Forget the UKIP factor – Labour must keep Red Ed gagged if they want a chance of winning

NEVER rush to judgement was the dictum of Strangler Lewis, an old editor of my acquaintance and verily a legend in his own lunchtime.

Trouble was Strangler rarely heeded his own advice, too readily succumbing to impulsive, high-velocity outbursts, which often saw weighty Underwood typewriters heaved through his third-floor office window.

Fortunately at 2 a.m. passers-by were few, so whichever plate of glass in the Black Lubyianka – as the art deco building was dubbed by its hacks within – got shattered was hastily repaired and a maintenance crew despatched to sweep the debris off the pavement below, before the gendarmerie took an interest.

Despite the paper’s Right-leaning sentiments, Strangler’s attitude to politicians was ‘a plague on all their houses’, since he considered the Conservatives a meld of noblesse oblige country squires, stockbrokers on the make and part-time MPs-cum-QCs, Labour up to its gills in hock to union paymasters and the Liberals, as they were then, utterly irrelevant.

Had they been around in his day, Strangler should have been a natural UKipper. After all, he ran the Union Jack up a 30-foot flagpole on his front lawn each morning, which Mrs. Strangler ceremonially lowered at dusk.

Except Strangler had fierce disdain for political carpetbaggers and, I’m sure, would have cast Nigel Farage as one of them, heaping grave misgivings on the UKIP boss’s shark-like grin and bloke-in-the-boozer Vaudeville act.

The four-party politics that exists now – if you count the pious Greens, plus regional nationalists as a single, nuisance-value entity – would have posed a huge dilemma 40 years or more ago for the likes of Strangler, just as it does to today’s electorate.

ELECTION WRECKER: Farage's UKIP threatens to damage Labour as much as the Tories

PARTY POOPER: Farage’s UKIP threatens to damage the Labour Party as much as the Tories, but they still aren’t fancied to hold the balance of power in a future coalition

Because the threat the also-rans wield could be a wrecking ball to the chances of ‘Call-me-Dave’ Cameron’s Tories or Red Ed Miliband’s socialists winning outright victories and not having to schmooze fringe mobs into an uneasy coalition.

So much, then, for Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, which – for the foreseeable future, I’d wager – will see government continue to be run by the strongest single party, propped up by one of the weakest.

Hence, Britain again looks set fair for a two-party coalition come the general election next May and possibly a reprise of a Con-Lib Dem pact, which has soldiered on longer than I imagined and performed better than I expected.

Much credit for that goes to Nick Clegg’s lust for power.

What’s more, in my humble estimation, I think the British electorate would buy into another dose, albeit with Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, replacing the discredited Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister.

This is regardless of the projection the Lib-Dems will be all but decimated next time out, their 56 seats reduced to a rump of about 17. Because even that should be enough for them to be willing coalition bed-mates again, providing the Tories emerge with the largest number of seats.

UKIP mavericks are tipped to gain about six constituencies, mainly in Thames delta towns, like Clacton, where Tory defector, Douglas Carswell, won nearly 60% of the vote in the October 9 by-election.

Probably a more eye-popping result, though, was the by-election that same day in Labour’s northern heartland of Heywood and Middleton, where the socialists squeaked home with a humbling 617 majority over UKIP, underlining Farage’s boast that his upstarts pose an equal threat to Miliband as much as Cameron.

Undoubtedly, the party of dissent – and their cheeky-chappy leader – has demonstrated the dangers it pose on all fronts, even if by-elections bring out the worst in a disgruntled electorate, who uses such opportunities to cane the major parties, then revert to type come a general election.

All the same, Cameron’s political machine is taking no chances in Rochester & Strood on November 20, where another Tory defector, Mark Reckless, hopes to become UKIP’s second MP.

Whereas they regarded Carswell winning Clacton as a foregone conclusion, given his local popularity, Rochester & Strood is altogether different territory for Tory strategists.

More affluent and less malleable to Farage’s blarney, Reckless faces the Conservative’s kitchen sink, plus its star performer – London’s much-admired, if eccentric mayor, Boris Johnson – being chucked at him.

Nonetheless, the bookies rate Reckless as 2/5 favourite. And if he does carry the day, it will force Cameron back to the drawing board, hatching fresh plans to out-UKIP Farage.

Labour’s problems are no less daunting. Apart from UKIP no longer being dismissed as a Tory-only hassle, their chief concern remains the credibility and popularity – or lack of it – of their leader.

Miliband’s rallying call at his conference speech last month fell like a lead balloon, leaving many of the party faithful at best bemused, at worst terrified.

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince he is the UK's Prime Minister-in-waiting

STUMPED BY A SARNIE: Even munching a bacon sandwich is a struggle for Miliband, which is another reason why so many voters have little faith in him as a UK Prime Minister

And that was after an ICM-Guardian poll reported Miliband’s ratings had crumbled from -25 to -39 points, with only 22% of voters saying he was ‘doing good job’. In contrast, Cameron’s slid from +2 to -5, but his leadership qualities still command most voters’ respect.

Not since Michael Foot, in 1983, has an opposition Labour leader registered such negativity with a general election looming.

And, at a time when the Milibandits should be a country mile ahead in the polls, a new Opinium survey for The Observer shows Labour and the Tories running neck-and-neck on 33% each, UKIP on 18%, the Lib-Dems floundering on 6% and the Greens on 4%.

Meanwhile, piling further misery on Labour is the nightmarish prospect that many of their 41 Scottish MPs might be culled by the resurgent Scottish Nationalists, now commanded by Nicola Sturgeon.

Labour, however, are sticking to the belief that if they can pull 35% of the vote, it should haul them over the finishing line first, but that hope appears to be fast fading.

With every vote counting, naturally a UKIP success in Rochester & Strood will be heaven sent.  And the more they can keep Miliband gagged – and away from embarrassing bacon-sarnie photo shoots – the better their chances.

For their part, the Tories must hope the spectre of the wimpy Miliband occupying 10 Downing Street will loom large in the electorate’s mind and deter many – even hard-core socialists – from opting for a Labour government.

All that’s certain is next May’s UK general election will be laced with intrigue and uncertainty.

But, for my money, the bookies odds of 4/1 on another Con-Lib Dem coalition look a good bet.

Advertisements

Whatever ‘British values’ are, there’s no room on the list for extremism

DAVID Cameron has had a stab at defining them. So have throngs of media luminaries, from sanctimonious liberals to hard-nosed Right-wingers.

Yet, to my mind, no-one has yet nailed a concise explanation of what are loftily describe as ‘British values’, even if we know – instinctively – the answer, since they’ve been inculcated in us since we were toddling around in soggy nappies.

