Wednesday, May 11, 2016

These are not scare tactics: If you really want to demolish the NHS, the BBC and the Trades Union movement vote Brexit

There have been some unedifying scare tactics use on both sides of the EU debate and it is hard to see the solid wood of the arguments for and against at all through the dodgy obfuscating trees. So to make it clearer here is the bottom line. "Brexit" is a pathway to the takeover by the political Right in Britain. All the rest is noise.

In 1990 the Conservative Party committed matricide. After eleven years in office the blessed Margaret Thatcher (Peace be Upon Her) was unceremoniously booted out of office by her own Cabinet. That Cabinet had had enough of Thatcher's increasingly strident style - especially her growing antagonism to the European Community (as it then was). Europe was the final straw, but as now it was cover for a battle for the soul of the Conservative Party.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have been (at times fragile) alliances between Right and Left. Indeed at present both of our main parties are fighting bitter internal battles. The Tory one is of longer duration, however, stretching back uninterrupted to that fatal day in November 1990 when Thatcher was forced out of office. Uneasy has lain the crown on the heads of her successors. John Major, a decent man for all his lightweight persona, struggled and largely failed against the still Thatcherite internal opposition in his own Party. (The country at large rather liked him and surprisingly re-elected him in 1992). In succession to Major the Thatcherites tried to get control again with a series of leaders who they saw as being "One of Us" - William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard were all Thatcherites and all failed because the country had solidly embraced the centre ground with New Labour.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown knew that Britain can only be governed from the centre (that Thatcher decade apart). In 2005 the Conservative Party, after a third successive Election defeat, got the message as well. David Cameron, a clever pragmatist, won the leadership defeating the Thatcher choice (and initially favourite) David Davis along the way. The Conservative Right didn't like it much - Cameron positioned himself not as Margaret Thatcher's heir but as Tony Blair’s! This reached its apotheosis when Cameron did a deal with the "Soft Left" Liberal Democrats after the inconclusive 2010 election.

So whilst Cameron and Clegg carried on governing as New Labour had - from the centre ground - those Conservatives   who didn't like this regrouped and plotted. This plotting was fairly open. Michael Ashcroft established the Conservative Home website which whilst nominally evenly balanced was in fact firmly in the hands of the Thatcherite Right. At "The Spectator" the tone was similarly neo-Thatcherite. Newspapers like the Mail and the Telegraph - always Conservative - now fell into the hands of the further Right (the Express went Far Right and became an organ of UKIP). Crucially the Murdoch press (The Times and The Sun) was recruited as well - though in the case of The Times this was a little more subtle.

The 2015 election confused the plotters. They expected Cameron to lose and were positioning themselves to install a "One of Us" successor when he did. But the Great British Public stymied them again. With "Call me Dave" safely back in Number 10 the Conservative Right played their final card. Cameron had promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership and by God they were going to ensure he delivered one! This referendum promise had been an attempt by Cameron to satisfy the demands of his Right Wing - as well as to reduce the appeal of Conservative defector Nigel Farage's shallow but simplistically effective United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). There was little interest in the country at large in having a battle over Europe. There were other priorities for the Government than this surely?

