21 March 2009

Amateur hour

Another week, another party launch. Last Monday it was the turn of Jury Team, Sir Paul Judge's brainchild (though, quite honestly, I am not sure anybody's brain was much engaged in the process). This event took place in Millbank Tower, rather than One Great George Street, which was something of a mistake. The latter is a much more attractive venue and right in the heart of Westminster. The former is a rather ghastly and characterless structure some distance away from the nearest transport points.

Once again, I compared it to Kilroy-Silk's launch of Veritas and once again I had to admit that the buzz was not there. In fact, the media did not seem to be there either, which may have been the fault of the organizers. The time and place of the launch remained something of a mystery till the week-end and this was not a big enough story for journos to drop everything at 24 hours' notice.

Furthermore, it was not clear whether the event was for the media or for potential supporters, members and candidates. The questions certainly came from the group of potentials but there was, as it happens, very little time for questions. Despite assuring us over and over again that this was a new kind of politics that relied on the internet, mobile phones, social chat sites like Facebook and My Space, twitter and all other suchlike activity, Sir Paul and his co-panellists spent an inordinate amount of time explaining various aspects of the enterprise, quoting liberally from the Jury Team website.

One assumes from the name of the anti-party party that, apart from the pun of judge and jury, it is a reference to the way that highly estimable institutions works – without fear or favour, balancing the evidence (with a dash of judge’s guidance). Indeed, Sir Paul managed to insert a quote from Gilbert and Sullivan’s highly entertaining “Trial by Jury”.

There is, however, a problem: a jury is not elected, it is chosen randomly from eligible members of the population. That may be quite a good way of choosing legislators as well (though the logistical problems of people having to stop their jobs and family lives for four or five years whether they liked it or not, whether it was appropriate or not would be hard to solve) but that is not what Sir Paul and his cohorts are arguing.

They want an elected House of Commons that will resemble a randomly picked jury or an appointed House of Lords (I’ll come to that below.) The contradictions in that idea need to be resolved.

There are other contradictions that crop up whenever people propose reforms that are best left where they belong – in pubs, wine bars or round dinner tables. It is bad, such reforms postulate, that politicians care about their careers or behave according to the party’s demands. Well, maybe, though I prefer careerists to people who are in politics in order to “help other people” or to “do good”. They are the potential dictators because they know what is good for other people. Ayn Rand was not wrong about the evils of altruism, particularly in public life. That she opposed private charity as well is a separate issue and one on which I part company with the lady.

Then there is the muddle as to what an MP is supposed to be guided by; is it his or her own conscience, the good of the country, the will of the country’s people, the needs and/or interests of his or her constituents? What happens when there are serious contradictions between some or all of those? And what of the fact that many people vote for a party?

According to the poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of Jury Team, 26 per cent said that they voted the way they did because they supported the policies of the party and 6 per cent because of the candidate; 17 per cent voted because they supported the party and its leadership and 12 per cent because of the candidate and the party. All very muddled though, I suppose, attitudes might change if candidates stood on their own individual principles, especially if they carefully tailored them to suit the constituency’s mood at the time of the election.

Here is an example. When Britain was preparing for the war in Iraq, which was debated in Parliament ad nauseam, the idea was quite popular in the country. Those who opposed it out of principle, like Sir Teddy Taylor (whose explanation for his opposition is muddled but consistent), received angry letters from their constituents, demanding that they abandon their principles and fall in with the majority’s wishes. Should they have done so?

Subsequently, as the war did not turn into a quick and easy victory it became less and less popular. What should MPs have done at that stage? Decided that, after all, they are not in favour of it? Many of them did and even tried to erase from the record the fact that they had voted for it in the first place but it is hard to think well of them for that reason.

What of that famous quotation from Burke’s Address to the Electors of Bristol, which Jury Team proudly sports on its website and Sir Paul Judge trotted out at the launch.
His unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you or to any set of men living.
Edmund Burke wrote those proud words on his election in 1774. His Letter to the Electors of Bristol continued:
These he does not derive from your pleasure – no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Hmmm. Not quite what Jury Team is saying methinks. Where do they stand on conscience versus constituents? Or, for that matter, on country versus constituents?

