Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Time to fight back against the Europhobes...

"For almost forty years, we Brits have complained about Europe."
Douglas Carswell. 

Well you have Douglas and your fellow travellers that's for sure. But not this Brit nor anyone else who can see about the parapet of their own prejudice. Let’s look for a moment at what you are proposing. Basically it’s back to the pre War era before Europeans didn’t just say “Never again” but created the institutions to put it into effect. You see that first half of the 20th century when Nations stood apart and Nationalism reigned wasn’t really very good was it? A little local difficulty in Italy, Spain, Germany… The odd battle or two. And where were we the standalone Brits? Clutching on to our British Empire and special relationship. And yes both did come to our rescue. But then, post war, both crumbled as inevitably they were going to.

Take a look at the map Douglas. See that little group of islands off the west coast of the European land mass? That’s us. And that’s all we have. History, traditions and a decent-sized economy of course and hard-working and decent people as well. But to stand alone, like we did once or twice before? No thanks.

Fortunately the call for European cooperation made in the ruins of Europe was heeded. And gradually, from small beginnings, man’s greatest ever achievement in transnational political and economic cooperation was created. A Union of 28 nations with a common purpose and a basis of unity. And Britain has played its proud part in creating it. “There Is No Alternative”, as someone once said in another context. The “Anglosphere” beloved of the Europhobic Right? Don’t make me laugh. If it was a good idea don’t you think just one of the prospective members of it might say so? Dream on. It ain’t going to happen. Fantasy politics.

For twenty or more years our politics has been blighted by those who obsessively want to retreat from Europe. John Major’s “men in white coats” didn’t, sadly, take them away and lock them up. These are the people who at their most venal get elected to the European Parliament and then turn their fat arses towards it. They are the people who peddle simplistic lies about sovereignty and governance – as if the British Parliament had conceded all to Brussels. Not true. Unlike in Britain the EU is committed to subsidiarity and processes are continually underway to encourage decision-making not at the highest level, but at the lowest practicable.

I think that a referendum is a lousy idea but I suppose if we have to have one we might as well get it out of the way as soon as possible. I doubt that it will solve anything. If we stay in the EU will that stop the Douglas Carswells of this world from ranting on? Of course not. Like the mad people with megaphones who are always with us telling us we are doomed they’ll carry on. And if the antis win? Well we really will become second rate as a nation and a people. And that is not going to happen. The one good thing about the referendum is that it will galvanise those of us who see our future as a full, and effective member of the European Union to come out fighting. The gloves need to be off. We need to expose the dangerous bigots like Douglas Carswell for what they are. A grave threat to our nation – lets be gone with them.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tendentious nonsense about an EU referendum on the front page of the "Sunday Times"

Front page of "The Sunday Times" today. Tendentious nonsense - purporting to be news reporting but actually it should be in the "comment" section. The key phrase is this:

"Ed Miliband crashed to defeat refusing to give the public a say on the EU"

1. There is not the slightest bit of evidence that Labour's position on an in/out referendum  contributed to their defeat. The issue was on the margins throughout the campaign.

2. Labour's highly credible position was that if there were to be significant changes to the EU and Britain's membership of it (e.g. A Treaty change)  that would be put to the people in a referendum.

3. There was no "refusal to give the public a say" - how could there be? As with any other issue the public has every right, in a democracy! to engage in a debate on the subject.

4. The public has a "say" through the democratic process of parliamentary democracy. We elect representatives called MPs to debate and vote in Parliament. That is the right way, tested over centuries, and to play the referendum card in these circumstances is contrary to our traditions and our history, and playing with politics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The LibDems are dead in the water and there is no way back for them

I have argued here that there are four distinct streams in English politics (the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish are different!) and that the Liberal Democrats are not one of them. Whilst I do not believe that the lack of a coherent political offer was the main reason for the debacle of the LibDems performance in the recent General Election I think that it was a contributory factor and that it is the main reason why there will be no comeback for them – ever.

The LibDems were always a strange construct merging as they did two rather different political philosophies. The Liberal Party became redundant in the post war years hanging on to a few seats for nostalgic reasons, but little more. Labour had replaced the Liberals as the alternative to the Conservatives in the first half of the twentieth century and the Liberals were reduced to a largely irrelevant rump in Parliament. They won only six seats in each of the General Elections in the 1950s. Then a “Liberal revival” of sorts happened and they went to 12 seats in 1966, only to fall back to 6 again in 1970. But under the charismatic Jeremy Thorpe they gained 14 seats and 6m votes in the February 1974 election – the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system denied them anything like fair representation.  This “revival” was arguably not because they had an attractive alternative political pitch to the Conservatives or Labour but because they (and Thorpe) were the “neither of the above” alternative to Heath and Wilson.

In the early 1980s it was not mainly the Liberals who made progress as a moderate alternative to Thatcher or Foot but the “Social Democratic Party” (SDP) of the Gang of Four led by Roy Jenkins.

A pragmatic electoral Alliance between the Liberals and the SDP happened but again, despite gaining 8m votes in the 1983 General Election (only 2% behind Labour) the FPTP system gave them only 23 seats. They slipped back a little in 1987 and then the two parties merged to form the Liberal Democrats.

Over its twenty-seven years as a distinct party the LibDems made steady progress up to and including the 2010 Election when they polled nearly 7m votes – the highest for a third party since 1983. Hard work on the ground at constituency level had given them a high of 62 seats in 2005 which reduced to 57 in 2010. Then Armageddon !

The essential thing about The Liberals, the Alliance and the LibDems was that they were an alternative to the Conservatives. True they were an alternative to Labour as well, but nearly all the seats that were won were where they managed to drive the Tories into second place. This brought with it a tactical voting benefit  - left-leaning voters who might have voted Labour instead voted LibDem where they had a better chance of keeping the Tories out. In the West Country and in South West London particularly you were often either a Conservative or you were LibDem.

When the LibDems went into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 there was a reasonably credible case for them to do this in the “national interest” – but for millions of LibDem voters it was a betrayal. If we had wanted a Conservative Government we would have voted Conservative! From that moment on the LibDems goose was well and truly cooked. They slipped to almost nowhere in the opinion polls over the course of the Parliament. Many of us felt that despite this they would hold on to 20-30 seats in the General Election but in fact they fell to a derisory eight. In the seats where the Tories were second the Tories mostly won, and in Scotland they, like the other parties, were all but wiped out by the SNP.

