Opinion: UKIP are a blessing in disguise for pro-Europeans

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder works harder than nine UKIP MEPs put together. She speaks more sense than their entire delegation, of course, but in terms of turning up to vote, it’s official: the number of European Parliament divisions she’s taken part in since the election is more than the combined total of nine of their lot.

Since the new Parliament started at the beginning of July, MEPs have faced 39 roll-call votes in the plenary. This is where all MEPs come together to speak and vote, usually in Strasbourg. Catherine, our sole representative in the European Parliament, has voted on all 39 occasions. She has a perfect 100 per cent record.

Contrast that with UKIP. Amongst their MEPs, Louise Bours, Nigel Farage, Raymond Finch, Nathan Gill, and Paul Nuttall have each voted five times, Mike Hookem four times, Jane Collins three times, with William Dartmouth and Jill Seymour registering no votes at all, not even against Lithuania adopting the euro. That’s nine MEPs who, between them, have voted just 32 times, seven fewer than Catherine has clocked up on her own. All voting information here is taken from VoteWatch.eu.

The records of all 24 UKIP MEPs show us that since the election they have, collectively, missed a combined total of 335 European Parliament votes. That’s excellent news for pro-Europeans: 335 opportunities for UKIP to express its hard Eurosceptic position have been squandered. Good.

Their performance gets even shakier when you look at some of the MEPs to whom UKIP have handed policy portfolios. Take their MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Jane Collins. She now speaks for the party on employment, but earlier this month she missed 17 votes in the European Parliament on youth unemployment. Her colleague for the same region, Mike Hookem, has just been given the defence brief, yet missed seven parliamentary votes on Ukraine.

In the first Nick v Nigel debate, Farage said, “But, Nick, the rules change every week… yet another small chunk, albeit small, and it’s incremental, yet another small chunk of our ability to govern our country goes to the institutions of Brussels.”

So, how have the parliamentary foot soldiers of the self-proclaimed People’s Army fought against this relentless Brussels onslaught? Take just one example: the resolution on youth unemployment, mentioned above. This resolution, passed by the European Parliament, calls for common, EU-wide minimum standards for apprenticeships and for increases in EU spending on employment programmes. This is precisely the kind of incremental accumulation of power (as Farage would see it) that he was warning about.

Yet, where were his MEPs when it came to voting this through or voting it down? Where was Farage himself? The record shows that nine UKIP MEPs, including Farage, did not take part in the vote.

With the British media now having forgotten that the European Parliament exists, all this will go unreported. That doesn’t mean however that they can’t make the news. In an act of wantonly obnoxious rudeness, typical of the British right-winger coming face-to-face with Johnny Foreigner, UKIP’s MEPs childishly and theatrically turned their backs on an orchestra playing the European Anthem at the opening of the newly-elected Parliament.

Their antics are an embarrassment, and when we think about the superb Liberal Democrat MEPs who were defeated in May – in the case of Sir Graham Watson by just 0.4 per cent of the vote – it can be hard to stomach. Let us be thankful however for small mercies. We are lucky to have the anti-European opponents that we do. I would far rather have this ineffectual bunch more interested in childish theatrics than exerting influence. Their collective indolence is a blessing for pro-Europeans. Just think of what damage they could do if each of them worked as hard as our own Catherine Bearder.

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

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43 Comments

  • I just checked Julia Reid’s record as a UKIP MEP for the South West and it was 100%. Whether or not the votes were sensible is another matter but we can’t fault her attendance record.

  • Presumably their position is that it doesn’t matter to UK voters whether Lithuania joins the euro. On Ukraine, they would probably argue that the EU had no business interfering there in the first place.

  • The poor attendance record of UKIP MEPs doesn’t seem to have bothered voters in the election just gone. So why should it bother them next time?
    More important than whether MEPs attend or not is what they vote for and against when they DO attend. Our national Euyro election campaigned said NOTHING about the voting records of our or any other party’s MEPs in terms of what EU policy they did or did not support. Instead we vetted Farage’s plan to turn the election into a referendum on UK membership on the EU (something that MEPs do not decide) by agreeing to the Clegg v Farage debates (which were a mistake in principle). We are reaping what we have sown, and I hope that our future Euro election campaigns will focus on the issues, regardless of what anyone else talks about.

