September standing at 298,000, representing the balance remaining after a record 624,000 arrived in Britain, up from 530,000 in the previous 12 months. At the same time, 327,000 left, a figure which has barely changed since 2010.

There were, says ONS, statistically significant increases for immigration of non-EU citizens, which are up 49,000 to 292,000, and of EU (non-British) citizens, up 43,000 to 251,000. It is still the case, therefore, that there are more migrants from outside the EU.

The non-EU figure includes 24,914 asylum applications (main applicants), an increase of six percent compared with 23,584 in 2013, but low relative to the peak of 84,132 in 2002. The largest number of applications came from Eritrea (3,239), Pakistan (2,711), Syria (2,081) and Iran (2,011).

Trying to put a brave face on the overall, Downing Street claimed that the soaring figures were "a problem of success", as people from across the globe flocked to Britain in search of work. Nevertheless, Mr Cameron was said to be "disappointed" after promising voters he would tackle immigration: "No ifs. No buts". The level now is actually higher than when he took power.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman claimed the sharp rise in EU migration demonstrated "the challenge of the UK having a successful and growing economy at a time when many of the eurozone economies are stagnating". He added: "I don't think that was a factor anyone was predicting in 2010".

Given her boss's enthusiasm for remaining in the EU, though, it hardly behoves shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper to claim that Mr Cameron's immigration target is "now in tatters".

She told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "Of course immigration is important and we need top talent, but it has got to be controlled and managed so that the system is fair" – not withstanding that there is no ability to "manage" inflow from the EU. Under a Labour administration, therefore, it is unlikely that the figures would be any different.

The problem is, of course, that Mr Cameron and his Conservative colleagues are mainly right when they attribute the increase in migration to the economy. Despite assertions about welfare payments, the overwhelming draw for many migrants is jobs, and with the rest of Europe struggling for growth, it is inevitable that they will gravitate to the UK.

And, although Ukip are likely to enjoy a boost in the polls from these figures, neither do they have a credible policy. Any attempt to clamp down on immigration flows from Europe would see a massive rise in illegal immigration – in the unlikely event that we could negotiate an exit deal without agreeing a free movement provision.

That apart, 292,000 migrants (gross figure) are from non-EU countries, and there is nothing directly in EU law that would prevent us excluding these people. With net total migration of 298,000, that would have brought the figure down to 6,000 – which no doubt would be tolerable (to some).

Where that might create problems is that 31 percent of migrants have come here to study (192,000), which is a major revenue earner for the UK. Then 14 percent have come in to join their families (90,000). That puts us almost back where we started. 

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Addressing the "pull factors", therefore, remains the best bet for bringing numbers down overall. The main issues here must be the enforcement of the minimum wage, the policing of housing standards and the removal of child benefit paid to children resident overseas.

Ensuring that all employers paid the minimum wage would make immigrant labour less attractive, while taking substandard lettings off the market would remove cheap accommodation and make low-paid jobs less attractive to migrants – as indeed would ending overseas child benefit payments.

Given the lack of progress in any of these three categories, one suspects that the current government remains of the view that immigration is beneficial, and is not really trying to cut back the flow. They may also have been reading the runes, in the form of a YouGov poll. This suggests that, while there is public concern about immigration, the majority of people do not favour the Ukip stance on the issue.

Nevertheless, the Economist suggests that the current round of immigration is perhaps not as beneficial as even this government thinks, which means that it may eventually be motivated to implement some curbs.

Yet, despite the failure, Dan Hodges reckons the figures have arrived too late to arrest Ukip's decline, which he reckons will accelerate as we approach the reckoning of 8 May.

But a failed policy is still a failed policy and whichever party does win the election (if any) has a timebomb on its hands. By any measure, a net inflow of nearly 300,000 immigrants a year is unacceptable.

Richard North 27/02/2015 link

Thursday 26 February 2015

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I am not sure what to make of the apparent bravado of Nato forces, including a small detachment of US Second Cavalry Strykers (pictured), joining an Independence Day parade in the Estonian city of Narva, a mere 300 yards from the Russian frontier.

The city juts into Russia, separated only by a river, and has a large Russian-speaking population. It has often been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin if it wanted to escalate its conflict with the West onto Nato territory. Thus, the Washington Post calls the parade a symbolic act that highlighted the stakes for both sides amid the worst tensions between the West and Russia since the Cold War.