So what now? Why do I say that there is no way back. Well take Richmond Park, a seat that the LibDems won with a majority of nearly 5,000 as recently as 2001. This year the Conservatives had a majority of 23,000. And although other losses were not as drastic as this (Richmond had actually already been narrowly lost in 2010) there is no way that that Constituency is going to come back. And nor will any of the others.

Nick Clegg’s disastrous decision to go into Coalition has destroyed his Party. In England the third Party is now UKIP not the LibDems and whilst a few seats have been held – which broadly takes the Party back to the 1950s - the electoral map has been re-written, and they have been written out. Rural England is almost completely Conservative. Urban England is mostly Labour. Scotland is almost completely SNP. In terms of seats we have a two-party system again in England for the first time for decades – and a one party system in Scotland.

Finally to return to the substantive point. The LibDems are not the “neither of the above” Party any more. UKIP, the Greens are now that (whether this will give them any more seats under FPTP is entirely dependent on whether they select a few seats to work on as the Liberals once did and as the Greens succeeded in doing in Brighton). UKIP and the Greens do have a distinctive offer and most people could describe what it is. The LibDems do not and they will fade away fast.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

As the pollsters gave us the numbers my guess is that the Tories were drilling down to the "Why" of voter attitudes - and that's why they won the Election.

I did Market Research as a special subject in my degree Finals and practised it from time to time in my long Shell career - I was the "client" briefing the research agencies. One huge project I managed involved quantitative and qualitative research in twelve countries around the world. I mention this, I suppose, to give a bit of "been there, done that" credibility to what I want to say about Opinion Polls.

The Opinion Polls in the run up to the General Election were a long-running and important news story. There were a lot of them - seven or eight companies - and they reported very regularly. Hardly a day passed without one or two new polls being published. The most notable characteristics of the polls were their consistency one with another and how little they varied over time.  Over the course of this year, in the four months or so up to May 7th, the trend line showed the two main parties neck and neck with few polls deviating from this trend. This meant that if a poll did show one or the other with a (say) three point lead it tended to be dismissed as an "outlier" - and there weren't many of these. 

The polling companies who translated vote share numbers into seats all pointed to a hung Parliament - neither the Conservatives nor Labour would come close to the around 323 seats needed for a Majority in the House of Commons. The numbers were finessed to take account of the exceptional situation in Scotland where it began to be clear that the Scottish National Party was going to come close to a clean sweep of seats. And there was also a common view (which, for the record, I shared) that the Liberal Democrats would hold onto far more seats than their woeful national poll numbers suggested. Around 30 "holds" was a common view.

In the table above we see seat "forecasts" the day before Election Day (and just before) based on the latest polls. We also see the "Exit" poll and the final result. If we take "The Guardian" as an example (and the other polls were only marginally different) on 7th May, Election Day, they forecast an equal number of seats for Labour and the Conservatives and 27 for the LibDems. In fact the Tories got 99 seats more than Labour and the LibDems only 8. It was an almost unbelievable and unprecedented polling failure.

Over the course of the election campaign the opinion polls dominated political commentary and the media. It is almost impossible to find anyone who expected anything but a hung parliament. So the commentaries were dictated by this. Possible coalitions, arrangements etc. were explored ad nauseam. And this played back into the party campaigns - not least with the Conservatives warning of a possible Labour/SNP deal. 

With the benefit of hindsight we can now see that much of the debate, predicated as it was on a hung parliament, was specious nonsense. The polls were believed - and that was the starting point for everything. 

The polling companies have started to analyse and explain what went wrong. Maybe there was a "late swing"  (unlikely). Maybe some Conservative voters were "shy" to admit that they were going to vote Conservative (unconvincing). Maybe there was a differential turnout with Labour potential voters staying at home more than the Tory ones (some evidence for this). And maybe quantitative polls no longer really work on their own - which is my view.

A poll is not a forecast it is a snapshot. On the day it comes down to the floating voter deciding whether or not to vote and then, if he does go to the polling station, pausing with his pencil over the ballot paper before making his choice. The factors influencing that choice are many and varied. But those factors can be explored, and that is where qualitative research comes in. There was little or no analysis and/or presentation of focus group results during this election - or of any other qualitative research. Maybe this was because all the "Qual" research was private and not intended for public consumption.

My theory is this. The outcome of the election was heavily influenced by Conservative focus group (etc.) research in the final month or so and its translation into communications messages. With the Conservatives having sympathetic newspaper proprietors on their side (The Times, the Telegraph, The Sun, the Mail...) the qualitative research based messages could be widely communicated. So when on the day before the election the Sun had on its front page a large photograph of Ed Miliband eating a sandwich awkwardly there was no randomness to this at all. It was carefully calculated. My guess is that Conservative focus groups showed that some voters found Miliband "weird" and that his "sarnie" struggle was illustrative of this. Daft, offensive, dim-witted - yes. Effective? Probably.

The anti Miliband position had been created successfully over months and years. The "Red Ed" sobriquet was all part of this. Again I'm guessing here but I think the Conservative campaign against Miliband was firmly based on research telling them that he was a weak link for Labour. In fact Miliband ran a good campaign in the main and raised his profile. But probably not enough among the crucial floating voters. So, like it or not, Ed with his Sarnie may well have lost Labour the election. (I'm being metaphorical here,mod course, but the sarnie is a symbol of discomfort felt by sufficient voters enough to tip the balance).

Back to the pollsters. Asking respondents HOW  they would vote at any moment in time is still important - but asking WHY they made that choice more so. There has been too much reliance on the How this year and insufficient on the Why. Except, it's my guess, in the Conservative campaign headquarters. Don't confuse voters with too much detail - give them a small number of reasons to prefer you and a couple of powerful reasons not to choose your opponent. Reduce that to a slogan or two - "Red Ed" , for example. Provide a powerful visual image to back it up and get your friends in the media to give it prominence. All is fair in love, war - and politics!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Time for the pro Union Scots to fight back–with a new Party?

With a faint tinge of symbolism, perhaps, the vote for the SNP in the General Election in Scotland was exactly 50%. That means then that the country is equally divided between those (the SNP) who want independence and those that don’t. The latter half must, however, be content to have their position represented by just three MPs in Westminster (One each for Labour, the Conservatives and the LibDems) to the SNP’s 56! That's the “First Past the Post” (FPTP) voting system for you in stark relief.

So what do the 55% (The Independence Referendum) or 50% (General Election) of Scots opposed to Scottish Independence do? Their voice in Westminster will be almost silent. Here’s a radical suggestion. In Northern Ireland the UK-wide political parties have no representatives at either Stormont or Westminster. The 18 MPs are all from local parties. Scotland has rejected all the UK-wide parties almost completely and chosen also to have 56 0f the 59 MPs from a local party – the SNP. Having failed abysmally is it not now time for the Labour, LibDems and Conservatives to withdraw completely from Scotland? And, if so, what should replace them…?

