#GreenSurge and the “UKIP of the Left”

Back in November I blogged about my increasing reluctance to hold my nose and vote Labour in May. A couple of weeks I made my decision and signed up for the Green Party, becoming one of the Green Surge that we’re all talking so much about. Then this morning I saw the party leader, Natalie Bennett, fielding questions from Andrew Neil on BBC Sunday Politics.

How did she hold up against Neil’s probing? Frankly, risibly.

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Why I’m being threatened with a libel lawsuit by a #UKIP activist

Earlier this week I tweeted a screenshot of some deeply unpleasant remarks by Marty Caine, an activist with the Poole branch of the UK Independence Party.

martycaine

 

The screenshot promptly went quite spectacularly viral, with multiple retweets and repostings. It also got published by Hope Not Hate and the International Business Times. My Twitter Connect page didn’t calm down for a couple of days.

Since then Marty Caine has announced his intention to sue me for libel, along with Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate and Timur Moon of the International Business Times. He isn’t disputing that he said what was in the screenshot. However, he insists he was libelled because I stated that he had called Lee Rigby’s family idiots.

You see, he didn’t call them idiots. He simply stated that they believe the English Defence League are right-wing fascists, which is also believed by a lot of idiots.

If that makes no sense to you, then you’ve understood Mr Caine’s argument perfectly.

Anyway, since Mr Caine seems to believe I’ve taken him out of context, here’s a Storify of the full exchange. It’s rather long and very silly, but I think it doesn’t so much vindicate him as show him digging himself into a deeper hole. He also makes some spectacularly defamatory remarks about me along the way. Who is supposed to be suing who here?

Before anyone gets excited I should point out that I’ve yet to hear from Mr Caine’s lawyers. And frankly, I’d be very surprised if I actually do.

Mr Caine appears to be something of a colourful character, to say the least. I’m not entirely sure what his position is at Poole UKIP, though I understand that part of his role is to look after their social media. Which might explain exchanges like this:

 

pooleukip

 

[I should point out that I’m not entirely certain that it was Marty I was talking to there. Call it an educated guess.]

Marty also describes himself as a comedian, disc jockey, karaoke jockey and entertainer. He also runs a web design business, if you fancy getting yourself a website with a nostalgic “1998 Geocities” vibe.

While I’m certainly not frightened by Mr Caine’s legal threats, I will say this. Marty, to paraphrase what may well be part of your karaoke repertoire, this song ain’t about you. A couple of weeks ago a fine young man and a brave soldier was killed in the most appalling manner by a couple of deluded thugs. This tragic and terrible crime was then seized upon by far-right knuckledraggers to try to stir up hatred and attack Muslims. Drummer Rigby’s family, even in the depth of their grief, did not give in to hate. They reminded the world that their son had lived and worked with people all of all faiths and backgrounds, and would not want his memory being used to attack others. They are to be commended for saying that, and it speaks volumes about their strength of character.

So, Marty, give up on thinking you can sue people because you strongly implied something rather than said it in black and white. Instead, I suggest you reflect on why your words caused such outrage and offence, and offer an apology.

 

 

#UKIP activist calls Lee Rigby’s family “idiots” for denouncing the #EDL

 

 

Lee Rigby’s murder was an awful and barbaric crime. To make matters worse, it’s also been exploited shamelessly by the English Defence League to whip up hatred against Muslims. This is despite the fact that both Rigby’s family and his regiment have made it clear that they do not want his name used in such a manner.

Last night, I was debating this on Twitter with Marty Caine, a UKIP activist based in Poole. He gave a startling response to the family’s wishes.

 

martycaine

 

Caine describes himself on his Tumblr as an entertainer and comedian, though I can’t imagine Rigby’s family will be laughing at being called idiots. Especially not for the sin of not wanting their son’s memory hijacked by a bunch of racist thugs. Caine’s Tumblr also has a long, rambling defence of the EDL. The gist of it seems to be that if it wasn’t for the malicious propaganda of Hope Not Hate and Anonymous, then everyone would realise what jolly nice people the EDL are. He ends, in a spectacular piece of unintentional irony, by stating, “There is no excuse for ignorance in a world that has Google.” Indeed there isn’t.

I had a long Twitter discussion with Caine last night. At no point did he offer a retraction or apology for insulting Rigby’s family. Mostly he engaged in lots of Whatabout and Will-You-Condemn-a-Thon responses, demanding to know what I thought of Unite Against Fascism (which I’m not a member of and don’t much like).