The issue has become the subject of fierce debate, after allegations emerged of a ‘Trojan Horse’ plot by Muslim radicals to hijack control of a group of state schools in Birmingham and transform them into virtual Islamic madrassas.

After an Ofsted investigation, Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the UK Government’s education watchdog, delivered a withering verdict that an ‘organised campaign’ had targeted certain academies to impose a ‘narrow, faith-based ideology’, with the same people ‘highly influential across several schools’.

A ‘culture of fear and intimidation’ had developed, he said, with ‘head teachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards… marginalised or forced out of their jobs’.

Wilshaw’s report examined many charges, including girls forced to sit at the back of classrooms, music ditched from the curriculum, an extremist, al-Qaeda sympathiser invited to preach at kids and state funds diverted to subsidise trips to Saudi Arabia.

WATCHDOG BITES: Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the UK's schools inspectorate, Ofsted, found a culture of 'fear and intimidation' in some schools

WATCHDOG BITES: Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the UK’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted, found a culture of ‘fear and intimidation’ in some schools

Based on ancient Greek legend, the ‘Trojan Horse plot’ reportedly came from a leaked letter discovered in March, 2014, alleging Islamists in Britain’s second city sought to wrest control of schools and expand their warped agenda elsewhere.

Hence, a scab of local controversy erupted into a festering cyst of national dispute, with the nation’s core principles placed under a philosophical microscope and a UK prime minister minded to outline what he regards as Britishness and British values.

Cameron cited the Union flag, football and fish and chips as symbolic, but none cut to the quick of why we are who we are.

He also harked back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and the first time an English monarch’s absolute powers were curbed by law. This, though, was hardly a people’s revolt, since it merely forced bad King John to bow to will of his feudal barons and it improved the plight of long-suffering serfs not a jot.

What Magna Carta did, though, was to kick-start the process by which English common law evolved to what exists today, whereby every citizen, regardless of rank, gender or ethnicity, has the right to liberty and justice. Small wonder, then, it has been the template for countless other nations to copy.

So, certainly the law – dispensed by an independent judiciary – is valued, yet it’s not a value; neither is a parliamentary democracy, a constitutional monarchy, a moderate church, a vibrant Press and a culture of free enterprise.

Taking a millennia to develop, these pillars of the British Establishment are certainly entwined in the national psyche, but they are the products of values so abstract, they almost defy simple definition.

To hazard a guess at a few, though, I’d cite respect for freedom, justice and stoicism, that ability to withstand adversity without become hysterical.

That may partly explain the British virtue of tolerance. Because, even if some Brits are head-banging racists, collectively as a nation we possess a deep sense of fair play, which is why Shakespeare’s Sceptred Isle became a land of hope, salvation and opportunity for waves of immigrants, many escaping repression.

RACISM 1950s-STYLE: A typical sign in many boarding house windows

RACISM 1950s-STYLE: A typical sign in many British  boarding house windows

From the persecuted Protestant Huguenots arriving from 16th Century France – ironically ancestors of UKIP’s Nigel Farage – via the Irish navvies, who built Britain’s canals and railways in the Industrial Revolution, to Jewish migrants fleeing czarist pogroms at the turn of the 20th Century…all came and became infused with British values, each adding to the nation’s vitality.

Post World War Two, West Indians arrived to man the trains, buses and NHS, while Asians were recruited to work in the North’s fabric mills.

But integration was never easy for immigrants, because many faced walls of prejudice, manifested by anti-Semitism, xenophobia and a colour bar. Remember: it wasn’t so long ago a common sight in boardinghouse windows were signs, stating, ‘No Irish, no blacks & no dogs’.

However, there was a tacit acceptance among incomers that their adopted nation’s proud traditions and values – no matter how obscure – deserved respect and that reverence was passed on to their children.

So the country really didn’t need synthetic words like ‘multiculturalism’ foisted on it, because Britain melded into a rainbow society, which mostly succeeded…so long as everyone stuck to the script.

Neither did it require the zealous Left to force-feed the masses a dogma of political correctness, as prescribed by an arrogant, metropolitan elite, isolated from harsh reality in London’s ritzier suburbs.

But, mainly north of Watford, something was going radically awry and, instead of barriers breaking down, they were being raised, as folk witnessed irrevocable changes in their towns and cities that tested tolerance to the full.

Among some Muslim communities a hardline Islamist ideology – one denigrating the very ethos of Britishness – was being imposed that silenced the voices of the moderate majority.

Sadly, then, it has become easier to define what isn’t a British value than what is.

It is not, for example, forced marriage, the taking of child brides or the subjugation of women; it is not hostility towards other faiths or the supremacy of one; it is not discrimination against gays; it is not the encouraging of impressionable young men to destroy the society that nurtured them; it is not extremism in any of its various manifestations.

Muslim have as much right to freely practice their faith and culture in Britain as anyone and they should do so without fear or favour.

But, like all who take pride in their Britishness, warts and all, it should be understood that the very British value of mutual tolerance must triumph if Britain is to have any values left.

The peasants are revolting and only a ‘Euro-lite’ can douse the fire next time

BIZARRELY, everyone saw it coming, not least of all the usual suspects at the helm of Britain’s ship of state, Messrs Cameron, Miliband and Clegg.

It was as if they were standing on a platform at Waterloo Station knowing full well the Eurostar was about to plough through the buffers. And yet they stood there impotent, mutely counting down to the train wreck and their inevitable derailment by the UKIP express.

So, to call the last week’s local government and MEP elections result an ‘earthquake’, as Nigel Farage and chastened Europhile mouthpieces across Europe did, is a misnomer.

Usually, such seismic shifting of tectonic plates come without warning. So, no. That the electorate were going to stick two fingers up to centrist parties and punt for a charismatic nationalist was signalled far in advance by pollsters, even if the outcome was a major tremor measured in political terms.

Amazingly, apart from Nick Clegg, the other two stooges hardly waved red lanterns to slow down the UKIP bandwagon.

Squire Cameron parroted his pledge for an in/out referendum on Europe, come 2017. Alas, it fell on deaf ears, because he couldn’t risk offering a hint of how he’d renegotiate Britain’s membership, should he still be inhabiting 10 Downing Street in 11 months’ time.

Meanwhile, the lingering vision of Labour’s Ed Miliband, the putative Premier-in-waiting, was his failure to negotiate his way through a bacon sarnie, giving those who dubbed him ‘weird’ even more ammunition and amusement.

THE REAL DEAL? Time will tell whether Farage's UKIP is just a protest party or has the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics

THE REAL DEAL? Time will tell whether Farage’s UKIP is just a protest party or has the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics

At least Clegg twice hectored Farage in TV debates, only for the viewing public to kick him up the backside. The last thing they wanted to hear were further outpouring of messianic zeal for the bounteous EU, which resonates in double digits on their Richter Scale of loathing.

