Can Europe Make It?

I want my country out of this thing: An interview with Gerard Batten MEP

We invite UKIP MEP Gerard Batten to discuss European governance, UK media, the 2014 European elections and the challenges of representing eight million constituents at the European Parliament.

Gerard Batten Alex Sakalis Tristan Sechrest
10 October 2013

Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP. Flickr/Derek Bennet No2EU. All rights reserved.

oD: The conference was titled "Why bother about the European elections?" We understand MEPs from every political party were invited to answer this question, and only the Greens and UKIP turned up?

GB: Jean and I hold completely different points of view. But we’re both in it because we believe something and therefore we’re eager to tell people what it is that we believe. The safest thing some of the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem candidates can do is not talk to anybody, because they don’t actually believe very much and on too many issues don’t want to get cornered.

Do they even represent any kind of ideology? The parties themselves are contradictory. You have the Conservative Party who back here are pretending that they don’t like what is happening in the EU, while at the same time signing up to everything the EU actually imposes on us. And you’ve got Conservative MEPs, some of whom are outright eurofederalists – they are signed up for the whole project – alongside some who are, though I hate the word and only use it as a short hand, eurosceptics. They’re all in the same party, so it’s very difficult for them to have a position on something as important as this.

Labour are out-and-out supporters for the great Euro project, but they realise that’s very unpopular with their voters. For example, mass uncontrolled immigration affects people at the bottom of the economic scale. So Labour don’t really want to talk about their enthusiasm for that. So they can’t really talk about what they believe in, because even when they do believe in something, it’s not something that their voters believe in. As for the Lib Dems, who the hell knows what they believe in anyway?

This event was supposed to be about how you engender engagement in politics and get people to go out and vote - so that’s why me and Jean were happy to go along and talk. There were groups represented there who want to help people understand what’s going on and encourage them to vote. It’s worth an afternoon of somebody’s time to go and talk to them isn’t it?

oD: Did anything come out of the day’s proceedings in your opinion?

GB: There was the rather good idea that people should organise public meetings in their regions. Hold a regional meeting where MEPs go out and do live debates: I would be perfectly happy to do that.

UKIP organises its own. We invite people from the other point of view to come along and talk, but most of them of course don’t accept. Imagine a public meeting now: if you get two or three hundred people out, it’s a great success. But two or three hundred people as a proportion of the population is miniscule, insignificant. Even so, we do these up and down the country all the time, to build support for our party, get people out and recruit activists. That’s why we’re becoming stronger, because we’re just about the only party out there doing this at the moment.

oD: So I assume then that you believe that it’s important to have contesting views on the European project in the same space for a real debate.

GB: Well politics is actually about contesting views, so without that how can you arrive at a decision about which political party you want in charge? That’s ultimately what it’s all about. Nowadays, I think politics is largely stitched up to be honest: I don’t believe we even live in a democracy any more. Things are stitched up behind the scenes, long before it ever gets to a genuine democratic decision. But in UKIP we actually still believe in politics and we’re trying to make it work.

Ask yourself, why do governments, and in our country all of the so-called ‘main political parties’ all agree on the same things, even when they’re vastly unpopular with ordinary people? It’s not like a commercial market where you think “ah people like chocolate bars: we’ll make chocolate bars”. It’s “ah we’re making this thing they don’t like, but if we all tell them they’ve got to have it then they don’t have any choice: they’ve got to buy it.”

I think we’ve moved into a kind of corporatist international state where big business and big money set the political agenda for what politicians actually have to do. And if we come back to the issue of immigration: big business likes mass immigration because it wants to break down borders, and it wants cheap labour moving from one place to another place. It doesn’t care about individuals’ ability to pay their bills or their mortgage. Not interested. What it wants is cheap labour, the cheapest it can get at any particular time and place.

A lot of the lobbying that goes on in the EU, and the directives that come out on particular issues, are initiated by big business in order to impose a set of conditions and restrictions on a particular area. They do this because they know they’ve got the money to deal with the requirements and meet the conditions, but that smaller businesses can’t.