The issue of Independence is by far the most important and divisive issue in Scotland and, as we have seen, the country is almost evenly split on the issue. Is it time for a new “Scottish Unionist Party” (SUP) to be formed. It’s pro Union stance would be at its core and politically if it was Centrist then it would be a counter to the very Left Wing SNP. A moderate pro-Union party could command significant support across the country and even under FPTP it should win a good number of seats both at Westminster and at Holyrood. There is already a small Party with the SUP name (that’s their emblem above) so some finessing might be necessary!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

For the Left the Election was bad, but all is not lost !

Well how bad was that ? Unless you are a Conservative it couldn't have been much worse. And if you are an opinion pollster you should hang your head in shame. The idea that the Tories could have a majority over Labour of 99 Seats was inconceivable. It wasn't just that over the many weeks of the campaign not one of the hundreds of polls suggested such an outcome. It was that not one of them picked up trends in voter attitudes that made it plausible. They were, in a short phrase, a complete waste of time. With one exception. Most of the polls did pick up what was underway in Scotland which perhaps helped make it happen. Certainly the SNP sailed with that particular wind and the voters followed them.

So what now? It is extraordinary that a campaign dominated by the idea that the UK has become a multi party democracy should deliver the opposite! In Scotland there is really only One party - and in England only two. The traditional third party has been destroyed and has been reduced to the statistical irrelevance they were back in the 1960s when they could last fit their contingent in a taxi. The First Past The Post voting system has been cruel to the LibDems, and catastrophic for the Greens and UKIP. To get 3.8m votes as the latter did and only one MP is scandalous - and I say that as someone who despises everything that UKIP stands for!

The minor parties can play a small part in Parliament, but the real action will be around the big two, and of course the SNP. Labour plus the Scottish Nationalists (their ideological cousins, Independence aside) have a total of 288 seats. Add in the eight LibDems, the Green and a few sympathisers from the "others" column and you could muster 300 or so in a vote. This means that if there is an issue on which just 15 or so Tories could be persuaded to vote against their Government it could be defeated. 

In the recent Parliament Tory revolts came mainly from their Right. The awkward squad of Eurosceptics and NeoCons. That may happen again, of course, but such a revolt would be easily defeated as it would gather no support from opposition party members. A much more likely, and intriguing, possibility would be a revolt for the Tory Left. They really could come into their own, and liberals of all parties will hope they do. Tory grandee Ken Clarke is back for, perhaps, a last hurrah. Free of the burdens of office he will, I guess, vote with his conscience and together with like-minded Conservatives such as Domininc Grieve he could stop illiberal policies such as the withdrawal of the UK from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). I doubt that pro EU Tories like Clarke would try and stop an EU Referendum Bill being passed, but the arithmetic might be there for them if they chose to do so. 

The Left was roundly defeated in the General Election (except in Scotland) and the Conservatives have a clear mandate to govern. But there are issues, such as ECHR, fox-hunting, the badger cull and social/fiscal policy (the Bedroom Tax) where David Cameron may struggle to get a majority in Parliament. Yes the election was bad, but all is not lost !

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Is this Dave and Nick's cunning plan to walk back into Number 10?

Do Dave and Nick have a cunning plan? The happenings in Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency suggest that they might have. In Sheffield there has apparently been a surge of support for Clegg from previous Conservative voters. Quite what the Tory candidate Ian Geoffrey Walker thinks about this I've no idea but to stop Labour (third last time) it would only take a few thousand Tory switchers despite the desertion of many previous LibDem to Labour. It could work.

Let's now explore what a new Con/LibDem "Kissy, Kissy" might lead to. And let's take YouGov's latest poll-based seat forecast as starters:

CON - 283
LAB - 261
SNP - 50
LIB DEM - 32

If you add the Tories 283 to the LibDems 32 you get 315. Short of the 323 that you need to govern, but not by much. Labour plus SNP gives you 311, add in a few other fellow travellers and you would probably have enough to succeed in a vote of no confidence against a new Conservative/LibDem Coalition. Probably!

Right, here's the cunning plan in the words of a joint Tory/LibDem (Coalition) statement after that confidence defeat:

"Following the defeat in the House yesterday the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have tendered their resignations to Her Majesty the Queen. Her Majesty, following consultations with the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, has said that Mr Miliband has confirmed that there is no basis for a stable formal Coalition between Labour and other parties which would command support in the House. In the circumstances Her Majesty has confirmed the dissolution of Parliament and that a new General Election will take place in three weeks time.

The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats believe that it is essential that a stable Government be formed after the Election in the National interest. They have therefore agreed to the continuation of the current Coalition and also that the two parties will not campaign against one another at the Election. Accordingly the Conservatives  will not put forward candidates in LibDem held seats, and vice versa. Further in seats currently not held by either of the two Coalition parties the Party which finished ahead of the other will put forward a candidate, and the other will not contest the seat.

In these extraordinary times the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats call upon their supporters to vote for the continuance of the Coalition and we are confident not only that they will do so but that this electoral arrangement will deliver to the Coalition a workable majority for a full five year term of office"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"The Good Right" is a symptom of Conservative malaise. Well meaning, thoughtful. But doomed without Leadership.

I always thought that the oft-quoted remark of Aneurin Bevan's :

"No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin."

a little over the top! But I am not alone in having consistently opposed and voted against Conservatives ever since I first got the vote. Vermin they may not be, though some are pretty nasty, but most Conservatives seem utterly different in the way they approach Society, and some believe that there is no such thing of course.

A few weeks ago I attended the launch of "The Good Right" - an attempt by Tim Montgomerie, Stephan Shakespeare and others to achieve a conservatism which is "compassionate and electorally successful". Oddly they chose Michael Gove to launch their initiative and he gave a speech which seemd to me to be old-fashioned tub-thumping Conservatism. In it he said this:

"Inequality remains the great social and political challenge of our time. Fighting it is central to our mission in Government."

It won't be just Lefties like me who see this as ringing hypocrisy. And that brings us to the heart of what Conservatives are really about. Let me give you a couple of quotes:

"No one seems to care anything but about money today. Nothing is held of account except the bank account. Quality, education, civic distinction, public virtue seem each year to be valued less and less. Riches unadorned seem to be valued more and more. We have in London an important section of people who go about preaching the the gospel of Mammon... who raise each day the inspiring prayer "Give cash in our time , O Lord"

and then this one:

"I hate the Tory party, their men, their words and their methods. I feel no sort of sympathy with them..."

