Thursday, November 05, 2015

The UN is far from "ineffectual and hopeless" . Let's support it and make it better.

For some reason Tory Councillor, Dr Teck Khong drifted on to my Twitter timeline today with a little burst of invective about the United Nations (see above, and my reply). Now 140 characters don't allow us much space to develop complex points and no doubt Dr Khong could back up his burst of bile with a more substantive argument if he wanted to. And equally I can support my "No" with reasons as well. Here they are.

1. History teaches that "Jaw Jaw" is better than "War War". There is plenty of the former at the UN and in nearly 70 years they haven't eliminated the latter. But the UN is supported by all the Nations of the world and without doubt the presence of a forum for debate helps mutual understanding. If it wasn't  there we would have to invent it.

2. The UN sometimes takes positive action on the ground. UN peacekeeping missions have helped in the world's trouble spots for decades. They have stopped conflict and bought time for peace to follow. Not always. And not always successfully. But they do it, courageously and especially when nobody else can play the role. Which is nearly always.

3. UN bodies like UNICEF, UNHCR and the many agencies controlled by or linked to the UN do amazing work around the world. That they operate under the UN umbrella and with the UN's guidance gives them a mandate for this work which would be simply unachievable without it.

4. The modern world is interdependent, and increasingly so. This is a good thing. If we work together for mutual advantage with other nations we need bodies to maximise the benefits of this cooperation. And the UN plays a key role. History is sullied by the evil scourge of Nationalism and Imperialism. Part of the role of the UN is to find areas where we can cooperate and set the conditions for the post Imperial world. When the UN's wishes are ignored (Iraq, Afghanistan...) it is common that chaos and resurgent Nationalism is the result.

5. The UN's educational Programmes help give our children a world view.  They will learn that "No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main...I am involved in mankind..." 

The charter of the United Nations has lofty goals:
  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

Does it always achieve these goals - of course not. Are they goals worth striving for? They are. Is the UN with all its Nation state members the best body to do it? Indisputably. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Now is the winter of our discontent approaching ...

Hard to avoid the conclusion that the issue of Tax Credits  is being used as a weapon for those with ambition to be Cameron's successor or to be a Warwick the Kingmaker. Indeed the whole affair reminds me of the "War of the Roses" which I saw recently at The Rose Theatre, Kingston. Cameron has damaged his status by saying, as Blair also did, that he will go before the next Election. So the Knights and Lords, the lickspittles and the sycophants, the useful fools and the conniving courtiers are playing complex games to position themselves either to succeed him or to profit by aligning themselves with the winner. Theresa's May's speech on immigration only makes sense if seen in this context. Osborne's gamble that he could get the Tax Credits reform through without a House of Commons vote likewise. Boris's manoeuvring is so Shakespearian as to be worthy of a place on a Drama or English Lit study programme. 

In this world of intrigue and back-stabbing the management of policy fades into the background and everything is about who's up, who's down and who's blown it. We on the sidelines watch with incomprehension at times. It's quite amusing and deserves a "House of Cards" treatment - though I suspect the truth is stranger than even that fiction. Identifying the various camps (as with York and Lancaster) is not always easy. Tim Montgomerie makes common cause with James Forsyth. My enemy's enemy...? Michael Ashcroft (whom God preserve) times a broadside to coincide with a jolly Pageant in Manchester. Toby Young moves from bring a quizzical commentator on the sideline to being a defender of all things Tory. Louise Mensch, the Queen over the water, trumps even Toby in her sycophancy. Meanwhile the official Opposition has opted out to set up a rival war on a different battlefield far away. And the foot soldiers? Running around in ever decreasing circles...

Friday, October 16, 2015

The "Fiscal charter" is about as meaningful as John Major's "Cones hotline"

Do you remember when John Major as Prime Minister introduced a "Cones hotline" for motorists to call when they thought that there were too many cones on the road? It was ridiculed because we could all see that it was a silly, political stunt. George Osborne's "Fiscal Chareter" is more of the same. And equally silly.

Party politics in our kind of democracy are important. We cannot hold our noses and say that in the national interest Governments should eschew the game of securing Party advantage. If they want to be re-elected they have to do some of this. But passing a Law to create fiscal rules that are intended not just to apply during this Parliament not in subsequent ones is both politically and fiscally illiterate. 

Politically it's nonsense because it refers to future events and politics is only played in the past and present tenses. To say that you are by doing this to ensure that a Government in ten years time will be prudent is poppycock. And won't win you one vote. As far as the realities that apply to national and (especially) international economics are concerned the unexpected always happens and you have to react. Ask Gordon Brown! When the Black Swan arrives you have to have all the levers available. No Chancellor would wish to have his freedom to act limited - let alone by a rule established by a Chancellor of another Party ten years ago! 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

If the IRA allegations are true Corbyn and McDonnell’s positions are untenable


The allegations in today’s Sunday Telegraph are the most serious made in modern times against a leading political figure. If Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were as close to the Irish Republican Army as Andrew Gilligan suggests then their current positions are untenable. With the important proviso that neither the Telegraph nor Gilligan can always be seen as balanced observers and that further independent verification is necessary. To understand the position we need to track back over 20th Century Irish history a bit and to place relations with Great Britain and the UK in focus.  

I have always been in favour of a united Ireland. The treatment of the Irish in the first half of the 19th Century by Great Britain was an affront and it was this that led to the failure of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" to survive. Ireland was technically not a Colony and, of course, there were Irish MPs and Peers at Westminster. But the rule of Ireland by the British was imperial in the extreme and Irish independence was a cause no less justified than the cause of (say) India. But as with India when it came (and equally bloodily) there was division. Northern Ireland, with its then Protestant majority, would not join the rest of Ireland as the Republic was formed. But the Irish of the North are no less Irish than the Irish of the South. The Union Flag waving is much more religious in its basis than it is political.

Come the dawn the island of Ireland will be, must be, one State. But how to get there? There is only one way and that is for the peoples of the South and the peoples of the North to want it. Separate referenda (obviously) will be held in the Republic and in the North and if both agree that Union should happen then it will. The time when this event occurs is anyone's guess but the changing demography of the North suggests it will be sooner rather than later.

I am not diminishing the struggle ahead nor the grievances that will be felt by the "Loyalist" community in the North. If they or (I would argue) any other Irish people would like to hold dual citizenship (Irish and British) that might be a way forward. We are very close, notwithstanding the past, and our cultures overlap. We all live in the British Isles after all! (For the avoidance of doubt I use "British" as a geographical and cultural descriptor, not a political one!).

The armed struggle against British (political this time) colonial rule in Ireland in the first decades of the twentieth century was (sadly) justified. The end result was a fudge but the Loyalists in the North had a right to protection in those uncertain times. Eighty years on and the Republic of Ireland is a successful European State and (in my view) the residents of Northern Ireland have nothing to fear, and much to gain, from being part of it. Great Britain does not have a case to hold on to Northern Ireland if the majority of its citizens want to become part of the Republic. Indeed I don't think many of us would try and make that case.