Well actually the "Leave" campaign thought there were "other priorities" as well! "Brexit" (that hideous, but clever, neologism) was nominally, of course, about Europe. But it was deep down really about what the Right calls "Freedom". This "freedom" predicates free markets above all. This has become known as "Neo-liberalism" and is associated especially with laissez-faire economics. It advocates support for extensive economic liberalisation - privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, and substantial reductions in government influence on the State and expenditure. The Thatcher credo.
The European Union is essentially a capitalist construct - which is why opposition to it was initially (in the 1960s and early 1970s) mainly a Left Wing concern. But even forty plus years ago there was a hard core of conservative objection to Britain being part of the project for European political and economic integration. During the 1975 referendum Enoch Powell, effectively the leader of this faction said this:
“The nation is being invited to confirm the surrender, and the permanent surrender, of its most precious possession: its political independence and parliamentary self-government, and the right to live under laws and to pay taxes authorised only by Parliament and to be governed by policies for which the executive is fully accountable through Parliament to the electorate.”
There is little, if any, difference between what Powell said forty years ago and what the conservative Brexiters say today. Like them Powell was anti-interventionist, a believer in the power of the market and like Thatcher a monetarist. The quote above needs to be seen in an economic as well as a governance context. The two are linked. Powell feared that Britain would lose the freedom to apply a strict economic regime because of Europe’s removal of some of its sovereignty (the fear was unfounded as the Thatcher years showed!). That fear is at the heart of the Brexit case today. Daniel Hannan, for example, puts it like this:
“Will the United Kingdom be an independent nation, trading with its friends on the Continent while living under its own laws? Or will it be part of a country called Europe?”
The European Union is, as I have said, a capitalist construct – but it is a regulated one. And broadly these regulations apply to all of its members. In pure terms this is a restraint on competition but in a pan-European context it creates a level playing field on which competitive behaviour can better operate. “Better” in the public interest sense. No member can, for example, cut prices or wages in an “unfair” way to seek commercial advantage. Of course what is “unfair” is subjective which is why there are democratic institutions (e.g. the European Parliament) where a resolution is sought.
The libertarian right and believers in so-called “business freedom” like The Freedom Association are, of course, opposed to regulation generally and regulation from Brussels in particular. And they are prime movers in the Brexit campaign. And this brings us to the heart of the subject. On the Right there is a precise correlation between support for Brexit and support for this kind of free enterprise. Not any old wishy-washy mixed economy free enterprise. Hard , rigorous, “libertarian” neo-liberal free enterprise. Thatcher plus if you like.

Targets of this group in the past (apart, of course, from the EU) have included the BBC, the NHS, the Trades Union movement – indeed anything that rings of public control, public ownership or social democracy. They want no less than a revolution with privatisation and free enterprise being the norm across the economy. But they know that they cannot do this when Britain is in the EU as the rest of Europe and the EU, as its legislative glue, has embraced the mixed economy – albeit one that has capitalist underpinning.

So the Brexiters strategy and the strategy of the “Free Enterprise” brigade are inextricably tied together to the extent that the joins are seamless. Tactically the sequence is:
  1. Britain is persuaded to vote “Leave” on June 23rd
  2. A leadership contest in the Conservative Party commences
  3. A Right Wing leader is chosen (or more likely the self-interested front man Boris Johnson – a man unburdened with ideology or beliefs).
  4. Johnson’s cabinet is stuffed with Right Wingers who launch the revolution.
  5. The leadership lacuna in the Labour Party allows the Conservatives to win a mandate for their Right Wing economic agenda in a swiftly called General Election.
The rest will be history – as will be the United Kingdom as a modern nation.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

London chooses decency over lies and innuendo

I'm not a great fan of City Mayors including London's but the role is, despite its limitations, the biggest job in the Capital. As such you want an incumbent who is his own man (or woman). Ken before he lost the plot was a good Mayor. He handled 7/7 with dignity and the Olympics 2012 bid with skill. Boris was less of a buffoon than he seemed but his Mayoralty was unmemorable and self-evidently just a piece in the building of the Boris brand. He was lazy and dillitante and more a cartoon Mayor than a real one. 

So Goldsmith had to promote the rationale for his candidacy based on his personal qualities. Instead he surrendered his independence to the very worst part of the Central Office machine. The dysfunctional overrated spin doctor Lynton Crosby and his malignant team. Goldsmith is MP in Richmond near where I live. I thought that he was the better type of Tory. His Green positioning seemed genuine similarly his opposition to LHR expansion was principled (he was wrong in my view but I didn't question his sincerity). 

But cometh the hour cometh the shallow opportunist. As candidate for London Mayor he was truly awful. He should have been his own man but he let himself be led into one of the most disreputable political campaigns of modern times. And there's the rub. If he can be so easily led as a candidate it suggests two things. First he will sell his principles to,the highest bidder. Secondly that he is prone to follow not to lead. The electorate saw this and rejected him. Good riddance.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The phoney myth of our "Free Press" and how the BBC is a beacon of light in this murky darkness.

So the BBC is under the Government's control and will do what it's told because its Charter is under review or it is trying to undermine the Government and John Whittingdalle - because its Charter is under review! You pays your money and makes your choice !