You can perhaps tell from the language that these are historic quotes - in fact both one hundred years old. And both by Winston Spencer Churchill ! Churchill was at that time ratting to the Liberal Party where he became a successul early practitioner of a nascent Welfare State. Later he was to double-rat back to the Tories of course and later still he was to be an outspoken opponent of Socialism and of the Attlee government. But on his return to power in 1951 and during the administrations of his Conservative successors Eden, Macmillan and briefly Home, there was to be little in the way of unravelling of the 1945-1951 Labour government's model. The Welfare State was here to stay.

The thirteen years of Tory Government 1951-1964 can be seen as compassionate Conservatism in action - although there were few revolutionary changes. Socially liberal progress had to await the Wilson and Callaghan Labour governments during which, among many other moves forward, Capital Punishment was finally abolished and the beginnings of acceptance of homosexuality was legislated for.

Modern 21st Century conservatism was set in position not by the post war Butskellite middle ground or by Macmillan and Heath and co. When Margaret Thatcher died she was hailed by just about every Conservative Grandee and commentaator and all of the current cabinet. And Michael Gove, at the launch of "The Good Right" name-checked not Macmillan (other than for his house building programme) but, at length, Thatcher:

"The leadership of Margaret Thatcher...led to the liberation of billions - and not just from political tyranny but also from poverty." 

This is the conceit that the free market will create wealth for all (a hyperbolic "billions" in Gove's argument) - trickle down time! But actually the world that Thatcher created has far more in common with the world of the "gospel of Mammon" that Churchill condemned than with the compassionate world that Macmillan and all the post war Prime Ministers presided over.

The Tories do have a dilemma. They do not want to concede compassion to their opponents, fair enough if you want electoral success. But equally their ranks are full of passionate neo-liberal free marketeers and to be accused of being "Statist" is the ultimate crime. I have no idea what, if anything, David Cameron stands for. But I know exactly what the Tory Right wants. During the Blair years they had in Hague, Howard and Duncan Smith three standard bearers of that Right. They got nowhere. But notwithstanding this much of the rhetoric is not for middle-of-the-road Conservatism but for another swing to the Right post Cameron. 

"The Good Right" is a welcome corrective but in truth it is a touch on the tiller not a major tack. There are some decent people in the Conservative Party but until there is a credible, strong leader who can do for the Tories what Blair did for Labour (Clause Four, et al) they are condemned either to opposition or to the shifting to the Thatcherite Right. Leadership is the key, strong decisive and compassionate. Is it there?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The lottery of education in Britain

The Education system in the United Kingdom is the most diverse and divisive in the free world. It almost defies belief the extent to which the haves can assure that their children go to good schools and the have-nots have to take pot luck. The richest haves can buy privilege at independent schools many of which are truly outstanding and all of which are very good. The next tier down in the haves heirarchy comprises the comfortably off with a decent family income who can convert a proportion of that income into the purchase of a family home in an area with good State schools. There is a precise correlation between income demographics and school performance. For most of the rest parents are subject to the serendipity of school standards which vary from the good to the appalling. 

I would never argue for levelling down. I support independent schools, academies, free schools ... indeed any school which educates our children well. But let us not delude ourselves that the existence of these good schools means that we have a good general system of education in Britain. We will only do that if we have education for all that gives genuine equality of opportunity. That is my objection to Labour's Academies and the Conservative's Free Schools. They both ( and they are very similar) took the eye of successive Education ministers off the ball of their primary task, which is to raise education standards across the board. 

Our education system needs a radical review. Boasting of the success of a Free School is one thing (and not all have been successful) but that is window dressing. This Government has added to the diversity of our system and frankly done little to raise overall standards. Many of the Free Scools are religious institutions adding to the already grotesque fact that all too many schools are religion-based and indoctrinate as well as teach. 

I want an education system that is fair. That has choice within it, but where choice is not a shibboleth to be pursued at the cost of ignoring the general but improving the particular. As with the Health Service education is a Public/Private partnership and you don't improve the quality of public provision by removing or inhibiting the private sector or by closing other good schools . But it is simply unacceptable in a civilised State (and a wealthy one) that the postcode determines the quality of our schools and that the average standard is so far behind the best. If Labour believes that it can raise the average standard by concentrating efforts on ways and means other than the establishment of more elitist schools for the lucky that's fine by me.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

On Love !

"Romantic Love" is the favourite subject of creative writers in every medium and every culture. Indeed such love is crucial to all or part of the vast majority of plays, novels, poems and the rest. It dominates popular song and Grand Opera alike. It inspires sculptors and artists even composers of orchestral music. It is all around, and it's wonderful.

So what is "Romantic Love" ? Is it a phenomenon that cannot be defined, but you know it when you see it or better still experience it? And how do we separate it from related ideas like, physical attraction, lust and friendship? How do we know when we're "in love"? Indeed is that very idea more than an abstract and a sentimental one? 

As human beings we are separated from the rest of the animal kingdom by many things, and love is one of them. It's perhaps marginal, some creatures other than man do establish monogamous lifetime bonds but that is comparatively rare. And evolution tends to favour those with practical benefits and who look to be good breeding material. This is the antithesis of love.

In Jane Austen there is a clear distinction made between those who will make good husbands (occasionally wives) because of their wealth and status and those who have romantic potential. When the two combine that is the perfect situation. How many young men and women in our times have fallen for what they are told are "unsuitable" men or women? The courageous ones ignore the advice of others and let "Amor vincit omnia" - but how many bow to convention and deny themselves and their prospective partner happiness? And how many drift into loveless marraiges with "suitable" partners who turn out to be someone else's choice rather than their own - often in more ways than one.

The thing about "true love" is that it's unpredictable. This worries me a bit about dating agencies. They seem to bring "compatible" people together but isn't it all a bit soulless? You can love somebody who is by any conventional measure not "suitable" and with whom the data suggests you will not be compatible. Indeed these are often the strongest love matches of all. I knew one senior executive in Shell who was, you would think, your archetypical pin suited bore. His wife was extrovert, noisy, gossipy and fun. Was she the classic Director's partner? Not really. Was it a successful marriage. Absolutely!

When you look at the extraordinary love match between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who see that love is not always easy. In that extraordinary union with its on-off character and its uber-powerful sexual element you see a wonderful real life love story played out in the bright light of the public eye. This was as far removed from some phoney Hollywood romance as you could imagine. 