Which brings me to the IRA not in the time when it led the struggle in the early part of the 20th Century but in the post WW2 era when it sought to unite Ireland with violence. This was an obscenity and those years of the "troubles" shameful. The IRA spawned the paramilitary Protestant militia (equally vile) and a military response from the UK Government which at times was heavy-handed and excessive. Violence bred violence. My support for a united Ireland never for one second led me to sympathise with the IRA. I just despaired until the peace process under Tony Blair and Mo Mowlem finally moved things forward and an Agreement was reached.

It seems from the latest stories that the now Leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Chancellor were if not IRA sympathisers as close to that as makes no difference. They gave comfort to the men of violence and openly identified with them. This is not about supporting the principle of a United Ireland (many of us did that). It was about the means by which it was achieved. Remember we are not talking about 1916 here; we are talking about the late 1960s. We are not talking about a time when the resort to armed struggle had some basis in natural justice. Yes in the 1960s there were institutionalised divisions in Northern Ireland and there was discrimination and injustices. But was that in any sense justification to start terrorist attacks. Of course not.

The post-war IRA was an evil construct and they did untold damage to the fabric of civilised society. Their violence spawned violence. That the Blair Government was to come to an accommodation with them (via their “legitimate” wing Sinn Fein) was Real Politick and uncomfortable though it must have been to sit down with terrorists or their apologists sometimes, pragmatically, that is what leaders have to do. But before the Peace Process to have identified with the IRA, as it is alleged Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell did, was an outrage. At the time it could have been shrugged off as the “Looney Left”. But no more. If the allegations are true there is no way that these two can continue their current roles. No way.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Theresa May plays the race card…

@PaddyBriggs: Theresa May speech on immigration. Message to British children of immigrants: "We don't want any more of your type here".

Obviously my tweet was a simplistic paraphrase and these were not the Home Secretary's actual words. But the point is clear. We have a mixed society amongst which are millions of children and grandchildren (etc.) of immigrants. They are British citizens of no less value than any other British citizen and as deserving of respect.

If you suggest that the cohesiveness of Society is damaged by immigration, which Ms May did say, then you implicitly say that those who are here and of immigrant descent are a threat to society's cohesion. What Ms May is unashamedly doing is blaming multiculturalism for some of society's ills.

A pluralist society is more complex and challenging than a unitary one. Culture clashes of various sorts can and do occur. Areas like education and healthcare can be more difficult at times because of the cultural variety of pupils and patients. But the benefits far outweigh these issues. A pluralist society is infinitely richer and more interesting than one in which we are all the same. Second and third generation British Asians (for example) vary in the extent to which they conform to white majority cultural norms. Many do and the only thing that distinguishes them is often their colour and their name. Ahmed, who's darker than Andrew and has a name that is not traditionally British, is otherwise indistinguishable from him as they share a desk in the city or the staff room at the school at which they both teach. Other children of immigrants stick more closely to their cultural heritage. This is both mostly a benign choice and nothing new. Visit, for example, Stamford Hill if you want to see children of generationally distant immigrant Hasidic Jews peacefully living a life very different from their White Anglo-Saxon Protestant neighbours!

I used the "mostly" in the above paragraph advisedly. Cultural variety, in my view, is a good thing and I like Chinatown and Southall and Stamford Hill. But everyone in society has to obey the law. I don't want a Muslim child of Pakistani descent to be "forced" to adopt traditional British culture and norms if they don't want to. But I do require them to obey British laws and to be respectful of the majority culture in doing so. They must attend British schools (preferably secular ones) and be taught in English - this is not forcing an alien culture on them but it is suggesting that they should adapt to recognise that they live in Kennington not Karachi.

Back to Theresa May. People move to Britain for a whole variety of reasons. Far from all of them are long-term immigrants. To call the Polish plumber who fixes your boiler an "Immigrant" is likely to be inaccurate. What he is much more likely to be is what the Germans (who have a word for it when we don't) call a "Gastarbeiter ". He is here to work because, frankly, the money is better and/or the jobs are more available than back home. Does he affect the "cohesion" of society whilst he is here? Hardly! Having been a Gastarbeiter myself a few times in different countries I think I understand the phenomenon. The freedom of the movement of Labour allowed by international Treaty (as in the EU) is something from which we all can benefit if we choose to. I know I did  – as will my Polish plumber I’m sure.  

Mrs May is playing the “Immigration card” and tapping in to the innate prejudice of those in society who dislike not immigration, per se, but multiculturalism. And that brings me back to my tweet. The children of migrants, a generation or more removed from the original migration, are symbols of a multicultural society – mostly, I would argue, its success. The society of which they are part has its tensions and, yes, it is arguably less “cohesive” than if it was monocultural. But Ms May’s assertions about Society’s lack of cohesion are open to another interpretation – that this is primarily caused by past immigration rather than by poverty, neglect, lack of opportunity and the rest. These ills are far from confined to the areas that were settled by migrants but migrants and their children are often unfairly the scapegoats for such problems. Ms May is unashamedly playing the race card  - she is wrong to do so.   

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Thoughts on the Party Conferences

They are quite different tribes, Labour and the Tories at their  Conferences. Whilst there are some observers who understand this this is rare. There is little general comprehension of the Labour Tribe by most Tories and certainly vice versa. Tony Blair quite brilliantly nabbed lots of previous Tory voters to win three General Elections, but he didn't persuade any of the Conservative Conference attendees. Look back to Conservative commentators' reports on Labour Conferences during the Blair years and you'll find vitriol not far short of that being hurled at Corbyn. Tory commentariat admiration of Blair was of his political skills never of his policies and rarely of his performance. And yet, and yet! 

The coining of the phrase "LibLabCon" by UKIP will be this gruesome bunch's only useful legacy. In office there is a continuum from Major, through Blair and Brown, to Cameron which is pretty much seamless. For Labour Corbyn breaks this continuum as IDS and Howard once did for the Tories. They were unelectable and Corbyn is the same. After flirting with the Right as the Conservatives did in Opposition Labour is now flirting with the Left in Opposition. The parallel is precise. But the gravitational forces always pull to the centre be it the pragmatism of the Fabian Society on the Left or of "The Good Right" in Tory ranks. 

In my lifetime only Attlee and Thatcher were radicals and even their conviction politics was tempered by the reality of power. The tribes at their annual rallies will huff and puff, but they won't blow the house down. We Brits are too sensible for that !
Part of this consensus is the acceptance of the fact that Britain today is not a world power – at least not in the 19th Century meaning of the phrase. The nostalgia for the days when we were is quite sad really. There is nothing wrong with being a major player in the world’s largest economy (the EU). There is nothing wrong with being an important partner in military alliances (like NATO).  As early as 1945 it was quite clear that only by partnership with others could Britain play a useful role in world affairs. The Commonwealth is an irrelevance. The “Special relationship” just nostalgic baloney.  The “Anglosphere” a figment of imaginations. It does take us a while to wake up to the new realities sometimes but we get there in the end!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The argument that Russia is an existential Nuclear threat whichjustifies the renewal of Trident is unpersuasive.

