Saturday, July 24, 2004

Excellent news for Eurosceptics?

It is a measure of the extraordinary persona of Peter Mandelson that he has managed to get The Daily Telegraph and the Independent agreeing with each other. Both, in their leaders, have decided that his appointment to Brussels is good for the Eurosceptics. In fact, not just good, but "excellent", as the Telegraph declares in its headline, noting:

He is seen as disreputable, disdainful of open government and addicted to intrigue - perfectly suited, one might almost say, to his new job. Every time he appears on television, with his careful phrases, his anguished attempts at self-justification, he will remind people of all that they dislike about Brussels.
The Independent, looks further ahead, to the constitution, and calls in aid Labour MPs to warn that Mandelson’s appointment could cost Blair the referendum. It seems already to have discounted the loss of "the safe Labour seat in Hartlepool" in the forthcoming by-election.

As a test of Eurosceptic sentiment, Hartlepool, rather than Brussels is, in fact, going to be the next major battlefield, with the local daily, the Hartlepool Mail, suggesting – as do many other newspapers – that UKIP star Robert Kilroy-Silk may stand for the vacated seat.

This could be a winner. In an iconoclastic town that voted a "monkey" as its mayor, "housewife's favourite" Kilroy-Silk would put Hartlepool on the map, and ensure a high-profile campaign.
However, elements in the hierarchy of UKIP think otherwise. Kilroy-Silk is not proving to be a team player, and is already causing ructions within the party by withholding his and his running-mates MEPs expenses, upon which the Party has hitherto relied to fund its own structures.

The fear is that the mega-star status of becoming UKIP’s first MP would make Kilroy-Silk uncontrollable, and present a real threat to the current leadership. Efforts are being made, therefore, to find another "high profile" candidate to spike his guns. As a result, internal politics, and personal jealousies could wreck the chances of the Eurosceptic movement securing its first MP.

Add to that the recent "bloomer" by Godfrey Bloom in Strasbourg, when the Yorkshire MEP pronounced that the role of women was to "clean behind the ‘fridges", and UKIP’s stock could be on the wane.

Rapid damage limitation by the Party managed to refocus Bloom’s Neanderthal mutterings, and present them as a protest against over-regulation in the employment field. But it now transpires that when Bloom made his first statements, he was still "tired and emotional" after a night out on the tiles, and had not managed any serious sleep between imbibing quantities of Alsace ale and presenting himself to the womens’ rights committee.

Given that Bloom is a self-declared champion of the laddish, hard-drinking culture that sees nothing wrong with being poured into a taxi after a good night out, his potential to spark off an epidemic of "foot in mouth disease" – to the delight of the waiting media – is as yet untapped.

Then there is the Ashley Mote affair: with his membership of UKIP being "temporarily suspended" for failing to declare to the Party a little matter of an impending prosecution for what is reputed to be £70,000 fraud, he has upped sticks and applied to join Le Pen's group in the EU parliament - a claim which Mote has subsequently denied.  Nevertheless, when he comes to court, no amount of damage limitation is going to be able completely to distance him from the Party that selected him as an MEP candidate.

Furthermore, with Mote out of the Party, he takes with him his "dowry" of £105,000 in MEP secretarial expenses, which would otherwise have been available to the Party.  With Kilroy-Silk holding on to his money, party planners have something over £300,000 annually less than they anticipated.  Plans for increasing staff posts are already being cut back, and election plans are being reviewed.

Nor is this the full extent of UKIP's woes.  The Bloom debacle, on top of factional in-fighting and an inability to develop a strategic direction, has had the "money men" tearing their hair out in frustration, as they begin to realise that the party is a hollow shell, all set up to win seats in the Euro-elections but with very little idea of what to do with them.  Money in the future may not be so easily forthcoming.

All this means that UKIP, rather than developing strength and credibility, may deliver increasingly lacklustre and dysfunctional performances, dragging down the Eurosceptic movement with it.  As the constitutional debate picks up, there is thus an increasing possibility that UKIP - as predicted by that self-confessed "gung-ho pro-European", Irishman Adrian Langan (see earlier post) - "may end up as the best thing that could happen to the ‘yes’ camp".

Yesterday’s development may therefore be the catalyst that presages a decline in the fortunes of UKIP, making it far from "excellent news for Eurosceptics", and the "no" campaign in general.

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