The reality of the  Media scene is that you can trust nobody completely but if you can trust anyone on any issue it is likely to be the BBC. If you run through the so-called "Free Press" they are a gruesome bunch:

The Times: some great writers and a superbly produced product, especially online. But the puppet-master in Chief, the hideous Rupert Murdoch, ultimately calls the tune. In the end the Thunderer thunders to its master's voice.

The Sun: A grotesque propaganda rag which Murdoch uses to pander to the prejudices of a vulnerable, unsophisticated and easily swayed CDE2 population. This shameful "newspaper" has a long history of dysfunctionality and deceit and is a crude campaigning battering ram for Murdoch and the political Right.

The Telegraph: Once the house voice of the Conservative Party now under the Barclays this has become a tabloid as crude as The Sun albeit wrapped in a broadsheet veneer. When Peter Oborne left in disgust he wrote about the Telegraph's management and priorities - a shameful exposure of the adage that power corrupts.

The Guardian: Those of us on the soft Left revere The Guardian - a decent, liberal newspaper in a hard right world. It can be smug and it can be wrong. And its influence is minor overshadowed as it is by the weight of the very "unfree" "Free Press" around it.

The Mail: Newspaper of the year because it is cleverly managed and well presented (including online). But of course the reality is that it is as much a propaganda tool as The Sun which it strongly resembles in its ethos. Its target is upmarket of The Sun and it tells its lies to a readership which has no interest in checking them. The malignancy of Paul Dacre and the no doubt wealth-creating proposition of his creation is dangerous. The only valid response to the "I read it in the Mail" meme is contempt.

The Express: Beaverbrook must be turning in his grave at how his great achievement has turned into a Comic. And not a very funny one either. Like the Mail it is home to bigotry and prejudice but it is even cruder than its competitor. If the political ethos of the Mail is Conservative hard right the Express is UKIP for which it is the house newspaper. If supporting a free press means we have to tolerate this disgusting parody of a newspaper I'm for Leveson - and more.

And so on...

Yes a Free Press is important. But the power of the media remains a blunt thing if it as roundly abused by the print media as it is. And a very dangerous one. How fortunate we are that the BBC which has a charter requiring impartiality is by far the most important medium we have. The Jewel in the Crown of our nation. Is it perfect? No. Can it be improved? Yes. Is it head and shoulders above the gruesome bunch of right-wing newspapers which are only as "free" as their all-powerful owners want them to be? You bet !!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Weve already long since taken a decision - we are European as well as British.

The arguments on both sides of the EU Referendum debate are strident and will no doubt be increasingly so as June 23rd approaches. Part of the reason for this is that actually it is a very complex matter so there is no doubt a perceived need for the protagonists to indulge in reductio ad absurdum. Soundbites and ever more extreme claims to try and grab the attention of a (so far) largely indifferent electorate.

During the Scottish Independence Referendum I thought that in the ballot box the Scots would vote more with emotion than anything else. Did they believe that they would be happier personally living in an independent Scotland or did they want to stay British as well as Scots? In fact it seems that many were swayed to vote “No” not by emotion but by reason. Issues like the Currency and the fate of North Sea Oil were at least as important as the emotional case – for many anyway. This may also be true for the EU Referendum

I'll leave it to others to make the rational case for staying in the European Union. It is strong and it needs to be made forcefully and clearly. The “Remain” campaigners haven't done this yet and they need to get their act together quickly. The “Leave” campaign has the easier task as I wrote here. The rational case for Brexit is dodgy at the very least and I suspect they know it. So they go for the emotions and the soundbites. And above all they focus shamelessly on immigration and the “migrant threat”. We saw this only minutes after the terrorist attack in Brussels – Brexiters (or some of them) were quick to use this terrible event as a reason to support “Leave” – and once they had made this claim trying to deny it became a tit-for-tat which is just what “Leave” wanted! 

The reality of the modern world is that we are all far more mobile than our parents generation (and before) could ever be. Look at this extraordinary map of Brits living outside the UK in mainland Europe:
Add the fact that we are a great nation of travellers – most European resorts have Brits as their main visitor nationality – and you see that we have already effectively become Europeans as well as British. In the same way that a majority of Scots is happy to be British as well as Scottish.