We need a Nuclear deterrent to stand up to those States threatening us with Nuclear weapons. Remind me again which are they ?

The answer to the above question which I posed on Twitter was, not surprisingly, "Russia". And certainly Vladamir Putin has been posturing plenty in recent times and that posturing could be characterised as presenting an existential threat. But if in its post war history the Soviet Union never used Nuclear weapons - at a time when it was challenged ideologically and militarily by the West - why would it's successor, Russia, contemplate using them now? 

The West is fighting no proxy wars against Russia - even in Ukraine where some would say we should be involved despite there being no obligation on us to do so and in a country which, like it or not, arguably is in Russia's back yard. And whilst the Soviet Union actively opposed the West around the world Russia tends to stay within its borders. 

The West actually has no quarrel with Putin's Russia. Or, to be more accurate, no quarrel which in any way compares with the opposition to the USSR of the Cold War. On Human Rights grounds there is plenty to be repulsed by in Russia, but the same applies (and more so) to States like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which we actually arm with British manufactured weapons! 

The question "Cui Bono?" (Who benefits?) can be applied to Russia. It is impossible to think of any scenario under which Russia would benefit from the use of Nuclear weapons. Those who argue that the threat is real need to answer that question. For the USSR to have used such weapons to protect its hegemony behind the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s is just about imaginable. It didn't happen of course (Deo gracias!) but defending territorial integrity is the most common cause of war and it could have happened. But it didn't.

If Putin's predecessors didn't defend the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons to prevent it disintegrating    why and under what circumstances would Putin use them now? Nobody in the West is challenging Russia to give up any of its territory. Chechnya is not a high interest subject and there is no possibility of NATO intervenng. Ukraine is problematic but would Putin risk a nuclear conflict to further his ambitions (whatever they are) there? Obviously not. And is Putin actually threatening any of the ex USSR member States which are now independent ? I don't think so,

So is Russia really a Nuclear threat to the West? I find, bombast aside, no evidence to suggest so. For Britain to be allied with our fellow Europeans and the United States and others to repulse the real threats of these times (especially terrorism)  is desirable. Our conventional forces as part of these alliances have a role to play. But if the only rationale for the renewal of Trident is because Russia is a threat I just don't buy it. And nor should we. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn goes a tad too far, but his views on use of Armed Forces deserve respect

I am not a pacifist. That said like Jeremy Corbyn I would need persuading before unilaterally launching British troops into action. For me the key word here is "unilaterally". If Britain is required as part of a proper Alliance and with due political endorsement to be part of a military operation we should do it. The "proper Alliances" I'm thinking of here are those of the UN, NATO and - I hope - the European Union. (I would prefer the EU to be our main military association not NATO via a beefed up European Defence Force. But that is another point for another time.) If the UN launched an attack on ISIS which had been properly endorsed by the Security Council I would support Britain being part of it. The Iraq War did not have that proper endorsement and was predominately an American NeoCon initiative. I agree with Corbyn that we should apologise for having been sucked into it. It was wrong.

As far as "unilateral" action by the UK alone is concerned like Corbyn I can conceive of no circumstances under which that might be necessary. The oft-parroted cry that "something must be done" (by Britain) as another conflagration occurs in a faraway country of which we know nothing is dangerous tub-thumping. In a post-Imperial world our duty to "do something" on our own is extremely limited. The Falklands is about the only territory that it is both under threat and Britain's responsibility. However if Argentina did invade again there must be doubt as to whether on our own we have the capability to take them back. Should we nevertheless launch a death or glory mission ? I would say not. 

Where I differ from Corbyn is that I can quite envisage British troops being involved in (as I say) properly authorised allied actions. Also the troops are available and used for civil actions to deal with emergencies like floods or terrorist attacks - quite rightly.

Jeremy Corbyn has a better understanding of Britain's role in the modern world than many. There are those who see us of being capable of gun boat diplomacy as if Victoria was still on the throne. He knows we cannot be a policeman on our own - and he is right. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The human obligation the haves owe the have nots...

My wife and I lived in Hong Kong in the late 1980s when thousands of refugees fleeing from horrors in Vietnam arrived in small boats in the Territory which was then still a British colony. My wife volunteered to work in the temporary camps in which they were housed. The refugees were treated with kindness and consideration - a duty that not only the HK Administration but also Margaret Thatcher's UK Government fulfilled. Over the years these refugees, both individuals and families, were successfully resettled. Mainly in the U.S., Canada and Australia. A few years later I met one or two of these resettled refugees and without exception they were successfully making their way in their new countries.

Hong Kong was rich and could afford to help. The volunteers gave willingly of their time. That was the human obligation which the haves, like us, owed to the have nots.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn has never in 30 years shown an appetite for power nor an aptitude for it

A British friend who has lived abroad for years Emailed me with a good question. "I'd never heard of Jeremy Corbyn" he said "if he was a credible candidate to lead Labour now wouldn't he have played some part in its leadership for the past 25 years rather than being a continual sniper from the sidelines?"

My friend makes a good point. Leaders can come out of "left field" (though usually in the Conservatives rather than Labour - IDS anyone?). But in the main they have been close to the current Leader as a Minister or Shadow Minister. For good reason. Backbenchers are different animals from the insiders at the top. Many choose to forgo any chance of office by being either troublemakers (Denis Skinner) or single issue street fighters (Douglas Carswell, Peter Bone). A few add to the gaiety of Westminster with a colourful eccentricity (Michael Fabricant, Jacob Rees-Mogg). Many, when they realise that Office has passed them by and will continue to do so, plough there own furrow - often very honourably with committee work  and as supporters of good causes. 

Corbyn has always been a symbol of the breadth of Labour's church. As New Labour was created and took charge (and won three General Elections) Corbyn stubbornly refused to move with the Party to the centre. He has never been, in his thirty years in Parliament, a part of the Party apparatus at all in any way. Stubborn he may be seen to have been, but you could also say "principled" - where he came from when he entered politics is broadly where he is now. The trouble with that, though, is that the world has changed beyond recognition over this time. The rationale for electing an overtly Socialist party into power in Britain was finally seen to be a chimera in 1983 (the year Corbyn entered Parliament) partly by the re-election of Margaret Thatcher but mainly by the success of the centre-Left. The SDP/Liberal Alliance got 25.4% of the vote in that election from nowhere with Labour (Michael Foot) only just ahead on 27.6%. The electoral system denied the Alliance the seats they deserved and rescued Labour. But Kinnock and John Smith and Blair could do the math. 25.4 plus 27.6 = 53. 

New Labour's premise was that they could rely on the Hardish Left vote (Corbyn et al) but to gain power they had also to secure the Soft Left voters who had deserted them when Michael Foot led Labour. Remember many of these voters probably wavered between the SDP and the Tories but chose the former because they didn't like Thatcher's brand of Conservstism. This capturing of the Centre Ground was crucial to Blair's success. New Labour was in effect the SDP with a bit of symbolic red flag waving.