I have no doubt that the words "I love you" have been used and abused since the beginning of time. But when they are said with sincerity and when they are accompanied by that tightness across the chest and that shortness of breath that signifies "Love" - that moment of sublimation of everything else (including perhaps reason !) - well that's rather special isn't it?

Monday, April 06, 2015

The melting pot, and the Tebbit "cricket test" in modern Britain

"Take a pinch of white man
Wrap it up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of Red Indian boy

Curly Latin kinkies
Mixed with yellow Chinkees
If you lump it all together
Well, you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh, what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know

What we need is a great big melting pot..."

Blue Mink's song "Melting Pot" dates back to 1969 a time when a solution to lack of racial harmony and tolerance was seen to be greater assimilation of non majority communities in society. The admirable starting point was the obvious, but not always believed or accepted, premise that under our skins we are all the same. Nearly 50 years on the melting pot idea has not vanished. Take this from David Cameron: 

"Our [British] values have a vital role to play in uniting us. They should help to ensure that Britain not only brings together people from different countries, cultures and ethnicities, but also ensures that, together, we build a common home...We are making sure new immigrants can speak English, because it will be more difficult for them to understand these values, and the history of our institutions, if they can’t speak our language...We are bringing proper narrative history back to the curriculum, so our children really learn our island’s story – and where our freedoms and things like our Parliament and constitutional monarchy came from...Britain has a lot to be proud of, and our values and institutions are right at the top of that list. It’s not just important to promote, understand and celebrate these things for their own sake; it is absolutely vital to our future. And that is why I’m absolutely committed to doing  in so."
Fair enough you might say. But what about the cultural heritage, language and traditions of the immigrant  communities? Are they not worth preserving as well? If I was of, say, Indian heritage and a Hindu I would, perhaps, want to maintain my religion and that heritage. Does it make me less British if I worship in a temple and speak Hindi at home ? Clearly no British citizen should act in a way that is contrary to the mores of the majority of British people. But that "common home" Cameron speaks of does not have to be uniform and monocultural. If a second or third generation immigrant wishes to assimilate and adopt a lifestyle indistinguishable from that of his white Anglo-Saxon neighbours that's his choice. But is that in some way more admirable than the individual who prefers to retain his heritage lifestyle, language, religion and dress? Providing in doing this he stays within the law I would say not.
There are elements of the "melting pot" in multicultural Britain, but there is also plenty of continuing cultural diversity as well. And if a young third generation Indian, born and bred in Bradford chooses Virat Kohli as his cricketing role model rather than Joe Root does it matter? Of course not. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Political murmurings.....


Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, was impressive in the Leaders' televised debate. What she said made a lot of sense to anyone whose politics are progressive. My reaction is I suspect typical of English liberals unattached to any nationalist sentiments. She was smart enough to keep her "Independece for Scotland" agenda well buried (one brief mention). And her fellow leaders, amazingly, didn't try and expose Ms Sturgeon for her and her Party's raison d'être - the break up of the United Kingdom.

Ms Strurgeon is playing a long game. Her predecessor, in his cups after the emphatic win for the "No" campaign in the referendum, said that the matter was settled for a "generation". Then something remarkable happened. The "45" - as they christened themselves - instead of fading away got a new strength from somewhere. They focused not directly on Independence, per se, but on the Westminster elite who - as they saw it - conspired to deny them. Labour were the main casualties of this though the Liberal Democrats seem to have been mortally wounded in Scotland as well.

Electoral Reform

Scots in large numbers flooded to join the SNP. And the polls moved so emphatically in the Party's direction that a near wipe out for Labour and the LibDems seems likely at the General Election. With the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system there is a breakthrough zone at which under-representation becomes over-representation. The SNP has passed this comfortably in the polls and they could have as many as 50 MPs (out of 59) for just under 50% of the vote. 

Meanwhile down South we have UKIP likely to get 10-15% of the English vote but no more than one or two MPs. The Greens will be similiarly grossly under-represented in Parliament. About the only issue on my I agree with Nigel Farage is electoral reform. FPTP is simply undemocratic. Which is why it is not used in Scotland, a Northern Ireland or Wales for their own legislatures. And why it's not used for the European Parliament elections either. 

One thing that might happen after the election is a demand for PR. A multi-party system, which we now have, requires a fair voting system. The SNP should not have 85% of the seats for 50% of the vote. And UKIP should not have perhaps less than 1% of the seats for maybe 15% of the vote. 

The Media

Ed Miliband did pretty well in the debate - no gaffes and an engagingly strong performance. Theost debate polls, though they varied a bit, confirmed this. So what about The Sun and the Daily Telegraph front pages ?

It's hard to be sanguine about this sort of thing. It brings the media into disrepute when to large circulation newspapers lie so outrageously. It won't, sadly, be a one off! 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

For me Tactical voting in Twickenham this time around won’t do!

In the first General Election of 1974 the Liberal Party gained 19.3% of the vote – their highest since Lloyd George in 1929. But they only won 14 seats – a hugely disproportionate number. Over the next five elections they ( and their successors) ranged from 13.8% (1979) to 25.4% (1983) but their seat total never exceeded the 23 they secured in 1983. Then, in 1997, a breakthrough occurred. Although in that Labour landslide year the (now) Liberal Democrats vote fell to 16.8% they more than doubled their seats to 46 – and this was to rise to 62 in 2005 against 22% of the vote that year. What was happening?

The answer to the question as to how the LibDems improved their seat numbers even though their percentage of the votes only went up a few percentage points is twofold. Firstly excellent organisation on the ground. Second tactical voting.


Percentage votes:
























In my Constituency of Twickenham (see above)  the breakthrough came in 1997 when, despite the Labour vote rising on Tony Blair’s coattails, Vince Cable won the seat for the LibDems for the first time (they had been in second place since 1974). At the next three elections the Labour vote fell with the Conservative vote shifting little. Significant numbers of Labour tactical voters almost certainly voted for Cable to block the possibility of the Conservatives regaining the seat. Between 1997 and 2010 the Labour vote fell from 9065 to 4583 (-4482) while the LibDem vote increased from 26237 to 32483 (+6246). Cause and effect.

The point here is that not all voters voted tactically – Labour had a residue of 4583 votes in 2010 – but that sufficient did to help Vince Cable turn Twickenham into a “safe” LibDem seat

The First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system makes some people do strange things! I am a natural Labour supporter, but I haven't voted Labour for more than fifteen years! It seemed to me that in Twickenham the best anti Conservative option was to vote for Cable, a good constituency member and as an ex Labour and SDP man - my sort of person. Or so I thought!