If we are integrated members of Europe by choice as well as by Treaty this leads to what I think may be a clinching argument for “Remain” – if they can find a way to present it. The argument starts with a question. “Given our geography and given our predisposition as individuals to be an active part of Europe would you agree that Europe is important to the United Kingdom?” . That's a slightly leading question I admit but not a dishonest one. If the answer is overwhelmingly “Yes” then the clincher follow up question can be posed. “Given that Europe is important to the UK do you think that we could better influence what happens in Europe from the inside or from the outside?” And there you have it. Europe is going to carry on being together as  the EU whether the UK is in it or not. They are going to carry on as 27 united nations even if we pick up our ball and run away. They are going to carry on taking decisions that will impact upon British citizens - and not just the nearly two million Brits who live there! As a member of the EU we can take part in discussions and decisions about all the changes. As a non-member that would be far more problematic.

As a member of the EU we are a major player in the process of moulding the European future and in influencing the detail. With members in the European Parliament we take take part in debates. With officials in the Commission we participate in steering the management of the Union. Despite our semi-detached attitude at times we have generally  been good Europeans most of the time. And proudly so. The Anglo-Saxon Europeanism may be less romantic than that of the French and less hard-nosed than that of the Germans but it is no less valid. Europe needs it. And we need Europe. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ros Altmann does human–and the Westminster village is shocked !



In an article on the Conservative Home website Right Wing Conservative Eurosceptic Mark Wallace calls for the sacking of Minister of State for Pensions Baroness Altmann (above) because of Lady Altmann’s candid description of her experience working with Iain Duncan Smith. This article illustrates the enormous gap between the Westminster Village and the real world. I suspect that if you asked most people what they would like to see in respect of the qualities of anyone in an important job that influences their lives competence and honesty would feature very high.

Ms Altmann is almost unique in being an expert in the job in Government she holds. A life in and around Pensions has given her unique knowledge and practical experience. But her Secretary of State had clearly treated her with contempt and when it comes to the Treasury she has had as much freedom as her predecessor Steve Webb who had not even heard about the new "Pensions Freedoms" policy until an hour or so before it was announced by George Osborne (that man again) in the 2014 Budget!

Ms Altmann's appointment was imaginative and courageous. But why choose somebody of her qualities and then marginalise her? When I interviewed her for an extended profile I wrote in "Pensions Age" magazine last December she was utterly loyal to her Department chief and her Government in what she said to me. She has been the model Minister despite the frustrations which now emerge.

So we have a supremely well qualified person in a key job which she does very well despite the constraints on her and she is also someone who has never let her frustrations boil over - at least in public. Then her dysfunctional Secretary of State throws a contrived hissy fit and storms out of Government. It seems totally natural to me, and highly admirable, that Ros feels released to tell it how it was. That's the "honesty" bit – she does “human”. It's not unique - think Geoffrey Howe or James Purnell among many others - but it's highly admirable by the standards of normal people - if not by the club rules of the Westminster insiders.

Ros Altmann is not a Westminster insider. Part of the cosy club of Tories inside and outside Government who fight their self-indulgent games. She was appointed to do a job, has the knowledge, experience and intellect to do it well. And then finds herself in the uncongenial world of Iain Duncan Smith.

The only reason to call for Ros Altmann's dismissal would be that she has stood up to the Right Wing, opinionated, self-promoting world inhabited by Iain Duncan Smith and his noxious gang. And that's no reason at all.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

After IDS is is best to hold on to Nurse for fear of something worse?


"Why are you interested in politics?” friends often ask me with a follow up that it is a grubby business full, of power mad degenerates who in the main you wouldn’t let into your home. My answer is that I’m actually not interested at all in the minutiae of political manoeuvring and not THAT interested in Party Politics either. I am interested in issues and in laws and governance. I like Parliament and am impressed by some of the debates and nearly always by what goes on in Committees. And I also believe that most politicians are decent people and want to be good public servants.

Issues are what matters. That is why I am sometimes intemperate when they are subsumed into political and party political advantage games. The idea that the British population was clamouring for a referendum on our membership of the European Union is preposterous. We are only having it to help heal Conservative Party wounds (it won’t of course). So now our Governing Party is split at every level. On the ground, in Parliament and even in the Cabinet. It is unworthy and dangerous. The negotiations were a charade and to sell the outcome as “Good For Britain” disingenuous in the extreme. And of course it is Europe which really lies behind the IDS shambles.