Britain cannot be led from the extremes. Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher can be seen to have been ideologically driven and there is a bit of truth in that charge in both cases. But in fact both were pragmatists and tempered their Socialism and neo-Liberalism (respectively) with pragmatism. Jeremy Corbyn has never done that - his principled positions have garnered him loyal support on the Left but little else. I doubt that any Labour leader since 1983 has even considered offering Corbyn a job let alone appointing him to anything. (He probably wouldn't have accepted if they had).

As I have written elsewhere there is a case for Corbyn if you want the Conservative government to be held to account. Maybe Corbyn, from the hard Left could do this better than someone from the traditional ruling elite - Burnham, Cooper, Kendall are all children of New Labour and they no doubt admired Tony Blair as much as David Cameron once said he did. Shaking up Btitish politics as Corbyn threatens to do has its appeal but the cold hard truth is that within weeks he would be taken apart. By the Tories but even more dangerously from his own back benches. It would be hard, in those circumstances, for the serial rebel Corbyn to call for loyalty and unity ! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Labour leadership election–how I voted

Leader: Yvette Cooper
Deputy leader: 1) Stella Creasy 2) Tom Watson
London Mayor: Tessa Jowell

For me the choice of who to vote for for Leader was the only tricky one. See below!

I like both Stella and Tom and am happy to give them my first and second preference vote. Both are campaigners and resilient and determined. Good characteristics. I favour Stella because of her youth, gender and charm. (Not that Tom isn't charming of course…!)

As far as Tessa is concerned I saw her at close hand during London 2012. She was terrific both in the run up to the Olympics and during them. I worked for the Chef de Mission of the Dutch team and he was very complimentary about Tessa. And the Dutch don't throw compliments around too much.

So what about the Leader? I was extremely tempted to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. As I am much more of a Social Democrat that a Socialist this may seem perverse. My temptation was because I think our moribund British establishment needs shaking up. And the main task over the next four years is to hold an increasingly authoritarian Conservative Government to account. Jeremy would attempt to do this and I would wish him nothing but well in his task.
I also pretty much agree with Jeremy’s Manifesto – at least as it is summarised here (above). So why did I wimp out? I studied all the arguments made against Corbyn because of the platforms he has shared with some very dodgy characters. I think he may have been foolish but that is not my reason. Nor is his proposal to quit NATO – though that needs some finessing! My sole reason is that Corbyn does not seem to accept the position of Labour (as stated in the 2015 Election Manifesto) over the EU.
One of the reasons that I voted Labour in 2015 was that I agree 100% with what the manifesto said on Europe (above). Jeremy Corbyn is at best lukewarm and possibly not even that. There is no need for a special conference and it was this along with his general lack of enthusiasm for Britain in the EU which tipped the balance for me.

So why Yvette? Partly, I have to say, because she is the best of the rest. Partly because she is a woman and it’s about time Labour had a woman leader. Partly because she was a good Minister under Brown and has a formidable intellect. Is she charismatic enough to capture the public imagination? Let’s wait and see. I wish her well. If she gets the chance !

Sunday, August 16, 2015

VJ Day 70 years on. Thoughts of my Mum and Dad


My Dad wasn't a hero. He would have been disapproving of the ubiquity of the whole "Help for Heroes" thing which suggests that as soon as you put on a military uniform you become heroic. He volunteered in 1941 because he had a sense of duty - the vast majority of the British people, one way or another, did the same thing. He was an intelligent, fit young man (24) about to be married and a few years into a career as a Transport Manager. That was his thing, he was good with vehicles. Quiet. Good at sport. Honourable. Decent. The Army gave him a commission and allocated him to the Royal Army Service Corps, who did transport. He married as planned and then, like thousands of others, he was in a troop ship bound for...? He didn't know, and it changed along the way but in early February 1942 he found himself in Singapore one of those sent to reinforce the garrison island. Not great timing.

In the days before Singapore fell Dad was involved in the action. But it was a hopeless cause. The British and Commonwealth troops were rounded up, placed first in Changi, and then moved to Thailand where work on the Thai/Burma railway began. It was to be a year before my mother, who was pregnant and expecting their first child in April knew his fate. At the end of March, six weeks after Singapore fell, she had a communication saying that Dad was "missing". Over a year later, on April 3rd 1943, she finally received a telegram from the War Office that he was a Prisoner of War. 

On VJ Day, 15th August 1945, my mother celebrated in a muted way. She was not to know Dad's fate until 10th September when a cable confirmed that he was on his way home. He sailed from Rangoon on the 32 year old HMT Orduna on 21st September and arrived in Liverpool on 19th October. He had been away from England, and my mother, for nearly four years. 

As with so many Far East Prisoners of War Dad rarely talked about his experiences. I know that he was involved in the Camp radio - he kept an earphone in his shoe. I know that he was part of a small group of Officers who made contact with Thai locals to smuggle some food into the Camp. I know that if he'd been discovered in these activities he'd have been shot - or worse. Somehow he survived. He survived privations that books like the Booker prize-winning "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" describe so graphically. Officers had a better chance of survival than other ranks. Young, fit men perhaps survived better than older ones. But luck played its part. The serendipity of his incarceration and survival didn't turn my father into a hero.  He lived to be 75 . He lived a fulfilling life after the War. He never forgot what he'd been through. And he never forgave his captors. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Labour’s choice. The SDP, or Keir Hardie?


New Labour was the SDP. The SDP established the policy framework which made a Labour Government electable. New Labour was a liberal Social Democratic Party as, of course, was the SDP. Whilst the Gang of Four did not achieve their personal ambitions for power from 1997 they will have seen their policy positions firmly in Government - and no doubt taken pride from that. Yes the LibDems absorbed a few leading SDPers like Kennedy and Cable. But the key effect was not really on the LibDems but Labour. The 1983 defeat was attributable in part to the SDP (who actually led in the polls pre Falklands), in part to The Thatcher bounce after the Falklands War, in part to the unelectability of Foot's Labour, and in part to the FPTP electoral system.

Post Foot Neil Kinnock realised that if Labour was ever to get power again it had to rid itself of the out-of-date socialist policies that were still entrenched in its psyche and its constitution. Clause 4 was a symbol of this. It had to go, and it went. Public ownership became not an ideological goal but a pragmatic choice. And so on. Blair and Brown of course built on Kinnock’s achievements, created New Labour and gained power. Where they governed from is a matter of dispute – my view is that they were a Social Democrat Government on the SDP and German model. Unfortunately everything is clouded by Blair’s wars. But even in 2005 he won a comfortable majority – the New Labour brand was sufficiently strong to carry him home.

New Labour was economically pragmatic and Brown was a very good Chancellor indeed. From 2005 onwards Labour was moving to invest and build on the economic strengths that Brown’s Chancellorship had created. Then Armageddon which was hardly (much) of the British Government’s making but a world-wide crash from which Britain was far from immune.

Throughout all of this time and on into the Coalition years there were few calls for the establishment of a truly Socialist Britain. The Old Labour people were still around and they cried “Foul” from the side-lines occasionally. But Britain had long since chosen to be a mixed economy and increasingly a liberal society. New Labour can take great credit for both achievements. The Conservatives haven’t (yet) managed to unscramble the new paradigm. Hanging over all of this is the maxim that politics is the “Art of the Possible”. To do anything you must be elected. To be elected you cannot campaign from the extremes. Certainly not with the FPTP system - UKIP gained nearly 4m votes but just one seat.