  • Pretty much every vote (apart from the single vote on Lithuanaia and the Euro, which has very little to do with the UK) has been non-legislative. Because the EU ‘parliament’ can’t intiate, start to amend, or begin repeal legislation (only unelected EU Commissioners can do that) it has loads of these kind of votes which mean absolutely nothing and are of no legislative/binding consequence.

    So well done on trying to create propaganda for the Lib Dems and bash UKIP, but you really need to put some prespective on what was voted on.

  • Stuart Bonar 28th Jul '14 - 1:49pm

    @Kay: On the other hand, William Dartmouth, the other UKIP MEP in the South West, hasn’t voted once.
    @david: UKIP’s position was against expanding the euro to Lithuania, but those UKIP MEPs I name didn’t turn up to the vote. On Ukraine, if your position is that shouldn’t “interfere” then vote against, don’t just skip the vote.
    @Alex: I don’t suggest this should be a campaign theme on the doorstep. I make the point that we’re lucky that UKIP MEPs have little interest in actually influencing policy.

  • Giles Goodall 28th Jul '14 - 2:36pm

    Well done for highlighting the hypocrisy at the heart of the Ukip narrative. Yes, people still voted for them after they failed to turn up and vote for British interests in the last Parliament. That’s not a reason to not make people more aware of the charades they play out in Brussels and Strasbourg at the cost of the taxpayer and Britain’s interests. The European Parliament is the EU’s law-making body. We fail to take that role seriously at our own peril.

  • To quote Churchill: “If it’s a blessing in disguise, it seems quite effectively disguised”

    UKIP may be hypocritical, negative and a waste of space, but people didn’t vote for it positively. They voted for it as a two fingered salute to the EU. And at present they have one in ten of our 2010 voters and one and a half times our support in the national polls.

    This is a very thin silver lining for a very large, black cloud.

  • Now that over 75% of our laws are made in the EU and UK politicians are left to debate unimportant trivia, why does the BBC not report on the multitude of directives emanating from Brussels?

    The much discussed loss of interest and confidence in politics is, in part, a consequence of our governance by the EU going almost totally unreported. Is this deliberate policy, I wonder?

    Perhaps if the LibDem aim is to get the UK electorate more engaged with the EU, this would be a good place to start.

  • Used to vote LD now vote UKIP. Used to be pro Europe now edged towards against it. Couldn’t care what you say about UKIP, I’ll always hate Nick Clegg more .

  • I hold no candle for UKIP being present in a parliament they, and I, don’t want to be represented by, but I don’t understand why the LibDems get so upset about it.

    If anti-EU residents in this country were not to vote in EU elections at all the credibility of the Brussels mafia would fall through the floor.

    You should be thankful that UKIP is available for voters.

  • We need a referendum so that UK voters can get the attendance record of ALL, our MEP’s down to zero.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Jul '14 - 5:37pm

    I would have a lot more respect for UKIP MEPs if they behaved similarly to SNP MPs in the UK Parliament, by working constructively with like-minded MEPs towards a looser EU. They do not do this, and so the British people have a large number of MEPs representing them who have no interest in influencing EU law or policy in any way. This matters to those of us who do actually care about what EU law and policy should look like, and about what MEPs actually do. Unfortunately, the majority of the British people do not, because they have been encouraged by the media and by politicians of all sides to treat EU elections as an irrelevance, or as a way of sticking two fingers up at the present national government, or as a referendum on the UK’s involvement with the EU. Our party did little to encourage people to think about the election in terms of what MEPs actually do and have done to make the EU work better for them. Our campaign just went on about how brilliant the EU is, without making any attempt to explain how Lib Dem MEPs helped make it such a great thing. It was just generic, technocratic pro-EU stuff, but it gave voters no understanding of what MEPs actually do, and gave them no reason to vote Lid Dem as opposed to another party. And by doing the Clegg v Farage debates, we were basically supporting the media narrative that MEPs don’t matter, and that the only possible options for the EU are uncritical support or withdrawal. In other words, we allowed the debate to be conducated on Farage’s terms, not on ours.
    None of this encouraged voters to think that what MEPs do is important. But until they do start to think that what MEPs do is important, they are not going to give a **** that their MEPs aren’t doing their jobs and are only there for the beer. And they will continue to vote UKIP regardless of what UKIP MEPs do

