‘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.

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Verdict on Leveson: don’t blame the Press for Cameron’s pantomime of blunders

In certain countries – including not a few in the so-called free world – I couldn’t write what you are about to read. Laws would proscribe such anti-Establishment heresy, though not in Britain…not until now, that is, where the Leveson Report threatens to challenge that.

In his defence, the judge walked a tightrope over his inquiry into the ‘culture, practices and ethics’ of the Press. Because whatever were to be his findings, m’lud was inevitably stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place.

His first option was to modify the status quo – beefing up the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), with greater representation from the laity or even a judge like himself.

Inevitably, this would have laid Leveson open to accusation by certain vested interests that he buckled to the print barons and we hacks would be toasting his health in the Last Chance Saloon

His second was to recommend a new, independent body to police newspapers and, after long deliberation, Leveson plumped for it. However, if implemented it will signal a monumental blunder in the wake of the earlier one, which established his inquiry.

I’ve no criticism of the judge, who did a commendable job with an impossible brief and his observations are fair, balanced and objective.

JUDGING THE JUDGE: Leveson had an impossible brief

JUDGING THE JUDGE: Leveson’s observations were fair, balanced and objective

Yet, his recommendations patently fail to square a circle he desperately sought to avoid: state licensing of the Press, totally contradicting his insistence, ‘This is not and cannot be characterised as statutory regulation’.

It can and will. Moreover, any short-term gain risks being outweighed by long-term dangers of future regimes moving the goalposts. So, small wonder David Cameron is squirming.

The inquiry might have made for compulsive telly viewing, much of it a pantomime of hot air from celebrity whingers grinding axes. But it was a monumental political gaffe to have unleashed Leveson in the first place.

The PM hung it on legitimate concern of ‘havoc’ – the judge’s own word – wreaked on innocent families, like that of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, by rabid newshounds, blatantly oblivious to their own rules of engagement.

A likelier reason, though, was Cameron trying to amend for – as his critics claim – naivety in supping with the media devil, only neglecting to take a long spoon. As Icarus flew lethally too close to the sun, he made the cardinal error of getting too cosy with The Sun newspaper (and News of the World) luminaries, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.

Nonetheless, appointing Leveson was a silly, political knee-jerk, and one that threatens to nail Cameron for posterity as the PM who chanced 300 years of Press freedom on the toss of a judicial inquiry. In doing so, he ignored wiser heads, like Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, who noted, ‘the liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties’

What pains me as, I believe, a conscionable journalist is I’ve been hung out to dry with a bag of rotten apples that lurks within every profession, business and industry.

CLOSE UP: Is Cameron paying the price of his friendship with Rebekah Brooks?

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?  Cameron is paying the price of his links with Murdoch luminary Rebekah Brooks

Because the overwhelmingly vast majority of us scribes don’t eavesdrop on other people’s voice-mail, hatch plots with dodgy MPs and bung coppers moolah. We see our role as uncovering and reporting the truth, but as fallible humans we don’t always get it right.

In the main I think we do, because of the 50,000-plus stories that appeared in UK publications last year, the PCC received 7,341 complaints, 719 of which were deemed to have breached the voluntary Editors’ Code of Ethics (yes, we actually have one!).

That reinforces my opinion Leveson was a crass over-reaction. Because Britain already has rigorous laws against bribery, phone-hacking and corruption, not to say protection of human rights, without having a judge reaffirm them, as Ms Brooks and Mr. Coulson will testify.

The country also has some of the world’s sternest libel laws. And, as a one-time senior, UK national newspaper executive, I have long experience of such counterweights to media excess.

Nonetheless, in a career spanning over 40 years, very occasionally and for sound reasons, I’ve supported decisions that were legally risky.

Hand on heart, I did so not simply to land a scoop, but to reveal injustices, connivances, scams and hypocracies the public deserved to know the truth of, because there are some powerful, arrogant people who abuse their positions of trust and deserve to be outed.

Sometimes, only a probing, fearless media can do that.

Which is why a lynch mob of certain aggrieved MPs salivated for Leveson to bring in a guilty verdict over the Press. The reason? Look no further than the Daily Telegraph’s exposé of their grubby expenses rip-off – based on illegally-leaked information – and the ‘entrapment’ by the Sunday Times of certain lords a-leaping for cash in return for breaching lobbying rules.

Even the dead, disgraced News of the World, sunk in the phone-hacking morass, wasn’t all boobs and celeb trash. It conducted some genuinely admirable investigations, one of the last being to bowl out a clutch of Pakistani cricketers involved in match-betting fixes.

Meanwhile, in hindsight, would you feel David Mellor – the ostensibly squeaky-clean family man-cum-political populist – still merited power, having been outed by The People over his extra-marital tryst with Antonia de Sancha?

And how would you have liked unctious Jonathan Aitken as PM – once a distinct possibility – before he was impaled on his own ‘sword of truth’ and jailed for perjury and perverting justice, after being exposed for his iffy links to Arab businessmen and lying through his teeth in a libel action against Granada TV’s World In Action?

OLD NEWS: But even the defunct News of the World produced some

OLD NEWS: But even the defunct News of the World produced some admirable investigations

So would you be better off without a free, self-regulated Press, warts and all, or one at the mercy off government?  Alternatively, will you prefer your ‘news’ delivered by an anarchic, unpoliced Internet, where crackpots abound and Twitter twits compound libels, like misnaming Lord McAlpine a paedophile?

As several MPs sagely noted last week, state regulation of the Press is ‘absolutely pointless’ when people are able to use the Web to spread ‘lies and slurs’.

And consider: was the Leveson Inquiry solely about the ‘culture, practices and ethics’ of the Press or were other dimensions in play, a back-story so to speak?

Because, in our dog-eats-dog menagerie, some media gloried in the bloodbath of the tabloids. Unsurprisingly, most enthusiastic were standard-bearers of the illiberal Left, the pious Guardian and the haughty BBC, despite the serial cock-ups of the Jimmy Savile affair exposing its inherent hypocricy and journalistic ineptitude.

Both harbour agendas, The Guardian because anyone who disagrees with its prejudices must surely be wrongheaded and the Beeb because it feared a Murdoch takeover of Sky TV would shove it further down the road of decline.

So, too, does a cabal of righteous, self-appointed lobby groups, like the Media Standards Trust, which spawned the Hugh Grant-led ‘Hacked Off’ campaign.

Hence, despite the best intentions of Lord Leveson, his inquiry was essentially a trial of the Murdoch media, set against a Left-versus-Right political backdrop.

Its recommendations are still to be fully weighed, dissected and debated. But the final verdict rests with politicians, who equally shared the dock with the Press.

Which prompts me to ask: since when did the guilty decide the fate of co-defendants?