The latest example is the health food industry, where for some years small health food companies have been selling things to people. No one’s been poisoned, no one’s died, but now everything has to be registered and it costs so many thousand pounds to register your product. Even though it’s a standard product that they’re selling, each company has to register their product. The costs put these people out of business. And that means that the business goes to the bigger pharmaceutical companies. If you follow through a lot of the regulation that comes through the European Union, you’ll find that it has this common root: it is instigated by lobbyists from big business.

Big business can live with the costs and they also benefit from the fact that they drive smaller competitors out of business. You’re probably well aware that in early June, the Bilderberg group met in Watford. I was part of a group of people outside that meeting drawing attention to it. That was the first time in 59 years that the media has ever commented on the meeting of the Bilderberg group – I mean mainstream media such as the BBC. I’ve written to them in past years saying, ‘why don’t you report on it?’ and they’ve written back, ’oh it’s not newsworthy, we don’t know what they talk about.’

Which is incredible! Can you imagine if you’ve got 130, 140, of the world’s richest, most important people from the world of politics, business, finance, banking, international affairs together in one place, and it’s not important and the media don’t want to report it? Please, do me a favour! If two celebrities meet in a hotel room, it’s front page news, y’know? What were they up to? What were they doing? Discussing the weather? Eating a boiled egg? It’s all in front page news in The Sun. And Bilderberg isn’t news?

They meet for a reason. People like that don’t waste their time. And it’s actually the politicians who are the least important people at those meetings, because they’re the ones in desperate need of money and the other people have all got money and they want something.

oD: We see that in the American political system as well. A lot of American political sentiment is generated around negative attitudes towards larger businesses seeming to control a lot of the party politics. So if this is present in both the European Union system and the American system which is very different, what about the system in the UK? Isn’t it present there as well?

GB: Well you’ve got to remember that our system’s been dismantled now. Our system is a sham. The German federal parliament did a study in 2006 which was chaired by Roman Herzog, the former president of Germany. He did a study which analysed how much law was coming from the European Union rather than originating in their own parliament, and came up with a figure of 84%. He questioned at the end of this report whether Germany could be described as a functioning democracy any more.

Well if that was true of Germany, then it must be true of the UK. We’re a very similar type of country, and the legislation is standard anyway across the EU. So if you have 84% of your laws made somewhere else, you can’t really call yourself a democracy or a free country. And democracy in the EU is a complete sham. It’s an anti-democratic system, and the people who constructed it are technocrats.

I always think the ideal person to have run the European Union would have actually been Albert Speer, Hitler’s right hand man, who was a superb administrator, brilliant at organising and the kind of bloke that it was designed for, because those Europeans don’t believe in democracy. They think it’s an outmoded concept and that they know better than everybody else.

In fact, I was reading an interesting book on this very recently. Back when the Germans thought that they were going to win the war, in 1942, they came up with a study called the Europäische wirtschaftsgemeinschaft, which means, ‘European economic community’. There’s very few copies of this study left, but one is in the British Library, and it has all the common policy structures that the European Union has – common industrial policy, common agricultural policy. They were going to have, not a single currency, but a fixed interest rate, which would have had the same effect that the single currency has, and benefits Germany so that everybody else’s economy is subservient to Germany’s. I think if you look at the plan in 1942, it was very similar to the plan that was adopted in 1957 when they set up the Treaty of Rome. The same bureaucrats. Of course people such as the President of France, Mitterand, who was a prime mover in setting up the European Union, was a Vichy collaborator in the war.

And the Americans, it must be said, were always behind this plan. They always wanted to deal with one authority in Europe. They don’t want to be bothered dealing with umpteen different nation states, and so they funded it in fact. The last time we had a referendum, in 1975, the CIA actually funded the ‘yes’ campaign in the UK, and that’s the subject of a book by Professor Richard Aldrich, The Hidden Hand, who has got all of the freedom of information documents to prove this.

It’s all about creating this supranational, paternalist state which says that voters don’t know what they’re doing, and we can’t rely on them. We’ll give them a veneer of democracy so that they can vote for people to go to the European Parliament. They don’t have any real power anyway, so it doesn’t matter. We decide what the agenda is. We decide the legislation. And we get more or less what we want every time. So that’s the way it works now. We don’t live in a democracy: it’s been deliberately dismantled. The Punch and Judy show at Westminster is just there to distract the general populace.

oD: Why do you think that euroscepticism looks like winning the debate in much of the public arena in the UK?