  • @John Barnett

    Your critique is out of date and obsolete. The large majority of European law now originates from requests made by Parliament to the Commission, and most of the remainder originate from requests made by member states to the Commission.

    @Peter

    Your number is plucked out of thin air, or possibly out of Nigel Farage’s mouth. It isn’t accurate and only has any credibility thanks to the amount of legislation that is concerned with creating common trading standards across the single market. But, that said, there needs to be much more coverage of the European political process in British media. During the May elections, the huge gap in coverage and in the debate as a whole between Britain and Ireland was staggering. Over there, the debate was over which political bloc would deliver what, and which of the candidates would be best for Ireland. Here, tired old In or Out rubbish.

    @Jedibeeftrix

    Wrong, sorry. UKIP wins don’t bruise Lib Dem egos – UKIP supporters self-descriptions are diametrically opposed to the way Lib Dem voters and former supporters describe ourselves, we never really had much overlap to mention anyway.

    Its Green wins that sting. Luckily for the Liberal Democratic ego, the media doesn’t generally see fit to report on Green successes. Don’t fit the narrative, might as well not happen.

    Also, again with ‘adversarial politics’. What you’re defending though is a system where both adversaries try to find out what the 30% of the vote most likely to turn out wants, and then competes to be most credible offering it. Its not a battle of ideas, its a battle of personalities for the support attached to whatever pre-existing idea might happen to be present: ‘Oh Lord, tell me where my people are going, that I may lead them there’.

    It lands us with the kind of spineless focus group ‘leadership’ that characterises post-Thatcher British public life.

  • Alex I could even take them more seriously if they acted like Sinn Fein MPs and did not take their seats (nor presumably draw any money??). They are making a particular point. UKIP are not – just getting elected under false pretences.

  • On the other hand, is it any wonder that Catherine Bearder hs a 100% attendance record? Afterall, she is a party of one!

    What a silly, pointless article.

  • Nick Tregoning 29th Jul '14 - 8:48am

    Ah no, sorry Peter – 75% of our laws are not made in the EU. That’s a UKIP-fact – the relationship between a UKIP-fact and a normal fact is that a UKIP-fact isn’t actually true.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jul '14 - 9:40am

    Peter

    Now that over 75% of our laws are made in the EU and UK politicians are left to debate unimportant trivia, why does the BBC not report on the multitude of directives emanating from Brussels?

    If that is the case, then the MEPs we elected have a very important job to do, so why aren’t the UKIP ones doing it? Why aren’t they there telling us of all the things going through the EU that are so much more important than anything done by Cameron, Clegg etc here, and telling us what they are doing to scrutinise these things and draw attention to bad aspects of them? I suspect because they don’t want their fantasy world to come into conflict with reality, which it might if they actually got down to the job they are meant to be doing and actually had to deal with what is REALLY coming out from the EU.

  • T-J
    You said, “Your number is plucked out of thin air, or possibly out of Nigel Farage’s mouth,”. (For the benefit of others, the number refers to the amount of EU legislation affecting the UK.)

    I notice that although you scorn my opinion, you do not offer an alternative. The >75% is a current estimate, reasonable in my opinion, and supported by many observers. Eleven years ago, a long time in politics, the estimate was about 50% according to one MEP and it is very likely that the level has increased significantly since then.

    “Probably half of all new legislation now enacted in the UK begins in Brussels.”
    Nick Clegg MEP, The Guardian, 8 December 2003, 09:26 GMT.

    Perhaps you would like to offer your estimate, just to complete the discussion?

  • Matthew, your turn as well.

  • Nick Tregoning.

    I think you owe someone an apology, perhaps your leader?