Symbolic it may be, but it is also provocation - not least to the Russian-speaking population of Estonia. Despite that, though, it hardly seems that Russia can complain. It has upped the frequency of probing flights by Bear maritime patrol aircraft, close to UK airspace, and is worrying the Norwegians in the high Arctic with extensive air movements.

On the other hand, in a bid to calm things down, Merkel has rejected calls to arm Ukraine, and is even refusing weapons to the Baltic states. It seems particularly inappropriate, therefore, that the UK should be sending troops on a training mission to Ukraine. This is hardly calculated to calm Russian suspicions and lends strength to the Norwegians who are asserting that "relations with Russia will never again be the same". They are talking about restructuring their military.

The UK military lobby is doubtless delighted, as this new threat – real or apparent – justifies greater defence spending. Rory Stewart, current Defence Committee chairman, is already putting in a bid for more money. In fact, such is the enthusiasm for upping the ante that a cynic might even suggest that the UK defence industry had done a deal with Russians, their respective establishments looking forward to a boost in conventional arms spending, the like of which neither have seen since the end of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the Nato establishment may be taking on more than it bargained for. Last week saw the release by the Russians of details of a new armoured vehicle, the first completely new platform for over 40 years, carrying the name Armata.

Developed by the Uralvagonzavod Research and Production Corporation, the tank version (T-14) sports an unmanned remotely controlled turret, armed with a brand new 125 mm 2A82-1M smoothbore gun. Its muzzle energy is greater than one of the world's previously considered best tank guns: the German Leopard-2 Rheinmetall 120mm. 

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Significantly, it is also equipped with a 30mm cannon capable of dealing with various targets, including low-flying helicopters, together with a 12.5 mm rotary machine gun, reportedly capable of taking out incoming projectiles, such as anti-tank missiles and even anti-tank shells at speeds approaching 3,000 meters per second. Presumably, it is equipped with sensors similar to those used in the Israeli Trophy system.

The Russians have already delivered 20 units for training purposes, but this is territory into which we do not want to venture. The UK is reliant on 20-year-old Challenger 2 tanks and the very last thing we need is an expensive re-equipment programme. Matching Russian capabilities could cost us billions.

With the UK standing accused of "sleep-walking" into the current crisis, and having been "taken by surprise by events in Ukraine", one wonders if Mr Cameron has really thought through his current "provocation". We really cannot afford another arms race, and decades of Cold War with Russia, yet our prime minister seems determined to lead us down that path, without the first idea of the consequences.

Richard North 26/02/2015 link

Wednesday 25 February 2015

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Picking up on my piece from last night, we find Steven Tindale, an Associate Fellow at the Centre for European Reform, exulting in the fact that the "anti-EU side" does not have an agreed alternative plan to the EU, which he finds "encouraging".

That the opposition can so easily make this comment says a great deal about our so-called movement. After all these years, it is not only the leading eurosceptic party that has failed to come up with a coherent "plan". It is the movement as a whole – discordant, disjointed, fractious and antagonistic.

It can be no coincidence, therefore, that YouGov is now reporting that, from its routine EU referendum poll, 45 percent would vote to remain in the EU and only 35 percent would vote to leave. This is YouGov's largest "in" lead since its records began in September 2010 (see graphic below).

There is, by contrast, the recent Opinium Poll which gave us 44 percent ion favour of leaving and 41 percent who want to stay in – a slender margin at best, but one which uses different methodology and cannot give comparable results.

YouGov's data are comparable over time, and find support for EU membership at an all-time high of 45 percent, up from 42 percent last month, presenting a sombre picture for those amongst us who have ambitions of fighting and winning a referendum. 

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For Ukip, the polls present a similarly gloomy picture (for party supporters), at 13 percent on a downwards trend that has yet to reach bottom. And perhaps even more telling is the poll on the future of Ukip. In October last year, fresh after Douglas Carswell's victory in Clacton, the polling company measured the public mood about Ukip’s future as a force in British politics – if it would fade away, or remain an important feature for at least the next ten years.

At that time, the public fell on the side of longevity, by 49-35 percent but, in the months since, that position has reversed, and by a wider margin. Currently, the majority (53 percent) think the party will fade. Only 30 percent think it will endure. And more than twice as many Ukip voters (12 percent) express doubts about their party's future than in October (5 percent).

This is hardly surprising. As Autonomous Mind points out - and despite the denials – the "big fish" in the stagnant Ukip pond are shaping up for a battle for the heart and soul of what remains of the party after it's electoral defeat.

