Monday, 1 September 2014

Clacton Klaxxon

I have a great deal of time for Douglas Carswell, Clacton’s defecting MP and an erstwhile Conservative colleague of mine. I think he’s a principled man, and an original thinker. I say that despite once being in direct competition with him: he was one of the final five when I was selected for Northampton South in 2005! Douglas is a very clever guy with a lot of intellectual ability.

The trouble is that deep intelligence and sound judgement sometimes wander down different paths. I am afraid that this is one of those examples.

Only a few weeks ago Douglas was praising the Prime Minister over his views on Europe. Readers of this blog might be aware that I do not always hold Membership Card Number One of Mr Cameron’s fan club. But Douglas did indeed have a point. Indeed many of us – of you – can take credit for moving the Party massively on this. We’ve won a serious political advance that would have been hard to believe a few years ago; to be given the promise from a Conservative Prime Minister of undertaking serious negotiations, and a genuine in/out referendum where you can be the judge. But that is precisely what Douglas, I and others have achieved. It was not an overnight win, but as the result of long and vocal engagement within and across our Party.

Indeed, he had another correct observation to make in encouraging backbenchers to draw together over the EU, when he pointed out back in January,

What is it we now want, guys? We’re going to face a reckoning with the electorate in just over a year’s time. We’re two points behind the Labour Party. We can do this – we really can do this. If we lack discipline, we’re going to have five or six appalling years in opposition to dwell on it’

That would be five or six years of retrogression for the Eurosceptic cause, under a pro-Brussels Socialist fan club. No other party can achieve positive outcomes and Douglas’ actions can only add to the possibility of a Labour Government.

Again, Clacton’s voting mathematics is not that of the country at large. Even if Clacton ‘turns purple’, UKIP won’t sweep to power in the General Election; as we recall from bitter experience, UKIP’s votes largely sap away at the chances of Conservatives getting elected. We all know UKIP takes more votes from the Conservatives than all the other parties put together. UKIP stands at its wildest best only a chance of getting a few MPs, but at a cost of producing a Labour Government.

Hypocritically, it seems that some senior UKIP leaders are now aspiring to elbow aside sitting Conservative Better Off Outers. I’m not quite one myself. Personally, I prefer the nuance of trying to politely talk business first – we can always go back to talking terms again if/when they don’t listen and after a No vote takes us out. That’s a double opportunity to massively hack away at the treaties: I quite like the prospect of getting Two for the price of One.

Douglas does make a very valid point that we haven’t spelled out the red lines for negotiations yet. But many of us believe that we can encourage the Prime Minister and Philip Hammond before the next election. Indeed, you can expect some loud bone-rattling material from me in the coming weeks to do precisely that.

Included in those red lines must be a new framework to address the EU open door on immigration issues. It is one of the poisoned issues of our times. It is the jaundiced by-product of one of the sacred tenets of the European Union, which is free movement of labour. But if those jobs don’t exist, and the Eurozone is driving much of the continent in that direction, there comes a point where an open door policy will fail. I made these points in an open letter to the PM recently, and will continue to make them noisily.

Perhaps it is a simple matter of which way we view the half-empty glass. I still see opportunities to shape our manifesto, inform future ministers, educate Whitehall, and to win concrete commitments on where our negotiation red lines must be. But one thing’s for sure – I’m not going to attack Douglas personally for following his principles. He was, after all, merely following the advice so unwisely and so rudely once offered by Claire Perry….

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Render to no-one evil for evil…

Supporters of moderation and tolerance received a very unpleasant slap in the face this week, as the most inhuman and grotesque assault on a fellow human was broadcast as a sick and depraved political gesture – with the promise of more to come. For me, it matters not who is responsible for this most horrific act, but that it appears to have been committed by a fellow Brit leaves me feeling truly disgusted and ashamed. Words cannot do justice to the extreme feelings this cowardly brutality inspire: firstly, of contempt towards those behind this hideous barbarity, and, secondly, the most-profound sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the slaughtered American photo-journalist. His bravery in seeking to enlighten our understanding of one of the darkest and most dangerous corners of our planet contrasts strongly with the gutless anonymity and decrepit ideology of his tormentors.

