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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Farage allowances episode is primarily a sign of a fundamentally broken allowances system

The Times today uses the news that Nigel Farage is to be investigated by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, following a complaint from an ex-Ukip official that £60,000 of EU allowances paid into his personal bank account have gone “missing”, to attack the “fraudulent prospectus” that he is “the politician who is not a politician”.

The chief allegation is that:
"The Ukip leader has received £15,500 a year from the EU since at least 2009 to pay for the upkeep of his constituency office, a small converted grain store near Bognor Regis, according to transparency reports filed on the party’s website.  
However, the grain store was given rent-free to Mr Farage by Ukip supporters 15 years ago. Utilities and other non-rental costs amount to no more than £3,000 a year, according to the former office manager, leaving about £12,000 a year unexplained."
The paper also notes that Mr Farage “also revealed that he used a proportion of his [General Expenditure Allowance] to pay more than £1,000 a month towards a controversial second EU pension scheme of which he was a member between 1999 and 2009.”

We looked at this additional pension scheme back in 2009, when it closed to new members, and it was controversial for two reasons. Firstly, it was two-thirds funded by taxpayers and, second, the system relied on MEPs being honest enough to fund the shortfall in their allowances out of their own salary. Credit to Farage for leaving the scheme - but being part of it in the first place doesn't reflect well on him (though he's one of many, many MEPs from all parties who were or still are).

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Farage's actions, this illustrates that the EP's allowances and expenses system is still miles away from what taxpayers should accept. The General Expenditure Allowance is notoriously vulnerable to abuse because it is generous, has a wide list of potential uses and does not require MEPs to produce receipts. The Times' leader itself admits that "It is probable, even if these allegations prove to be true, that Mr Farage has done nothing illegal".

Predictably Farage's response casts him as the victim of a "politically motivated attack from what is the establishment newspaper." The general expenditure allowance, he said, "is given to every MEP and we can spend it how we want to," adding:
"We have used the money to promote the cause of Britain leaving the European Union and we have done that unashamedly"
It is right that Nigel Farage is subject to proper scrutiny and that investigations are carried out if he has a case to answer, but there's still no proof he has done anything illegal. And whether singling out Farage will actually help or hurt his cause remains to be seen. However, what's clear is that the EP's allowance system must urgently be reformed.

The EP allowances system is something that we'll most definitely return to.

18 comments:

jon livesey said...

I got a whiff of something not very nice from this. To write extensively about alleged abuses of expenses by Farage, then conclude that he has "probably" done nothing illegal, and finally say the problem is the allowance system itself is a bit dodgy.

If it's so clear that the allowances scheme requires reform, it should be possible to say that without dragging in someone only to say that they have "probably" done nothing illegal.

Rik said...

This stinks imho.
Very likely as you say nothing illegal has been done. And if this is illegal there are a lot of worse things to be investigated (and that never make the papers).
Timing dubious as well short before the EP election.
Looks a pre-election stunt by some of the media. With any traditional politician this would first have been checked before it was brought in the news. And very likley it can by very easily checked.

Traditional media are hardly reporting objective when it concerns populists/alternatives.
Same btw with prosecutions, these look pretty dubious as well. Why has Grillo been convicted for some non sense.
Berlusconi one can imagine. However they were also clearly looking for him. Sort of Clintonesque witchhunt.
LePen for saying something which have basically been said in a similar way by people like Sarko or effectively by nearly all traditional politicians re eg Roma? Wilders idem?
And just compare Scotland/Salmond with Putin now. Salmom tells probably a lot more non-sense but is handled with utmost care and Putin is basically attacked as a natural agressor on everything (and the role of the West is totally underlighted (well unsuccessfully tried that last thing).
Even the very dubious role of the EU in papers that are traditionally EUsceptic is completely underlighted. As it probably makes the whole thing stink is my best guess.
I tried it with several traditional media and alot of times (statistically relevant numbers). You can break the basic forum rules when you have a traditional opinion and never get removed or edited. But it is better to add some nutcase Bilderberg stuff or fruitcake 9/11 CIA plot than having a populist view. In general better a traditional view and a severely breaking the rules than a populist view combined with a minor breach.