    Remember that Clegg thought it was 50% 11 years ago, so 75% today is not unreasonable, given all the extra areas that have been handed over to EU control since 2003.

  • Stuart Bonar 30th Jul '14 - 10:40am

    Here you go Peter: https://fullfact.org/europe/eu_make_uk_law-29587

    Of course the numbers game is of limited value anyway – is one regulation about something like the energy efficiency of fridges (a Europe sort of thing) as important as the law on same-sex marriage (a London/Edinburgh/Cardiff/Belfast kind of thing)? If you’re just dealing in numbers then both are as important as each other.

    In any event, if Brussels is so important and makes so many of our laws, as UKIP maintain, why are they not turning up to vote?

  • There is a difference between laws “beginning” in Brussels, and being “made” in Brussels. The “75% of laws are made in Brussels” assertion implies that EU laws are diktats that national parliaments have no choice in how to implement. In fact member states have considerable flexibility in how they incorporate EU directives into their own bodies of law, based on their individual legal systems. It is unfortunate that the UK all too often chooses not to take advantage of this flexibility (not implementing easements or exemptions, often even when its own ministers sought to get them put into the law), but that is a separate issue.
    So Peter, stop crowing.

  • Malcolm Todd 30th Jul '14 - 11:14am

    Coming up with numbers or percentages for how much law is made where is of course stuff and nonsense. Pick the number that suits your narrative, shout it over and over, and then claim that “many observers” agree with you.

    what matters is whether any particular body has legitimacy in making the rules that it makes, and whether it does enough, too much or too little in the areas in which it has competence. After all, if it were true that the EU accounted for 75% of British law (and presumably that the British parliament was responsible, therefore, for 25%), then Westminster could just multiply ninefold the number of laws it passes and thereby reverse the relative proportions attributable to Brussels and Westminster. Problem solved? Of course not.

    Please stop bandying about silly, meaningless numbers and engage in meaningful argument about the legitimacy of institutions and the appropriate level at which decisions should be made.

  • Malcolm Todd 30th Jul '14 - 11:24am

    If you do want to use numbers to assess the relative power of the EU and national governments, incidentally, there is a much more meaningful measure: control of public money. The EU’s budget is €142bn in 2014 or about 1% of the total GDP of Europe: http://europa.eu/pol/financ/index_en.htm. That’s equivalent to about £114bn, covering the whole of the EU of course.
    The British Government, meanwhile, is responsible for spending of £546bn (excluding local authority spending), or about 33% of British GDP: http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/year_spending_2014UKbn_14bc1n#ukgs302. That is, Westminster is directly responsible for nearly five times as much spending as the EU, though it is responsible for barely one-eighth of the population.

    Ruled by Brussels, indeed. Pish and nonsense.

  • Stuart Bonar 30th Jul '14 - 1:10pm

    Malcolm: that point about spending power is a very good one.

  • I think a better way of assessing rule by Brussels is to look at the areas where Brussels claim competence.

    Do not forget that the project is a long term transfer of powers. They do not have the bureaucratic capacity to grab all powers overnight. They have it all in the bag eventually and they have taken decades to get this far, estimated to be about 75% as discussed earlier.

  • Gentlemen, one other comment. I do not take part here on behalf of UKIP. I am not in any way affiliated to UKIP.

    I have a number of major criticisms of UKIP. It is rather tiresome to be labelled as UKIP on this site. To remind you, The LibDem policy on the EU is to engage. The BBC policy on the EU is to pretend that none of the EU Directives affect us, because they studiously avoid mentioning any of them. What is the LibDem position on that? Was the attack on me designed to avoid dealing with that important issue?

  • No, the BBC policy, like the policy of most of the media, is to pretend that the only permitted positions on the EU are uncritical support for everything that all EU institutions do, or withdrawal. So the concept that there are different political positions on policy for the EU as a whole, as in liberal, conservative and socialist ideas of specific policy for the EU is completely beyond them. And the BBC, like the rest of the media, expect the people who are “pro-EU” to justify every outlandish claimed EU law proposal in a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife-yet way. The Lib Dem leadership’s mistake was to go along with this false narrative instead of challenging it by talking about what we asw LIBERALS would to do change the EU.