The Deputy PM’s gamble was as foolhardy as it was brave. Now, trounced in both elections, Clegg needs all the acumen he can muster to halt his touchy-feely Lib-Dems hitting the self-destruct button, after a shambolic leadership coup and the messy resignation of maverick pollster, Lord Oakeshott.

Meanwhile, lesser mortals of the cossetted Westminster elite had been delegated to throw the political sink at Farage – a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ leading a xenophobic ‘one-policy pony’ – but missed their mark by the width of Big Ben. He, in turn, chucked it back with knobs on, and squarely hit the clock-face.

Nonetheless, only time will tell whether ‘the man with the pint and fag’, whose congenial frankness and lack of Establishment baggage has so entranced large swathes of a disgruntled electorate, turns out to be a false messiah or his UKIP isn’t just a transient protest party, without the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics.

History is littered with such characters…from Wat Tyler and his calamitous, 14th Century Peasants Revolt, to Nazi sycophant, Oswald Mosely, and his Blackshirts oafs trashed in the ‘30s, to David Owen abjectly failing to ‘realign’ UK politics, after splitting the Labour Party in 1981, before his Social Democrats disappeared into Lib-Dem oblivion.

Farage, though, is canny enough to be the exception, because what is remarkable about the explosion of support for his Peasants’ Revolt Mark II is that, of all Euroland’s economies, Britain is clawing its way out of recession faster than anywhere else, bar Germany.

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince he is the UK's Prime Minister-in-waiting

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince the public that he’s Prime Minister material – and even screwed up on the challenge of eating a bacon sarnie

So, drawing a thread between events of last week in the UK and ructions across the EU may be misguided, even if the stock of politicos almost everywhere has plummeted to new lows.

France has a long, inglorious history of flirting with the extremism and however elegantly Marine Le Pen has remodelled her fascist father, Jean Marie’s National Front, its stench of race-hatred and anti-Semitism can’t be wafted away.

But, after years of austerity and decades of corruption, nepotism and electoral stitch-ups, it’s unsurprising the French veered far-Right in protest at a lame-duck, Left-wing presidency and a wheezing economy.

Denmark, too, delivered a populist backlash to the ruling Social Democrats by empowering the People’s Party, another anti-Europe, anti-immigration clique in the Le Pen mould.

In Greece, however, where the thuggish EU has virtually mugged any imminent hope of recovery, the electorate sought refuge in the radical socialists of Syriza.

Other than nations where GDP is growing – notably the Baltic States plus the powerhouse that is Germany – few EU countries escaped a mauling from the fringe.

And the spleen of the great disillusioned was targeted squarely at the Brussels bogeymen, whose default setting in hard times is screwing down the worst afflicted states still more.

DANGER WOMAN: Marine Le Pen might have popularised France's National Front, but it's still a racist party

RIGHT TURN: Marine Le Pen might have remodelled France’s far-Right National Front, but it’s a party that still smacks of race-hatred and anti-Semitism

But whether the crisis meeting of Europe’s leaders last week fully addressed the message that – as Bill Clinton reminded George H. W. Bush in the 1992 US Presidential race – ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ is debatable.

Based on its track record of consummate arrogance and creeping federalism, the Europratocracy is just as inclined to take the view that, with 70% of MEPs representing mainstream parties, why worry about a rump of wildcats.

If the outcome, then, is ‘business as usual’, such crass short-termism will be nothing short of hara-kiri, because the election bushfire of 2014 threatens to prelude a Continent-wide conflagration in five years’ time.

Only an EU-lite – with less regulation, more democratic transparency and a repatriation of powers to member states – will assuage the swelling protest movement, whose appeal will widen further if Europe’s decision-makers don’t heed the call of their citizens.

As for the beleaguered Eurozone, European Central Bank policy must reflect such a fundamental shift and pump-prime flagging economies, especially the Club Med states, emulating the successes of America’s Federal Reserve and Britain’s Bank of England.

The alternative strategy is for more failed Europe, not less, with complete fiscal and political integration, not the halfway house status quo.

My guess, though, is that trying to weld 28 disparate entities into a United States of Europe would be the EU’s most disastrous gambit yet. It would not only require members to forego individual national sovereignty, but, inevitably, dominion by the strongest power, Germany – and not even Angela Merkel hankers for that.

Frankly, the very thought of such a scenario gives me the shivers, because the peasants are revolting – and Europrats ignore them at their peril.

 

 

Why nobody can give a political turkey a right, royal stuffing like Paxo can…

MORTIFIED! Will my wife or Auntie BBC – let alone Britain’s political class, which must be heaving a  huge sigh of collective relief – ever be the same again?

Jeremy Paxman’s announcement that he’s quitting BBC2’s Newsnight prog, after 25 years, has left Mrs. Ash bereft, not to say yours truly without good cause to remain awake until 23.30 (Spanish time), before dozing off in the comfort of hearing yet another political turkey suffer public humiliation by a thousand, deft, verbal cuts.

For those not privileged to have witnessed Paxman’s acerbic interviewing style, imagine the Spanish Inquisition and a Soviet show trial rolled into one, as – giving all due respect to Kipling’s immortal poem, If – he treated all as impostors deserving the same disdain.

With the possible exception of the late Sir Robin Day, who founded the post-modernist school of torture by TV, no-one but Paxman has exploded more pomposity or shattered as many overblown egos.

Media mythology claims the abrasive Yorkshireman coined his approach to interviewees by first asking himself, ‘Why is this bastard lying to me?’ He didn’t. It’s a quote lifted from Times journalist, Louis Heron, who admitted he’d heard it from a colleague.

However, what’s undeniable is the grand inquisitor was the people’s champion, answering their call to probe for truth and accountability by – preferably – steamrollering blusterers into a flat, mushy mess of angst.

So, if he cost £800,000 a year of taxpayers’ dosh, Paxman was worth every penny.

And even if the dreary mechanics of power is the equivalent of brewer’s droop to those disinterested in knowing how the wool is being dragged over their eyes, nothing quite rivalled the sight of a supercilious grandee being give a right, royal Paxo stuffing.

Probably the peak of his reign of intimidation was the demolition of Michael Howard in 1997, when Paxman asked the former Home Secretary the same question 12, successive times…‘Did you threaten to overrule him?’

ARCH INQUISITOR: But who can follow Jeremy Paxman on BBC's flagship Newsnight current affairs show?

ARCH INQUISITOR: But who can follow Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s flagship Newsnight current affairs show?

Few recall the context – the dismissal of the head of Britain’s prison service – or knew Paxman sent Howard a bottle of champagne by way of an apology. Only the interview will live on as a shrine to big, small-screen, political melodrama.