Finally it’s about personalities. In my view Labour was electable this year and the polls through the year agreed and said they would be. Then at the last minute it switched. Faced with the thought of Miliband and Balls next door to one another in Downing Street sufficient numbers of likely Labour voters didn’t. They either indulged in a bit of gut feel protesting by voting UKIP, decided that Cameron was the lesser of two evils or just stayed away from the polling stations. That scuppered Labour’s chances. Would they all have flooded to vote if Labour had presented a genuinely Hard Left manifesto? Some might have, but more would have rejected that position completely.

Some argue that Jeremy Corbyn is Attlee’s heir and to some extent they are right. But even 1945-51 was not an overtly Socialist , and certainly not pacifist, Government. Really you have to go back to Keir Hardie to find Corbyn’s true political ancestor. Is that truly what Labour in 2015 wants ?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The electoral system forces the creation of unholy alliances within our two main parties


As we saw in the General Election (except in Scotland!) the chances for a third or fourth Party to break through in Westminster are negligible. UKIP and the Green Party gained 3.9m and 1.2m votes but only one of the 650 seats in Parliament each. It was ever thus. The LibDems took 25 years to build up sufficient local constituency strength to get 60 odd seats - then lost most of them in one go as their star fell from grace. First Past the Post favours the two main parties and only an earthquake can change that - as it did north of the border.

This is not a piece about electoral reform certain though I am that it is necessary. It is about the consequences of FPTP in respect of Parties' internal alliances. Harold Wilson called the Labour Party a "Broad church" - but the Conservatives have been no less broad over the years. Each of our two main parties is a coalition of people who believe different things. Sometimes VERY different things. But with one major, and a couple of minor exceptions these differences don't lead to splits. For (say) Dennis Skinner or (say) Peter Bone to stay in the Labour and Conservative parties respectively requires them reluctantly to accept a degree of conformity to party positions even though they don't endorse them.

The internal coalition in Labour or the Conservatives is arguably beneficial in respect of policy formation, but not always. Tony Blair created a unified Party in which, until the Iraq War, there was if not total agreement at least acceptance of policy. On the other hand the unfairly maligned Wilson/Callaghan Governments of the 1970s were close to succeeding in building a broad Social Democratic consensus both in the Party, and in the country. But that was stymied by the Labour Left  both within the Government and outside. The winter of discontent of 1978/9 had fatal consequences for Labour and let Margaret Thatcher into Number 10. It also precipitated the Labour split and the formation of the SDP when Michael Foot became Labour leader.  John Major fared better when faced with a similar challenge from the Tory Right in 1995 but was fatally wounded and lost office in the 1997 General Election.

Let's focus on what has been happening to our two major Parties for the last 50 years. They have (the SDP secession apart) held together - just. In the last Parliament only two Tory MPs jumped ship to UKIP. They were far from the only MPs sympathetic to the UKIP policy positions - but they no doubt judged that their chances of staying in Parliament were better as dissident Tories than as Kippers. They were right as it turned out - ask Mark Reckless ! In Labour no significant figure has left the Party at all – George Galloway excepted perhaps if you regards him as “significant”. The reason is the electoral system. If the number of MPs that a Party got was closer in percentage terms to its number of votes my guess is at least twenty or thirty Tory MPs would have joined Douglas Carswell in UKIP.

As far as the Left is concerned I have argued here that there are two distinct streams – one Socialist and the other Social Democratic. The candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of the Party is revealing this starkly. In fact the broad church alliance is under threat for the first time since the early 1980s. There are even talks of a split, though I doubt this will happen. But if we had a more proportional voting system that split would be sure to happen on the Left as it would on the Right.   

if the four political streams I identify in my article were to become distinct political Parties – i.e. if the current Party consensus in both Labour and the Conservatives broke down (this could only happen if we had electoral reform) the consequences would be interesting. There would almost certainly be a Left/Left or a Right/Right coalition – depending on the election outcome. The Left or the Right Coalition Government would be formed following policy negotiations – rather like those of 2010. That it was a formal alliance would be explicit – and maybe this would be better than the single Party broad church alliances that can be so fractious?  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A couple of years of the preposterous Corbyn – and then Dan the Man to ride to the rescue?

"We do not have a Presidential system" is one of our more common British aphorisms. Well I'm not sure about that. Remember in an American election it's a binary choice. The winner wins because he is preferred to the loser. It's not rocket science. The worst President in my longish memory was the dreadful George Bush. But the American people preferred him to Al Gore and John Kerry. And you can sort of see why. In Britain we occasionally have a political leader who is head and shoulders above his/her main opponent: Macmillan, Thatcher, Blair in modern times. They would have beaten anybody. Then you have those who don't have anything like these qualities but win because the alternative is even worse. Heath, who caught the clever Harold Wilson napping. Major who had the fortune to face Kinnock. Cameron who had the unelectable Brown and then the (as it turned out) equally unelectable Miliband. Lucky Dave!

I thought that Ed Miliband's intelligence and personal decency would probably win him GE2015. I should have listened more closely to a very good friend, a woman brilliant in her profession, Oxford classics Graduate but not at all political. She said she wouldn't vote Labour because of Miliband. I protested (mildly) and she said (I paraphrase) that he was a bit of a dork. The personal brand of a Thatcher or Blair wins elections. The anti brand of a Brown or a Miliband loses them. When an anti brand (the appalling Michael Howard for example) is up against a strong personal brand like Blair then - no chance.

In GE2020 it looks like the Conservatives will be led by George Osborne. He will never be a Mega brand in the Thatcher or Blair mould, but like Major and Cameron before him he may well not need to be. He will only be beaten by a Labour leader who grabs the public imagination as Blair or Thatcher once did. I doubt that any of the four leadership contenders could conceivably do this. Corbyn an Old Trot. Burnham dull and duplicitous. Cooper clever but tainted. Kendall too lightweight. My preference would be Dan Jarvis who would be out of left field and could almost be the anti politics candidate to beat Osborne. But Dan shrewdly has other priorities for now. Maybe a couple of years of the preposterous Corbyn and then he could ride to the rescue. Labour cannot win in 2020 with another machine politician or policy wonk. Jarvis, or someone like him (who?) would not be the candidate of the Right or the Left. He would capture the imagination as Thatcher and Blair once did. Maybe !

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"The Anglosphere ", insular, imaginary and deep down very silly!

You may not have encountered the idea of "The Anglosphere" unless you are a follower of the writings of the Tory Right - and of "thinking" further to the right even of them. Perhaps the best analysis of it came from Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce in the "New Statesman" here:

"The Anglosphere" has all the logic and credibility of the "Commonwealth" (i.e. not a lot ) with none of that preposterous and archaic institution's substance. Daft though it is the Commonwealth does actually meet and has employees and an office. The "Anglosphere" does not - to all intents and purposes it does not exist at all except as a figment of the imagination of the likes of Uber Right Tory MEP Daniel Hannan.