Vince Cable has been a Cabinet Minister throughout the Cameron years. He has been loyal (good, I suppose) but hardly a force for liberalism (except, perhaps, economic neo-liberalism). Cable contributed to the 2004 LibDem “Orange Book” and while to the Left of other contributors like David Laws and Nick Clegg he remains in that broad neo-liberal economic consensus that many if not all Conservatives share. In 2010 Cable said:

"The Lib Dems never were and aren't a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour party. There is no future for that; there never was."

As I have hinted I voted tactically in 2010 and in previous General Elections. Labour was not going to win in Twickenham and frankly Vince was the next best thing. So what about the 2015 General Election next month?


I don't want the Conservatives to be in Government but with The national LibDem vote falling spectacularly (possibly to the lowest level since 1959 when the Liberals got 5.9%) they are under pressure - here in Twickenham as well. The Labour Candidate Nick Grant (in the picture with me above) seems a good man but the hill he has to climb from the 7.7% Labour got in 2010 is steep. But a recent poll (below) suggests that he is climbing it. It also suggests that the Tories have overtaken the LibDems. Cable has a fight on his hands!




So what to do? My tactical vote for Vince Cable in 2005 and 2010 wasn't really necessary but this time around he might need it. And yet I’ve decided he hasn't earned it (please excuse the personalisation of the argument!). I'm going to vote Labour. If Nick Grant over the rest of the campaign can prise a few more percentage points away from Cable it could be interesting. On the other hand in doing so he could let the Conservatives slip in!

When I met Grant recently he argued rather well that we should do what our consciences tell us, and see what happens. This resonates with me. Tactical voting is all very well but in truth voting tactically for Vince Cable in 2010 didn't really work did it? He was part of a Tory dominated Cabinet - so why should I vote for him potentially to do this again? And if others in sufficient numbers think like me well we may get a Conservative MP in Twickenham for the first time for nearly twenty years. Or we might, just, get a Labour MP – well that would be a turn-up for the book wouldn't it!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

General Election 2015–First thoughts on the likely outcome


Cameron's "Sneering socialists" was a big mistake. Those of us who won't be voting Conservative generally don't sneer (though some do!) and are not Socialists (though some may be). What we are is a mixed bag of people who see the Tories as the problem not the solution. That's a done deal. What for some is not yet done is the anti-Conservative choice we make.

I doubt that there will be many Labour ->Conservative switchers in this election and not many in the other direction either. The battle ground is for the Tories (and Labour to a lesser extent) to haul support back from UKIP. For Labour to persuade previous LibDem voters to support them this time. And for Labour somehow to make the likely disaster in Scotland not TOO disastrous.

I have a feeling that the LibDems will lose support across the board, but hang on in many seats in England where they have a sitting MP and/or a very good operation on the ground. Away from their incumbency seats I expect the LibDems to collapse and for most of their votes to go to Labour. This will give Labour many gains from Tories as the LibDem vote moves not to them.

I do not expect Labour ->UKIP switchers to damage Labour much. In seats where it happens the Tories are weak so despite some loss of votes Labour should hold on.

The Tory ->UKIP switch is potentially damaging to the Conservatives in seats where Labour was a good second last time. This is the second good source of Labour gains.

In the campaign these are the Party priorities:

  • LibDems: Hold on for dear life where they currently have an MP. Forget the rest.
  • Tories: Persuade UKIP defectors to return to the fold
  • Labour: Claw back in Scotland. Make sure ex LibDem voters turn to you not anyone else.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The model for British constitutional reform might be in Helsinki...

I was in Helsinki for a couple of days last week. The Finnish model is the classic Scandinavian social democratic one and it seems to work. A country with a distinct culture, language and patriotism seems confident and comfortable in its skin. A northern land of 5.5m people once subject to domination by much bigger neighbours is now successful as an independent entity. Bit of a parallel there?

I abhor the idea of a separate Scotland outside the UK. But Finland suggests it would work. If I, as a proud Briton not a Little Englander, can accept this then our political leaders need to wake up to the reality. Quite how we keep the UK together whilst keeping Scotland in it I'm not sure. A much greater degree of autonomy for Holyrood. A solution to the over-representation of Scottish MPs at Westminster. A permanent solution of the West Lothian question are part of it. It's taken a while to realise that a part of our nation is essentially Scandinavian! But that is true and it's the start point for what we do next. 

The Scots' antagonism to Westminster that could give the SNP almost a clean sweep in the General Election is a political earthquake. If we want Scotland to stay part of the UK then we need reform - major reform. I would make that an important part of a proper, comprehensive study into Electoral Reform across the UK. The principle of "subsidiarity" - the idea that you take decisions at the lowest level practicable - should drive this. I would delegate almost everything other than Foreign Affairs to Holyrood. Taxation will be a challenge - common rates of VAT and tax allowances across the UK would be essential of course - but there should be flexibility on local taxes.

If Westminister loosens its grip over Scotland there is no reason why it should not do the same for Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. The latter is difficult as we don't have Regional assemblies and the construct of a Region is much less coherent than that of nation. We don't want more Government, just better Government! And we must also have an elected upper chamber if we decide that we need an Upper House at all (not a foregone conclusion - neither the Scots nor the Finns have more than one House!). 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Socialism may, as Jamie Foster says, be "entirely wrong". But in Britain we've never really tried it !

The above Tweet, from one of Twitter's most active members of the political "Right" is rather nostalgic for me. It takes me back to me childhood when my Mum and Dad would express similar thoughts about the perils of Socialism. Neither of my parents was particularly politically aware and they were not activists. They voted Conservative as a matter of course, as did the rest of my family on both sides. My Uncle, however, was an activist and should have been a Tory MP. He was offered a (then) safe seat in Cornwall in the early 1950s but his father stood in his way to protect the family business - a hotel in which my Uncle was the hands on Manager. I think my Uncle would have done well in national politics but he had to restrict himself to Cornwall where he became the long-serving Chairman of the County Council. 

I mention my family because I think that their attitude to Socialism was very typical of much of the Middle Class at the time. They regarded the immediate post war years (the Attlee Government) not with pride but with anger. The problem was "Socialism" - essentially Labour's decisive moves towards "Common Ownership" - Nationalisation. With hindsight, however, this "Socialist" Government  is, rightly in my view, rather more highly regarded cross the political spectrum. Take this for example from a Conservative  writing in 1995:

"Clement Attlee...I was an admirer. He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the 1990s, he was all substance and no show. His was a genuinely radical and reforming government."