The 2005 general election saw a similar verbal punch-up, this time with Saddam Hussein sycophant, George Galloway, in which Paxman accused the now Respect MP of threatening him, which ended with Galloway walking out of the interview.

Later that year, when David Cameron was running to be the Tory’s head toff, Paxman pressed him on his directorship of a nightclub firm and left the future Prime Minister blathering to explain the ingredients of cocktails like Pink Pussy and Slippery Nipple.

In 2011, he even called a European Commission spokesman ‘Mr Idiot’.

Accused in recent years of being – in his own words – ‘clapped out’, Paxman proved detractors wrong in 2012, by shredding Chloe Smith, then a junior at the Treasury, put up to defend a knee-jerk decision to freeze fuel duty.

In fairness to the fledgling minister, of whom nothing has been heard since, she was raw meat to a voracious rottweiler and whoever threw her into Paxman’s pit – most finger her boss, Chancellor George Osborne – was guilty of heinous cowardice.

Some, however, gave better than they got on the BBC’s flagship current affairs show.

 

Disgraced newspaper tycoon, Conrad Black, labelled Paxman a ‘gullible, priggish, English fool’ when questioned about his imprisonment for fraud.

And, taken to task over his view that voting was a waste of time, gobby comic, Russell Brand, actually forced Paxman to admit he’d also failed to vote in a recent election.

Whatever the hangdog presenter’s personal politics, though, he never wore his colours in action and his quality of mercilessness has never been restrained, whether it was the Prime Minister or leader of the British National Party sitting opposite.

Even Paxman’s BBC masters have felt the sharp cut of his tongue.

To wide acclaim, Paxman was never more scornful about their handiwork than over Auntie’s monumental cock-up of a Newsnight investigation into the Jimmy Savile sex-abuse scandal, which he damned as ‘contemptible’.

Recently he even panned the output of Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra as ‘hell’.

Meanwhile, Paxman’s remark that the organisation was ‘smug’ not only didn’t win rave reviews from top brass, they demanded he and the equally-forensic John Humphrys, of Radio 4’s Today programme, study an in-house report on ‘courtesy in interviewing’.

Andrew Marr’s Sunday show exemplifies that blandness, although it hasn’t gone unnoticed the former editor of The Independent tends to treat his Left-of-wing guests with greater deference than, say, the likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

But, in their skewered judgements, what legions of the Beeb’s mandarins have singularly failed to appreciate is the public want exactly what Paxman and Humphrys deliver…the blood of political humbugs on the studio carpet.

Even when he side-stepped into the realms of light entertainment by becoming University Challenge’s inquisitor, Paxman’s withering chidings were no less barbed and it’s glad tidings he’ll continue with that show.

NO RESPECT: Outspoken George Galloway, then the new Respect MP, walked off air during Paxman's grilling

‘Come on, come on’, he demands, with undisguised irritation, as the students strain over brain-numbing questions about astrophysics or the sovereignty of South Pacific atolls.

Strangely, though Paxman is a broadcasting icon, his life’s work hasn’t had mass appeal, because Newsnight’s audience rarely tips 600,000 – including a 10% boost when the man himself hosts it – and University Challenge is hardly The X Factor.

But, earlier this year, when he grew a beard, even the social media was fizzing (for the record, my wife reckons it was to hide a nip-and-tuck job – and, believe me, she can tell a pair of bought-in boobs half a mile away).

With Panorama blown as a byword for probing journalism, the problem for news junkies like me is: who replaces the irreplaceable on Newsnight – surely not the grating Kirsty Wark or a featherweight cutie like Emily Maitlis?

But, more to the point, how is Mrs. Ash ever going to sleep tight without a dulcet ‘Goodnight’ from Jeremy, the man of her dreams?

Why I want a democratic Europe, minus the EU dictators and the Euro ‘gravy train’

THE other night I was asked to debate the pluses and minuses of Europe with former European Parliamentarian (MEP), Francisca Bennassar, in front of an audience of international expats here in Mallorca, members of an organisation called Europeos por Espana. Several people have contacted me since and asked for details of my speech – so here’s an abridged version (and apologies for its length)…

THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar

THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar – Photo: LAURA STADLER

CONTRARY to popular myth, I am not the UK Independence Party’s Man in Mallorca, a swivel-eyed loon or a Little Englander, whose attitude to Europe was probably best summed up by a famous headline in The Times, from the 1930s, that read: ‘Fog in Channel, Continent cut off.’

Indeed, I feel extremely fortunate to live in the sun-kissed Balearic Isles, so I’m not a turkey which votes for Christmas and I don’t want to see an end of the European dream.

And I can tell you: if Britain ever left the European Union, my wife and I would be devastated. Being declared persona non grata here and forced to return to Britain is a dark prospect with zero appeal, especially if – like us – you hail from Manchester.

Not that I’m not immensely proud of being British and my home city. Because, in spite of the EU’s attempts to homogenise us all into being Europeans, first and foremost, we are still entitled to take pride in our nationalities, cultures and history.

Still, in 1973, I was more than happy for my country to join what was then the European Economic Community, or the EEC in short, perhaps more affectionately known as the COMMON MARKET. And, two years later, I voted a resounding ‘Yes’ for continued membership in the only referendum Britain has held on being part of Europe.

This was not just because it would further irritate the French – General De Gaulle, you might remember, worked tirelessly to keep us Anglo-Saxons out of what he regarded as his club…a French invention, funded by Germany, as my German neighbours insist it still is.

No, this was because I strongly believed in the merits of neighbouring nations banding together to form a trading bloc, with free movement of GOODS, SERVICES, CAPITAL AND PEOPLE.

However, the cuddly, old Common Market – which appeared to be working very nicely, gracias – somehow sneakily grew into what we have now…the European Union.

In doing so, the original concept has morph into an UNDEMOCRATIC, BUREAUCRATIC, POWER-GRABBING BIG BROTHER – A LAME ATTEMPT AT THE SUPER-STATE SOME YEARN TO SEE, BUT ONE I SINCERELY HOPE NEVER HAPPENS, BECAUSE IT WOULD BE AN EVEN BIGGER DISASTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE NOW.

Condemned by its own arrogance, the EU is a smug gaggle of unelected appointees, unanswerable to its citizens, backed by a mollycoddled, egotistic bureaucracyalso unaccountable to the electorate – and 766 MEPs, who at least are voted in by us hoi poloi every five years, even if they apparently haven’t the power to pop a paper bag.

To me, this smacks too much of George Orwell’s nightmarish 1984, with totally centralised control bossed by an unchallengeable BIG BROTHER CABAL. Even words they use to sugar-coat policy sound like ‘News-speak’.