I wouldn’t endorse David Cameron’s famous description of UKIP as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, but only because I’m not keen on mental health-themed insults. Their activists do, however, seem to have an impressive knack for exposing themselves as deeply unpleasant extremists.

Reasons to be cheerful about the rise of UKIP

So, another day, and another UKIP representative has said something highly offensive and absolutely barking mad. It must be a Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

This time, it’s Geoffrey Clark, their Kent County Council candidate, who suggested compulsory abortions for foetuses with Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida. Not that he was insisting we should, he said in response to the understandable howls of outrage. Just that it might be worth considering as a way of bringing down the national debt. A UKIP spokesman told the BBC that they didn’t agree with his views, but he’s still “a hard-working local activist who would make an excellent councillor.” Though they now seem to have changed their minds about that, because they’ve suspended him and say he won’t stand for them again.

A month or so it was going all so well for them. They were riding the tide of national scandal about a case in which Rotherham Council had removed three children from foster carers who were UKIP members. Never mind that the fuss seems to have died down very quickly, and it turned out to be almost certainly more complicated than that. They got to bask in a couple of weeks where politicians and pundits were falling over themselves to say that UKIP are a credible, mainstream party.

And then one of their candidates told the media that allowing gay people to adopt was “child abuse”, and it was right back to form. Not that it stopped them doing well in recent elections, resulting in more headlines proclaiming them “Britain’s new third party”.

As a left-of-centre progressive, how do I feel about their recent success? Absolutely great. Let me explain why.

When I say I feel good about it, I’m not suggesting in any way that I respect or admire UKIP. Quite the opposite. Back in 2010 I made the mistake of reading their general election manifesto. It felt like listening to a bunch of retired colonels having a drunken argument in the pub.

And then there’s their self-description as a “libertarian, non-racist party”. Quite apart from having a “not a racist but…” in that description, do they really believe they’re libertarian?

It’s not my philosophy of choice, but libertarians generally support open borders and gay marriage. And they certainly wouldn’t endorse compulsory abortions of disabled children. Ultimately, I suspect that UKIP has become riddled with the kind of politico who calls himself “a libertarian” because it doesn’t impress girls at parties when you tell them, “I’m very, very right-wing.”

So if UKIP isn’t having its ranks filled with staunch defenders of individual liberty, where are they getting their new support from? We don’t need to speculate, because today Lord Ashcroft published research giving us the answers. The straightforward answer is they’re getting it from disaffected Tories. The kind of people who are “pessimistic, even fearful, and they want someone and something to blame”, and have a certain set of preoccupations.

“But these are often part of a greater dissatisfaction with the way they see things going in Britain: schools, they say, can’t hold nativity plays or harvest festivals any more; you can’t fly a flag of St George any more; you can’t call Christmas Christmas any more; you won’t be promoted in the police force unless you’re from a minority; you can’t wear an England shirt on the bus; you won’t get social housing unless you’re an immigrant; you can’t speak up about these things because you’ll be called a racist; you can’t even smack your children.

“All of these examples, real and imagined, were mentioned in focus groups by UKIP voters and considerers to make the point that the mainstream political parties are so in thrall to the prevailing culture of political correctness that they have ceased to represent the silent majority.”

We all know people obsessed with this sort of thing (as Ashcroft said, these problems can be real or imagined. They’re mostly imagined.) But they only represent a certain subset of our culture. They’re also the kind of subset that can be relied upon to say something that will cause huge upset and outrage to the rest of us. Things like suggesting disabled children be aborted to help the national debt.

So, UKIP will carve themselves a nice little hard-right niche as the Even Nastier Party, but they’ll be repulsive to everyone outside that niche. As for the Tories, they’ll be left with a lose-lose situation. They can either stick with their current positions, and continue to haemorrhage their right-wing to UKIP. Or they can tack to the right, and concede the centre-ground to Labour. Either will be electoral disaster for the Tories, and a Labour landslide.

Personally, I intend to vote at the next election for the National Health Action Party, providing they stand in my constituency and there isn’t a significant risk of causing a Tory to sneak in the back door by doing so. Otherwise, it’ll be a clothes-peg on the nose and voting Labour.

So, for splitting the right-wing vote, my message to UKIP is this. Thank you and I salute your efforts, you revolting bunch of total oiks.

