Would UKIP be riding so high if voters knew of the party's links with powerful right-wing US corporate interests promoting fossil fuels, denying climate change, opposing gun control, and supporting big tobacco, teaching creationism in schools, healthcare privatisation and the lifting of nuclear power regulation? Alex Stevenson and Oliver Tickell of The Ecologist investigate.
UKIP's big-picture goal is a bid to achieve independence from the European Union - but in backing ALEC's agenda it appears only too keen to turn us into vassals of unaccountable American corporations.
Few if any of those electing the UKIP candidate in yesterday's Rochester by-election knew of the party's links with American right-wingers who support corporations' rights above those of both people and planet.
But as an investigation by The Ecologist reveals, the party and three of its elected MEPs have links with the powerful but shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the associated Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank reported to have received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests.
ALEC is a truly American phenomenon: it's a right-wing corporate lobbying group which shortcuts the traditional nuances of persuasion by drafting bills and encouraging lawmakers across the 50 states to sign up to them wholesale, and push them through their legislatures.
Typically 1,000 such bills are introduced every year, and several hundred are enacted.
The 'charity' that's anything but charitable
And although it's registered as a charity - giving it huge tax breaks and enabling it to anonymise much of its income - ALEC is not on the side of the angels.
ALEC-drafted legislation has provided fossil fuel industries with enormous subsidies; imposed connection surcharges on small 'rooftop' solar power generators; promoted the anti-evolution, pro-creationism agenda of extreme evangelical groups; stripped away restrictions on Americans' right to carry guns; and even includes 'Jim Crow' laws to get poor Black voters off electoral registers.
Yet three UKIP MEPs have chosen to put their names to official ALEC correspondence.
One of the signatories, Roger Helmer MEP, UKIP's energy spokesperson, has also spoken at numerous Heartland Institute climate change denial conferences including the 7th - taking place in May 2012 (see photo with Maritsa Noon of Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy and Youtube presentation)
The conference was sponsored by nearly 60 organisations that had collectively received nearly $22m from Exxon Mobil and the Koch oil billionaire family since 1998, according to a Desmogblog analysis.
Heartland Institute is one of the US's main organisations that denies climate change and promotes the interests of the fossil fuel industries which are among its principal funders.
It also has close links to big tobacco, having received both funds and support from Philip Morris, Altria and Reynolds American. And it strongly supports the privatisation of public services including health care provision and education.
'I think the global warming theory is bad science'
Like Heartland, ALEC does all it can to challenge the global scientific consensus on climate change - its 'model' climate change bill suggested global warming is “possibly beneficial” to the planet.
Climate change deniers are encouraged to “educate” lawmakers by claiming there is no scientific consensus on the issue. Its most recent meeting in Dallas saw one of its speakers deliver a presentation dismissing the International Panel on Climate Change as being “not a credible source of man-made economics”.
ALEC's incoming national chair, the Texan Republican Phil King, has said: “I think the global warming theory is bad science.” At a recent ALEC meeting in Dallas, Heartland's President Joseph Bast led a workshop featuring a presentation arguing that:
- “There is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change.”
- “There is no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and no point in attempting to do so.”
- “Carbon dioxide has not caused weather to become more extreme, polar ice and sea ice to melt, or sea level rise to accelerate. These were all false alarms.”
- The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “is not a credible source of science or economics.”
- “The likely benefits of man-made global warming exceed the likely costs.”
The presentation also reveals how Heartland Insitute works in partnership with ALEC - whose role is to draft legislation implementing Heartland's right-wing agenda, and push it out to state legislatures. Draft bills would expedite fossil fuel developments, cut renewables out of energy markets and even “lift regulation of nuclear power”.
In the US, thanks to the strength of the Tea Party, this kind of extremism is tolerated and even celebrated. In Britain it would be challenged and ridiculed - which is why the deepening links between a British political party and UKIP needs highlighting.
Now here's a funny thing … UKIP MEPs signing ALEC's letter
The latest indications about Nigel Farage's party's anti-environment attitudes followed Google's withdrawal from ALEC after a prolonged campaign by Forecast the Facts that denounced the contradiction of Google stated views on climate change and other issues, and ALEC's legislative agenda.
Google's Eric Schmidt's conclusion that ALEC's views on climate change are “hurting our children and our grandchildren” was greeted with condemnation by ALEC's supporters - following which over 200 US legislators put their name to an angry letter to Google.