Margaret Thatcher fell over Europe. John Major’s premiership was bedevilled by the subject. Cameron has tried to finesse it but IDS, Boris, Gove and co aren’t having any of it. Commentators who are pro Brexit are almost exclusively from the Tory Right. The website “Conservative Home” (to which I contribute from time to time) is a forum for Anti EU rants. As is The Spectator, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and the rest of the increasingly Right Wing and profoundly Eurosceptic press. Support for the Government’s position comes only from The Guardian and the Daily Mirror – and a few of The Times’s correspondents (if not its proprietor!). How odd is that?

Minister of State in the DWP Ros Altmann says about IDS:

“He seems to want to do maximum damage to the party leadership in order to further his campaign to try to get Britain to leave the EU”

I have no doubt that is true. So ignore the noise - this is all part of the Tory EU battle which is, of course, also a battle about the future leadership of the Party. Boris Johnson wants to be Leader (nothing wrong with ambition) and will finesse his positions on anything to try and achieve this (Ugh). Europe is the key to everything at the moment – as a nation we have had inflicted on us an unnecessary Palladium Pantomime with Boris as Widow Twanky, Gove as Principal Boy and now IDS as the Wicked Fairy. Meanwhile the rival show at the Victoria Palace has an equally improbable cast with Jeremy Corbyn as Jack, Ken Livingstone as Dick Whittington and John McDonnell as the Big Bad Wolf. Whether we hiss at Boris and Co. or at Jeremy’s cast of acolytes is tribal I guess. A plague on both their houses might be the more mature decision. Which brings us to Dave

Cameron is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has a job to do which leaves little time for extracurricular games. So does his Chancellor. Are they as Iain Dale has said today seeing power “ebb away from them”? Well maybe they are in which case I say be very careful what you wish for! Perhaps, for now, better to hold on to Nurse for fear of something worse!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Treasury versus the rest – and the EU Referendum. The players in the IDS departure

To those of us who are not Westminster insiders the idea that a senior Secretary of State like Duncan Smith has little policy freedom where expenditure is concerned and must at all times kowtow to the Treasury is bizarre. In the Business world (of which I am more familiar) a senior executive running a Division which spends (most of them) would submit a Budget and seek approval from the Board (I once did this in Shell for a $1.5billion project). The Board discusses and approves, modifies or rejects the proposal. Once accepted the Executive then gets on with implementation. But in Government, or this one anyway, there seems to be no such process. The Chancellor (and colleagues around the Cabinet table) do not approve a budget such as that for Work and Pensions and then allow the Secretary of State to implement. The Chancellor actually decides the policy and announces it! (The same for Education recently).

In the past couple of years I interviewed for magazine articles both Steve Webb (Smith’s Pensions Minister) and Ros Altmann his successor. Both told me (my words not precisely theirs) how their hands were tied by the Treasury. (Incidentally neither even mentioned Duncan Smith, their Boss, and I got the impression that (unlike the Treasury) he was not involved much in the detail of Pensions policy. Or at least in its implementation)

Two things are in play here. First the idea of collective Cabinet responsibility. The Cabinet does not seem like the Board of Shell or any other big Corporation which has a real (and legal) collective responsivity for steering the business. Policy seems to be dominated first by the Treasury and second by a very few key players. Oddly the Prime Minister (unlike either of his two most recent predecessors) seems quite remote from decision-making. (He may not be, it’s just how it seems to this onlooker. He’s quite Presidential and seems above the fray and the nitty-gritty. It is obvious that he never served time as a Minister or Shadow Minister).

The second thing in play is personal ambition tied for the moment to the EU referendum – rather more, I think, than the “indirect link” suggested by Paul Goodman. IDS allied himself emphatically and noisily with Gove and Johnson on Europe and took on the Prime Minister in a full-frontal way. These three and Dominic Raab, Chris Grayling and Priti Patel have gambled their political futures on this one issue. But then so have Cameron and Osborne. This is not a surrogate fight it’s hard and bitter and bloody. Cameron was reported to be “furious” with Boris Johnson – is he likely to have been any less so with the others? The referendum is of the Conservatives making and it isn’t going well! A divided Party, a divided Cabinet and a population which (a few obsessives like me on both sides apart) seems indifferent to the whole thing. That on June 23rd we will be deciding not just Britain’s future but that of the current Government and Prime Minister and Chancellor is one of the most bizarre things to happen in my lifetime. What a can of worms David Cameron opened when he so foolishly agreed to a referendum for one reason only - to try and heal the open wounds in his Party.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Syrians fleeing their devastated country are not "migrants". The Westhas a moral obligation to help and we need a "Marshall Plan"to rebuildSyria.

