Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Godfrey Bloom: intemperate language, political non-apologies and outright lies.

In July 2013 the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom made a number of statements about the UK foreign aid budget that illustrate what a borderline racist party UKIP actually is.

He told an approving crowd of UKIP supporters in the West Midlands that Britain should stop sending aid to "Bongo Bongo Land" and that most of the UK foreign aid budget is spent on ""to buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris and Ferraris".

It took several weeks for the fuss to reach the national press, when they picked up on a radio interview where he tried to defend the use of the phrase "Bongo Bongo Land". Within hours of the mainstream press furore Nigel Farage condemned Bloom's use of the phrase "Bongo Bongo Land" and instructed him to pen a public apology. It is worth noting that Farage's only criticism of Bloom, was for his "wrong language", which was quantified with a statement of 100% support for Bloom's assertions about the UK foreign aid budget, here's exactly what he said:

"Godfrey 100% right over foreign aid budget but pleased he's apologised over the wrong language he used."

Thus it seems that Nigel Farage agrees 100% with the ridiculous false assertion that most of the UK foreign aid budget is spent on luxury items, sports cars and apartments in Paris. There's not really any other way of interpreting 100% support is there?

Alongside the statement of support for Bloom's ridiculous comments about Ray-Bans and apartments in Paris, Farage included a link to Bloom's public apology, which is yet another example of the political non-apology where the politician apologises for any "offense that might have been caused", rather than apologising for having made the statement in the first place. Bloom also tries the ridiculous defence that he didn't think that referring to poor countries as "Bongo Bongo Land" could be seen as offensive. If it is true that he didn't realise that "Bongo Bongo Land" could be deemed offensive, this just goes to illustrate the insular mindset of the UKIP community, where barely concealed racism is not considered offensive by anybody.

For me, the most important element of Bloom's abject so-called apology is a bit of rabble-rousing rhetoric in the penultimate paragraph, where he makes the unsubstantiated assertion that UK foreign aid has been used by the Argentine government to buy Mirage fighter jets. This is a grotesque misrepresentation at best, and an outright lie at worst. Here's what he said:

"My aim, successful as it appears, was to demonstrate the immorality of sending [money abroad], some to buy arms - Mirage fighters in Argentina is just one example."
After a bit of research, I found that according to the Daily Express (which may pass as a reliable source in UKIP circles, but not here) the total UK contribution to Argentine between 2007 and 2013 is supposedly to £27 million . £7 million from a contribution to a joint EU fund, and £20 million in the form of a World Bank loan. I found absolutely no evidence (reliable or otherwise) to justify an assertion that any of this cash had been spent of Mirage fighter jets.

It is absolutely clear where the £7 million contribution to the €50 million EU Development and Cooperation Fund is allocated (source).

  • Education to increase social inclusion and vocational training capacity (32.9%)
  • Economic competitiveness for small businesses (35%)
  • Strengthening EU-Argentina relations (32.1%)
If Godfrey Bloom has evidence that any of this EU money was spent on Mirage fighter jets instead, I'd like to see it because it would be a massive fraud. If it is the case that Mr Bloom has evidence that Argentina used EU social development funds to purchase military hardware, it is somewhat surprising that it hasn't been widely publicised by UKIP, given their ideological opposition to the EU.

It is a bit of a stretch to even consider the £20 million contribution to the $450 million World Bank loan to Argentina as foreign aid, given that it takes the form of a repayable loan, so it should be considered foreign investment rather than foreign aid. However, for the sake of clarity I'll explain what that loan is too.

The World Bank loan to Argentina is "
to support the Government of Argentina’s strategy towards increasing rural productivity in the regional economies of the country (areas outside of the Pampas) and supporting the development of a knowledge economy". All funds provided through this loan facility are also clearly allocated (source):

  • $300 million will support investments in public infrastructure and services in rural areas, as well as complementary on-farm and off-farm private investments, in the Regional Economies. All investments will be aligned with the Provincial Agricultural Development Strategies.
  • $150 million supports the expansion of Argentina’s capacity to generate productive innovation in knowledge-based areas by creating highly skilled human capital; facilitating the creation of new knowledge-based companies; fostering private–public collaborations in the priority areas of information and communication technologies (ICT), nanotechnology and biotechnology; upgrading research-infrastructure; and strengthening the system’s overall policy framework.
Again if Mr Bloom has any evidence that these World Bank loan funds have been spent on Mirage fighters, rather than on rural development and the development of the Argentine "knowledge economy", perhaps it would be good of him to hand his evidence over to the World Bank?

There is one further point that some drooling UKIP reactionary may try to raise, that this £7 million in clearly allocated foreign aid and £20 million in clearly allocated foreign investment could allow the Argentine government to spend some extra money on acquiring Mirage fighters. Lets have a little think about how many Mirage fighters one could buy with £27 million. It turns out that it is actually impossible to buy a new Mirage fighter, since the aircraft went out of production in 2006.

It seems that Bloom is referring to the purchase by Argentina of 20 second hand Mirage fighters from the Spanish Airforce. These fighter were built in the mid 1980s and are badly outdated, hence the Spanish government getting rid of them. Even if the entire £27 million in aid and loans was diverted to this fighter plane purchase (which it clearly wasn't), it would only have funded the transfer of 3 of these outdated jets.

Bloom provides no source at all to justify his assertion that EU and World Bank funds have been misappropriated in this way, and it seems that the subject of Argentine fighters was only raised in a pathetic effort to get narrow minded reactionaries on his side by invoking the "Argentine bogeyman".

I believe that filling out what is purportedly a public apology for offensive language with a pack of lies (or unsubstantiated assertions at absolute best) is hardly a good strategy. Lying to the electorate is contemptible enough, but doing it in a public apology must be some kind of all-time low.

There are a number of issues about the way UK foreign aid is allocated (especially the fact that George Osborne has opened a new tax loophole to allow British based companies to avoid tax on their profits from countries that receive UK foreign aid). Far too much UK foreign aid ends up in corporate hands, and not enough in the hands of the genuinely needy. Nigel Farage's 100% endorsement of Bloom's ridiculous comments and outright lies does absolutely nothing to enhance the debate over the way foreign aid is spent, it simply clarifies the fact that Farage endorses the misleading rhetoric and lies spouted by one of his senior UKIP colleagues.

Whether or not you find Bloom's intemperate language offensive, the essential point to I would like you to take from this post is that the telling of lies about the foreign aid budget clouds the water and makes having a rational debate on foreign aid spending that much more difficult. It is clear that Bloom and Farage don't want to have a rational debate about the way foreign aid is spent as they claim, they simply want to whip up a frenzy of xenophobia with a pack of lies.

The liar is the enemy of honest and objective debate.


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