Monday, 6 June 2011

Pan-European Parties: a battle of pragmatism vs. conspiracy?

Ever heard of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists? No? You might be surprised to hear then that it comprises of two national Prime Ministers and eleven political parties EU-wide including Britain's co-governing Conservative Party.

That is perhaps testament to the fact that Pan-European Parties really matter very little. Even as a politico I'd only recently even heard of the fact that the Tories, Labour and LibDems are all in Pan-European Parties. They certainly seem to benefit though - the Tories have a think tank funded to the tune of £500,000 per year as a result.

It seems to me that these would be the type of resources UKIP, a far smaller and less wealthy Party, could do with. Surely bringing in such resources and funding via a PEP would be one tangible thing that UKIP MEPs could help deliver? Well, maybe. But maybe not.

In true UKIP democratic style, it is going to a ballot of the membership. I'm not entirely sure this was necessary: if Nigel Farage had stood with a commitment to form a PEP in his leadership campaign, would he really have ceded much of his 60% of the vote? I somehow doubt that.

Having watched a live hustings debate yesterday over the PEP, I must say it came across as a debate of pragmatism (use the EU's own resources against it for a think tank and potential membership referendum fund), versus ideological purism (the EU is a conspiracy and thus anything we have to do with it gives it a grip over us).

The truth I think is that the latter argument has already been proven to be nonsense. If UKIP hadn't taken up its MEP seats in 1999, 2004 and 2009 as some wanted then it'd be dead in the water by now. People vote to be represented properly, and MEPs have meant resources and media exposure. The formation of the Ind/Dem and now EFD Groups in the European Parliament have seen UKIP speeches mainly from Nigel Farage go viral and bring in hordes of young UKIP members who cite such speeches as their initial spark of interest into the Party. I imagine the vast majority of UKIP voters would be screaming for UKIP to do anything it can to claw back British taxpayers money to give a greater voice, potentially based in Westminster where the national media await, to the pro-withdrawal cause.

Those who stand against PEPs are of course entitled to be so; but surely such logic extends to not taking up seats in the European Parliament, not voting on EU issues, not sitting on EuroParl committees, not using EU money to fund offices and staff and of course, not using the money the EU takes from British taxpayers to fund an MEPs own wage and expenses? If joining and forming a PEP is playing into the EU's hands, how is making one minute speeches to an empty European Parliament not? Both are a matter of having a voice heard within the EU's system as long as we remain inside it. A voice that wants out.

If we had taken such a purist route of rejecting using the EU's own resources (read: our cash) against it, then I'm fairly certain the Party wouldn't be picking up close to 1 million votes in General Elections or picking up Councillors up and down the country. I think on balance, UKIP joining a Pan-European Party could bring in some much needed resources and would aid Eurosceptic groups right across the continent. And if I'm wrong and the introduction of PEPs is all a big conspiracy, I'm sure we can dissolve it and leave if we like.

One thing is for sure: I'm pretty much certain that the EU would love for UKIP to stay away from a PEP and the chance to gain crucial resources to promote its message further. Will a conspiratorial approach play into their hands or will cooler heads of pragmatism prevail?


right_writes said...

I reckon that the UKIP has to make up its mind whether it wants to be a full-blown political party like the LibLabCON... Or a pressure group that plays at being a political party.

The 1st option as espoused by some very good and loyal people (and DCB!) gives the lie that UKIP would like to vie with the LibLabCON in the HOC, something which (in my view) would tend to make it look just like them, and would be very difficult to achieve.

The 2nd option enables people with media skills, like Nigel, Godfrey and some of the other current crop, plus people that have long gone (like Kilroy) to get lots of publicity for the cause, as indeed both did and do. The more publicity that the UKIP attracts, the more "Nigel" types will be attracted. It also has the added advantage that they can maintain a simple message...

A) UK out of the UK...

B) Binding direct democracy!

"A" is required to get "B", which ensures that we don't get "A" again!

My inclination as a long term (but pretty inactive member... ill health) is for the second option, and that would naturally involve getting as much funding as possible, so getting into a PEP is a no-brainer.

right_writes said...



"UK out of the UK", should read somewhat differently...


"UK out of the EU"