Wednesday, 3 March 2010


UKIP MEP Nigel Farage has been docked some allowances, 'fined' £2,700, for the attack he launched against Herman van Rompuy in the European Parliament last week. He described the President of the European Council as having the appearance of a "low grade bank clerk" and claimed that his nation, Belgium, was "pretty much a non-country."

Farage's rudeness diminished himself. He portrayed the people of the United Kingdom as arrogant bullies. But should he have been penalised? What about freedom of speech in a parliamentary chamber?

For a moment I was tempted to support his 'rights' by sending him a compensatory cheque myself, but then I remembered that the House of Commons also sanctions members for inappropriate language or behaviour, and it has had centuries to develop its rules. My mind went back to personal experience, chairing meetings of Liverpool City Council's housing committee in 1982 with councillors from Labour's Militant Tendency disrupting business by droning on and on, daring me to curtail their 'freedom of speech.' Eventually I did, being reminded that a meeting chair has other responsibilities too.

Farage refused a request from the President (Speaker) of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, to withdraw his words. Buzek's subsequent words were written more in sorrow than in anger.

He said: "I attach the highest importance to freedom of speech. I fought for decades in my own country for such freedom. However, I do not believe that freedom of speech in the Parliament can extend to insulting other persons, especially guests speaking at our own invitation in the chamber. The very foundation of parliamentarianism and democracy is that freedom of expression should respect others."

Farage has milked the publicity for all it is worth and will regard his 'fine' as worth every penny. "It is an EU attack upon freedom of speech," he will claim, though he has not faced even a day's suspension.

Achieving a balance has been hard for Buzek. He was an activist for the Solidarity movement in Poland during the 1980s, campaigning against communist dictatorship. When he talks about free speech his words carry more genuine substance than all the rants and ravings of UKIP's former leader.

1 comment:

neil craig said...

Not being a complete hypocrit you will be on record as saying that Vince Cable calling Brown "Mr Bean" certainly more insulting thjan calling someone a bank clerk, "diminished him".

Not being wholly corrupt & illiberal you will not choose to censior free speech.

Or not as the case may be.