Four years after his election Burke and his electors faced that very conundrum as a swift reading of a biography of that great man (I recommend Conor Cruise O’Brien’s) would tell the the Jury Team’s gifted researchers.

In 1778 Burke supported the idea of free trade for Ireland, partly out of deep-seated principles, partly because he thought it was better for the whole country to have a richer, more developed Ireland. His constituents thought otherwise. Free trade would undermine their own protected position in Bristol and the politician’s attempts to explain that in the long run this would be better for Bristol as well were met frostily.

In 1780 Burke decided not to stand in Bristol as he had lost the support of his electors. Instead he re-entered the House as MP for Malton.

One can argue about Burke’s views on the role and duties of an MP and, indeed, historians have done so for over 200 years. But by no stretch of the imagination can one say that his defiance was directed at the party managers (yes, they were in existence in the eighteenth century as much as they are now). It was directed at the people who elected him, to whom, according to the Jury Team, as I understand it, an MP is bound to listen at all times.

The line-up at the launch consisted of Sir Paul himself, a former independent MP, Martin Bell and a present one, Richard Taylor, Lord Ramsbotham, a Cross-Bench peer, Tony Egginton, Independent Mayor of Mansfield and Councillor Keith Ross, Leader of Independent Group at the Local Government Association (LGA).

Without any disrespect to them I must point out that Mayor Egginton and Councillor Ross talked exclusively about local government and the possibilities of independents rising within it. As Councillor Ross’s career shows that has always been possible for people who have no desire to align themselves with any party but want to serve within their local authority. Frequently, as in this case, they can rise in the national structure of local authorities.

This gives us no indication of what can be done at the national or European level or what needs to be done. There are many reasons why people will vote for an Independent councillor that would not apply to a Member of Parliament.

Lord Ramsbotham, a man of genuinely distinguished military and public service career, spoke of the advantages that Cross-Bench Peers have over MPs who are beholden to their parties. They are also beholden to their constituents who may or may not re-elect them. If candidates are to be chosen in open primaries, as the Jury Team suggests, they may or may not be picked if they start doing what peers, and not just those on the Cross Benches do, which is speak and vote as they see fit.

One can’t help wondering how many of those people asked in the YouGov poll, who dutifully expressed their distrust of MPs would also insist that the House of Lords should be an all elected one, a development that Lord Ramsbotham, very sensibly, sees as the destruction of the Cross-Benches and, one may add, of the general independence of the Upper House? We are back with that impossible contradiction.

So we come to the two MPs (one former) who, actually, spoke first, immediately after Sir Paul Judge. Their presence, we were told, showed that it could be done: an independent can get elected to the House of Commons.

The problem is that Sir Paul was a little economical with the actualité. There were certain aspects to their elections that will not be there for Jury Team. Richard Taylor referred to one of them when he explained that he was very lucky in that there was an overwhelming local issue – the Kidderminster hospital – in his constituency and people felt very strongly about it while the sitting MP, David Lock, was “precisely on the wrong side”.

Very true. What neither his short address nor his website tell us is that the Lib-Dim candidate in Wyre Forest stood down both in 2001 and 2005, urging his supporters to vote for Dr Taylor. That sort of thing does help and is unlikely to happen when Jury Team puts up its candidates.

In the case of Martin Bell the situation was even more favourable. When he stood against Neil Hamilton in Tatton in 1997 both the Labour and the Lib-Dim candidates stood down, urging their supporters to vote for Mr Bell. Furthermore, he received a great deal of help from the local Labour association. Again, this is not something that will happen to any Jury Team candidate.

While we are on the subject of St George of the Anti-Sleaze Campaign, a.k.a. Martin Bell, it is worth reminding ourselves of his subsequent political “career”.

In 2001 he announced that, unless the Conservatives at Tatton choose Neil Hamilton again he would stand down. They chose George Osborne and Martin Bell stood down, retiring into his castle, well satisfied with slaying the Dragon of Sleaze.