This was Margaret Thatcher's view of Attlee as expressed in her own memoir! So was Attlee's Government as well as "radical and reforming" also "Socialist"? I would argue that it was, but not strongly so. And that further that it was the only truly, but mildly, socialist administration that Britain has ever had. The socialism of Attlee was not particularly extreme. Chips Channon - a Right Wing Conservative writing in his diary of a meeting with Attlee in 1940 said of him "...he seems more Liberal than actually Socialist: but he could never control the energies of his wilder followers." Hindsight teaches us that Channon was half right - Attlee was certainly no firebrand Red and was firmly in the Liberal tradition. But he did "control" the more extreme members of his Party. To such an extent that famously, In 1951, Aneurin Bevan resigned from the government in protest at the introduction of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles. 

The Bevanites never took over Labour except, perhaps, when Michael Foot was leader for three years in the early 1980s. Oddly the leadership of "Red Mike" (as the Tory press didn't call him, but would now!) was the death knell of hard core Socialism in Labour. This was formalised under Tony Blair when "Clause 4" of the  Party Constitution, which called for "...the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange", was abandoned for good. 

In his seminal book "The Future of Socialism" published in 1956 Tony Crosland argued as follows:

"In Britain, equality of opportunity and social mobility... are not enough. They need to be combined with measures... to equalise the distribution of rewards and privileges so as to diminish the degree of class stratification, the injustices of large inequalities and the collective discontents."

The means to do what the Social Democrat Crosland saw as Labour's goal were not traditionally socialist means - the extension of "Common Ownership" played little or no part in them. The way to the victory of the Social Democrats in Labour, of the inheritors of the Gaitskell and the Jenkins and the Crosland tradition, was paved by the Wilson and Callaghan Governments of the 1960s and 1970s. And the Foot period, on the face of it a setback, actually helped as it led to the creation of the "Social Democratic Party" (SDP) which was the precursor of Blair's   "New Labour" in almost every respect.

Margaret Thatcher was as "radical and reforming" as Attlee - which is no doubt why she admired him of course. And without Thatcher there would have been no SDP, no Blair and no "New Labour" . By privatising some publicly owned assets Thatcher did make a major shift in the public/private mix of the Economy. None of these privatisations were subsequently overturned by Blair and Brown. Indeed as David Marquand puts it in his 2013 book "Mammon's Kingdom":

"market principles would reign...supreme..The Thatcher and Major governments bequeathed that vision to their successors; despite differences of emphasis here and there, it has encapsulated the common sense of most of the political class, most of the commentariat and most of the business elite for the best part of a generation."
Another crucial change of the accepted status quo is in regard to social liberalism. When Bevan said in 1948:

"No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party... So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin."
he was referring to a Conservative Party that was not only deeply resistant to change, and in particular to the National Health Service, but socially illiberal. Intolerance took a long time to fade away - but it did. Some will still call the Conservatives the "Nasty party" - and there are certainly some very nasty people in, though quite a few have decamped to UKIP! But in the main Marquand is right. Labour has not been "socialist" for a long time, and nor have the Tories overthrown such key pillars of our mixed economy society as the NHS . The ideologists of both sides have given way to the pragmatists.

To return to Mr Foster's tweet which prompted these thoughts. He may be right that pure Socialism is "entirely wrong" , but in Britain we can't really say that because its never been tried! I'm not advocating that it should be - I am arguing only that the charge by the likes of Mr Foster and his fellow travellers that Ed Milliband ("Red Ed") is some sort of crypto-socialist is risible.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guido and Harry's little Tank comes to defend their mate Jeremy.

We live in a country with a decent record of protest. The rights of citizens to march in the streets to oppose what they see as wrongs being done by those in power is part of our (unwritten) constitution. We may disagree with specific protests but most of us would buy the Voltairean maxim "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  So how should we react to the stunt perpetrated by the Right Wing bloggers Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) and his buddy Harry Cole? They used a military vehicle (rather like Gruber's "little Tank" in "Hello Hello") to present a petition with, apparently, one million signatures on it demanding that the BBC reinstate Jeremy Clarkson.

Fawkes is a curious character. He is a militant libertarian and though instinctively conservative he is as critical, sometimes, of the Conservative party as he is of Labour. It is the liberal establishment that is mostly in his sights. When push comes to shove, which it will very soon, he'll probably back the Tories - though he has implied approval of UKIP in the past. He despises the BBC and it is the combination of this, the libertarianism and the wish always to zig when the liberals are zagging that lies behind his armoured car mounted protest.

Jeremy Clarkson is Jack the Lad. The "card" who entertains us with skill, but also with outrage. The skill is undeniable. "Top Gear" is a hugely successful television programme which even those of us who avoid it like the plague must admit has high popular appeal. And it makes lots of money. The "outrage" element of the Clarkson persona is his obvious hatred of political correctness and his refusal to adhere to the behavioural norms that most in public life feel they have to follow. He's not alone in this, but he is perhaps the most visible. And the million people who signed Fawkes' petition no doubt like Clarkson as much for his outspokenness as for his broadcasting talents.

Clarkson' track record - summarised here by Sky - is abysmal. He is privileged and famous, rich and revered, friend of politicians and many in the public eye. Others who have these advantages manage also to be decent people. Clarkson has an arrogance and a contempt for others that is incompatible with his position of privilege. He is not some oddball on the fringes of fame. He is one of Britain's "celebs" and as such, whether he likes it or not, a role model. If he can get away with the things he does and says then why shouldn't I ?

The libertarian Guido Fawkes and his friends seem to believe that Clarkson has the right to transgress as much as he likes - freedom ahead of decency you might say. The Prime Minister, more cautiously, agrees - otherwise why would he publicly support him ? The liberal establishment just doesn't like Clarkson who is a serial offender against their (our) values. Politically we are in UKIP territory here. Indeed Nigel Farage shares many of the Clarkson personality traits and his railing against the "LibLabCon" establishment is similiar to the contempt that Clarkson holds for it. However Clarkson, ever the contrarian, has denied any leaning to UKIP - in an interview with Radio Times he said:

“I’m massively pro-European so it becomes rather difficult to support a party that wants primarily to get you out of Europe. Anyway there doesn’t seem to be a party for UKIP there’s just one man in a Barbour with a pint and a fag"

Jeremy Clarkson pro-Europeanism may seem a surprise (a welcome one !). But it does suggest a  perverse individuality and a refusal to be typecast. It is a shame that he could not combine these admirable qualities with compassion and a greater determination not to offend. He is never going to be a liberal and nobody should ask him to be one. But a bit of "Noblesse Oblige" would not go amiss - and would avert the need for the shadier figures on the Right of our politics  to appear in armoured vehicles to defend him.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The SNP didn't win Scotland. The ignorance and myopia and incompetence of Britain's non nationalist parties lost it.