GB: Because people haven’t got the time to go into the detail of all this. They’re not going to read books about it unless they are sad people like me who get so obsessed by the whole bloody thing that they have to; but they do have a general common sense.

We have a legal system, trial by jury, that doesn’t exist in much of the world. You don’t have it in France or Germany or places like that. You may have some aspects of it now, but it grew naturally in England, and we exported it to countries such as the US, Australia, New Zealand. The point is that it relies on the common sense of ordinary people, and the common sense of ordinary people says, ‘this isn’t right, it doesn’t work, and it’s not in our interest’ and so they’re rebelling against it.

And of course that’s not only true here, where they’re voting for parties like UKIP in increasing numbers. In Greece, they’re burning buildings down and going out on the streets because it definitely isn’t working for them. Their country is impoverished, their economy is being destroyed, not entirely because of the European single currency, but at least a third to a half because of that, and not surprisingly - they’re unhappy about it.

We’ve still got some options over here. We’re more of a peaceable people, predominantly, so we’re still using the ballot box to register our discontent. That’s very difficult to do in this country under first-past-the-post. First-past-the-post is designed to stop new emerging parties coming forward very easily. But we’ve managed to do it, although we still have a major hurdle to achieve, which is winning seats in parliament.


Gerard Batten during the 2013 protests against the Bilderberg Group meeting in Watford. Demotix/Velar Grant. All rights reserved.

oD: As a European parliamentarian, what do you feel about the gap between your constituents and you -  isn’t this a general problem for the European Parliament?

GB: Well of course, I’ve got about eight million constituents, so there’s always going to be difficulty in communicating with them.  But politics is a numbers game. You’re never going to get 100 percent of everyone agreeing with you. Under our system you only need 37 per cent, 38 per cent, and you can form a government. So it’s about persuading as many people as you possibly can to vote for you, and that’s what we do, by various different means.

oD: How issues-based can you be in appealing for support? You said that UKIP was very active in travelling around the country and setting up debates.

GB: Well that’s on a party political basis. Then there are certain groups which we are closely aligned to, for example the Freedom Association, the Taxpayers Alliance. They’re non-party-political: they wouldn’t get into bed with a political party, but on the other hand we can work with them. The No2ID cards campaign, I was very closely working with. But of course ID cards, as an idea, is now dead for the time being. I met the chairman a few weeks ago, and he is now working on the private information that is held by the National Health Service, which is being sold and accessed commercially. That’s something we would also be in line with them on. And if other politicians from other parties support them too, that’s great, because they want cross-party support.

When you’re representing an area as big as we do, you’re going to get hundreds of people who’ve got particular issues which they want to pursue, which are fairly local. If you’re in a constituency of 70,000 people for example, that’s fine. But if you’re representing an area of 8 million people, it’s very difficult to get involved in a lot of those issues. There just isn’t the time and the means to do it. If people want my support, I will write them a letter of support, or they can put my name down as being part of their opposition to something, or in favour of something. But just on a practical level, it’s not really easy to get involved in campaigning on many issues because your time would just go nowhere.

oD: So then a regional constituency model doesn’t really work in terms of engendering democratic contact?

GB: Well you see, again it’s this whole anti-democratic aspect of the EU. You’ve got 73 MEPs representing the 62.4 million people of the UK. We all go along to the European Parliament. The parliament doesn’t initiate legislation, as I’m sure you know. That’s done by the commission with a vast army of bureaucrats being briefed by big business. MEPs can argue about amendments to that legislation, and then it eventually goes to the Parliament for a yes or no vote on the final product.

The one power we do have is that we can reject it, which we didn’t have up until 2009 I think, maybe 2004, but anyway we can reject it. And then, of course, the commission loses its piece of legislation. But what it does is just bring it back later in a different form. If we vote in favour of it, they don’t have to adopt it. They might not like the way it’s turned out with all the amendments. And of course, we can’t repeal anything. I’ve campaigned really hard against things such as the European arrest warrant, which quite frankly is evil, completely evil, in its effects. We can’t repeal it.