The Islamic State has thrust itself into our consciousness in a way that cannot be ignored. There is no doubt in their role and mission: a well-financed, deeply resourced association of the most dangerous bigoted maniacs of our time, intent on delivering death and destruction to anyone not committed to their cruel, idiotic doctrine. These globe-trotting psychopaths do not represent or defend the Islamic faith: their commitment to the religion that they besmirch through their programme of hatred is merely coincidental. Loathsome and loathing, the only thing these degenerates deliver – starting with the Muslim world – is terror, violence and intolerance.

Dr Kim Howells, a former Labour MP and minister, is right to apportion blame on our collective failure to find the courage to recognise and stand up to the existence of evil incubating in our communities over several decades. His claim that the Islamic community in the United Kingdom has been half-hearted in tackling the rise of those who proselytise venom in the name of their faith – most commonly on the internet – has more than a grain of truth. But wounds of sectarian divide have failed to be challenged in our history not only by this community alone; even a cursory glance at Northern Ireland demonstrates that pretty thoroughly. However, the danger posed by this insane bunch threatens each and every one of us: and it falls to us all to respond to this visceral call to arms.

The attitude encouraged through those years of new Labour rewarded people for looking upon themselves as victims. Fashionable metrosexuals flounced around extolling the virtues of a multiculturalism which celebrated those aspects of our nationality which drove communities apart. I regret that these grand patriarchs of new Labour had no real understanding of our country's people or heritage, or to the serious harm that they were inflicting upon those who, from their perspective, mattered so little. In this furnace, extremist agitators got a hold, and piece by piece, our society began to crumble.

In my own constituency of Northampton, we have worked hard on strengthening links between different faith groups and diaspora communities. That does not mean that we should not be doing more to address the challenge which those divisions sowed and have pushed people apart. We all stand to lose if those principles by which we choose to live our lives are thwarted by those now in Iraq and Syria who promise to import their campaign of destruction to our shores (from whence an all-too-significant number were born and brought up).

It's time to respond more effectively to the challenge of immigration and community cohesion. Numerous people have been frightened away from giving expression to legitimate concerns by the taint of racism thrown around too casually. I have no axe to grind about the benefits to our country from immigration, and there is scarcely a household in this country that does not have a link to immigrants within a few generations. But there is a vast distinction between people choosing to come and settle here, bringing with them a rich cultural diversity blending comfortably with our values, and those self-described 'jihadis' intent on ruination. We don't want them, we revile their perspective, and they don't belong here at all.

Given where we are, though, turning this situation around will not be easy. Radicalisation in the name of Islam is a cancer in our society very well entrenched. Tony Blair's lies to Parliament as a pretext to war in Iraq has provided a narrative compelling to those feeding off that same victimhood developed by new Labour as a mere cynical political ploy. Blair might still stand proud of his posturing, as some form of latter-day messianic visionary, but there can be little doubt that the catalogue of blunders made by him in the Middle East region has been one of the most effective recruiting instruments available to these peddlers of prejudice. Much of the danger which we now face has at least been exacerbated by the vacuous gestures committed in the name of Blair's misguided view of the world he wanted to create.

It is true that the terrorists may have got their hands on some of the western military kit left behind in Iraq, but the fight we are facing is one of ideology – from those with a dogged desire for the death of those who will not submit to a narrow, perverted interpretation of what they call Islam. With chilling parallels to previous conflicts, we may be paying a heavy price for allowing our social bonds to fall apart. It is time for those who believe in our country and its values to come together and defeat these evil-minded fiends, and to work towards that harmony which has otherwise characterised our nation through most of its history. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

An open letter to the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

An open letter to the Prime Minister

14th August 2014

You are now back from a short holiday break, but I doubt it was as relaxing as you would have liked. With international crises erupting, particularly in Iraq and Palestine, the turmoil of disgruntled ex-ministers at the Foreign Office, and the news that Boris Johnson is planning his return to Parliamentary politics, there must be a great deal on your mind as you prepare yourself for the coming nine months or so.

With an inevitable focus on the coming general election, I have decided to write to you with a few thoughts to help define what may figure amongst the major themes for this epic upcoming contest. The pundits acknowledge that you are a man most capable of meeting the challenge of making a big impression on a significant occasion.

