Robin Butley writes:
Robert Kilroy-Silk's party Veritas is unlikely to win seats on May 5 – but it has had oodles of benign publicity from the media. Veritas (website here) advertises itself as "the straight-talking party" that stands up to "the bullying and the intimidation of the liberal elite in London" – and most coverage has taken it at face value. It's populist and right-wing, to be sure, but harmless: what the Tory party could become if it was a little more Eurosceptical and had a perma-tanned TV host as leader.
But a look at its manifesto shows that it's a lot nastier than that. Far from being "straight-talking", Veritas plays fast and loose with the facts. And its message isn't just Eurosceptic: it's xenophobic bordering on racist – and loopily right-wing.
The cavalier attitude to truth is most apparent on Europe. "Our membership of the European Union probably costs us around £40bn or more a year," the manifesto intones. "You can check the figures in the recent reports from the independent think-tank Civitas." In fact, Civitas (click here) is a right-wing free-market pressure group led by former big-wigs from the Institute of Economic Affairs – and the claim was made in a pamphlet written by Ian Milne, director of Global Britain, a whacko anti-EU pressure group (click here). Just to add to the suspicion that the £40bn figure was simply made up, it contrasts oddly with the claim of the UK Independence Party in last year's European election (in which Kilroy-Silk won a seat for UKIP) that the cost of Britain's EU membership was £20bn a year.
Then there's this canard: "The EU is removing our ability to govern ourselves and make our own decisions about our future. Decisions in the EU are made by unelected and unaccountable Commissioners, who now make 70 per cent of our laws." According to research by the House of Commons library, that's utter nonsense: only 9 per cent of UK legislation emanates from the EU.
As for the Veritas proposal to "secure an agreement with the EU similar to the ones Norway and Switzerland have. They have a free trade agreement and only have to implement a minimum number of EU regulations, paying a modest fee for the privilege of free trade" – well, it's barking. Not for nothing are Norway and Switzerland known as "fax democracies": they have no say in the development of EU directives that arrive by fax, but must obey them in order to trade with EU countries. And the "modest fee" for free trade for Norway is more than £150m a year, for Switzerland more than £90m. Norway has a population of less than 10 per cent of the UK's and sits on a lake of oil. Switzerland also has a small population and sits on a mountain of banks. Even the Spectator thinks the comparison is absurd.
But it's not just on Europe that Veritas allows its prejudices free rein. On crime, the manifesto states: "Countries like the United States, Spain and Ireland have relatively high prison populations, and relatively low crime rates. In Britain we have the opposite – high crime rates and a low prison population." In fact, as official statistics show (click here), Britain imprisons 141 people in every 100,000 – well behind the US (701 in every 100,000), but more than any other EU country. (Ireland's figure is 85 and Spain's 100, incidentally.)
Its take on immigration and asylum is equally slanted: "Britain is a soft touch for asylum-seekers." That is of course questionable: asylum applications have been down the past couple of years (click here), and two-thirds of them are unsuccessful. What cannot be doubted, however, is that Veritas's solution is draconian and unjust – to "dismantle the whole expensive and shambolic asylum operation of detention centres, advisory centres, courts, appeals, legal aid and the rest - saving the British taxpayer £2bn a year." How abolition of due process will help distinguish between "real" and "fake" refugees is never explained.
It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Veritas simply doesn't like immigrants of any description – or indeed foreigners. "The British people are fed up with being made to feel ashamed of their history, tradition and culture," declares the manifesto. It's time to "stop this nonsense – and refuse to allow British people to be bullied and intimidated by the political elite telling us what to think and say" and to "fearlessly and openly speak up for the British people . . . and defend the British way of life". Veritas would review the work of Commission for Racial Equality with a view to abolishing it, would "train enough British people to become doctors, dentists and nurses" – no more GPs from India, then – and would "change the national curriculum to ensure that children learn about the history and culture of these islands, and take a pride in their nation".
Nor does the right-wing loopiness stop here. The Veritas fiscal policy is for a massive handout to the rich. It wants "a 'flat-tax' system with a single rate of tax that is only paid by the better-off half of the working population", to "replace council tax with a local sales tax" and to "completely exempt the value of the family home from inheritance tax". Every one of these measures would penalise all but the well-off. Just as iniquitous, in local government Veritas would "restore the powers of local county and district councils on planning and development matters" but at the same time "remove the disclosure requirements imposed on unpaid local councillors". So councillors get planning powers and keep their financial interests to themselves – a recipe for graft and corruption that could only be welcomed by wannabe John Poulsons.
What a shower.