UKIP is no laughing matter

I am only going to say this once. Do not vote for UKIP on Thursday.

Most of the time, this column tries to be even-handed in its views and leaves you to come to your own conclusions. Today I am making an exception in urging you not to vote for a party attempting to establish itself in the political mainstream.

I know it is tempting to make a protest vote on these occasions  but before you put your cross against UKIP, please ask yourself whether you really want to give them a platform.

This is a party with only two clear policies: leave the European Union and stop immigration. Dig further and you will find a curious free market mix of regressive taxation, charges to see your doctor and a strange pledge, in the 2010 manifesto, to make the Circle Line a circle again. It falls well short of a programme to govern the country.

Nigel Farage may be the political face of the moment. His straight-talking oratory is unsurpassed by anyone except the Mayor of London. He purports to be the common man. But look at who is behind him.

The views expressed in recent weeks by UKIP candidates include calling for Lenny Henry to move to a black country, that the recent floods are retribution for the same-sex marriage act and  that Islam is “a cancer that needs to be cured by radiation”.

One of the main financial backers claims that homosexuals are incapable of loving, faithful relationships and one of the candidates is caught saying of immigrants that “I just want to send the lot back”.

Our Nigel explains that UKIP has grown so rapidly that it has not been able adequately to vet all its candidates and that politicians from other parties say some equally daft things too. He tries to discount their extremist views into bar room banter.

On another day, let’s reflect on the disenchantment and alienation that has brought similar far right groups to prominence in most European countries, like Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, with whom UKIP consorts.

But for now, face up to the fact that UKIP is not a laughing matter. Their members express some seriously nasty islamophobic, homophobic and xenophobic views, so cast your vote for someone else.

A Gauntlet Too Far

Sir Richard Branson flew into town last week and took a swipe at one of our regional treasures – the Northern Rock Foundation. He questioned their running costs and challenged them to get off their backside and raise money from other local companies. Sir Richard made a chivalrous offer of £1m  from Virgin Money if the Foundation could raise another £3m from other north east companies.

I fear there is too big a gulf between Virgin Money’s freewheeling approach to giving and the thoughtful and long-term funding for which Northern Rock Foundation is so well known.

The Foundation has been brave  to fund some difficult issues like tackling domestic violence. It has allowed its staff to quietly help and support  voluntary organisations that has warranted the extra staff costs that Branson criticises. Good grant-making comes at a cost.

Up until now, the Foundation has chosen not to go down the road of seeking extra funds either from companies or from government. Both Virgin Money (as is) or Northern Rock (as was) are too closely aligned to  Northern Rock Foundation to make it a  credible way for other companies to channel their philanthropy.

There are anyway already outstanding organisations set up to manage other people’s money. As I described a fortnight ago, the community foundations in the north east do this job extremely successfully.

It all felt as if the cavalier knight was throwing down a gauntlet last week that was too difficult to pick up, and perhaps he knew it.


A Good Man Taken Too Soon

I now have a better idea of what is meant by the innocuous phrase in an obituary that the deceased “died after a short illness.” At the end of an evening in February and after winning a game of bridge, a close friend mentioned he had a nagging pain in his leg.

The pain turned out to be caused by an inoperable cancer and Trevor Shears sadly died last week. His obituary was published in Friday’s Journal.

Trevor was such a steady and dependable bloke, apparently in good health, that the suddenness of his daily decline was all the more incomprehensible for those around him.

He sang the praises of the doctors who tried to help him. But – naively – I am still shocked that cancer cannot in all cases be treated despite the excellence of our medical research.

Trevor was a lifelong transport enthusiast and one of a small group of remarkable people who dreamed up what is now the Go Ahead Group. From small beginnings above a garage in Gateshead, Go Ahead floated on the stock exchange and has become one of the leading transport providers in the country, carrying 3 million passengers a day.

The flotation of Go Ahead made Trevor a wealthy man beyond, he said at the time, his wildest dreams. He took early retirement soon afterwards and gave half his money away by setting up The Shears Foundation.

It says a lot about business integrity in this region that Trevor’s two senior colleagues, Martin Ballinger and Chris Moyes, also sadly victims of cancer and no longer with us, set up charitable trusts too.

Trevor’s great passion in retirement was restoring and running Seaton Tramway in Devon which is major tourist attraction. I have rarely seen Trevor happier than when driving a tram.

Trevor did not let his good fortune alter his approach to life. As an accountant, he still checked the restaurant bills and as a Yorkshire man he ordered mushy peas at every opportunity. I shall miss the games of bridge and pints of beer with Trevor  which I had expected  to enjoy for many years yet. You never know what hand you may be dealt next in the card game of life.