  • @Peter

    ‘I notice that although you scorn my opinion, you do not offer an alternative. The >75% is a current estimate, reasonable in my opinion, and supported by many observers.’

    Alright then, I’ll give you an estimate. But first, you need to be made aware of where your ‘reasonable estimates’ come from.

    The 75% ‘estimate’ is not a current estimate by anyone other than Nigel, is totally unreasonable and rests on a (deliberate) misunderstanding of what the European Parliament has been saying -The number comes from an interview with a senior MEP in around 2009, where said MEP was told by his interviewer that the European Parliament is unimportant, a powerless talking shop that doesn’t have any say over law at all.

    This MEP responded by asking, if the Parliament is so unimportant, how is it that 75% of European Union law now originates within the European Parliament? Note, *European Union law*, not ‘laws within Europe’.

    The 75% was a claim made by someone putting down the ‘undemocratic unelected eurocrats’ line the phobics like to throw around. An estimate for the influence of Parliament on the Union, not of the influence of the Union on its members.

    By the way, the remaining 25% is law originated by the Council, made of the elected heads of the European Union member countries, so also democratic there.

    The other major UKIP figure bandied about is 84%, which relates to a question asked by UKIP’s Daniel Hannan to the German federal parliament, the answer to which he claimed showed that five times more German law originates in Brussels than in Berlin. This figure relied on wilfully misunderstanding the German federal system and totally failed to count any law passed by the parliaments of the Lander, the constituent states of Germany. Although they legislate in cohesion with eachother and the federal government, they are in fact responsible for the significant majority of all German law. So, never mind that the 84% figure for Germany is totally irrelevant to the UK, comparing a eurozone apple with a non-euro orange, the basis on which it was calculated was dishonest from the start.

    Based on their fundamental factual errors if nothing else, Nigel’s claims should be discarded by any non-partisan observer.

    So, what’s the real figure?

    Well, leading eurosceptic thinktank OpenEurope believes that the number may rest somewhere around 43%, although it admits difficulty in picking apart laws passed on the instructions of directives from the European Parliament and Commission, and laws that just happen to be the same because it would be silly to have them be different. Still, a thinking, rational person who is hostile to the EU can reference OpenEurope and say 43% without looking stupid.

    Personally, I consider this figure to be unreliable because it doesn’t consider how much one-off legislation comes from Brussels in the interests of lining up new members’ systems with the EU-wide one, nor does it explore the difference between euro and non-euro members.

    Factchecking organisation FullFact.org estimates that between 10-14% of UK Parliamentary Acts and 9-14% of UK non-Act regulation comes about either directly as a result of the European Parliament and Council legislation process, or under the influence of the European Parliament more generally.

    They also estimate that up to 53% of binding regulation applicable in the UK is down to the European Union and the rules governing the single market, but they also note that this figure overstates the influence of Europe, as it includes all regulations that are binding across the Union, regardless of whether it is relevant to the UK or not. For example, the EU rules on olive plantations are binding throughout the Union, but irrelevant in the UK where olive plants simply won’t grow.

    If you absolutely insist, then I would say that I consider 25% to be a reasonable figure for how much influence the European Union has over UK law. This is quite a bit higher than the figure for actual acts and regulations implemented by our Parliament due to Brussels, but I think it deserves to be weighted a bit higher anyway, to recognise the non-legislative influence European institutions have on states in the neighbourhood, be they enthusiastic members, non-members or halfway-house maybes like the UK.

  • @ T-J
    ” The other major UKIP figure bandied about is 84%, which relates to a question asked by UKIP’s Daniel Hannan to the German federal parliament, the answer to which he claimed showed that five times more German law originates in Brussels than in Berlin. ”

    Wow!!

    You really have your finger on the pulse of matters EU..

    Dan Hannan is a Conservative MEP for South East England,

    I would have thought a member of the EU good, UK bad brigade would be aware of the political affiliation of one of the most senior, most published and most well known MEP’s. Does this lack of attention to detail apply to the data in the rest of your response.