The letter blames “misinformation from climate activists” for Google's decision. Instead it points to ALEC's climate change policy, which suggests climate change only “may” be causing global warming, as evidence that it is upholds a moderate view. That just about says it all.
Scroll right down to the bottom of the letter, and you can spot something odd: three UKIP MEPs have also added their names. The three British signatories are those of south-east MEP Janice Atkinson, the West Midlands' Bill Etheridge - and Roger Helmer.
It is Helmer who holds the key to all this, for he has perhaps the deepest relationship with ALEC of any other British politician. The group appointed Helmer 'Adam Smith Scholar' back in 2005.
He was also a member of its 'international task force' and boasts of having “developed close relationships with conservative political groups in the USA”. Since then he has pursued a bold policy on green issues that makes him one of Britain's leading climate change deniers.
He spent £9,000 on a poster campaign attacking the “Great Climate Myth” in 2010. The poster suggested actions to address global warming were “probably unnecessary, certainly ineffectual, ruinously expensive”. After the campaign attracted inevitable criticism he insisted he was speaking for a majority of British voters.
The following year he appeared at ALEC's annual meeting in a workshop called 'benefit analysis of CO2'. Not the most fascinating of meeting titles, you might say. In fact this was an alteration from its original name: 'Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2'.
Helmer is also a supporter of the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), whose ideological position of fossil fuels and climate change is identical to that of Heartland and ALEC - and a personal friend of its Executive Director Marita Noon (see photo).
'Big Green tells lies'
Now Helmer is advocating an energy policy for Britain based on “proven technologies” including coal and gas. In his speech to the party's conference in Doncaster this year, titled 'Big green is obscene', he told delegates:
“'Big green' hates industry, hates capitalism. 'Big green' campaigns against jobs and growth and prosperity. Oh, and by the way, 'big green' tells lies.”
Helmer's speech focused on energy security, and argued that UKIP's focus on energy independence, which includes repealing the 2008 Climate Change Act, contrasted with that of the Westminster parties.
“We in UKIP have carved out a distinctive position on energy that puts clear purple water between us and them. Look at what the old parties are doing, look at the Lib-Lab-Con policies. They slavishly follow Brussels diktats. They want a massive waste of resources on renewables. They want to cover the country in wind farms and solar arrays and they are wedded to green taxes, levies and subsidies. Now compare our position. UKIP's policy has one clear objective: secure affordable energy for households and industry.”
In one recent blog, 'Roger Harrabin's new normal', he opines: “CO2 is just one minor factor amongst many in a vast and chaotic climate system which is poorly understood and very difficult to model. CO2 is not even the most serious greenhouse gas. Both water vapour and methane have a bigger effect - and we can do nothing about water vapour until we can stop the winds blowing over the ocean.”
UKIP - ALEC's bridgehead across the Atlantic?
ALEC and Heartland may well be willing to assist UKIP's cause - and with Helmer's long-standing links with the American 'charity', they have already established a bridgehead across the Atlantic.
The involvement of Atkinson and Etheridge provides evidence that UKIP's links with ALEC - and by extension with American corporate, fossil fuel and right-wing evangelical and 'Tea Party' interests - are only deepening as the party's influence increases.
But there is something a little illogical about this. UKIP's big-picture goal is a bid to achieve independence from the European Union - but in backing the agenda of ALEC and Heartland it appears only too keen to turn us into vassals of unaccountable American corporations.
Helmer's response to these concerns is to dismiss them outright. “When will these people understand?” he asks. “We don't want to leave the EU to join something else - we want to leave the EU to regain our independence.”
Resisting any kind of big government, promoting free-market rhetoric whatever the cost and, above all else, undermining the rationale behind acting on climate change … Helmer has a lot in common with ALEC.
UKIP's 'special relationship' with ALEC, Heartland and CARE needs watching closely as the party's influence in Britain and Europe gathers momentum.
Alex Stevenson is parliamentary editor of politics.co.uk, and a regular contributor to The Ecologist.
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
Roger Helmer Exercises 'Right of Reply' …
Your article 'UKIP uncut' is the most reprehensible piece of unsubstantiated innuendo I have seen for some time. It is deliberately misleading.
You draw attention to my occasional contacts with an American political organisation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. But as you should be aware, I have been in occasional contact with ALEC for at least ten years, and for three quarters of that time I was sitting as a Conservative MEP. Several other Conservative MEPs joined me from time to time on visits to ALEC events in the USA. Yet you focus your criticism entirely on UKIP, with no reference to the Tories.
Photo: Roger Helmer