The three main British political parties are still reeling from the success of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) at the recent local European elections.
For the first time ever, the anti-EU party, UKIP topped the British poll, recording 27.5% of the vote ahead of Labour and the Conservatives. Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader claimed the party had caused a political “earthquake” and is now targeting seats in the House of Commons at next year’s General Election.
The first test of UKIP’s growing popularity will come this Thursday at a by-election in the seat of Newark in the British Midlands. The seat was vacated after the incumbent MP, Patrick Mercer, resigned in a cash-for-questions lobbying scandal. The seat is traditionally seen as a safe one for the Conservatives, who polled 54 per cent at the last General Election, with UKIP polling just 4 per cent.
UKIP are fielding the veteran politician Roger Helmer who has been a member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands since the late nineties, first with the Tories and more latterly with UKIP. Helmer is currently UKIP’s spokesman on Energy and Industry.
The 70-year old is certainly controversial and has caused outrage for his recent opinions on rape, women and homosexuality. What has been less reported in the British press at least is that Helmer is a long-standing climate denier with deep ties to leading climate sceptic organisations in the US, such as ALEC, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heartland Institute. For the last few years, Helmer has been a key person fostering links between British and American sceptics.
In 2007, Helmer organised and chaired a Counter-Consensual Conference on Climate Change, whose speakers included the arch climate sceptics, Lord Lawson from the UK-based Global Warming Policy Foundation and Chris Horner from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), amongst others. For years, the CEI received millions from Exxon to deny climate change.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.