And it isnot working on top of that. The voters for the populists are 'anti-elite' and papers as the Times are simply seen of being part of that elite. For the major part of IPs and similar parties voters it just shows the system stinks and they are out to get Farage here.
It only makes them more determined. What is worse is that traditional media and political parties are now rapidly losing better educated disconnected voters as well. Just look at comments on any Ukraine related newsitem at the moment. Papers have become totally disconnected with their readers.
Likely also from a commercial pov which was already a total disaster in its own right, because of the rise of the new media. People younger than 142 simply are not going to pay for the party gazette of some political party that has already lost the plot itself or for a new sort of government newsagency. And the traditional paying readership is rapidly dying out.

Quality of the press is rapidly going downward.
I have however absolutely no problem OE is picking this up it simply has become a major newsstory already and is EU related.

Ray said...

To isolate Farage in a situation where every MEP in the EU is in the same situation, and a large proportion of who do "confiscate" most of the "allowance" for personal use, is simply propaganda. And OE's treatment of the story is not without it's bias also, bearing in mind that if Europe disappears so does the OE.

Average Englishman said...

In your own view Farage is unlikely to have done anything illegal, so as per the previous bloggers, what's this article all about really?

Looks like Open Europe joining in on the edges of a classic smear campaign to me. The established political elite are running scared of UKIP and rightly so but it is hardly proper for O.E. to join them whilst still maintaining a non-biased position.

In any event, whatever a politician's expenses status, this does not affect the correctness or otherwise of their political views, merely their probity as a human being. This last point might be very relevant for a potential Prime Minister but even I am not expecting that of Nigel Farage - in the short term at least.

When one is talking of dishonesty, I am more concerned with more serious matters such as the lies being told continually to the UK's people. For example, Dave's bleatings about changing the EU, which he knows are complete tosh apart from some tinkering here and there that may be approved and permitted by 'mother' Merkel. And what about Clegg's supposed desire for a referendum that he dumped as soon as it became a real possibility or his more recent claim that only 5% of the UK's laws are made by our masters in Brussels? That's real dishonesty for you.

Oh, and if we're really considering who fiddles their EU expenses, I'll bet we wouldn't have to look very far to find plenty from the main gravy train 'elite' in Brussels. Such Hypocracy.

123 Spanje said...

Nigel, don't fall in the TRAP to start explaining! Let others "explain" and pick anyone out who proliferates false information. To the judge with them. As a psychologist having deañt with these matter "sit and wait" is better than explaining...!

Anonymous said...

UKIP have all of their allowances overseen by accountants and lawyers to establish that they do not go outside of the legal requirements, unlike the other parties but OE tries to make out that Farage is fiddling his expenses, well they are not expences in the same way that the system works at Westminster. One has to ask why OE is entering the anti UKIP propaganda machine.

Freedom Lover said...

"This is something that we'll most definitely return to." I see that all the comments about your article so far have, while noting that Mr Farage's has probably been handling his entirely expenses according to standard EU Parliament rules (however unsatisfactory these rules are), have accused the media (& perhaps Open Europe also) of gross bias in their treatment of non-mainstream populist parties & politicians. If you will indeed be returning to the vexed & long-lasting issue of the European Parliament's grossly under-supervised & virtually non-accountable expenses allowance system, can you also promise please that you will certainly be returning to the issue of gross media bias against political outsiders like Farage & UKIP?

Open Europe blog team said...

Dear anonymous,

Indeed, the point we are making in this post is that it is the system which is flawed and needs reform.

Denis Cooper said...

Basically it's all very simple.

There's a long-established pattern: there's an election in the offing, and UKIP seems to be on the rise, so now is the time to ramp up the scaremongering and smearmongering against UKIP.

Now is the best time to bring out and use those rods which have been in pickle for many months or even years, some carelessly provided by Nigel Farage and others in UKIP, or maliciously provided by people who agree with UKIP's primary aim of getting us out of the EU but have at some point fallen out badly with Nigel Farage and/or others in UKIP, or even by people who wormed their way into UKIP with the deliberate intention of disrupting it.

Clegg tried the scaremongering and that backfired very badly; the Labour MP and erstwhile Europe Minister who took a lead with the smearmongering at this point five years ago has since been discredited himself and actually gone to jail for fiddling expenses to finance his pro-EU propaganda unit; so now much of burden has fallen on the Tories' friends working for the Times.