The #Rotherham #UKIP fostering row: Further details emerge

Another day, another set of details emerge about the UKIP fostering row. This time courtesy of the Daily Mail. I’ve said before that I’m not comfortable with the way a sensitive case about vulnerable children is being played out and discussed in the media, but since other people are clearly going to comment on the case, I suspect throwing a tuppence forth from this little blog isn’t going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Last week the Guardian alluded to tensions between Rotherham Council and elements of the local East European community, and yesterday’s Daily Mail fills in some of the blanks regarding this. Apparently the council has been the subject of protests from Slovakian families following a number of removals of children into foster care. These families are accusing the council of “child-stealing” for racist reasons and of trying to impose British values on them. This has led to protests from the Slovakian government who appear to be taking the side of the families.

Though the “British values” in question appear to be things like children going to school, not wandering the streets at 2am, and not living in a mice infestation.

The Mail being the Mail, they don’t appear to see any irony at all in, a couple of weeks after accusing the council of ideologically-driven fixations with multiculturalism, then granting a fairly uncritical interview with an alleged abuser, strongly suggesting that the council are racist towards East Europeans.

The words “shot at from both sides” spring to mind.

And naturally, there’s a rentaquote from John Hemming, an MP who seems to live in a strange parallel world where child protection proceedings are nearly always due to scheming, malicious social workers and hardly ever about averting another Victoria Climbie or Baby Peter.

These arguments appear to have been made in the courts as well as in the media and council meetings, apparently with some success. As the Guardian said,

But a family court judge ruled three of the children should be returned to the parents after the birth parents successfully argued that the council had failed in their duty to ensure the children enjoyed the linguistic right to learn and speak the language of their birth.

In the light of the Guardian and Daily Mail reports, I’m going to make a rough educated guess at the backstory here, which may or may not have to amended as further details emerge into the public domain.

It seems likely that the council would have been anxious to avoid a repeat of this judicial ruling. It also seems likely that they may have been vigilant for anything that would be immediately be pounced upon by the birth family’s lawyers, by the Slovak protesters, possibly even by the Slovakian government and media.

Something like the foster carers being members of UKIP. They may well have been doing a perfectly good job as carers, but that wouldn’t be what the family’s lawyers would say in court.

One could argue that the local authority should have challenged the judicial rulings, ignored the Slovak government and media, and served up the local Slovak community a hefty slice of if-you-don’t-like-our-rules-you-don’t-have-to-come-here. I’ll leave others to argue that one out.

But either way, the application of Occam’s Razor doesn’t require the council to be acting out of an ideological crusade about multiculturalism, or a Labour-inspired grudge against UKIP, in order to have acted in this way.

It certainly doesn’t require any David Icke-style conspiracy theories about Common Purpose.

Such a scenario is entirely consistent with the local authority trying to tiptoe around one set of legal, social and political grenades, and in doing so accidentally setting off a completely different grenade. And that’s my guess as to what’s happened. Eventually time will tell whether I’m right or wrong.

One thing this case does show is how complex and difficult fostering cases can be. When such cases are seized upon for political reasons, whether by UKIP or the Slovakian government, such complexities and difficulties are rarely grasped.

The #Rotherham #UKIP Case – Will Nigel Farage and Michael Gove now apologise?

When the story broke that three children had been moved from a foster family in Rotherham, reportedly for being members of UKIP, I went out and talked to social workers, solicitors and care leavers. Consistently I got a response that the reported account was implausible, and there was almost certainly a more complex story to it. I put up a blog post saying so, and got a barrage of responses, much of them abusive.

Now a more complete picture is coming out about the affair. And – surprise, surprise – it was more complex than that. The details emerging are not of politically-crusading social workers with a grudge against UKIP, but of a difficult court case, dealing with distressing circumstances, with social services trying to comply with court rulings and fend off legal counter-arguments from the birth family.

This was not a case that should have been played out in the public domain like this. These are incredibly vulnerable children and their privacy has been invaded in an atrocious manner. I’m not going to repeat the details here (though people can just go to the Guardian for that)  but the distressing nature of their abuse gives a clear reason why such matters should be kept confidential. Not because social services have anything to hide, but to safeguard the wellbeing of the children.

A badly-handled interview with Joyce Thacker, Rotherham’s director of children’s services, didn’t help. Though with hindsight this is likely to be partly due to being caught on the hop on a Saturday morning, and also partly due to trying to be careful about what she said about a complex case. It may have been better for the council to have simply put out a “no comment” rather than trying to rush out an interview at the weekend.

Quite possibly the foster carers may well now have some difficult questions to answer about the way they went to the media and ignited a political firestorm. But politicians also have some questions to answer about the way they conducted themselves in this case. Nigel Farage practically turned  the whole thing into a party political broadcast for UKIP. Then there’s Michael Gove, the minister responsible for children’s services. He called it “indefensible” though in fact it turned out to be totally defensible. He also called it “the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons”. Did he even know the way or the reasons when he said that? Was he even interested, or was he simply putting the Rotherham by-election before his ministerial responsibilities?

