Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Former UKIP Leader Diane James Visits PGS

by Charlotte Phillips

After a tumultuous few months for Diane James, the ex-UKIP leader spoke with vigour and passion in a Politics Society talk entitled “2016 and the 3D Effect”. Despite being a  self-proclaimed hard Brexiteer, she spoke of some of the positives of the European Union set-up - the mix of party demographics in terms of the MEPs (most of the MEPs are from UKIP, the Green Party or ar independent, along with a few Labour and Conservative members) rejects the two-party stranglehold. She began her talk by explaining that she is someone who lives life in three places – Britain, Brussels and Strasbourg. She had been in Brussels the previous night, voting on various issues, including a significant increase in 2017 EU budget contributions. As a member of the 'Constitution Committee', she spends much of her time in tri-partite meetings with the Lords, MPs and MEPs from across the political spectrum, focused on the impact of Brexit on the current EU constitution. She claimed that many EU politicians seem "oblivious" as to why the UK voted to leave. 

James lamented her lack of power within the EU, noting that “no matter what I do  . . . my influence is almost non-existent”. She pointed out that, even if all UK MEPs voted the same way, it doesn’t make up even 10% of the parliamentary chamber in the EU, and that the opportunity to reject council decisions in the EU parliament is tiny. Voting is undertaken by hand signals and occasionally electronically – James noted that she thought all voting should be electronic to achieve greater accountability; and explained that all UKIP MEPs give explanations of their votes online. She recalled 650 subjects being voted on in just 2 ½ hours in Strasbourg, highlighting how stressful it can be to be an MEP - and that the workload has only increased since Brexit. 

James felt that 2016 would go down in history, largely due to Brexit and Trump. She thinks significant votes will also be cast in Italy and Austria, either catalysing or halting the political shocks of 2016 -  certainly the “anti-populists” hope they can be halted. However, she felt there was a strong chance of a far-right victory in Austria on Sunday. 

What has created the disruption of 2016? In her view, it was neither populism nor anti-globalisation; she thinks that people appreciate the benefits of globalisation and are happy to see new markets and development. However, there is a trade-off between these benefits and their own sovereignty, identity and culture. James believes a passion for the latter is what has driven a higher voter turnout for these contentious political events - people  felt it was worth going out and voting. She claimed that no government had ever lost a referendum until the EU vote in June. She believes the so-called “Remainiacs” are unable to accept the unexpected.

James covered the topic of the US election in some depth, pointing out that in the US everyone expected Clinton to win – the polls were completely wrong. However, she believes the shock is not in the outcome itself, but in the "architects" of the outcome - the factors that led to these unpredicted events. However, James didn't expand on this in any depth, instead moving on to suggest that in both the UK and US pollsters need to rethink and reorganise and analyse new methodological possibilities or they will lose business. Most important, parties need to understand the dynamics driving voter behaviour. She said “I want to see the demise of Project Fear and Project Blame” in the UK. She felt that Trump campaigned on “back me” because he is offering a positive, new vision for drastic change in America. In James' view, Clinton campaigned on not offering much change, which is not good enough for what James called “astute” voters. She also suggested that the position that the media is taking in politics needs severe attention. James claimed that Trump's economic management, particularly his proposal for investment in infrastructure, might deliver what he has set out to deliver. Her support for Trump, although she claimed it as picking "the best of bad options", was highly contested in the question-and-answer session which rounded off the evening. 

 James then took some questions from the audience:

On the future of the Labour Party: James argued that the Labour Party is splitting in two, with room for a new party to take the place of the Labour Party. UKIP’s new election manifesto under the leadership of Paul Nuttall will reveal whether UKIP can be this party.

On Italy: James went on to say that the Italian banks are in a dire state, with many ready to collapse. The media doesn’t touch on it, she claimed, because they don’t want Renzi to lose.

On the Parliamentary vote on Article 50: she agreed that Parliament should debate and vote on Article 50. She would like to have seen Parliament repeal the European Communities Act.

On EU voter turnout: She noted that the EU was very focused on low turnout – they want to fast track electronic voting and supra-national political parties. She felt that their suggestion of an 8-week period to advertise EU voting was “overly heavy-handed”. James also opposed the EU Parliament’s aim for a mandatory 16 years voting age because she felt this age should apply to everything, not just voting. Referring to the audience, she said “You are the elite in terms of your knowledge of politics” and said that she would encourage politics to be part of the curriculum.

On her own situation: James said “UKIP left me; I didn’t leave UKIP” and said she was “101% committed to Brexit.” Questioned about Farage, she claimed “my relationship with Nigel is in the past tense now.” The photograph of them hugging fitted a media narrative of an awkward and divisive party. She confirmed she had not spoken to Farage since her resignation as leader. James said she would not join the Conservatives, as the group in the EU parliament mimicked the Conservative MPs, with a split between leavers and remainers. “I couldn’t join a party that is not 100% focused on a goal. In conclusion, James affirmed that she thought UKIP still had a future. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a good summary of a meeting at which, in my opinion, James’ beliefs and message went largely unchallenged.


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