When I arrived in the European Parliament, I fully expected that there would be stitch-ups, slanderous accusations, voters' wishes ignored by the establishment and backstabbing from the political groups. At the time of writing, I have officially been an MEP for just over 24 hours - what has shocked me is that I have witnessed all of these happen already.
On Monday, the EU colours were paraded in military fashion and then on Tuesday the EU 'national anthem' was played to open the session, with pomp and ceremony to instill some kind of faux-European nationalism. Even pro-Europeans in Britain would have been shocked by what is going on in Brussels. Today Van Rompuy described Europe as 'our new country'. That's what the euro-elite see the European Union as being - a country, and they are fiercely nationalist when defending that 'country'. They call for more European military co-operation, moves towards a European army. Even many in the ALDE (Liberal Democrat) group have been strongly in favour of war in Syria and Iraq.
The idea of 'reform' or 'change' has had plenty of lip-service paid to it by European leaders, but it was business as usual as the session opened. Tens of millions of voters, and well over 50% of those who voted in the UK, voted against euro-federalism. Yet when we vote later in the month for the President of the European Commission, we will have only one option put before the European Parliament. We will be given one candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, to choose from.
The outcome of the vote for the President was already known well in advance, despite the so-called secret ballot. The EPP's European Commission candidate (Juncker) will be supported by the socialists, whilst the socialists' choice for the President of the Parliament (Martin Schulz) has been supported by the EPP. Overall the President of the Parliament is said to take home a package £213,000 a year. Schulz, an MEP who argues frequently against the use of tax havens will receive over £120,000 of the income in special tax-free allowances.
I listened to the speeches from the various candidates. I couldn't countenance voting for Schulz or Lunacek, but there were two others. The British MEP Sajjad Karim had come to speak to us and request our support, but he is pro-European Union (an ex-Lib Dem who defected to the Conservatives). His public speaking is impressive, but ultimately I couldn't vote for someone who called eurosceptics the 'anti-EU Taliban' and 'a fraud on the British people'. If you want my support, it's probably not a good idea to refer to me in those terms.
I was left with the hard-left Iglesias Turrion, a Spanish candidate - the leader of 'Podemos', which means 'We can'. It was either vote for him, or spoil my ballot paper like most of my UKIP colleagues. Good practice for my Spanish to listen to his impassioned speech in his native tongue, rather than rely upon the translators. He spoke of the problems with austerity impacting on the Southern European countries, and he seemed to be reasonably eurosceptic. I actually found myself agreeing with much of his speech, whilst disagreeing with the hard-left economic policies that he stands for.
In the end I spoilt my ballot. Turrion is a newly-elected MEP, and I know nothing about him other than what I heard from his speech. But more importantly, it's hard to shake off the feeling that voting would lend legitimacy to the stitch-up that has just happened.
With such stitch-ups a regular occurrence, the election of the vice-Presidents was actually far more interesting and eye-opening. It's not massively important, but each group should have at least one vice-President to have the inside knowledge on what is coming up. I wouldn't even think it worth mentioning in an article were it not for what I learned about European politics. There are 14 vice-Presidents elected, so the smaller groups (which include every UK Party except Labour) must co-operate to avoid the big groups dominating those positions.
With this in mind the Conservatives' group, the ECR, approached us to propose a deal. Smaller groups should, they suggested, support each other's' candidates. Whilst we don't agree with them politically, it's the only way to get fair representation from each group. Holding our noses, we agreed to the deal, hoping that it would lead to the election of an MEP from our allies in the EFDD group, Italy's Five Star Movement, for one of the vice-President positions.
When I arrived in the Parliament chamber, I noticed Conservatives' voting list casually lying around on their tables. It clearly missed off our Italian candidate. They had reneged on the deal, without even having the courtesy to tell us - assuming no doubt that we might never found out. I took a quick photo of their voting list, and showed it to the Italians. They'd been betrayed by the Conservatives. When we challenged the Conservatives about it behind the scenes, they told us 'it's a free vote'. Why, then, did they have a voting list instructing their members to break the deal? They must have realised how weak this excuse was because their explanation had changed in the afternoon. By then they were blaming the Italian MEPs in our group for not being certain enough that the entire Group would vote that way, despite us having agreed to do so at our meeting.
Yet again the UK Conservative MEPs have said one thing, but done another. They talk a good talk back home in a measly attempt to appease the ever-growing dissatisfaction of their grassroots members, but when faced with the opportunity to support even a moderate eurosceptic from Italy they refuse to do so. And so I've re-learned one very important lesson: the British Conservative Party cannot be trusted. Interestingly, at today's debates very few Conservatives indeed bothered to turn up. Not one UKIP MEP was absent from the morning session, but most of the Conservative seats lay empty.
After Cameron's cast-iron guarantee of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, false hopes of renegotiation and plans to stop the arch-federalist Juncker becoming Commission President, perhaps it would have been more surprising if they'd actually remained true to their word.
A day spent in the hemicycle today would have been enough to convince any waverer that Britain must leave the European Union. The chamber is so far divorced from the realities of everyday life, and so opposed to genuine reform, that there really is only one option.