Given that the Conservative Party then manages to form a government, our ragged, uncoordinated, leaderless troops will then be facing a battle for the a greater prize, the end of our membership of the European Union.

Here, YouGov illustrates the odds against us. Imagine the British government under David Cameron has renegotiated our relationship with Europe, it says, and says that Britain's interests were now protected. Against his recommendation that Britain remain a member of the European Union on the new terms, respondents are asked how they would vote.

In this instance, the 45 percent who would vote to stay in the Union climbs to 57 percent and those who want to leave drop to a mere 21 percent.

Given that Mr Cameron – the man who "vetoed" an EU treaty – is quite capable of bringing back a real treaty from Brussels, with a renegotiation "package" sufficient to garner support from a gullible media, we will have been comprehensively outflanked and risk almost certain defeat.

Collectively, we have the better case, and the means to win the fight, but as time passes that looks less and less likely. Within the eurosceptic "movement" there is no will to win – that burning commitment to victory that is required for us to prevail.

The trouble is that, in order to reach rock bottom, and thence to develop that "killer" instinct that will eventually see us prevail, I think we must fight the battle – even if it means losing. But it must be a heroic failure, the lessons from which will lead us to understand what it takes to be successful.

The tragedy is, though, we do not have to lose – and even now our defeat is not certain until the final results have been declared. But for those who have led us to this pass, those who have put personal ambitions before the needs of the campaign, there will have to be a reckoning. They will have cost us dear.

Richard North 25/02/2015 link

Tuesday 24 February 2015

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Rajendra Pachauri, IPPC chairman, pathological liar and altogether bad egg, has finally resigned – not for any of his professional foul-ups but over allegations of sexual harassment.

Interestingly, the Straits Times notes that he was mired in controversy when errors were found in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report: "An erroneous claim that Himalayan glaciers could be lost by 2035 was allegedly taken from a press article instead of a scientific study".

Pachauri refused to accept personal responsibility for these errors and rejected pressure to step down, claiming "ideologically-driven posturing" was behind attacks on the IPCC. He should, of course, have gone then, but led a charmed life.

Now he has been outed for sexual harassment, though, others are coming forward with allegations that go back ten years. Sexual harassment, it seems, has been a common occurrence in the workplace when Pachauri has been around. Now, in typical IPCC fashion, Pachauri seems intent on doctoring the evidence.

It is better late than never that he has gone, I suppose. But it should have been sooner.

Richard North 24/02/2015 link

Tuesday 24 February 2015

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At the beginning of the month, we saw a report from the House of Lords EU Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee, which delivered views on "the post-crisis EU financial regulatory framework".

This Committee thought that efforts by Europe to strengthen banking rules to avoid a repeat of the 2007-09 financial crisis were "admirable" but it also criticised the cost of the impact of the new laws and noted other flaws, saying Britain needed to retain direct involvement in decisions that affected one of its most important economic sectors.

Most significant of all, though, was the evidence offered by Professor Simon Gleeson who told us that, of the 40 different items of legislation produced by the EU in response to the crisis, with the exception of one and the partial exception of another, all were already being implemented in the UK.

Had Europe not existed, he continued, every single one of those directives would have been implemented here for exactly the same reasons that they were implemented at the European level, because they were part of a globally considered response to the crisis.

In the context, the primary drivers of financial legislation are the G20 and its operational arm, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), the OECD and, crucially, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

Cut then to Ruth Lea in today's Times who concedes that much of the Brussels-originated financial regulation after the financial crisis would have been implemented even if Britain had not been an EU member. But, she implies, outside the EU, they can be repealed and/or amendment as circumstances change. Within the EU, she says, this is "all but impossible".

This is a line she also sought to convey in her speech on EU alternatives last week, one shared by a number of the speakers there who offered the vision of a regulation-free nation once we had left the EU – something, they asserted, that was entirely impossible while we remained in the EU.

Totally ignored, therefore, were the effects of globalisation and the fact that much of the rule-making that forms the EU acquis is initiated at global level. As a result, also ignored is the fact that – for a huge tranche of regulation covering a wide range of sectors, from financial services to automotive production and agriculture – leaving the EU would make very little difference. Most regulation would still apply.

The upside of this is that, outside the EU, we would be able to take a very much greater part in framing the regulation and, like Norway, would be in the interesting position of taking part in the process of developing regulation which would be adopted by the EU and then handed down to EEA members, including Norway.