And of course all of the UK MEPs together represent only 8% of the total. So if there was something that Britain either wanted or didn’t want, we can’t protect our country’s interests. We can defend them – and we’ll always lose – but we can’t protect them. My view about democracy is that it only works when you’ve got people with a common identity. So then, at least some of them will accept a government who they didn’t vote for and they don’t like, because they’ll accept the fact that their compatriots did like them.

You’ve got to differentiate between a political identity and a cultural, or any other kind of identity. When I was a kid growing up, my big interests were the art of the Italian renaissance and German classical music – I felt an affinity with both, an identification with that. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t speak the language, that’s what I was interested in.

But if you said, do you think we should all be governed by the same government, I would say ‘no why would you want to do that?’ Because the circumstances in all of those countries are going to be different. A big issue in the UK is gas bills and the price of energy. It isn’t a big deal in Greece where it’s a lot hotter for most for the year. Now that’s a very simplistic comparison, but in all of these countries the best people to decide on the way their country should be governed and the kind of laws that they need are the people in those countries.

You live in California and you get George Bush and you didn’t vote for George Bush? Well you put up with him because the rest of America did – although that’s arguable – I’m just making the point. And the next time around you get Obama, so the other lot have to live with him. But in Europe why the hell should we put up with a government that’s elected by Latvians, Lithuanians, Spanish, Poles – what’s it got to do with them? It’s never going to work. The only way democracy can work is when you’ve got that common identity of a people who accept democratic government that they may not like and of course you have to have the power to sack that government. That’s what makes it bearable, the thought that we can put up with it for four or five years and then we can sack them and get a different lot.

You can’t do that in the European Union. You can’t sack the Commission. It’s a veneer of democracy. These are democratic constructs that are not really democratic: they are intended to be anti-democratic. So you are given the impression of democracy with all its cosmetic appearances, but in actual fact it’s not. It’s a stitch up, as I said in the beginning. So that’s why I’m utterly, totally opposed to it. And that why I’m here doing what I do, because I want my country out of this thing.

oD: Can we move onto the media’s coverage of the European elections next year? Jean mentioned that there has been a rolling back of coverage on what happens in Brussels and an increasing focus on politics in Westminster. How do you see the UK media’s coverage of matters European?

GB: Nothing is perfect in any country, but the BBC is in favour of the Project. It always has been, and so it doesn’t like to say anything too detrimental, and it says itself that its coverage has been biased. They have a kind of ingrained, institutionalised political bias in favour of the left wing. And they’re in favour of the EU. They don’t like to question things like mass immigration. They’ve had to now, to some extent, due to the sheer weight of public opinion and what’s happening out there with ordinary people.

Of course the press is there purely to represent the interests of their proprietors, let’s have no illusions about that. They’re all owned by rich people who have an agenda, and they’re all linked. Their job is to get governments elected.

So we may have had a Tory government which has done all these terrible things to you for five years, which the Daily Mail complain about, and at the end of five years it will always say ‘vote Tory’. Why? Because they’re in bed with the Tories. They’re all kind of linked together. And it’s the same thing with other papers like the Daily Mirror which say ‘vote Labour’. So they’ve all got their own agenda and this is why fewer and fewer people actually buy newspapers now.

All newspaper circulation is declining rapidly, and that’s partly to do with new technology and how people choose to read their news. But it’s also to do with the fact that people know. People are not stupid. The people know that they are being fed propaganda by them. I’m sure there are people in Russia who used to read Pravda and Izvestiya, you know, looking at the football results and general news stories, but they’re not taken in by the propaganda. It’s the same in this country and that’s why it’s declining and fewer people watch TV news either.

I watch Russia Today because I know it’s a Russian propaganda channel, and you can see that in the anti-American bias of a lot of the stories etc., but on the other hand they do actually give you stories that you would never get on the BBC. You know, the BBC just doesn’t talk about them. So if you want to know what’s going on in the world from a slightly different angle, then watch the other sides’ propaganda broadcasts. There’s a lot of useful stuff on Russia Today, and a lot of UKIP people watch it, and a lot of us get interviewed on it too!

oD: Well UKIP does seem to have become the media darling ever since the last local elections, and maybe a little bit before that even. But a lot of this media attention has been focused on Nigel Farage, so how do you feel that the media covers you?