He was then called upon to fight another battle and stand against Keith Vaz who had become embroiled in a far worse scandal than anything Neil Hamilton had managed. St George of the Anti-Sleaze Campaign refused, pleading his war-weariness but then rode out again on a very different battle: he stood in Brentwood and Ongar against Eric Pickles, a man of limited ability but blameless reputation.

Mr Bell had clearly realized that fighting an election against Keith Vaz with no quarter given by the Labour machinery and no help from any other party would have been a silly idea so he decided to fight against another Conservative on the grounds that the local association had been infiltrated by a Pentecostal Church.

The evidence for actual infiltration was rather slim and, in any case, why was St George of the Anti-Sleaze Campaign getting involved in the internal squabbling of a Conservative association? He lost and did so again in the 2004 European Election when he stood as Independent (for no discernible reason) in the East of England Region.

He now spends his time in that graveyard of all ambitions, a UNICEF ambassadorship, grousing about politicians and journalists alike.

Incidentally, if they wanted an existing Independent MP, why didn’t they bring out George Galloway? After all, his party, Respect, has now split and he may well be the only representative of his particular branch of it.

There were two other people on the platform, Lyn Tofari, potential candidate for the South-East Region and Miranda Banks, potential candidate for the South-West. At the time they were the only ones to have come forward. By now Jury Team has more potential candidates on whom people can vote through the internet or by mobile phone.

Open primaries are a big part of Jury Team’s plans, as they oppose the choice of candidates by closed circles within parties. They have a point there and the situation is particularly bad with the European elections in which lists are drawn up by parties (though it is not clear that the would-be candidates and campaign managers know this).

But will an “open” primary be any better? After all, this is a primary of self-selected voters who are likely to vote immediately on reading the summary posted by the candidates. There will be no question and answer sessions, no way of establishing what the candidates are like beyond the way they see themselves. This is not precisely how the American system of primaries works but then the Americans have primaries within what is virtually a two-party structure.

Ms Tofari gave us an interesting speech about how she had become involved in local politics, first at the parish level, then rising to other bodies. Her next logical step was going to be a seat as an Independent on Buckinghamshire County Council but she abandoned that in order to become involved with Jury Team and to stand (possibly) for the European Parliament. On the whole, I think that was a mistaken decision.

Ms Banks, on the other hand, leapt around the place, gesticulated with great fervour and meaning, talked much of painting pictures, creating images and, generally, managed to leave no cliché unsaid. I was not altogether surprised that she is a “performance psychologist”.

After the formal parts of the meeting, during which not one reference had been made to the fact that 80 per cent of our legislation comes from the EU and Parliament can do nothing about it, even when it actually goes through that institution, I went up to talk to the two wannabe candidates.

Why were they thinking of standing for the European Parliament (I didn’t think they would know what I meant by Toy Parliament)? Well, they explained to me, it’s because neither they nor other people know anything about the EU and they thought they would do this to find out.

Rather an expensive way of learning something that they could read on a certain blog or, failing that, on the Europa website, which is full of very useful information.

Then I expressed my surprise that among all the complaining about politicians being subjected to party discipline or being interested only in their own career, there was no mention of the main problem, the 80 per cent of our legislation coming from the EU and of Parliament either knowing nothing about it or not being able to reject it. And, by the way, I added, the European Parliament is not the primary legislating body in the EU.

I got blank stares in response. I didn’t know that, one said. No, added the other one as well as a young man who had joined our group, I didn’t know either. This is the sort of thing we need to find out, they said.

We chatted a bit longer along the same lines. It was clear that neither the two would-be candidates nor the rest of the audience, many of whom were thinking of joining, had the first notion of how the EU works, how it affects our legislation and how it is structured, let alone what its purpose is.

There are far more candidates for the open primaries listed on the site but a swift perusal of their election mini-manifestoes confirms that people are signing up without bothering to find out what it is they want to be part of.