To my mind, this is a better position than the simplistic view offered by Ruth Lea and her follow travellers, whose vision of a regulation-free nation is, to say the very least, unrealistic. In the absence of much of the current international/EU law, we would have to frame laws to replace it. Then, since we are global traders, much of that law would have to be harmonised with global laws, putting us right back where we started.

What seems to me to be happening, though, is that the "regulation-free" advocates are so wedded to their narrative that they are ignoring – or even denying – the effects of globalisation, and the fact that we would obtain little relief from trading regulation on leaving the EU.

However, in so doing, they are ignoring one of the most powerful arguments we have for leaving the EU – that rejoining the global regulatory community gives us more power and influence than we currently enjoy as members of the EU.

From there, we can then begin to understand why this same caucus is so opposed to the "Norway Option". But that creates a bizarre situation where they have common cause with the Europhiles who also oppose it, although for different reasons – precisely because it increases our power and influence, while giving us access to the Single Market.

Sadly, that puts us at odd not only with Europhile sentiment, but also with the eurosceptic "regulation-free" advocates. Yet, so strong is the globalisation argument that we cannot walk away from it, just for the sake of a false unity which would have the overall effect of weakening our case.

This then presents a further conundrum, as the "regulation-free" advocates are effectively bolstering the Europhiles, with the potential to weaken any coming EU referendum campaign. Effectively, even if unwittingly, they have joined the enemy ranks.

Quite how we then handle this, I am not yet sure, but the one thing we have to take into account is the importance of offering the uncommitted a credible exit plan. This, I suspect, may outweigh the effects of a false unity, in which case we have fewer allies in our cause than eve we imagined.

Richard North 24/02/2015 link

Monday 23 February 2015

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"What I notice about the people in Ukip Thanet is that there is a real passion and determination to get this job done well", says Nigel Farage. "I couldn't have a team anywhere – anywhere in England - who I'm more comfortable with than these people".

I can hardly bring myself to review the rest of "Meet the Ukippers" which was aired last night on BBC2 television. The programme focuses on Liz Langton, Ukip's press officer for South Thanet, who – as the Telegraph archly notes, collected china figurines of clowns, with over 1,000 in her front room (and the real thing out on the streets wearing purple and yellow).

In truth, Complete Bastard got it right – not malicious, malevolent or evil-minded, just "incompetent, naff and quite a bit stupid".

The rot, of course, starts at the top. When Nigel Farage is asked during a training session how to deal with media accusations of "racism", he answers thus:
Well, prior to the European elections, the percentage of people who thought Ukip was racist party was very small. But by the time May 22 came, the percentage of the population who thought Ukip was racist was very much bigger. Why? Frankly, because of the hatred of the tabloid press against us, against the party, against any comment anybody makes. So that is a problem, and I do accept that. That is a problem.
In other words, Farage doesn't answer the question but instead plays the victim card, blaming the "hatred of the tabloid press". It is left to the hapless Liz Langton to lecture her troops about message discipline. But she is on her own. That message does not come from Farage.

Then we get Rozanne Duncan's comments on "negroes". The context is admirably summed up by Sam Leith in the Evening Standard: "Do you see a face contorted with hate?" he asks. "Do you hear the 'racist rant' blazoned in headlines? Or do you, rather, see a dim and confused woman being almost painfully ingenuous?"

After the debacle – which the Telegraph calls "directionless fumbling" - we see a saddened Liz back in her front room reflecting: "Do I really want to be involved with these people?" One really feels for her when she adds: "I was interested in a change of scenario because … the EU is eroding our sovereignty and our ability to make decisions about all sorts of things … I did not sign up for that sort of attitude".

The programme has our Liz and her husband thinking about their future with Ukip, placing them very much where many of us have been. We joined Ukip to deal with the EU and found it was more concerned with something completely different – in my case, Farage's electoral ambitions.

"Terrifyingly watchable", the Guardian describes it as, but it does illustrate beyond peradventure why Ukip cannot be taken seriously as a political party.

Thanet South is Ukip's flagship constituency, the one which it hopes will take its leader to Parliament and thereby launch his career in Westminster, preparatory to leading us out of the EU. And if Ukip cannot manage the publicity better than it did on this programme, than it doesn't deserve to win.

Thus, while last night we were writing about Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind – two excellent reasons why one should vote Ukip – the party itself was providing multiple reasons why one should not, and demonstrating why, in the general election, it will be lucky to win even one seat.

Richard North 23/02/2015 link