SNP 42
Labour 11
LibDem 3
Conservative 3

The above is Iain Dale's prediction of the outcome of the General Election in Scotland. 

I have no reason to challenge Iain's conclusions that Scotland is lost to United Kingdom politics. Sadly. Suffice to say this earthquake is the most depressing event in my long life watching the British political scene.

Nationalism is the scourge that brought us unimaginable horrors in the first half of the 20th Century. As Britons, united, we triumphantly fought and won over nationalism. And now our three mainstream political Parties have so failed north of the border that they have conceded Scotland to the nationalists with their snake oil and their myopia and their lies.

 The Tories gave up when Margarat Thatcher decided the Scots were suitable guinea pigs for her ideological experiments. The LibDems gave up by going into coalition with the Consetvatives. And Labour gave up by arrogance. By assuming that their principled position in the #IndyRef didn't need a core underpinning on the ground. That Scotland was theirs and always would be. Remember Labour is in opposition at Holyrood. Labour has been losing Scotland for a decade or more. 

The United Kingdom was at risk at the Referendum. Ironically, despite the "No" vote it is at greater risk than ever now. Thank you Tony Blair. Thank you Gordon Brown. Thank you David Cameron. You've destroyed my Nation. May you rot in hell. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A lovely metaphor for how civilised societies are fairer to those in need.

This wandered on to my timeline on Twitter this morning. I hadn't seen it before. It's very good. Whether we think that the situation on the right is perhaps better described as "Fairness" than "Justice" is open to debate. The words in a civilised society are close synonyms anyway. Justice should always be blind and even-handed whereas "Fairness" does positively discriminate in favour of the disadvantaged. What I like about the metaphor is that there is a strong element of "To each according to need" about it. This presupposes that an external authority of some sort, seeing the tallest boy on a box he didn't need, made the tall boy gave it to the little chap. Or did the tall boy do it voluntarily? Was he being altruistic realising that the small advantage he got from the box wasn't justified if the smallest boy couldn't see at all?

What about ownership? The tall boy perhaps owned his box and he was perhaps being forced to surrender something he owned for the collective good. Three boys comfortably watching the cricket is better than two. The rearrangement for society as a whole is net positive. "Equality" is analogous in this illustration with equal benefits irrespective of need - the "Winter Fuel Allowance" for example which goes at the same rate to all elderly people irrespective of need. Similarly nearly all households must pay for a TV Licence at the same rate irrespective of their ability to pay. VAT and excise duties are the same. Regressive taxation is equal, but unfair. Progressive taxation is unequal, but fair. 

The picture on the left is a metaphor for a society where all are expected to stand on their own feet and have equal resources to do this. The picture on the right is a society where some forego benefits, for whatever reason, in order to help others. The tall boy can still see the cricket, albeit from not quite as high a vantage point. He gives up some utility for the "common good". 

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Great European Disaster Movie - the fightback for the hearts and minds has begun

The Great European Disaster Movie

Many of us who are strongly pro Britain in the European Union have been arguing for some time that the case for Europe needs to be made more strongly. The economic, political and business case is well made, but at a intellectual and  cerebral level. The case against is polemical and made by a direct appeal not to the intellect but to the emotions. And when reason faces emotion it is not always reason that wins. In “The Great European Disaster Movie” the ground has at last shifted. The rational case for Britain in Europe was made by Bill Emmott, Peter Mandelson and others and it was familiar. It was supported by strong arguments from politicians from across Europe. Notably a Dutchman who said “If you felt things were wrong in your Country would you propose the dissolution of your country?” (The answer to his question is, of course, that no rational man would -  but try persuading Alex Salmond or a Catalan nationalist of that!)

Nationalism was very much the elephant very visibly in the room in this “drama documentary”. The assertion that nationalism was the principal cause of the disasters of the years 1914-1945 should not be contentious, and it isn't. That forty years after the end of the Second World War it was still massacring people in the Balkans was a chilling reminder of its dangers. That it is still doing so in Ukraine was another. 

The German woman who showed the medals that her immediate ancestors had won in two World Wars, whilst remarking that there had been no medals necessary  for her or her children’s generation, was an articulate proponent of the peace dividend of European Unity. The Eurosceptics burst onto the social media at this saying that it was NATO or something else that should really be praised. They know that their scepticism has been revealed for the nationalism it really is. The programme was strong on the benefits to Europe of partnership leading to peace, and rightly so. As Churchill put it “Jaw Jaw” is always preferable to “War War”.

If the peace dividend was an appeal to the emotions the solid evidence of cross-Europe partnerships and commonality of culture and purpose was no less so. OK to use the example of the Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst as being evidence of European unity was a bit over doing it, but only a bit!  The Croatian photographer enjoying the sunshine on a peaceful  island in his country, where once he had photographed dead children as the nationalists fought a terrible civil war, was powerful imagery as well. 

So what are we up against those of us who believe in the European project? The programme makers went to Margate for the answer and followed a UKIP councillor around. Mo, a Daily Mail reading woman of, I would guess about my age (68) was articulate in promoting the UKIP case. As always it was the case against  rather than any sort of case for. We were straight into scapegoating territory here;  the EU, immigrants, the political establishment. It was mind-blowingly ill-informed and dogmatic. And like her Party leader it was an appeal to the gut and to ignorance. There was a brief clip of an assertive Nigel Farage giving his stump speech as well, and very scary it was. He isn't the first British politician to try and scare us – let's hope that like his forebears he doesn't succeed.

“Nationalism brought hell to the people of this region” said the Croatian photographer and so it did. A hell like the hells of the Blitz, or of the Somme. The solution for Ukraine has to be a European solution – which is which that dangerous nationalist Vladamir Putin fears it. Hegel said that “we learn from history that we do not learn from history”. Well maybe so  if the likes of Nigel Farage on the one hand and the petty nationalists of Scotland and Catalonia on the other get their way. The opponents of division are intellectually strong and have the moral high ground, but that isn't enough. There are plenty of those on the right and the left in Europe who want to divide and rule. 

I felt that “The Great European Disaster Movie” was a welcome attempt to get to the  heart of the case for partnership and unity in Europe. The first of many I hope. For too long the appeal to the emotions has been from the antis. The fight back has begun.