We hear a great deal about the arrogance of politicians and all those who live in the Westminster/Brussels bubble. Indeed, I have written and spoken about it myself. But what of the arrogance of people who think that they should be in that bubble, make decisions that affect us all and generally throw their weight around without wanting either to slog through the party structure (fair enough if you do not believe in it) or to make the slightest effort to find out what is actually going on around them?

What on earth makes these people think that the world (or Britain or their region) is waiting breathlessly to hear their ignorant ideas on what needs to be done? At the very least, they could find out that the European Parliament does not function in the same way as the Westminster one does. Or about the treaties. Or about the European Communities Act. Or, or, or ….

In the end it is not only our politicians who are failing in their duties but many of us as well – our duties as citizens of a constitutional democracy. Those duties include finding out information. Much of it is easily available. Before rushing in to give us the benefit of their wisdom, members of Jury Team ought to start thinking about their own tasks and duties.


15 March 2009

The underlying problem

It is the Ides of March and, therefore, issues of importance need to be looked at. Not that the EU is not important but, in many ways, it is the symptom, not the cause.

Yesterday I did a longish stint on the BBC Russian Service and, in the course of it, spent two minutes talking about the growing popularity of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” in the United States and the ever more frequent signs of “Who is John Galt?” appearing at the continuing Tea Parties across the country. (This movement has been documented extensively by Instapundit, Sister Toldjah and Michelle Malkin, among others.)

The point, for those who do not know about John Galt is that “Atlas”, the productive members of society, withdraw their labour because they no longer want to carry “the world”, that is the huge and ever-growing load of government, politicians, civil servant, public servants, regulators, all those who do nothing but leech off them and use the money to run their lives. Since her day the problem has become worse and the situation in the US is such that people are seriously threatening to limit their work to the minimum necessary to survive in order to deprive the human and institutional parasites of their lifeblood.

But Atlas is shrugging as this placard says and the book is no #27 on Amazon.

I have certain difficulties with Ayn Rand. In the first place, she was not a very good writer and her novels are long, boring and lumbering. She is also, like so many political philosophers who comment on the present as well as try to tease out more permanent laws and theories, better at seeing what is wrong than at building up alternatives. Her solution as presented at the end of “Atlas Shrugged” is seriously unsatisfactory to anyone who really believes in individual liberty and is likely to turn into another Animal Farm.

Her worship of strength, contempt for any weakness, disdain for private charity and hatred for anyone who disagrees with her makes me feel that Whittaker Chambers was, yet again, correct when he caught a whiff of fascism in her writing, particularly in “Atlas Shrugged”.

More than anything I dislike her disciples and followers, though, one could argue, she is not responsible for them. Their reaction to anyone who disagrees with the slightest point Ms Rand made is vitriolic hatred and abuse, all of which, apparently, demonstrates their belief in freedom.

Having said that, I have to add that Ms Rand’s analysis of what is wrong with society in general both at a more superficial and the underlying level is unmatched. She slices through all orthodoxies and shows very clearly how it is they manage to produce the noxious results we all have to live with.

I have never been able to get through Ayn Rand’s novels but I have read a number of her essays, which tend to reformulate the same two or three ideas but they are good ideas. However, the best summary of the underlying problem is in the Introduction to her collection “The Virtue of Selfishness”, written in 1964.
The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal”, which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; not does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
The subsequent essays try to establish some immutable laws of ethics that could underpin human behaviour, always concentrating on the need and advantage of rational self-interest.

Further down in the Introduction Ayn Rand says:
Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value – and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.

Hence the appalling immorality, the chronic injustice, the grotesque double standards, the insoluble conflicts and contradictions that have characterized human relationships and human societies throughout history, under all the variants of altruistic ethics.

