I'm writing this article on my way back from Strasbourg, having just voted in favour of a motion for probably the first time since being elected as a Ukip MEP. Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia, because his blog was critical of the religious system. I voted to condemn the flogging of Raif Badawi and call upon the Saudi authorities to release him. Seems fair enough? All Badawi did was exercise his freedom of speech.
But as ever, these things are not quite as simple as they appear. The political groups drafting the resolution tend to take the opportunity to add other things in. Sometimes it's a call for taxpayers' money to be spent on a project that we don't need.
Maybe you've seen a Twitter advert which asked "Why do Ukip hate elephants so much?" after six of our MEPs (before I was elected) voted against a resolution. The resolution concerned complained that the UK and other nations are allowed to set our own laws on wildlife crime. It called for the harmonisation of all member states' laws on wildlife crime. As the UK already has very strict laws on ivory, we don't want our laws to be weakened. We were also concerned about the text suggesting Europol should get involved, because the European police force lacks many of the checks and balances of the British police. The headline vote was to oppose the ivory trade; the practical implications would have done the opposite.
Back to today's vote, there were a few parts of the resolution I wasn't comfortable with. It called on the European Commission to intervene, which rarely ends well. The text was quite badly-drafted in condemning all corporal punishment: are they really equating a parent giving a child a smack with a brutal thousand-lash public flogging of a blogger? I'm not wishing to comment on the debate over parental discipline here, but that's precisely my point: it isn't relevant to a resolution about the case of Raif Badawi. So why was it in there?
On a more international note, a sentence in the text compared Saudi Arabian punishments to those of ISIS. Was that text really necessary or could it be counterproductive diplomatically to compare the two? Just because there's a grain of truth to that sentence doesn't mean it's a good idea to put it in a resolution.
In the end, after much soul-searching and despite my misgivings, I decided I ought to vote in favour of the resolution. I told my assistant that I would be doing so, and expected I would be rebelling against the Party line (Ukip doesn't really have a formal 'whipping' system, but we try to achieve a consensus if we can). We normally abstain on similar issues. Then something remarkable happened: I went to the voting meeting, only to find that our staff were also recommending we vote in favour of the resolution. The humanitarian issue, they argued, was so clear that it overrode our other concerns over the text.
Surprisingly, no-one raised an objection. Diane James, one of many of our MEPs who like me were elected for the first time last year, felt that people in the UK have the right to know why we voted in the way that we did. She volunteered to put in an oral explanation of vote (a brief 1-minute speech). MEPs can also put in a written explanation of vote. I decided to do the same, and handed in my speaking request only to be told by the ushers that they would not allow this explanation of vote. Neither would a written explanation be allowed.
I believe that people have a democratic right to know why Ukip MEPs voted in this way. But the European Parliament would not allow even that courtesy. As the chamber emptied, I rose and raised the issue on a point of order. The British people, I protested, have a democratic right to know why we voted the way we did. The answer, bland as ever, was to inform that they had decided not to allow explanations of vote on these issues.
Oddly enough we could, if we wanted, explain our vote on the setting up of a Special Committee to look at tax rates - which appears to be the opening ploy in an attempt to harmonise Corporation Tax across Europe. But I didn't need to explain that vote: everybody knows that Ukip opposes Europe-wide taxation and believes spending taxpayers' money on this Special Committee would be a waste.
Unable to explain my vote in the Parliament, I had a thought: where better than in this column?