What’s more, it’s also a grasping, unapologetic GRAVY TRAIN, where money – that’s OUR cash – is no object when it comes to frittering it away on far too many worthless, needless so-called ‘initiatives’ and ‘projects’.

And, thanks to its arcane treaties, it meddles with and too often overrides the will and laws of sovereign nations– and their peoples – insisting on something called SUBSIDIARITY, which basically means: ‘Europe know best, so do as you’re damned well told’.

Naturally, as you can tell, I’m being hyper-diplomatic here in the interests of pan-European unity…and we haven’t even discussed that most shambolic symbol of EU financial alchemy, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro.

So now you’re thinking this man is Nigel Farage in disguise after all and his weasel words of being pro-European are a sham.

I can assure you they aren’t. Because what I dearly want to see is a Europe that actually works for all the its peoples…one that’s transparently democratic from top to bottom, where APPOINTEE DICTATORS don’t rule the roost and faceless bureaucrats – or EUROPRATS, as many call them– are held accountable for their excesses, however bananas they are at times…and believe me bananas, as we’ll see, is a very apt description.

I don’t know who watched either or both of the two, televised debates between UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s No.1 apologist for the EU.

But, apart from Farage winning both by a country mile – sorry, kilometre– what struck me most was how hostile the public have become to Establishment politicians of all stripes, because voters feel the likes of Clegg live in a political bubble utterly divorced from their reality.

NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage's UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion

NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage’s UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion

So UKIP is not the cause of this frustration, merely a glaring symptom of that disconnect…a disillusionment that’s echoing throughout Europe.

Just look at the gains Marine Le Pen’s National Front made in France’s recent mayoral elections and the manifest dangers other neo-fascist, headbangers – like Jobbick in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece – pose to democracy.

It heavily emphasises that a perilous rejection of mainstream politics is happening and politicians have only themselves to blame, thanks to their litany of broken promises, wishy-washy policies and the growth of a pasty political elite, few of whom have ever done proper jobs or got their hands dirty.

And it can’t be denied that one of the prime targets for this swelling tide of rage – a cri de Coeur you might say – is the clunking fist of the EU and its inability to deal with six years of crippling, financial crisis, except to pile on more misery and austerity.

It even had the effrontery to sack democratically-elected leaders in Greece and Italy and impose its own technocrats to take charge.

As an aside, look what happened in 2008 when the peoples of France, the Netherlands and Ireland voted ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty. The all-knowing, all-seeing EU simply said ‘Vote, vote and vote again – until you get the ‘Yes’ result we demand.’

So much for democracy – as we used to know it – in today’s Europe.

It’s no surprise, then, people want to wrest back control of their own countries not have more and more power hijacked by Brussels. Because if, as the records show, over 50% of laws originate from the EU, what’s the point in a state holding a general election?

But, briefly returning to the Farage-Clegg debates, the scariest words I heard came afterwards from the Lib-Dem leader. When asked how he saw Europe 10 years on and he glibly replied, ‘Much the same as it is now.’

‘****!’ (or words to that effect),’ I thought: ‘If this is as good as it gets, heaven help us all!’

Because even a purblind Europhile like Clegg must ask why, for instance, the EU needs TWO centres of government, Strasbourg as well as Brussels.

Not that he’ll admit, but the reason is the French demanded it.

So every so often the whole EU bandwagon – Commissioners, MEPs, Europrats, advisers, translators, lobbyists, hangers-on, plus assorted odds and sods – up sticks and buzz off 432 kilometres down the road to its other HQ, sets up camp there and gets to work.

No wonder the EU Commission budget for 2014 is mind-boggling €142.64-billion – and it’s only that low because Britain, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Austria and the Czech Republic balked at the Commissions’ demand for an inflation-exploding, near-7% rise, which was slashed down to below 3%…still at least a percentage point higher than inflation (or stagflation) afflicting most struggling member states.

Personally, I think it was a gross impertinence of the EU’s great and good to demand to let their belts out several notches just when nearly every citizen – especially in crisis-stricken Club Med states, like Spain – was dramatically tightening theirs.

You might be interested to know, by the way, that ever since 1994, when it first started producing annual reports into Europe’s finances, the EU’s own accountants, the Court of Auditors, has failed to sign off the Union’s accounts because of gross profligacy and widespread irregularities.

One audit found over €100-billion of spending was ‘affected by material error’– a polite term for fraud and mismanagement.

Indeed, so critically searing were the auditors, last year the Commissioners ordered them gagged, for fear of what else they might uncover.

But it’s not all just about money, even if an MEP sitting in the EU assembly costs £1.79 million a year (2012 figure) – three times what a British MP costs in Westminster – and the European Parliament’s 766 members cost us taxpayers a staggering £1.3 billion annually. And that doesn’t include pensions most folk could only dream of.

This takes me onto another point about duplication, because just like it has two HQs, the EU has TWO PRESIDENTS. Lucky us, I hear you say – even America’s only got one (and there’s even some doubt about him).

CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling...they're in charge of Europe

CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling…they’re in charge of Europe

First, there’s Herman Van Rumpoy, who as President of the European Council, is effectively Europe’s Prime Minister and, to be fair, has some experience in that role, since he was once Belgium’s premier.

Second, there’s Jose Manuel Barrosa, President of the Commission, the EU’s executive branch and Biggest of the Brethren.

As President, the former Prime Minister of Portugal doles out jobs to the 28 members of the Commission the EU’s cabinet, each being an appointee from their member state.

The President also determines EU policy, having the final say about all the laws, because the EU’s inner circle is the only body that can propose legislation. MEPs, as I said earlier, can’t pass or change whatever lands on them from above, but – rather like Britain’s House of Lords – can merely rubber-stamp it or ask the Commission for a review.

Now, you maybe be unfamiliar with Messrs. Barroso and Van Rumpoy – even if Farage once described him as ‘having the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk’ (and was fined €2,400 for the insult). But you might – just might – be aware of the UK’s grandee at the EU top table.

She is no less than the Gilbert & Sullivan-sounding High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – in other words Foreign Minister – and none other than Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, near Wigan, which, I can tell you, is better known for its meat pies than its diplomats.

Vice-President of the Commission, too, no less, Cathy has never been voted into public office anywhere at any level, not even a parish council or a junior school PTA. In fact, all her jobs – from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament administrator to Leader of the House of Lords – have been by appointment only.

What’s more, many member state foreign ministers believe the Baroness has been hit by a huge ego-rush and considerably overreaches her brief – and expertise – by insisting she speaks on the world stage for all 28 nations of the EU, something Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, describes as ‘competence creep’ (though maybe ‘incompetence creep’ is, perhaps, more accurate).

Hardly considered a colossus in diplomatic circles, Cathy apparently owe her status to the patronage of her great friend, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown…so perhaps enough said.