Observe the indecency of what passes for moral judgements today. An industrialist who produces a fortune and a gangster who robs a bank are regarded as equally immoral, since they both sought wealth for their own “selfish” benefit. A young man who gives up his career in order to support his parents and never rises beyond the rank of grocery clerk is regarded as morally superior to the young man who endures an excruciating struggle and achieves his personal ambition. A dictator is regarded as moral, since the unspeakable atrocities he committed were intended to benefit “the people”, not himself.
Ayn Rand knew all about dictators being regarded as moral. Having escaped from Soviet Russia in 1926 she spent a good deal of her life in the United States, particularly in Hollywood battling against the various Communists who produced pro-Soviet propaganda, which culminated in the particularly evil or preposterous, depending on how you look at it, wartime films, “The Song of Russia” and “Mission to Moscow”. Here is a little more on the latter film.

We, too, know about this in the double-think and hypocrisy that prevents people from saying openly that Communism was the other evil ideology of the twentieth century and was responsible for far more deaths and a greater social, political and economic catastrophe than Nazism. Ah, we are told, but, at least the Communists meant well.

Finally we come to those well-meaning agents of altruism, the governments who take money away from those who work in order to impose what they see as a fair society, which just happens to be a society in which the elite has more and more entrenched privileges than the rest of us; the regulators who, in the spirit of pure altruism and paid for by the taxpayer, regulate our lives for our own good; and, finally and most importantly, the NGOs who demand more and more unaccountable power for themselves in order to run the world or various parts of it for what they see as other people’s benefits, destroying people’s lives and all hope in developing countries.

The EU (oh, yes, I was going to work my way round to it) is part of this world-view of altruism, in which the worst sin is exercising self-interest even if it is that self-interest that moves the world forward and spreads wealth around it. It is, however, merely a symptom of the underlying problem.

12 March 2009

Muddled thinking

Having expressed a certain lack of enthusiasm for the great Declan Ganley, I did go with interest to the launch of the Libertas's electoral campaign in the UK. The press conference was not as well attended as I would have expected. When Kilroy Silk launched Veritas in 2005, there was barely standing room in the big hall in One Great George Street and the main media had sent their big guns. This launch was thinly attended though I gather from Mark Mardell's blog on the BBC site that he was there or, at least, he had spoken to the leader of the campaign, Robin Matthews, described as a former British soldier. Actually, that may have been the previous day as the blog was posted at 10.30 am, the start of the press conference.

A "former British soldier" is a remarkably coy way of describing a 21-year army career and Mr Matthews was no more forthcoming during the press conference, saying merely that he had served in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Mr Ganley also added in ringing tones (he is good at ringing tones) how ironic it was that Mr Matthews has travelled round the world as a British Soldier "championing the values of democracy" only to find them being eroded at home.

Yes, that is ironic, all right and one is glad that Mr Matthews has understood this but one is not too sure that he knows quite what to do with that understanding.

A few quick enquiries established that Robin Matthews left the army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and during 2005 he had commanded The Light Dragoons, a British Cavalry Regiment, on operations in Iraq. After that he was seconded to army media operations, which is not, I fear, any recommendation though it might mean that he knows journalists and will be able to give them stories.

The official bio says:
Just prior to leaving the Army, he was seconded as the Strategic Communications Advisor to 16 (Air Assault) Brigade, Helmand Province, Afghanistan and also acted as the spokesman for all British Forces there.
On the subject of army spokesmen in Afghanistan and the problems they have caused in not providing a clear narrative or even accurate information I refer my readers to postings by the boss, too numerous to link to.

However, this may explain why Mr Matthews thinks that he can just sit back and journalists will approach him. Some will, perhaps, but he is no longer the spokesman for the British Forces in Helmand but the leader of a political party on the fringes. He will have to learn some media savvy very quickly.

We were not told who else will be standing in Britain but were assured that there will be a candidate in every constituency, including Northern Ireland. That makes 83 candidates. There will also be candidates in every EU member state but it is not clear how many.

Why should we vote Libertas in June? Well, setting aside the rather nebulous talk about "restoring democracy to Europe" of which more below, the main argument seems to be that they are putting up ordinary people and not politicians.