Ed Miliband emerges only marginally better in that, unlike Gove and Farage, he admitted he didn’t know the facts of the case and limited himself to calling for an investigation.

If politicians were cynical and opportunistic, some in the media were even worse. For example, the inexplicably-respected blogger Guido Fawkes ran an absolutely barking mad article. “Rotherham’s UKIP Child-Catcher Joyce Thacker Follows Common Purpose Progressive Agenda.” He leapt on a set of conspiracy theories, straight from David Icke territory, that accuse a rather dull training company called Common Purpose of trying to rewire our society along a “Marxist and Fabian” agenda. He concluded.

Thacker is yet another graduate of the Common Purpose organisation which pursues a“we know best” Fabian-style progressive agenda in the public sector. She was a project advisor for a pilot programme, run by Common Purpose, that was concerned with diversity issues in the West Yorkshire area. Something tells Guido she has an axe to grind in this and is not a neutral public servant…

Something tells me that Guido had better hope Ms Thacker doesn’t find herself a decent no-win-no-fee libel lawyer.

Nothing good has come out of this affair. Vulnerable children have had their privacy invaded. Hardworking and honest public servants have been grossly slandered. And why? For short-term political gain in a by-election. The likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Guido Fawkes need to apologise for their shameful behaviour in this ridiculous and unpleasant case.

Why the #Rotherham #UKIP scandal is almost certainly a load of codswallop

This morning we awoke to a story that sounded like something from the worst nightmares of Paul Dacre’s feverish imagination. Rotherham Council had reportedly removed three children from their foster carers, based on the carers’ membership of UKIP. Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Ed Miliband have all piled in to condemn the decision. An absolutely shambolic performance in a BBC interview by Rotherham Council’s Joyce Thacker didn’t do anything to dispel the outrage gathering across the media.

But does this story have proper substance? When I read it this morning, there was a distinct whiff of bovine ordure to it. Although I regularly come into contact with looked-after children, I’m not an expert on the fostering process. However, my co-bloggers Ermintrude2 and Abe Laurens are both experienced social workers, and the latter is particularly experienced at working with looked-after children. I promptly sought out their opinions, and their advice has informed this blog post.

There’s a couple of things we already know about the case from the media reports. First, we know that these children were always meant to be staying with the couple temporarily, and there was never any suggestion that this would be a long-term placement. I’d say that’s a big clue from the word go.

We also know that in a previous court case the judge had criticised the council for not adequately attending to the childrens’ cultural needs.

But as well as what we know, we also have to remember what we don’t know. The local authority will have a duty of confidentiality to these children. They won’t be in a position to go into the ins and outs of why they couldn’t continue to be housed by this particular foster family. When I asked Abe Laurens, he commented that, “In my experience such decisions are NEVER made on any single factor alone.” We don’t know what the other factors were.

But there’s something else we do know, and it almost certainly acts as a great big klaxon telling us exactly what this is really about. There’s a by-election in Rotherham on Thursday. A Labour seat is up for grabs, and UKIP are campaigning hard. Funnily enough, Nigel Farage is doing his damnedest to link the decision with the Labour Party.

The UKIP leader said his primary concern was for the welfare of the children and their foster parents, but hit out strongly at the Labour party, despite Today host Evan Davis commenting that the decision was made by “officials” at the council rather than elected representatives.

“This is typical of the kind of bigotry I’m afraid that we get from the Labour party and from Labour-controlled councils….their attempt to close down the debate [over immigration] is just to write off anybody that wants to discuss it as being racist,” said Mr Farage.

And strangely enough, this has come out at the weekend, when the council would be in the least position to come out with a prompt response. What a coincidence!

It’s almost as if this is a media stunt intended to give UKIP a PR coup on the eve of the by-election.

[EDIT: I’m now more of the view that the proximity to the election date is coincidental rather than any deliberate timing, albeit one that’s had the effect of massively throwing petrol on a flame. What does seem clear is that the various political parties are engaged in a lot of electoral jockeying on the issue.]

And with Michael Gove and Ed Miliband lining up to give Rotherham Council a verbal kicking, it’s almost as if they’re desperately trying to avoid losing crucial votes to UKIP on Thursday.

Once again, social workers and vulnerable children are being used as a political football by opportunist politicians. What a surprise.