UPDATE – RE: THE BARONESS: The artless EU’s foreign policy chief is the only international diplomat to have welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s new unity deal with it arch enemies, the Islamic crazies of Hamas, who hijacked Gaza in a mini-civil with the PLO in 2007 and are designated a ‘terrorist’ entity by the EU.

The move also signals the final nail in the coffin for US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s bid to forge a two-state solution and end the Israel-Palestinian impasse.

‘Daft as a brush’ is an expression popular in Wigan. Perhaps someone should suggest she’s an apt recipient of that ‘accolade’ on her next visit to planet Earth.

EU’S LOONIER RULES

THE Union gets itself a bad name because not only is it constantly meddling in member states’ domestic affairs, but some of its rules and diktats are beyond absurd. Just for your edification and amusement, let’s look at a few…  

BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU

BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU

● Until 2008, when the daft law was repealed – pardon the pun – for 13 years the EU deemed this banana illegal…because it wasn’t straight enough. It cost growers millions and a similar law applied to bent cucumbers.

The only positive I can recall from this bananas idea was when I came home from work one night with one and my wife said to me, ‘Is that an EU banana in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’

WATER WON'T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn't re-hydrate - so it can't be advertised as being able to do so

WATER WON’T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn’t re-hydrate – so it can’t be advertised as being able to do so

● You might know our bodies are composed of nearly 60% of water and we need it to survive – so no wonder marathon runners take on so much when plodding 26 miles. But, despite overwhelming medical evidence, in its addled arrogance, the EU ruled that drinking water DIDN’T STOP DEHYDRATION and manufacturers of bottles like this were stopped from claiming it did.

PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren't laxatives

PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren’t laxatives, so can’t be marketed as a means to make you go (you know where)

● These are, as you’ve guessed, prunes and, again, there’s overwhelming medical evidence they aid…well, you know what. But an EU diktat declared prunes were not laxatives, so they couldn’t be marketed as an aid that helps…well, you know what. That farcical pronouncement prompted one MEP to suggest a prune-eating contest to see what happened. Unsurprisingly, there were no takers.

CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury's chocolate - because they didn't consider it was 'chocky' enough

CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury’s chocolate – because they didn’t consider it was ‘chocky’ enough

● Most Brits will have been brought up on Cadbury’s chocolate, yet for 27 years is was effectively banned by the EU, because it contained up to 5% of vegetable fats and up to 20% of milk.

There was also considerable argy-bargy about British chocolate in general not being chocolate at all, since it didn’t contain at least 60% of cocoa bean, but cocoa butter instead.

And ditto a proposed ban on smoky-bacon flavoured crisps…because they didn’t contain smoky bacon. Of course not! The clue was in the word ‘flavoured’, silly.

Thank heavens Brussels didn’t get around to examining cheese & onion crisps, with no cheese or onion in them, or BBQ-flavoured nibbles that didn’t have a BBQ in the bag.

And, by the way – just in case the Europrats ever decide to look into it – I can I assure them there aren’t any monsters in Monster Munch.

However, one victory for EU ‘group think’ was to re-name carrots as fruit, not veg, because the Portuguese make jam out of them.

The point is not that these laws, pronouncements, diktats and directives are utter twaddle from the EU’s Ministry of Silly Talks, to misquote Monty Python.

It’s more about: what is an organisation like the EU doing wasting valuable time, money and resources by poking its nose into things that don’t concern it and are of absolutely no consequence to the betterment of Europe’s people.    

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS  

LOOK, I don’t want to keep rattling on like a machine-gun with a tirade against the EU, though I could do at least until midnight.

I could cite the lunacy of the profligate Common Agricultural Policy, CAP – designed by the French for the French, which pays farmers obscene amounts of money to produce nothing and how CAP’s stupidity resulted in useless Wine Lakes and Butter Mountains.

I could ask why the EU needs 13,000 Europrats, who are paid salaries way above any civil service norm, along with generous pensions and perks that include EU-designated shops, where they can buy products tax-free.

I could also cite the EU’s at least 56 quangos and so many committees, even the Commissioners have lost count of them, which all require truly obscene amounts of funding.

But I won’t.

Last week I spent two days researching the EU and on Wikipedia its entry is so garbled with Euro-babble, it must have been written by a committee of the most nerdish Europrats Brussels could assemble.

What I did discover, though, were the three qualifying rules of entry to the Union as set out in simple, unambiguous language for once. So any nation seeking accession must agree to: be financially solvent (like Greece, for instance?), democratic and uphold the rule of law.

That’s seems more than reasonable, I hear you say.

Except it presupposes a nation’s justice system has enough checks and balances not to require further (shall we say) ‘refinement’ by more EU interference.

But, not only does the Union have its own judges in the Courts of Justice, it requires member states to kow-tow to the European Court of Human Rights, the too often ridiculous ECHR.

Technically the ECHR isn’t part of the EU. But it is, because EU rules demand that every member nation joins the Council of Europe, thus every member must automatically accept the European Charter of Human Rights, which means every member is answerable to the judicial quirks of the ECHR.

To be fair, this court was set up in the late 1950s with the best of intentions – as is the road to Hades.

So, more than half a century on, the fitness for purpose of the ECHR as a court of last resort is quite rightly being questioned, thanks to some of its – how can I explain them politely – more bonkers judgements.

Britain, whose judicial code dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215, is but one of many of the 47 nations answerable to the ECHR that raises extremely valid issues about the decisions handed down, often by judges who are junior legal academics with absolutely no courtroom experience anywhere.

DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America

DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America

Yet the Court remains free to ride roughshod over national judicial systems, as it’s done with the UK’s, blocking, for instance the legitimate deportation of hook-handed hate preacher, Abu Hamza, to face terrorism charges in the US and with the equally-odious Abu Qatada, wanted by Jordan on similarly offences.

And only the other day it agreed to process the appeals of two Real IRA scumbags, seeking to overturn a UK civil court verdict holding them responsible for the heinous, Omagh bombing in 1988, in which 29 people were murdered and 220 maimed.

Meanwhile, for years the ECHR has accused Britain of ‘human rights abuse’ by refusing criminals serving prison sentences the right to vote in elections. To me – and I’d hope to most sane folk – it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those convicted of crimes should not share the same privileges as law-abiding folk, including the right to vote.

So, like the Big Brother that’s the EU, the ECHR is in dire need of having some common-sense knocked into it.

CURSED CURRENCY: The 'one-size-fits-all' Euro doesn't allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue

CURSED CURRENCY: The ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro doesn’t allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue

THE EURO

FINALLY, I can’t but help mention the Euro and say simply this: No currency union in history has ever worked long term – and there have been several…but, just like the Euro, they were wishful and egotistical political thinking winning over the realities of economic nous.