As the article in the New Statesman says the Anglosphere is a dreamlike notion that what Winston Churchill called the "English Speaking Peoples" could have more in common than just our shared language. Actually that is not really controversial - there is a strong common culture across London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Wellington, Melbourne, Vancouver, Cape Town and (to a rather lesser extent) Boston. Perth, Scotland, is more like Perth Australia than it is like Paris or Berlin which are infinitely more "foreign". Culture is shared, and language is a key determinant of it. I have got off a plane and instantly felt at home in English Speaking cities as diverse as Auckland, Bridgetown Barbados, Toronto, Singapore... even though the underlying cultural mores may be different. And yes there are post Imperial similarities in all these places including parliamentary democracy and freedom of speech that are admirable.

On my first visit to Australia many years ago I was with colleagues in Melbourne who were entertaining me to a delicious dinner in a top restaurant. Towards the end of the evening one of them asked me a question -  "Righto Paddy you've been in Oz a few days now where does it remind you of most?" The 'correct" answer to that question was something like "San Diego' - that is to say an English speaking city, easy to be in, with sunshine and good food and quite a laid back lifestyle. That's how these Aussies saw themselves and their country.  My response was not to refer to California - "Frankly" I said "it reminds me of Croydon". I was teasing, and they didn't mind, but there were truths both in their California and my Croydon. Language (etc.) does bind us. 

So if I see strong links across the English speaking world, links (mostly) enhanced by a common history of having all been at one time "British" ( I do) why do I poo-poo the Anglosphere? It's because language and culture may bind us emotionally, but the modern world ain't much about that. What it is about is the hard reality of economics and geography. Travelling Canadians often wear a maple leaf so that people hearing their North American accent know that they are from the northernmost American country not the big one to the south of it. But pride in their distinctive Canadian-ness does not mean that Canada is ignorant of the economic and geographic reality of needing an exceptionally close relationship with the United States which through a Free Trade agreement and other ties it has. Similiarly Australia has long since developed close links not so much with countries with which it has cultural links (New Zealand aside) but with its Far Eastern neighbours with which it shares geography -dominated economic interests. 

For Britain it is I think fair to say that if the once popular "Commonwealth preference"  trade option had been in any way a runner in the modern world than it might have been touted at Commonwealth meetings - but in fact the potential for economic cooperation plays little or no part at these largely ceremonial and nostalgic events. By far Britain's most important economic partners do not speak English as a first language at all (Ireland aside) they are the other 26 fellow members of the European Union. 

As the New Statesman article reports most of the affection for the Anglosphere from UKIP and the Tory Right is that they see it as a potential alternative to the EU. This spreads credulity to breaking point! To argue that an "organisation" that doesn't exist, "comprised" notionally of members who see little merit in it and united only by the fact that they speak English and were once part of the British Empire is preferable to the EU is just plain silly! 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The only people who want a Greek exit from the Euro are the British Eurosceptics.

As far as I can see the only people who want (as opposed to expect or forecast) a Greek exit from the Euro are the British Eurosceptics. And, of course, the Farages and the Hannans of this world want this not because they care much about Greece but because they hope that a withdrawal by Greece would precipitate chaos in the Eurozone leading to its destruction. (Interestingly there are also signs of Euroscepticsm among some on the hard Left as well - Owen Jones for example - so we may be teetering towards unholy alliance territory).

But the only alliance that really matters is that of the key players all of whom want to keep Greece in the Euro. These include:

The Greek Government and Opposition
The European Union
The European Central Bank
The International Monetary Fund
The WorldBunk 
The German Government (wavering a bit)
The United Stares of America

It would be quite astonishing if all of these players each with their own vested interests and varied reasons could not come up with a solution. Grexit could  still happen of course - but let's hope not. Surely none of us wants to hear  "I told you so" from Nigel Farage and his gang? 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Benefits of the Euro far outweigh its disadvantages - Europe must solve Greek problem without forcing Greece out of the single currency

Across 19 countries the Euro, as a transaction mechanism, has been a phenomenal success. Businesses trade with no exchange costs and can largely eliminate the need for currency hedging for intra Europe activities. Interest rates are similarly consistent and predictable. Tourists are able to travel without the need to pay rip-off forex charges and need just one currency in their wallets and their Euro credit cards carry no forex charges when used outside their home Euro country. British people and British businesses are denied all these benefits.

So what's not to like? Well the problem is that a currency is more than a transaction mechanism. When Gordon Brown handed the Bank of England the job to determine Sterling interest rates he was depoliticising one key aspect of economic management. Similarly when a country joined the Euro it was explicitly giving up one traditional control tool - a country could no longer devalue its currency nor set its own interest rates. As good fiscal management sometimes in the past required changes in these areas - devaluation to boost exports for example or the rise of interest rates to control inflation - this became problematic for some.

At a macro level you need to integrate currency management with overall fiscal management. The problem for Greece and others was not so much the Euro - and certainly not the Euro as a transaction mechanism - but the unwillingness to accept that membership of the single currency required also tighter economic management. Not least a tighter grip on public expenditure. But centrally the ECB and the EU was slow to recognise this as well. The boom years of the early noughties disguised the problem and greed, especially in the property sector, fuelled the fire. So when the crash came in 2007 some Euro countries were thrown into disarray. It wasn't the Euro as such, it was the failure properly to understand the requirements that membership of the Eurozone brought with it. The Irish were as profligate as the Greeks!

So now there is a need for Greece to tighten its fiscal management whether it stays in the Euro or not. There is also a need for the big beasts of the Eurozone to genuinely help and that would of course be easier if Greece keeps the Euro. This is the crunch. Punishment of the Greek people for the errors of their leaders has to stop. A long term recovery plan part funded by the ECB and the richer Eurozone nations is the only way forward. Plus some debt cancellation and relief. I suspect Angela Merkel knows that ! 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beware the CyberNats – they point to a very dark place.

“In extreme situations nationalism appears to neutralise that part of the mind which is able to fathom complex equations. Instead, action is motivated by a single Leninist principle: “Those who are not for us are against us”

Misha Glenny

Mr Glenny was writing about The Balkans where nationalism was the driver of that most bloody of wars as Yugoslavia collapsed into lethal chaos in the early 1990s. But his words will also ring a bell with observers of present-day Scotland where sufficient numbers have given up trying to fathom anything and have descended into crude nationalistic abuse of those who are not “for” them. I use the word “sufficient” advisedly – it is not the majority who are standing screaming abuse on these particular soapboxes but those who spew their bile especially on social media. The so-called “CyberNats”.

I am neither famous enough nor controversial enough to get much abuse on Twitter. Some of my 2600 followers often disagree with me, but politely! But if I make any mildly critical remark of the Scottish National Party or the fanaticism of some of their supporters then the Twitter feed becomes X-rated! All that is of little consequence – I block abusers (including one deeply unpleasant SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament!) and that is that. But what is of consequence is the distorting effect that the “Those who are not for us are against us” mind-set in Scotland has had on British politics. I was told in all seriousness that the Scottish Labour Party should have supported the “Yes” vote in the Independence Referendum and it was because they didn't that Scotland turned against Labour. I would like to address that view here.

