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June 7th 2014
First of all, a confession: I did not vote in the recent European elections. This was partly due to the fact that I didn't receive my polling card (I haven't got round to registering at my new address), but mainly due to my belief that MEPs don't really matter. Not only do I not know who my MEP is, I can't give you the names of any MEPs representing anyone from anywhere in Europe. Well, apart from Nigel Farage. So, while I'm not exactly proud of the fact that I didn't vote - I usually love to vote, and have turned out with glee in recent years for two referenda, a general election, a council election and a mayoral election, as well as spoiling my ballot in the ill-conceived PCC election - I'm not particularly ashamed, either.
Anyhow, now that some of the hysteria has died down, I thought I'd stick my head above the parapet and write about UKIP. In the build-up to the election my Facebook wall and Twitter feed were awash with impassioned pleas from sundry people not to vote for UKIP, to the point that I was sorely tempted to do just that. No, actually, I would not have voted for UKIP really, but I do wonder how many of the crosses in their box were from people sick and tired of being told how to vote, in much the same way that the Guardian managed to persuade voters in some American state (I forget which) to back George Bush, simply by writing and telling them not to.
As I say, I wouldn't have voted for UKIP, but I do not share the fear and hatred of them that many seem to. UKIP's central policy is that Britain should not be part of the EU, and it is a policy that I do not agree with - if and when David Cameron's promised in-out referendum comes around, I fully expect to vote 'in' - but I can understand the view and I am not alarmed that people hold it. It is not a racist view, nor is it extremist. Indeed, UKIP is not a racist party, nor is it an extremist party, any more than the Labour party are all Trotskyites or the Liberal Democrats are all, I dunno, vegetarians. It is very difficult in this country to hold a reasonable debate on immigration without flinging around accusations of racism, and while - again - I don't agree with UKIP's policy on cutting immigration, I wish that we could all agree that it is a misguided policy - like, say, the old Lib Dem stance on tuition fees - rather than an evil one.
The main problem I have with UKIP, as a political entity, is that they are a single issue party, and like all single issue parties - most obviously, in this country, the Greens - they don't have anything very sensible to say on any other issues. The old UKIP manifesto of reduced taxes and increased spending was so financially nonsensical that even Ed Balls would struggle to sign up to it, and the carefree way in which they pick up and abandon policies tells you all you need to know about their fitness for public office. Having ridiculous and unworkable policies is not exactly unique in the political sphere - minute-for-minute, Harriet Harman talks at least as much nonsense as Nigel Farage; I have read otherwise intelligent men claim that it is immoral for the government not to spend money it doesn't have; and even Tony Blair came up with rubbish like on-the-spot fines for drunkenness - but it is a pretty good reason not to vote UKIP.
Of course, the majority of people who did vote UKIP haven't perused their manifesto, instead opting for the purple and yellow as a 'protest vote', an anti-establishment selection. I have always regarded that as an incredibly lazy position to take, and I cannot take seriously anyone who complains that politicans are 'all the same', or lazy, or greedy, given that the majority of MPs work incredibly hard both in their constituencies and in London, for little thanks and typically a lower salary than they could command elsewhere. Anyhow, I'm getting sidetracked here... back to UKIP.
A large part of the reason that people get so worried about the rise of the Right in Europe (and I'm including us in Europe, here) is historical: you don't need to be an expert in history (fortunately for me) to know that fascism has carved great scars into Europe throughout the 20th century, and one of the side effects of that is that we are generally very wary of right-wing views, proclaiming parties like UKIP to be 'extremists' even though they are clearly not. We are much less wary of extreme left-wing views, whereas in the USA - who spent much of the 20th century facing off against the Soviet Union - the fear of the rise of Communism has typically been stronger than that of the rise of fascism. It is entirely understandable that our history weighs heavily upon us, and in parts of Europe the threat of the far Right is current, genuine and scary (even if it's not as scary as the far Left in North Korea and China), but our political landscape is never helped by scaremongering or hyperbole.