In that respect there are a number of pressing themes which I believe many in the country would like to see you address. You, together with The Chancellor of the Exchequer has steered the economy through some extremely difficult times, and the growth which we now see has been established on that foundation. The work done by John Redwood however is very much to be commended, and, whilst we should not drift in our ambition to create the most business-friendly tax regime amongst our competitors, I would hope to see some effort to help ordinary people beyond raising the personal allowance for income tax.

In particular, this Parliament has been dominated by debate about the level of the upper rate. Yes, the Labour Party have tried to make the argument one about tax-breaks for millionaires, though the country has seen through the cheap politics of their claims, having introduced the 50p rate in the last days of their thirteen years in office. But it is time to see this debate in a completely different context: the level of the threshold has, through a process of fiscal drag, created a situation which is suffocating those who were never envisaged to be included in paying the upper rate at the time it was set. Did we really intend nurses, teachers and large numbers of other public sector workers to be caught up in the upper rate tax band? I think not, and I hope therefore that you can promise a rise in the threshold for upper rate income tax payers shortly.

Another major priority this autumn must be the fall-out from some of the international discontent. There is more than a modicum of irony that, upon coming to office in 1997, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Jack Straw warned about the rising levels of what they termed Islamophobia. Levels of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United Kingdom are high, and yet there still seems to be a desire to entangle ourselves in the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict. Perhaps George Bush senior should have finished the job with Saddam Hussein, as Mrs Thatcher was reputed to have wanted, following the liberation of Kuwait, but the second Gulf war has cast a toxic shadow over our national community cohesion and has disrupted the rhythm of the entire Middle East region. Tony Blair and his supporters have a lot to answer for and the legacy that they bequeathed the region has infected our approach to foreign policy ever since.

One example was the Arab Spring, which was never going to be the dawn of western-style democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa. The problems in Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, and the pressures on Jordan and Turkey will not be resolved so simply. But real action is needed to stem the tide against the growing levels of radicalism and extremism in our country. I am sure that you share my dismay at the sickening Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks witnessed recently. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the Minister who, until last week had responsibility for community cohesion, is now muttering and grumbling off stage, but that does not diminish the crisis that we are now facing. I’m sure you know that we need to stem the poison which is decaying community bonds across our country and I am equally sure that your ministers are both aware of the problems and working to find the answers, although I recognise how difficult that task will be.

As we inch towards the next General Election, the period before the promised 2017 referendum on our membership of the European Union gets closer. You will know that I am one of a number of your Parliamentary colleagues eager to establish what the red lines will be in the negotiations which you will lead. I believe that any additional clarity on that will strengthen the case which we will put to the electorate next year, and I would like to suggest one particular measure which will resonate with our constituents.

Public disquiet with levels of immigration has some parallels with the dissatisfaction felt against those who regarded a life on benefits as a legitimate option. I am proud that this Government has been bold on welfare reform, and the effects were reinforced in yesterday's record employment figures. Our pledge to bring levels of immigration to within tens of thousands each year has been beset with difficulties, in large part because we do not have adequate command of the levers that will make this happen. I believe that the time has come for individual member states of the European Union to be able to set an agreed annual cap on the level of intra-EU migration that they will accept, based upon, for example, economic need. In that scenario, each member state could have control of their domestic immigration policy within the umbrella of the European Union. Unless we establish some mechanism to control immigration from the European Union, any promises on the subject could appear hollow. It is clear that Labour, in government, were cynical in encouraging immigration; in opposition, they lack the will to make the case for anything substantively different from the status quo. We are clear about getting to grips with this issue, and this seems to me to be a sensible way to establish that control and address the public anxiety.

Being bold takes courage, but you are not short of that commodity; we need to use the coming months to reinforce that the Conservative party is still capable of meeting the challenges which face us domestically and internationally. Extending the bravery shown in dragging the economy back from the brink towards a renewed period of prosperity needs to be felt in the wallets and purses of the hard-working and aspirational. But bringing our country back together and healing the wounds caused by a Prime Minister betraying Parliament and the country more than a decade ago will be a bigger challenge. And that, I am sure, will be very much on your mind as you contemplate the coming months – but it would be a legacy truly to be proud of, and would lay the foundations for a second successful majority Conservative government beyond 2015.

Brian Binley MP

Northampton South Constituency