This appears to be the USP of another party that is to be launched next Monday, Jury Team, set up by Sir Paul Judge (judge – jury, geddit?). This one wants to do without parties as well, believing that doing away with those noxious organizations will make "politics more accessible, politicians more accountable and political institutions more transparent". An attractive notion but, in actual fact, it will create something approximating Russian politics where the nascent parties have been effectively abolished in favour or a more personal style.

We, veterans of the eurosceptic movement and of party launches have sat through numerous meetings when various political groups announced that they would field "real" people or "ordinary" people, not politicians with whom the electorate is fed up and who have moved away from "real" and "ordinary" people.

This is a very fine example of what is known as muddled thinking. There is a definite dissatisfaction with politics and politicians and part of that comes from the widespread feeling that politicians now seem to be part of a separate class that has no dealings at all with the rest of the population beyond canvassing for votes every so many years.

A far greater part of the dissatisfaction comes from an understanding, inchoate but real, that those self-same politicians, while grabbing more money and privileges for themselves have, in fact, made themselves and us completely powerless by handing over powers to the EU as well as numerous unaccountable quangos.

Disentangling all that and discussing what the answer might be is quite difficult; it is much easier to say that all would be solved if people in politics were not politicians or if politicians had done ordinary jobs.

The argument is fallacious. Being able to do an ordinary job and even being good at it does not necessarily indicate any political ability. History is littered with successful businessmen or military men who failed comprehensively when they took their skills into the very different field of politics.

There is no evidence that a businessman of any kind understands larger economic matters or that a good company officer knows aught about defence (or even other parts of the army, never mind the navy, the air force or the marines); bus drivers know what is good for … well, bus drivers and do not necessarily know about transport policy and the idea of teachers being in charge of education policy (which should not be part of the government's portfolio anyway) is terrifying. I am not even talking about the possibility of those people knowing anything about other political matters. They might or they might not.

The fact that James Callaghan left school at 17, not being able to afford the Oxford place he had won and worked in various "real" jobs as well as serving with great distinction in the Royal Naval Reserve during World War II may have made him a better man but contributed little to his abilities as a politician, though he was quite good at getting round his colleagues.

While having a separate professional political class may not be such a good idea, having people who do not know anything about politics going into it is no better. Admittedly, what we have at the moment is the worst of both worlds: a class of professional politicians who know nothing about politics. Substituting amateurs with no knowledge is hardly the solution.

Apart from anything else, a bunch of elected politicians who have absolutely no understanding of what they are doing, being "ordinary" or "real" people, are extremely easy to manipulate either by the leader of their grouping or by the government, wherever it happens to be.

Nothing in Mr Ganley's or Mr Matthews's statements or in their replies to the various questions made me think that they have the faintest understanding of how the EU works or, indeed, what it is Libertas wants to achieve.

In his introductory comments Mr Matthews spoke of "a Europe that seeks to transfer more and more power to Brussels, chipping away at national sovereignty in the process". But the whole raison d'être of Libertas is to create a pan-European party that will, somehow, make the EU more democratic and accountable, which is what it apparently was at some point in the past.

I asked Mr Matthews whether his aim was to campaign to restore power to national parliaments or to reform the EU, whose structure would not change even if the Lisbon Treaty failed, and if the latter, how was he intending to go about it. His reply did not fill me with confidence.

The first thing, he said, was to take stock and to ensure that there is a vote on Lisbon (preferably, one assumes a No); whether people are prepared to sanction this enormous transfer of power to the European elite. Then we can move on and, in due course, Libertas will publish its policies. I suspect this means that they have not thought beyond the first step.

Back when I cut my eurosceptic teeth, the days of Maastricht and the battle for that referendum, it made a certain amount of sense to say that we should concentrate on this treaty that had qualitatively changed the process of integration.

The European issue was new to most people as the project had been apparently (though not in reality) quiescent for many years; it was necessary to introduce all the many aspects of it into public discourse and to suggest withdrawal appeared to be politically suicidal. Luckily Jacques Delors on the one hand and the people of Denmark on the other helped us to make "Europe" familiar to many.