Scaremongering and hyperbole comes from both sides, of course. UKIP's deflecting of almost all criticism by pointing to a 'metropolitan elite' or 'establishment press' (see, in particular, this hilarious page) is more ridiculous than even their more hysterical critics, but that doesn't mean that a lot of anti-UKIP comment hasn't been very unfair. Take Godfrey Bloom, for example, who is a buffoon of the first water but who didn't deserve the opprobrium he received either for his comments about Bongo-Bongo Land (a serious point, although again one which I disagree with, about the levels of foreign aid this country gives) or, more pertinently, his use of the word 'slut'. If his critics had turned to their dictionaries they would have discovered the slightly old-fashioned definition of "a woman with low standards of cleanliness", and I have heard at least one woman of a similar generation to Bloom use the word without any thought that it could be offensive. Leaving Bloom to one side - and he's not a man that I really want as an ally in any fight - there is a wider problem in political commentary that, as Tony Blair once said, "what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean", and UKIP have borne the full brunt of that. Before them it was Nick Griffin, who routinely talks such rubbish that it is not necessary to elaborate any more, but who had even his sensible utterances (apparently there were some) twisted to something else. No one is served well by that, least of all the voting masses who will learn not to trust anything they read, and may therefore even be driven towards the very 'anti-establishment' parties they are being warned against.
I feel it bears repeating that I am not a UKIP supporter, and this blog post really shouldn't be read as a defence of that party, except against the more extreme criticisms that they face. When push comes to shove, I'd be concerned to see Nigel Farage edge towards power, but I'd also be concerned to see Ed Miliband or even Boris Johnson sidle towards Number 10, and I'd like to be able to discuss my views in those terms rather than as part of the Good vs. Evil battle that many seem to think is going on.

June 25th 2014
I took an impromptu day off today, partly to catch up on sleep (staying up till 1am every night to watch the World Cup takes its toll) and partly to do some household chores. So, as I watch France take on Ecuador in a game that I really need to finish France 3-1 Ecuador if my efforts in the work predictions competition aren't going to sink without trace, I thought I'd also let you know just how productive I've been today. If you want a chap who can collect a door mat, take garden waste to the tip, buy some ice cream, mow the lawn, get patio chairs from B&Q and still find the time to stay in bed until 11.57am, then I have proven today that I am that very chap. This is just the latest in a spate of productivity, in fact, as the weekend saw me weeding, trimming a bush (much easier - and lots of fun - once you have shears, as I do after my parents kindly gave me some), ordering a doormat and buying most of a patio dining set from B&Q. And they say that British productivity is down.
In other news, my mother has given me the letter E as part of a game thingy that I believe originated on my brother's blog and was continued on Mum's, where the family picture is completed by Dad submitting his answers for the letter V. The idea is that you give your favourite book, author, film, song and object for your given letter. Without further ado, here goes:
One down, 13 to goFavourite book: The Eye of the World
The opening book in Robert Jordan's superlative Wheel of Time series, which I've written about several times before, this also works as a stand-alone story, albeit rather more quest-like than the rest of the series. Characters are strongly drawn from the off, as is the fantasy world that Jordan would expand enormously as the series continued. It is the only book that I keep a second copy of, just to lend to people so that they too can enjoy the series.
Favourite author: George Eliot
Having scanned my shelves for books by authors whose surname begins with E, I find The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot as the only candidate. It is a book that I gave up on, some years ago, after struggling through a couple of densely written paragaphs, so it is fair to say that George Eliot does not hold a cherished place in my heart. Still, Hobson's choice and all that, Eliot it will have to be. Unless I go for Mary Ann Evans instead...The lovely Emma Stone
Favourite film: Easy A
I'm on much safer territory here, as my film collection is rather more expansive than my library. In fact, at the start of last year I made a list of my favourite films for every letter of the alphabet, and at that time I chose Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is an excellent film and remains a strong candidate. However, this time I will go for the film that best showcases the powerful comic talents of my current favourite actress, the lovely Emma Stone. Loosely inspired by The Scarlet Letter, the central character is a high school girl who lies about having sex with her classmates, and the film is framed by her online confession of this fact. It could so easily have been called sex, lies and videotape...
Favourite song: Eleanor Rigby
There are a couple of heartbreakingly beautiful songs from the 90s beginning with the letter E: R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts and Radiohead's Exit Music (For a Film), the latter of which was used at the end of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. However, if in doubt go for the Beatles, and Eleanor Rigby, from the album Revolver, is one of Paul's best compositions. Telling the story of two lonely people - Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie - it is haunting both musically and lyrically: "Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name / Nobody came" being one of the saddest couplets I've ever heard.
Favourite object: eyes
I like having eyes. It means I can see.

what was I listening to?
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
what was I reading?
The Death Cure - James Dashner
what was I watching?
City Slickers
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