GB: Well Nigel’s a very good performer and he’s spent 20 years practicing. Nigel is a very, very good performer, in his speeches in the European Parliament he does excellently. He’s very good at thinking on his feet. When it comes to interviews with TV, radio, newspapers, he prepares carefully.

But there’s a lot of people behind Nigel doing a day to day job. In fact we all get quite a lot of coverage in the media now I think. I don’t like the personal publicity, because I’m only interested in talking about the issues I’m there to promote or to have a political dialogue. I hate it. I can’t imagine why anybody would want to be famous y’know? Rich - yes: famous, no. So yeah we get a lot more coverage and we’ve got some presenters like Andrew Neil who I think are actually fairly sympathetic to our point of view - at least in the sense of giving it a fair hearing.

oD: openDemocracy wants to start up a debate on the European elections. What do you think we could contribute to this media coverage?

GB: Well with media coverage there’s not a lot you can do about it, as it’s governed by the people who govern the media -  the BBC editorial board and the other TV channels and newspapers are going to write whatever they’re going to write. The Daily Mail is going write ‘vote Tory’. It doesn’t matter if Pol Pot is the leader of the Tory party. They’ll still say ‘vote Tory’, and the Telegraph is the same of course, and the Times. They’re all going to say ‘vote Tory’.

So how can openDemocracy contribute? I think that more and more people are looking elsewhere for their information. So if they’re interested in something they’ll google it on the internet. So where things like openDemocracy can help, is that they can actually lay out what the issues are and what people’s responses to the issues are from the different parties. You need to bypass the media, go over the heads of the established media and reach the electorate in a different way as best you can.

oD: So what would you like to get out of these elections?

GB: Well from a political point of view, every vote to UKIP in these elections is a vote to leave the European Union. We’re not going there to tweak the legislation or to make it better or grovel on our bellies to the EU to get them to do this, that and the other. All the votes that we get are votes to leave the European Union, so that makes us stronger in the UK.

I really hope that we can continue our upward momentum and become the biggest party in the European Parliament, because that will be a kind of unofficial referendum, and we will be able to use that as a spring board to get people elected into Westminster in the next general election. You can see the effect we’ve had without a single MP. We got the contents of the Queen’s Speech changed, the government worried. So I think that if we got some MPs elected we could have an effect out of proportion to our numbers.

And our strength is that we are all ordinary people who got involved in politics. If you wanted to be a career politician, you wouldn’t join UKIP. There is no career path, there is no structure. And it’s good that there isn’t. We’re there because we believe in certain things, and people respond to that. People are sick to death of what’s happening, not just here, all over Europe, all over the world.

You see I’m a hardliner on law and order. Personally I’d like to bring back the death penalty for certain crimes. But I believe in a fair legal system and one that actually protects the freedom of the individual, which is what our legal system does. And all that’s being dismantled. Under a European arrest warrant, a UK citizen can be extradited to any other place in the European Union on the strength of a piece of paper that’s been filled in. No evidence has to be produced, the courts aren’t allowed to look at any evidence. It’s outrageous, absolutely outrageous.

oD: What made you want to stand as a European candidate when much of what you believe concerns national and domestic issues?

GB: Well this is, purely and simply, a platform for me and my colleagues to campaign for the UK to leave the European Union. The people who vote for us know that. They don’t vote for us because they want us to go there and tweak legislation or make it a little less bad. It’s a platform for calling for Britain to leave the EU. And we’re the only set of MEPs there actually working to make ourselves redundant. We don’t want to disband the party, just the MEPs.

But the EU is only a symptom of the problem. I could never vote for Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, and when I retire I want to be able to vote for a party that represents the interests of the British people. So I want UKIP to continue when we leave the EU. And that was the intention when we set up UKIP twenty years ago – to have a proper political party with a full range of policies that will be fought over in national politics. Now that’s a big ambition, but that’s what I would like to see going forwards. So if we do leave the European Union I see no reason why UKIP should discontinue.

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