And this ‘one-size-fits-all’ pipedream had the makings of one of the most monumental currency blunders right from its introduction in 1999.

How many remember how, here in Spain, 166 pesetas were converted to one Euro – and a 150-peseta cup of coffee suddenly cost €1.50 (249 pesetas) or even €2 (332 pesetas) overnight? If that wasn’t a financial health warning for things to come, I don’t know what was.

A strong currency might meet the needs of manufacturing super-states, like Germany, relatively untouched by the financial tsunami of 2008 that hit the world. But the same doesn’t apply to the weaker, agriculture and tourism-dependent economies of southern Europe.

So, sadly, it’s no surprise to see the growing poverty, civil unrest, joblessness and despair. Just look at Spain, where kids, often highly educated, have to seek work overseas, because over half of under-25 – the cream of the nation’s future – can’t find employment at home.

And the tragedy is compounded by the abject lack of imagination of the European Central Bank, the ECB, which hasn’t a clue about how to combat the drift into stagflation.

The fact that Britain, Sweden and Denmark had the good sense to keep out of the Euro – and are now recovering fastest from the crisis – should be an object lesson in how vital it is for nations to keep control of their own currencies.   

So my plea is ‘Si, VIVA EUROPE’…but let’s have a helluva lot less of it!’

‘Nightmare’ Nige’s UKIP mavericks could signal another mish-mash UK government

IF I were a betting man – and it’s odds-on I’m not – I’d wager that whatever constitutes the next United Kingdom government, post the General Election of May 7, 2015, it will be another hastily-cobbled coalition.

Labour may currently be a gnat’s nose ahead of the Conservatives, but they’re not dead certs to lead the field a year from now, especially after Finance Minister Osborne’s crafty budget unlocked pension funds and unashamedly played to Lamborghini-lusting wrinklies.

Meanwhile, showtime has kicked off with the warm-up acts slugging it out to determine which also-ran might be a junior partner, should the great British electorate again decide to inflict a plague on both houses of the major parties.

So, last Wednesday, Nick ‘Nicey’ Clegg, champion of the sagging Liberal Democrats, went head-to-head in a TV joust with the United Kingdom Independence Party’s Nigel ‘The Nightmare’ Farage for the second time in a week, keeping the chatterati so abuzz, a 1,000-volt charge could have been thrust up their bleached posteriors.

The BBC debate was fiercer, more cuttingly personal than the previous, LBC/Sky TV  clash, but each produced only one winner – and it wasn’t the crestfallen Deputy Prime Minister.

Many, yours truly included, wondered why a Coalition Goliath like Clegg had thrown down the gauntlet to Farage, a self-styled David and, proudly by his own account, a ‘non-professional’ politico.

So, if it was intended as an exercise in rubbing the underdog’s nose in the doo-doo, it backfired monumentally.

Because hubris did for Clegg as he totally misjudged Farage’s gift of the gab and in both debates the second most powerful man in Britain reeled under a welter of verbal blows, the most withering being the accusation of ‘wilfully lying to the British people.’

The debates’ outcome have further signalled a radical shift in the UK’s political sands.

Even the ‘hung’ parliament of 2010, which gave the Lib-Dems their first a whiff of influence in decades, could be eclipsed by the bonfire of political vanities that threatens.

The cardinal errors the big battalions – Labour as much as Conservative, let alone Clegg’s political harlots – made were a) Trivialising UKIP as swivel-eyed, Little Englander loons [true, some are]; and b) Utterly underestimating Farage’s connect with non-metropolitan have-nots.

NO CONTEST: Nick Clegg (right) and UKIP's Nigel Farage locked in verbal fisticuffs - with 'Nightmare' Nige winning both times

NO CONTEST: Nick Clegg (right) and UKIP’s Nigel Farage locked in verbal fisticuffs – with ‘Nightmare’ Nige winning both times

This emphasises how divorced from reality the elite truly are, with rare exception all too comfy in their Westminster bubble, inured from life in the Siberia of the provinces.

Interestingly, a similar arrogance afflicts the commentariat, as a horde of talking heads demonstrated, disparaging Farage as ‘looking sweaty’ and praising Clegg for appearing ‘ministerial’ in the first face-off.

The YouGuv poll of real people saw it differently: feisty Nige licked lacklustre Nick 57% to 36% first time out, then bested him 68% to 27% in the re-match.

No wonder that snotty scribbler, Yasmin Alibhia Brown, of the fast-fading Independent, demanded furiously the media should be ‘controlled’ in giving coverage to Farage.

If Ms YAB’s remark didn’t smack of neo-Lefty fascism and a curb on free speech more redolent of serfdom than democracy, I don’t know what does.

What her witless ravings echo is how much fear the smiley man with the pint has instilled in the smug mugs, who believe they reign over Britain and Europe by divine right.

As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Farage is a first-hand witness to the impotence of colleagues and the power wielded by a faceless, ruthless Europratocracy.

He’s utterly dismissive, too, of the unelected cabal of non-entities that rule the European Union (EU) roost, reserving special scorn for Herman Van Rumpoy (anonymous President of the European Council), Manuel Barroso (ineffectual President of the European Commission) and Baroness Ashton (vacuous Foreign Minister), all of whom he dismisses as political pigmies on the world stage.

Irrespective of an artificial currency strangling the Club Med countries, Farage has exposed the EU faultlines and the dire need to restructure the project around its original, core principles of a free-trade Common Market.

BAN NIGE: That's the opinion of neo-Left scribbler and talking head, Yasmin Alabhai Brown

CONTROL FREAK: Neo-Lefty scribbler and talking head, Yasmin Alabhai Brown demands the media should stop publicising the UKIP leader

In Eurosceptic Britain, his damning verdict will undoubtedly translate into votes in next month’s EU polls and UKIP’s nine MEPs are tipped to see their number swell dramatically.

Not that all who’ll vote for the party buy into their message of cutting loose from Europe or to Farage lauding the tyrant Putin for defying the West over Ukraine.

But there’s no denying, after the economy, immigration – and loathed Brussels diktats on the issue – is the most festering sore in British electorate thinking. The reality, though, is the UK opened its door too wide too long ago and the floodtide of Rumanian and Bulgarian incomers Farage predicted hasn’t materialised.

Nevertheless – for now, at least – the country’s voters admire Nige’s chutzpah in putting the frighteners on the vested interests, whose paucity of ideas and personalities is woeful.

The EU polls, then, will be the first chance since 2010 for the people to bash the Westminster clique and they’re practically salivating to register their disgruntlement with the mish-mash Coalition government and Labour’s lamentable opposition

However, General Elections tend to concentrate voters’ minds, so it remains to be seen how much of an X Factor UKIP will pose in a year’s time.