Will it work? Well, to some extent, no doubt; but many of those who might be inclined to support UKIP will recognise this as just the latest episode in a now familiar protracted "dirty tricks" campaign to do down UKIP and make sure that we stay in the EU; and as this is evidently being orchestrated by the Tory leaders it may have the opposite to the desired effect by disgusting some Tory-minded voters and persuading them to switch their support to UKIP, at least for the EU Parliament elections.

christina speight said...

All correspondents seem to have cried "stinking fish" about this whole article. And Open Europe's "mea non culpa" to Anonymous is is pretty 'pongy' too.

This is especially so when a hifg-public profile personality is the subject of smears by ex colleagues (and doubly so from the opposite sex)

So the expenses system is wrong. Why didn't Open Europe report on that years ago??? The stink just gets worse.

I am one of those who (as Denis above says ) " agree with UKIP's primary aim of getting us out of the EU but have at some point fallen out badly with Nigel Farage. My view is that with a more reliable and traditional leader UKIP would still be languishing but Farahe has made the difference. For that he is = by me - forgiven

Allyg said...

This a blatant attack by the political establishment which the Times is collaborating with.

The E.U. Commissioners have recently refused to have their accounts independently assessed.

Has the Times mentioned this.

Says it all really.

John King said...

Just another "when did you stop beating your wife" story from the establishment cronies.

Anonymous said...

"Has the Times mentioned this."

Or indeed, has OE mentioned it, or even questioned the far more egregious scandal of the salaries and pensions paid to the Brussels élite?

Open Europe - as pointed out above, it's obvious that if your survival depends on Britain staying in the EU, you'll watch your P's and Q's and be careful to only rock the rotten boat very gently so that nobody falls out.

Rik said...

@Christina
Nigel has indeed made the difference, a likeable maverick.
You never get a new party started without being a sort of maverick.
That is why AfD in Germany not really works as a start up, simply looks to conventional.

Basically looking all over Europe all these sort of parties have very similar starting characteristics:
-disenfranchised electorate;
-a theme (mostly immigration, but with IP the EU);
-a leader who works as the face of it. Basically bringing the wisdom of the pub into parliament. Able to hold the fort in discussions with traditionals. An anti-traditional air. Some charisma (public appeal).

Basically all populists tick nearly all these boxes. And where not it is a negative for them (like again with AfD).

Problem is however that:
-basically all are one man parties;
-basically often all one trick ponies. Way too much focussed on one issue;
-unable to come up with more proper people (complete lack of management capacity. You think Hague is crap wait till you have to endure his IP counterpart).
-very difficult to make that way the transformation of a start up protest party to a governing one.

IP might have the advantage that they have quite a lot 'City' support. You should be able to get a lot of know how from there. Very likely enough to be at least equal to the traditional parties. Which are not very well staffed there as well themselves.
At the end of the day 80-90% of policies are financial or economical related.
Same with legal btw. Probably IP has access to lawyers that are a lot better than the 2nd class ones they have no as civil servants.

Rest like NHS/immigration/welfaresociet is largely a management issue. Where the present management is totally crap. Hard to f up that more than it already is. Hire something as McKinsey and you probably see an improvement.
A lot of the problems are 2nd class people and hiring second class consultants (often thrown out politicians). Problem is not privatisation but mainly hiring 2nd class people for it and let them get away with it on top of that (and donot give them tools, like kicking dysfunctionals out).

Foreign and defence policy. Well Cameron/Hague get >50% of their major calls wrong. Toss a coin and you are better off. You only need someone who can sell the selfinflicted crap as a success (hire a proper PR agency?) Or hire Tom the Turtle (does he eat a carrot or salade?) or Ben the Bear, does he do the 'dropping' in the forest or in his cage? Public will love it probably).

And of course all these parties benefit enormously by the traditional parties totally mismanging the populist rise. Cameron is not by far the worst in that respect.

Open Europe blog team said...