We have moved a long way from there, though not as long as we would have done had some people concentrated more on what really matters - politics and policies. To return to the same point and argue that we must not frighten the horses and let's discuss the Lisbon Treaty, which is so horrific that it makes one faint with horror, before we, possibly, move on to other issues is pointless at a time when people are seriously discussing the possibilities of British withdrawal or even the complete collapse of the EU.

But then, that is precisely what Mr Ganley is afraid of: that those wicked eurosceptics will have their way and the great European project, which, in his opinion, would be absolutely wonderful if only it acquired popular support, will collapse. That is why we say that Libertas is not fighting on our side - they want to strengthen the EU, we want to destroy it in order to start creating genuinely democratic structures in European countries and alliances between them and outwith Europe.

Libertas is facing a number of problems. In the first place, there is some doubt as to whether they will be able to stand in the election as Libertas UK as UKIP has registered that name as a political party and has put up one candidate in a local by-election under that name. Usually that means that the name of the new party has to be changed but it is not clear what is the situation with a pan-European party, which is based in Brussels.

To those sensitive souls who tell me this was a dastardly low-down trick by UKIP I say pshaw. This is no more dastardly than the Tories trying to infiltrate their people into the UKIP administration or Libertas, itself, cavalierly sidelining other Irish organizations who had laid the foundation for their own work - organizations such as The National Platfrom, led by Anthony Coughlan, which somehow managed to win the first referendum on the Treaty of Nice without Mr Ganley or his financial input.

As far as the Treaty of Nice is concerned, Mr Ganley has amnesia. Year Zero came with the French and Dutch votes against the Constitution. There was no history before that.

Then there is the question of money. Mr Ganley told one questioner very firmly that he was through with putting money into the campaign because, he could not resist adding, this was not just about him but about all the people of Europe. The question is how many of those people will put money into what promises to be a very expensive exercise.

Mr Ganley's own idea is that it is the small donors that matter. I think he has been misreading the funding of the Obama campaign. There is well-documented evidence all over the internet and the blogosphere that most donations to the latter were not all that small and those that were under the reportable level were all too often multiple donations. There were, as Hot Air documented several times, no real checks on whether money came from the same card several times.

Mr Ganley, on the other hand, is calling for people to contribute one pound each. If you give even a pound, he said, you will feel yourself to be part of the campaign and will get involved. Um, no, that is bad psychology. People give money to a political party in order not to get too involved, unless they give a lot, in which case they want their investment to pay off.

Still, big money is needed for political campaigning across 27 countries and it is not clear where it will be coming from.

Then there is the question of competition, particularly in Britain. Libertas is not like UKIP, they explain because they want to make Europe or the EU (the two are still interchangeable) stronger and more democratic in order to harness the energy of the European people. (I kid you not.) UKIP, on the other hand, wants Britain to withdraw, as does the BNP, though that party was not mentioned. That is just negative.

Actually, that does not have to be negative if plans are elaborated on the subsequent political development because politics is not either/or - either you stay in the EU or you fall into the darkest abyss. Even the Commission does not use those crude arguments any more. Why on earth does Libertas?

In any case, "we want to withdraw, restore power to Parliament and govern ourselves in our own interest" is a difficult to achieve policy but it is very clear if one wants to explain it to the electorate. We want to make the European elite democratically accountable is not so easy to explain, especially if you do not even know what you mean by that or how such a thing can be accomplished, even in theory.

The Conservatives, too, are stirring, obviously frightened by the ever more crowded electoral field on which their rather feeble eurosceptic credentials will not be discerned. Whereas, if all you are offering is a vague desire to reform the EU, well you have the Lib-Dims and the Greens. No doubt others will appear in the next few weeks. Then there is the about to be launched Jury Team, about which I shall write next Monday. (Or as close to it as I can manage.)

Finally, Mr Ganley issued a warning. They will be attacked (well, one usually is in politics) and we must not believe what will be said about them. Once again, he put on his "ready-to-go-to-the-stake" expression: they are afraid of us in Brussels, he said, they do not want a pan-European movement, they will accuse us of being eurosceptics. But do not believe them.

Well, OK, I will not believe them.