My prediction is they’ll pick up a few House of Commons seats for the first time, come the big day, and those could buy them some say in who holds power.

A greater spectre than Farage’s mavericks, though, looms with September’s vote on Scotland’s independence. And, should Westminster’s worst fears come true, Labour will lose its 41 Scottish MPs, the Lib-Dems their 11, but the Tories only one.

Still, if I were the gambling man I’m not, I’d place a wee wager on the ‘No/Stay Together’ campaign shading it, despite Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, Alex Salmond’s brazen ballot-rigging that allows 16 year-olds to vote, yet bans ex-pat Caledonians south of the border from participating.

Assuming I’m right – that Britain remains a united kingdom and Nige nets a clutch of MPs, plus potential Tory defectors – a successive, ruling Coalition is certainly on the cards.

And I would bet on Squire Cameron and Red Ed Miliband sounding out the UKIP upstart over a pint of Tetley’s best British bitter to see which way his once swivel-eyed loons will jump.

How NOT to be an MP – and how Sunny Jim said I’d have to ‘smarten down’ to be one

It’s been about four decades since the politics’ bug bit deeply enough to inspire me to join a party. And, in retrospect, when I signed up with Labour I was a Blairite – socially liberal, but sympathetic to the blessings of capitalism – before Blair was even out of short pants.

The dalliance didn’t last long because, frankly, I wasn’t too enamoured at being called  ‘Comrade’ and I thought the far-Left was as inveterately potty as it is now, except in those days of beer and butties for the TUC in Harold Wilson’s Downing Street, the leadership had to pay it lip service.

Wilson’s ‘White Heat of Technology’ revolution energised me; clearly he could walk and chew gum at the same time, a feat that was rumoured to have defeated US President Gerald Ford.

By default, I nearly – well, almost nearly – became an MP, because James Callaghan, who followed Wilson as the UK’s Prime Minister (briefly, thank providence), took a shine to me when yours truly and a fellow hack prised him out of a tight spot.

Tall and avuncular, but the craftiest of operators, Sunny Jim was Foreign Secretary at the time and due to address the faithful at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, until an event of import erupted and caught him off guard. So momentous was it, it’s completely slipped my memory, but, with no spinmeister on hand, we were drafted in to fettle a few words.

So we banged away on a portable typewriter in his hotel suite at the Midland Hotel until four in the morning, trying to fashion an immortal slogan as the room trembled to Jim’s stentorian snoring.

Work prevented me from witnessing the speech, but he invited me for a drink later and thanked me with a five-bob bottle of Cyprus sherry (whatever happened to Champagne Socialism, I wanted to ask).

Instead Callaghan enquired, ‘Have you ever thought of standing?’

‘I am standing,’ I replied stupidly, leaning against the bar.

‘No, I meant standing for Parliament,’ he corrected me. ‘I think you’d make a pretty fair MP and I’m sure we can find you a winnable seat somewhere. But you’ll have to do something about your attire.’

Clad in one of Cecil Gee’s finest blue mohair creations, crisp white shirt, black knitted tie – a la James Bond – I thought I was the cat’s whiskers or some part of a canine’s anatomy.

‘What’s wrong with the way I look?’ I demanded, a tad irked.

‘Too…er, smart,’ said the Foreign Sec. ‘You’ll need to dress down a bit. Get yourself to John Collier and find something grey, the duller the better. And dump those pointy Italian shoes. You’ll need to be more conservative – that’s conservative with a small C, of course.’

For various reasons – including a word to the wise from an MP friend, who warned, ‘You don’t want to be at the mercy of the public; they’re all b******s’ – I decided to stick around Grub Street and pursue the wordsmith’s trade (besides, way back then, the pay was better and MPs hadn’t cottoned on to being as ‘creative’ with their exes as we journos were).

What prompts me to recall the Callaghan incident is that, according to a new study, reported in the Journal of Public Economics, the electorate prefers good-looking, well-dressed election candidates to dowdy, old frumps, like Jim and pipeman Harold were.

So, regardless of how intellectually shallow they may be, the more attractive someone seeking office is, the more trustworthy, intelligent, likeable and able they are perceived.

MP MATERIAL? A flashback to way back when Callaghan had high political hopes for me

MP MATERIAL? A flashback to way back when Callaghan had high political hopes for me

The study – based on a survey of 2,000 candidates and 10,000 voters in Finland– followed in the wake of revelations that a poster photo of David Cameron had been digitally enhanced to make the Prime Minister look a smarter alec than he is (which, given the self-inflicted lumber he’s currently in, wouldn’t seem too challenging even for a Photoshop novice).

However facile this seems, the authors of this report insist, ‘Attractive people are seen as more successful in general, which is as true of politics as it is of showbusiness.’

Clearly, the Finns hadn’t heard of Britain’s roly-poly Communities minister, Eric ‘Double Chicken Tikka Masala & Chips’ Pickles and UKIP’s Nigel Farage, done up like a distressed turf accountant.

Nonetheless, it might explains why super-smoothie Blair could sell fridges to Eskimos, why hunky Nick Clegg leads the Lib-Dems, not baggy-trousered Vince Cable, and why all freshmen/women MPs are packed off to a ‘style consultant’ to be cloned in a make-over before they’re even allowed a sniff of Parliament.

And you’d better not be follicly challenged in British politics. Churchill was the only baldie in over 60 years to be elected Prime Minister, but he compensated for his shiny pate with charisma, cognac and trademark stogie cigars. Helping win WW2 might also have counted.

By the by, just in case political history geeks think me remiss, hair-free Alec Douglas Home was never elected to the job. He was imposed on No.10 by the Tories to oust Harold ‘Supermac’ MacMillan, whose party chums convinced him he was dead or dying.

Therefore, if you’re partial to the chimes of Big Ben, like long holiday recesses, adore the sound of your own voice and can stomach an hour a week feigning sympathy for bleating constituents, your country needs you.

It helps if you’ve never done a proper job – if you’re not an Old Etonian, straight out of uni and a year or two’s apprenticeship as a party HQ dogsbody or political researcher to an unctuous backbencher will do – and you’re half way to being elected.

Don’t forget, either, to dress appropriately…classy, not flashy and something subtle, like a tie or scarf in the party colour, is a useful addendum to demonstrate loyalty (until you join the back-stabbers).

Get your teeth and acne sorted, too, because high-definition TV is a real image-buster and you don’t wanted to be caught out looking like a spotty, buck-toothed loser on Newsnight, while getting a verbal stuffing by Jeremy Paxo.

In short, then, remember: youth and image are cheered, age and experience just jeered.

And me? Obviously, I was way ahead of my time. Today, though, I could have been a contender…but heaven help the electorate if I was!