Dear Christina,

Thanks for your comment. This is something we spent a great deal of time on before the last EP elections in 2009 and we will continue to do so. See here:
http://www.openeurope.org.uk/Article/Page/en/LIVE?id=1468&page=PressReleases

Here:
http://www.openeurope.org.uk/Article/Page/en/LIVE?id=1464&page=PressReleases

And here:
http://www.openeurope.org.uk/Article/Page/en/LIVE?id=1465&page=PressReleases

We also do not discriminate in pointing out individuals who have done well out of the EU and where this may contradict with the standards they expect of others, see this on Nick Clegg here:
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/apr/27/nick-clegg-expenses-mep-brussels

Anonymous said...

In the interests of fair and honest media reporting I expect The Times and others to start delving into all MEPs allowances and publish. Then we will have a fair assessment.

Farage has said he is happy to have his accounts investigated by an independent auditor. Let's throw open that challenge to all British and EU politicians and see who are prepared to do the same.

christhai said...

For Open Europe just to write and publish this article, shows how biased and partisan they have become and how scared the EU Establishment is of the voice of Democracy.

If Farage is guilty of fiddling expenses - prosecute him - all the way.

If he is acting within the rules of the EU in the use of allowances - then leave him alone or risk incredible backlash.

The British people and those of many others in the subject nations of the EU are so fed up with the EU and its corruptocrats that their anti-EU politicians can really do no wrong.

Go for it Farage - take this EU to pieces with the blessing of Free people all over the World.

Rik said...

Several trends came a lot more clear last week. Always good when things get under pressure/stress make movements much more clear.

1. As expected, but always nice to see confirmed (I always like to be right), Farage's voterbase doesnot give a 'nasty word' about the expense issue.
This is simply another part of the votermarket that behaves differently from what used to be the standard.

2. All this clumsyness is rapidly putting Farage an the map as a normal alternative. Iso a fruitcake variety thereof like before. Take the last couple of weeks and Farage, with a certain distance even, looks like the most normal political leader.
Worrying trend. Basically the EP election always had a yellow card moment in it. But now it really could be that it puts IP also on the map as a general election candidate. And one cannot conclude otherwise that the other parties simply made it that way.

3. Farage is going after the Labour vote. Imho a wise strategic move. Labour's leaders and electorate have been seriously disconnected since a few decades (similar to the Conservatives). Only havenot had a proper attack yet in the UK. But a lot of its voters are simply social very conservative unlike its metrosexual leadership.
Vis a vis the Tories things are clear now, there will be movements of course but not so much by going after the vote there.
Labour however gives a lot of potential. Basically it is a party with a natural split in it. between the UKs own welfaretourist and the traditional workers (who still see entitlements as an insurance). With the latter simply being afraid for new developments like mass immigration. A natural market for new voters for a party like IP.

4. That is eg why the new PR guru there is unlikely to work. For alot of reasons in fact.
But mainly that Obama was not yet the political turd that he is now and Mr Ed is since a couple of years seen by many as such. Turd polishing is very difficult and takes much longer than a year (basically restoring credibility and regaining trust, simply doesnot happen in a year).
Equality is imho also a no go. Most Labour voters feel very well that there simply isnot enough money for the unlimited welfarestate. The issue is who will be thrown before the bus.
My guess is (and it shows all over Europe) that traditional workingclass (now often semi-middleclassed) like their welfarestate and in no way want to have to suffer the cost necessary to keep the British professional entitlement seekers and their Rumenian and other Johny Foreigner colleagues keeping receiving these entitlements.

On Cameron having seen Jesus, Hallelujah for that btw.
A bit pathetic imho.
And will not work. He simply wants to be all things to all people and will end up as nothing ...
Very likely as well in countries like the UK it is not about religion/Christianity as such. It is about the 'cultural consevatism' it is part of. A lot of people are simply fed up about discussions if crosses in school should be allowed and that sort of thing and if Christmas can be celebrated in schools.
While often in the same papers a radical iman gets a thumbs up for a further stay obo a European human rights act or so.
With in a lot of countries a difference between Calvinist protestants and Catholics. In the UK however these groups look very similar hard to see the COE folks would think differently about it. They act in a very similar way as the Catholics (basically sort of Chrismas mass religions).
About the letter of 50 or so VIPs. Voteroptimalisation would be middlefingering it. Hard to see him however doing that. So will keep looking as a bit strange, not fitting in with gay marriage and metrosexuality and those kind of things.

So in a nutshell your Nigel might be the Liverpool of British politics. A lot of tradition and an unexpected winner (probably by a penalty as well).