On the night of Labour’s General Election defeat Ed Milliband said this: Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party,"

He was right - that is exactly what happened. History tells us that nationalism can force out tyrants and replace dictatorships with democrats – or it can have the reverse effect. (In the Balkans it did both simultaneously depending where you were). In Scotland there were no tyrants to be deposed and no dictators to be sent packing. What there was was firstly a concern about the established British political order and its power and secondly a view that to secede from the Union was the solution. But the truth was that Scotland was not being governed by the people-oppressing English at all and arguably never had been since the Act of Union in 1707! (The Jacobites thought differently, but they were as much opposed by fellow Scots as by the English)

The rebellion of 2015 North of the Border was a mass protest by half of those who voted and the electoral system meant that this 50% got a wholly disproportionate 95% of the seats. This was the “surge of nationalism” Milliband referred to. The momentum towards secession, briefly halted by the referendum defeat, was given a possibly unstoppable push.

The minds that were and are able to “fathom complex equations” want nothing to do with Scottish independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom. To be proud to be British (I am) is in no way incompatible with a pride in being Scottish (which I would be, if I was!). My Britishness incorporates the heartfelt conviction that Scotland is an indissoluble part of it. Having lived in Scotland permanently for three years, owned a house there for twenty and visited the country frequently I relate to it as being part of me. The idea that I would be visiting a foreign country if Scotland became independent is deeply repellent.

So let me say to the CyberNats who occasionally abuse me (including that MSP!) you have fallen into the trap of flaying your arms in a random way and catching innocent people in your trauma. You don't have to be Scottish to love Scotland and you don't have to be a Nationalist to protect your country. The modern world encourages breakaway as the last resort to combat evil or repression – but by no stretch of the imagination can that be said to apply to Scotland. After 300 years of Britishness which has been a great success story - and in which the Scots fully played their part - please don't go into denial because a new paradigm (a Federal Britain for example) is too difficult to fathom. Better Together!   

Monday, June 15, 2015

UK Energy consumption - We'll be using oil and gas for a long time !

To call, as the G7 has, for a non fossil fuel world by the end of the century is all very well. But it needs technology advances that are not in the pipeline.

Energy use can conveniently be divided between that which is competitive between primary energy alternatives and that which is not. Electricity generation is a classic example of the former. You can generate electricity from Coal, Oil, Gas, Wind, Nuclear,  Solar, Hydro...etc etc. To have all our electricity from renewable resources is technically feasible. Which does not mean that it is affordable, practical or the best of choices in all cases.

In the non fuel competitive category are the Oil specific uses. Primarily in Transport. Here it is either technically non feasible to use anything but oil (Aircraft), or has a hugely negative economic consequence. Shipping is presently 99% oil reliant. Road transport (Cars and trucks and buses etc) not much less. You can use electricity to move cars (etc.) but until there is a technology breakthrough which gives cost and range parity with petrol/diesel it will not happen to any significant extent.

In the UK and across the rest of Europe we substantially use Natural Gas as our domestic fuel - in the home.  We heat our homes with Gas and cook with it. These applications are not hydrocarbons specific - you could use Electricity as an alternative and many homes do. But to switch existing gas-using homes to electricity would requirement a truly enormous capital investment. Who would pay, and would it be worth it? And to generate the necessary electricity from renewable sources would also require a huge capital investment in (mainly) wind turbines - where would we locate them, and where would the money come from?  Alternatively it would require many new Nuclear plants to which we could apply the same question.

The reality of our primary energy use shown in the pie chart above is that over time there is potential to shift it substantially from hydrocarbons. But to predicate a "non fossil fuel world" by the end of the century is pie in the sky...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lucky Dave could stop the Eurosceptics, and for that at least we should be grateful.

In an article in The Times today Tim Montgomerie praises David Cameron - not something that comes naturally to him! Fair's fair! In my view Cameron has been lucky - but then Napoleon (and Montgomery) wanted lucky Generals above all else. His is the Tale of Two Referenda. The Scottish one destroyed Labour's power base in Scotland completely. This was luck for Dave, he can claim no credit for it. Labour fought an honourable and right campaign for a "No" vote in Scotland - won, and were punished for their victory. It really was an astonishing fall from grace. And Cameron was the main beneficiary as Tim correctly points out.

And the EU Referendum? Well here Dave has used his unexpected strength to play a political game Machiavelli , or his representative on Planet Earth Peter Mandelson, would have been proud of! The "Outers" are probably a majority in the Parliamentary party. The Fury of the Hannans and their ilk at the moment is palpable. (Even Tim and the ConHome lot are fuming, albeit slightly more rationally than the Hannanites). As ever the Europhobic wing of the Party is an existential threat. But Dave has power and patronage. A new MP with hopes for a job won't want to blot his/her copybook. The payroll vote will mostly do what they are told. Boris is mumbling but will come into line. We all, from both sides of the EU debate, know that the "negotiations" are all smoke and mirrors. There will be a bit of window dressing signifying little, but capable of being sold as a good outcome for Britain. And Dave will sell it. End of Story!

A few short weeks ago a united Labour Party seemed to be en route for victory. Even Dave thought so - and had written the speech. But the Great British People (GBP) thought otherwise. They probably surprised themselves with what they did. Dave was the least worst choice - he still is. The GBP has got over its flirtation with the shallow and frankly lightweight souls of UKIP. Farage has had his day. Labour is leaderless and all the old Blairite v Brownite battles are being fought anew. And Teflon Dave smiles his way onwards and upwards. And if he delivers an emphatic "Yes" vote in the EU referendum even this ageing Fabian will settle for that !

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The technology advances required to eliminate Fossil Fuels as G7 wantsare not on the horizon.

To call, as the G7 has, for a non fossil fuel world by the end of the century is all very well. But it needs technology advances that are not in the pipeline.

Energy use can be conveniently be divided between that which is competitive between primary energy alternatives and that which is not. Electricity generation is a classic example of the former. You can generate electricity from Coal, Oil, Gas, Wind, Solar, Nuclear, Hydro...etc etc. To have all our electricity from renewable and non carbon resources is technically feasible although, of course, some very large investments would be required to make the switch possible in a world in which energy demand is inextricably rising. 

However much of our primary energy consumption is in the "non competitive" category - mainly all the "Oil specific" use in transport. Here it is neither technically feasible to use anything but oil  or there is a hugely negative economic consequence. Aircraft can only fly on oil and there is no alternative (outside Science Fiction!) to this. Shipping is presently 99% oil reliant. Road transport (Cars and trucks and buses etc) not much less. You can use electricity to move cars (etc.) but until there is a technology breakthrough which gives cost and range parity with petrol/diesel it will not happen to any significant extent.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

There isn't a "Labour case for Europe". There is a "Case for Europe" PERIOD

Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham is apparently saying there should be a "Labour YES to Europe" campaign. He is wrong. Here's why.

