I can't live, if living is without EU. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ukip's European Parliament group has collapsed: what does this mean?

Why the collapse of Ukip's EU political group is good news for the UK and Europe.

It was not quite the political earthquake Nigel Farage was hoping for. Yesterday Ukip's group in the European Parliament collapsed after the departure of Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule, which left it bereft of the minimum seven countries needed to qualify as an official parliamentary grouping.

This will not just mean a loss of status. It will result in a major blow to the party's influence, with the loss of millions of euros worth of official funding for support staff and communications, and significantly less legislative influence - although given Ukip's lack of attendance the latter point is rather a moot one. In a personal setback for Nigel Farage, the loss of group status will also mean he will no longer be able to make his long leader's speeches at the European Parliament's monthly sessions in Strasbourg, which he routinely used as a soapbox to insult European leaders and undermine Britain's image abroad.

Given the fact that Ukip's very raison-d'etre is antipathy towards European cooperation, it's perhaps not altogether surprising that its group in the European Parliament has fallen apart. But we should remember that not long ago pundits were predicting that eurosceptic and far-right parties would dominate the new parliament. Many feared that a new alliance of populist and anti-European MEPs could lead to legislative gridlock and block progress on vital EU reforms. As it happens, the MEP group Nigel Farage cobbled together is the shortest-lived in history, narrowly beating the far-right ITS group formed in 2007 by Mussolini's granddaughter.

Ukip's marriage of convenience with MEPs from Italian comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, which was already beginning to fray due to fundamental differences on issues like the environment, now looks unlikely to continue. If he wants to try and resurrect his group, Farage may well have to turn to more extremist allies such as Marine Le Pen's French National Front, who he has already vowed not to get into bed with, and Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom, whose attempt at forming a far-right grouping failed earlier this year. Far from dominating the European Parliament, it seems that anti-EU parties are more divided than ever.

This should be welcomed by those us who believe in the principle of European cooperation and want to rebuild public faith in the EU. From Ebola through to Ukraine and Islamic State, it's clear that the big challenges facing Britain today are shared by our European neighbours and that we need to work together to address them. Ukip have built support on the back of disillusionment with the current political system, but while they are good at criticising they don't offer a credible alternative. They want to go back to an imaginary past when we need to move forward, radically change and improve the EU and allow it to unleash its full potential.

Across European capitals there is now widespread appetite for substantial changes to the EU to ensure it is more focused on the big issues where it adds real value, such as unleashing economic growth, protecting the environment and fighting organised crime. It is significant that the new European Commission, set to be voted on by MEPs next week in Strasbourg, will include a Vice-President for Better Regulation who will oversee all European legislation to make sure it's fit for purpose. Lord Hill, the UK's next Commissioner, has been put in charge of creating a banking union that will create huge opportunities for the British financial sector - tellingly, Ukip MEPs failed to turn up to a crucial vote on whether to approve him. Moreover, ambitious proposals are on the table to build a single market in energy and the digital sector and help kick-start growth across the EU. We need MEPs who will contribute to this process of reform, not seek to obstruct it. That is why the demise of Ukip's group is both good news for the UK and Europe as a whole.

Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP

Getty
Show Hide image

Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times