  • Malcolm Todd 31st Jul '14 - 12:57pm

    Raddiy

    Absolutely unable to find fault in any of the serious, substantive points made by T-J then, I take it?

  • @Raddiy

    I do apologise, the last time I paid direct attention to Hannan, he was being expelled from the European Parliament group to which he belonged for comparing his German party colleagues to Nazis, with the intent of disrupting proceedings rather than highlighting imminent genocide.

    At the time, UKIP were making advances and I assumed he might have had the courage to stand on his convictions and accept the offer. As it happens, I have overestimated him.

  • @Malcolm Todd

    I was questioning the integrity of the analysis, based on a basic absence of rigour, especially in light of the fact the comment was one of a number of comments attacking my party for apparently using spurious facts.

    Perhaps I should have kept quiet and allowed UKIP’s Daniel Hannan and his 84% become another urban myth for similar can’t be bothered to check the facts LibDems to drag out as gold plated.

    You know the sort of thing, just like the discredited 3million jobs will be lost if we leave the EU, which despite being completely discredited, is still one of the most common myths used by LibDems when debating the EU.

  • But Raddiy, your facts aren’t just spurious, they’re outright lies.

    I might occasionally fluff on exactly which political vanity project a given liar might belong to, ECR, UKIP, same diff, but I admit when that happens. Can you say the same for when your side is caught out plucking statistics from thin air?

    I’ll take it that the answer is no, and that you don’t have anything relevant to respond with.

    I refer you to your own leader, who has quoted Hannan’s number as gospel in the past but chose to tone it down to the 75% figure for the purposes of television, perhaps understanding that people think 3/4 sounds credible while 84% sounds wonkish.

    Also, on Hannan, it looks like he’s the Tory who’s been making all those calls for an electoral pact with UKIP. So, not a card carrying Kipper, but definitely Nigel’s man at Millbank.

  • jedibeeftrix 31st Jul '14 - 2:48pm

    Ah yes, those three million jobs. Always good for a laugh. Proof positive the party of evidence based policy making sometimes strays into lala land.

  • @Jedi

    And yet, when the Scottish Question is raised, the same sort of estimate is regarded as absolutely credible by the British establishment.

    The main problem with the 3m jobs estimate is that it assumes that a given percentage increase in the costs of doing business across the border will be compensated for by that percentage of jobs being lost.

    Obviously, not the case. Britain’s recent record suggests that our economy tends these days towards pay restraint, reduced conditions and increased flexibility when faced with trouble.

    But, the increase in costs does have to be absorbed somehow. Personally I would prefer we just work out a decent estimate of the savings made by business, in terms of tariffs removed, regulation harmonised and so on, rather than try to use the language of ‘politician speaking to normal person’, distilling everything into jobs gained or lost. That narrative assumes that the voter can’t understand the real situation, and inevitably runs into trouble when it gets put under the spotlight.

    Still, I don’t run the campaign, and perhaps that’s just as well while I stay in the habit of posting comments at two in the morning without a proofreader.

  • John barnett,

    Yes, the Westminster parliament tells Whitehall to write up bills and acts about this or that, but its not the same as actually making laws.

    The request element comes about because the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are equal co-legislators, with Parliament being a population proportional democratic assembly and the Council being formed by the elected leader of each state. Neither body can ‘instruct’ the Commission unilaterally, although either can make a unilateral request of it, the results of which then goes through the process of debate, amendment and voting until both Council and Parliament are satisfied.

    Still, the point is that you seem to be complaining that the European Parliament isn’t powerful enough. Somehow I doubt that you would appreciate it becoming any more powerful, especially since making the Parliament more powerful would mean that the member states would lose legislative initiative at the EU level.

    That’s why the European Parliament isn’t supreme in the sense of Westminster – it represents a coming-together of several equally sovereign members, and so must share legislative initiative with them in a structure that at least tries to balance the common interests of the Union with the individual needs of each member. Whereas Westminster claims to hold that absolute sovereignty in Britain, so can send out absolute instructions if it so desires.

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