In my response to a recent article by Tory arch Eurosecptic Tim Montgomerie I argued the case for Britain in the EU as follows:

(1). Every European nation, even Germany, cannot expect to compete and have influence on its own. The power blocks of the U.S., China, Russia,  ASEAN etc. will have respect for and have self-interest in dealing with a strong United Europe. Britain alone would be just another player. Large yes, but cast adrift from Europe without bargaining power or even an automatic right to be at the table. We'd be like some embarrassing old Uncle clutching gamely on to the nobility of our history and our once achievements but in reality mumbling on impotently on the sidelines whilst the younger, brighter more forward looking members of our once family get on with managing today and tomorrow.

(2). The undeniable fact that peace in Europe since 1945 did not happen by chance. I'm actually in Croatia as I write this and not one Croatian I've spoken to would argue that their membership of the EU was not strongly predicated on the peace dividend it brings. When I visit Mostar in a day's time I will see the rebuilt bridge which replaced the one destroyed by conflict a few short decades ago. That bridge is a handy metaphor for the wider cooperative benefits of cooperation - Jaw Jaw rather than War War. Churchill was right.

(3)  The EU has its problems and yes twenty plus years after Maastricht it's right that the precise basis of individual nations' membership (not just Britain) should be reviewed. But in my lifetime - precisely coinciding (so far!) with the post war era of cooperation not conflict - nothing has been as uplifting as the removal of barriers across Europe. The free movement of labour and capital, the elimination of tariff and other barriers. The common currency. But above all the recognition that in return for a modest surrender of sovereignty you can be part of strong, credible, multinational Union and you can add to the pride you feel for your own nation a parallel pride in being a European. We must, as Britons, never give up this privilege.

I could add other points to these and I will. But at the highest level of abstraction this are key messages. To be competitive. To build together on post-war peace. To manage change whilst acknowledging the core economic advantages of union.

These things transcend Party. There isn't a Labour (or a Conservative)  case for Britian in Europe there is a British case. The more divided the "Yes" campaign is the more confused the electorate will be and the Party neutrality of the campaign will be lost - a potentially disastrous outcome. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Sad, Myopic and wrong - Tim Montgomerie on Britain and Europe.

The above are the first three paragraphs in Tim Montgomerie's deeply sad article in The Times today. The rest of it carries on in the same vein. It is sad in so many ways. First a personal observation. I know and like Tim. I strongly relate to and have sympathy for his "The Good Right" initiative. I am no Conservative but I have respect for the post war One Nation Tory era to which it strongly relates. What is forgotten by Tim is that this era was also internationalist and European. Macmillan knew, in part because Churchill and Eden had taught him, that Britain's only future was as an active and wholehearted participant in Europe. The baton passed to Heath who to his great credit overcome the obstacles that De Gaulle had put in Macmillan's way and took Britain formally and rightly into the European Community. After Harold Wilson with characteristic political skill arranged and won a referendum the deal was done. Margaret Thatcher in her Prime Ministerial years sorted out some anomalies of this membership and post Maastricht, and certainly during the Blair/Brown years, the Thatcher outcome was consolidated. That's the history, and it's one that we can all be proud of.

If this first sadness is Tim ignoring history and achievement the next is the myopia that his arguments have to the realities of the modern world. Every European nation, even Germany, cannot expect to compete and have influence on its own. The power blocks of the U.S., China, Russia,  ASEAN etc. will have respect for and have self-interest in dealing with a strong United Europe. Britain alone would be just another player. Large yes, but cast adrift from Europe without bargaining power or even an automatic right to be at the table. We'd be like some embarrassing old Uncle clutching gamely on to the nobility of our history and our once achievements but in reality mumbling on impotently on the sidelines whilst the younger, brighter more forward looking members of our once family get on with managing today and tomorrow.

The next sadness is the lack of robust logic that Brexit has. Tim has a fine mind so I'm certain that he sees the flaws in his own arguments. But, of course and here's the heart of it, he is playing dangerous games with the soul of the Conservative Party. Tim wants a Party largely modelled on the U.S. Republicans. "The Good Right" is clever and decent, but it is in part window dressing for a very different Conservative Party than the present Cameroon one. Tim these days hides that fact that he is a "NeoCon" - something he used to be more open about. But Republican NeoCons, Free Enterprse worshippers, proud Nationalists - all with an underpinning of Christian values is precisely the group with which Tim has most in common - on all counts. This Nationalism is deeply sceptical of all international groupings - the UN and international courts (etc.) among them. Wrong though it would be the U.S. could be more separatist if it wanted to - it's big enough. The UK is emphatically not.

The area where the Europhobes are most exposed is the undeniable fact that peace in Europe since 1945 did not happen by chance. In 1918 the European nations said "Never Again". In 1945 they said the same - and did something about it.  I'm actually in Croatia as I write this and not one Croatian I've spoken to would argue that their membership of the EU was not strongly predicated on the peace dividend it brings. When I visit Mostar in a day's time I will see the rebuilt bridge which replaced the one destroyed by conflict a few short decades ago. That bridge is a handy metaphor for the wider cooperative benefits of cooperation - Jaw Jaw rather than War War. Churchill was right.

Yes the EU has its problems and yes twenty plus years after Maastricht it's right that the precise basis of individual nations' membership (not just Britain) should be reviewed. But in my lifetime - precisely coinciding (so far!) with the post war era of cooperation not conflict - nothing has been as uplifting as the removal of barriers across Europe. The free movement of labour and capital, the elimination of tariff and other barriers. The common currency. But above all the recognition that in return for a modest surrender of sovereignty you can be part of strong, credible, multinational Union and you can add to the pride you feel for your own nation a parallel pride in being a European. We must, as Britons, never give up this privilege.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

My argument against Daniel Hannan's "Fantasy" anti EU rant in theTelegraph today

Fantasy stuff. Useful though, on  "Know your enemy" grounds. Political obsessives are usually laughing-stocks, or dangerous. I haven't quite decided which Mr Hannan is - maybe a bit of both. The Europhobes are either ignorant, rude bigots like Farage or pseudo-intellectual bores like Hannan. His life long (it seems) obsession about the EU has blighted his career. "Oh that's just old Dan banging on again". So how do I know that Hannan is wrong, culpably wrong? Well I can work it out for myself because there is no quantified case for Britain to leave the EU - indeed it is absolutely the reverse. Were the case even slightly as Hannan would like us to believe it was don't you think that the serious commentators in the media would have said so, and that a major political Party at some point in the last 40 years would also have said it? 

I intend to play personally an active part in the EU Referendum campaign when I hope those of us campaigning for a "Yes" vote will organise ourselves properly to rebut the likes of Hannan with facts and arguments. It's not difficult. And I hope that we will challenge not just Hannan's lies but the gross jingoism and faux-patriotism (seasoned with bigotry and prejudice ) of the Farage wing of the "Out" movement. A senior LibDem politician said to me yesterday that her absolute pro-EU position was "for her children". Exactly. Let's look FORWARD not BACKWARDS - the challenges of the modern world demand cooperation not retreat. 

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.