At least one senior tory has been accused of calling UKIP members ‘swivel-eyed loons’. It’s the sort of report I don’t want to follow up because it can only spoil the entertaining rudeness, but I definitely haven’t detected a massive backlash of denying that it was said, and furthermore, no one has said that it isn’t true. This suggests simultaneously that UKIPers are swivel-eyed loons and that everyone thinks they are.
If they are, by Jove there are a lot of them. They polled over 3m votes in the European elections in the UK in 2014, putting them in first place. They doubled their number of seats. Something like 4m people voted for them at the 2015 general election—about the same number as the Liberal Democrats and the SNP put together. They won one and came second in 120 seats. This odd result is probably inexperience at running a national campaign: they are a new party and so are not (yet) very co-ordinated.
But no amount of co-ordination can give a political party a win or even be noticed without solid underlying support. With the conservative party trying to unite and move more towards the centre ground, there has been less obvious Euro-scepticism from them. Support for the BNP has all but vanished. The support UKIP are enjoying is doubtless the result of a shift from both of these.
And they have a real chance of getting what they want. There is going to be a referendum on our relationship with Europe. UKIP, many conservative and ex-conservative MPs, and labour and ex-labour MPs, are calling for Britain’s Exit, known as Brexit. Britain’s age-old antipathy to Europe may yet be expressed by us leaving the EU in the next year or two. It probably requires co-ordination not just of UKIP but a lot of other, rather odd bedfellows, if they are to be sure of winning. But with that variety of political colours, there’s a good chance there is enough support for the No campaign and thus that we will leave the EU.
I feel slightly guilty about saying ‘we’ there. I am British and I remain proud of so being, however, I haven’t lived in Britain for nearly three years now and I don’t plan to move back for another two-and-a-half at least. I lived and worked the Netherlands from 2013-2015 and then in the autumn of 2015, started living and working in Norway. This gives me the lofty feeling that my opinion about EU stuff is informed; I have recent experience of one country at the heart of the EU and another that is not really involved but is also geographically near. In fairness, what it does amount to is one person’s experience of living in a proper EU country and (another) one that sort-of is.
In taking a point of view, I have tried to stack up what I see of the choices the governmental and corporate institutions have made, and use this as a way of measuring what being in the EU and nearly being in it means. In the Netherlands, the income tax is about 42% for everyone, and you have to buy private health insurance on top of that and are charged it backdated to the moment you arrive. The trains are cheaper than the UK, but not more numerous or more on time. All of the supermarkets have the same bland food, poor baking and limited range of fresh or cooked meat. One of the first things I saw of my local supermarket was a roll-up sign outside proudly announcing that it was going to begin opening on Sundays. They don’t yet accept internationally-recognised credit cards, though local debit cards are accepted (welcome to 1992). There are no parliamentary constituencies, so there is no being bothered by political campaigning but the government is typically a coalition. The current one is between their equivalent of Conservative and Labour parties, called VVD and PvdA respectively. They have a staggering number of bike lanes that I love to pieces, and meant I cycled something like 26,000 Km over the 29 months I lived there. Maybe the scandalous income tax pays for that, but somehow I doubt it.
Norway is an EEA country, by contrast, so ‘nearly’ EU. I have heard Norwegians described as social democratic politically, and this seems a fair representation. Another one is that they like consensus, which they do, not unlike the Dutch. Income tax for me here is 35%. Healthcare bills are also on top of income tax though there is no legal obligation to buy health insurance. The costs of healthcare are gnatty, just raising an invoice for a visit to the GP costs kr. 55 (about €5·50 or £4·50). And, as we have found, the trip may be wasted anyway as their reputation for under-medicating is well-founded. The importation of wine is state owned and controlled, and subject to monstrous import tariffs. At any rate, a bottle of Chablis costs about 50% more than it would do anywhere else in Europe and you can’t even buy the bloody thing in a supermarket. You can only buy it 1000-1700 Monday-Saturday from one or perhaps two places in the whole of the city in which I live. Beer and a few types of cider are available more readily, and from one of the limited range of dreary supermarkets and there are ones from other countries, but even a can (yup, a can) of cheap cider will cost about three quid. I’ve no idea where the tax is going; the roads are not good here, potholes you could buckle a wheel in or be thrown off entirely by, and the existence of bike lanes is often debateable at best. Roads do get salted and gritted, though, as everything would stop if they didn’t. Perhaps the fiscal income is low—Sunday opening exists only in the run up to Christmas here and you can’t buy alcohol after 2000 or at all on Sundays.
This rather depressing catalogue makes me think that things are actually managed rather well in Britain, or London at least, and that being in Europe or nearly out of it is no help to us. If income tax that is 50% or more higher than in Britain without much tangible benefit is what the consensus politics of closer ties to the EU means, then frankly it’s hard to come to the conclusion that it’s good for us. And it’s a pity they’ve failed on such big things, because the smaller successes—like how easy it is to start working in the EU as a British person (or having a British passport anyway), are a definite plus. But even the most avid pro-European can’t claim that the £87bn that the EU has cost over the last four years is really good value for money if the best it can do is lighten the admin load.
So, although I have enjoyed living in Europe, the fiscal structure in both the Netherlands and Norway means I can’t tell you that I have fallen in love with either the European dream or the nearly-European dream. But that’s just it, I am arguing for leaving the EU altogether on economic and statutory grounds. I wonder if someone who has never left Romford, Barnsley or Exeter, and who does vote for UKIP, uses the same arguments to justify their position.
The fact is that Brexit may happen, and if my experience is not way off, probably should. It would give us power over our own destiny, more cash that could be soent on something useful like scientific research, and no greater admin burden. But, if Brexit does come to pass, it will probably be thanks in no small part to the votes of swivel-eyed loons and their thinly-veiled racism. I’m in the peculiar position of agreeing with the expected vote of a lot of confirmed ‘no-to-the-EU’ types, a lot of whom are people I’d cross the street to avoid. Little surprise then, that the No campaign and not just the loons themselves, are uncoordinated. Let’s hope the UK won’t be after a ‘no’ win. At least at the moment we are united by all disliking the EU.
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