A humanitarian crisis has been under way and only one thing matters. How can we all help these people? They are not "migrants". A migrant is someone who voluntarily chooses, for whatever reason, to move to live and work in another country with the intention that this should be a permanent. Those fleeing Syria had no choice but to leave. Their towns, their homes and the basis of their lives had been utterly destroyed. But they are not "migrants" in the conventional sense at all. Just people and families who want to live. To survive.

Syria can and will be rebuilt. We need to help this process - a modern day "Marshall Plan" if you like. Those Syrians who have fled their country will mostly return. In the meantime the rich West has a moral obligation to help. That's what the Germans and the EU as a whole is doing. This issue is not about "immigration" - it is about helping refugees. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Labour's problem is not their policies - it's their nightmare team

"The shift to the left has electrified the Labour base, but many party MPs fear it will alienate the wider public..."

An article by Tony Helm in "The Observer" today makes this claim and it is one that will get plenty of heads nodding - it's all about policy innit? The Reds have taken over. Labour is unelectable. I think that there is a scintilla of truth in the claim, but only that. Modern day politics is more, much more, about personality and perceptions than it is about policy.

In the country at large there is far more support for quite left wing policy positions than the conventional wisdoms suggest. 68% of the public want energy companies in the public sector and and only slightly less the railways.  Half the public does not want Trident. And so on. And yet Ed Miliband, who adopted none of these policies in the 2015 election nor any others that were overtly socialist, was rejected by the voters. It wasn't because he wasn't "Red" enough (except, perhaps, in Scotland though even that was complicated by the independence issue).  It was because he wasn't sufficiently credible as a Prime Minister.

There is nothing new about political leaders as brands uncomfortable though this idea may be for policy wonks and purists. Back in 1960 John Kennedy was all about style and personality and very little indeed about policy. In 1997 Tony Blair was arguably even more so. Gordon Brown's policies as Prime Minister were identical to what Blair's would have been - yet Blair would quite likely have won the 2010 election which Brown lost. Politicians love to argue that it is policy that matters because this gives them status and separates them from the vulgarity of commerciality. Tell them that they are brands which have to be sold and they will sniffily bridle. But that is the reality. 

In 2015 David Cameron's brand was strong enough to win votes on the margins, where it mattered. He is not (sticking with brand speak) a "Superbrand", but he didn't need to be. To escape the polar bear attack you don't need to be a fast runner - just faster than the person you're with! Cameron was a lot faster than Miliband and (crucially) Nick Clegg. Which brings us back to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

These two opinion polls published on the same day and based on similiar (maybe identical) samples tell the story. Only 31% of the population think that George Osborne has done a good job as Chancellor but 45% want him to carry on and only 29% want him replaced by the Labour alternative! 

Jeremy Corbyn and the (I suspect) little known John McDonnell detract from Labour's appeal rather than add to it. And it's not their policies that are the problem, it's them. Add in the toxic Ken Livingstone and the opinionated and ultra-sensitive Diane Abbott into the mix and you have a nightmare team!  

A charismatic and credible leader and Shadow Chancellor could adopt identical policies to those of Corbyn and McDonnell (give or take a nuance or two) and wipe the floor with Cameron and Osborne at the moment. And should - as the polls suggests. This is a tottering, divided Government replete with deeply unpopular members (Osborne, Hunt, Gove, Duncan Smith, Javid...) and led by a Prime Minister who has never established himself as a popular brand except for a very few. He should be there for the taking. (I am not underestimating him - like Napoleon's preferred Generals he is lucky - a precious asset!). 

I have not at any point in the last six months joined the baying Blairites (I use the term as it is conventionally used as a term of abuse by the Corbynistas not because I like it or think it to be accurate). I wanted to get to know Jeremy Corbyn and felt that he deserved a chance. I actually think he has done quite well, that his policies are broadly OK and that he is a much more decent person than the media and his political critics would allow. But as a brand he is a disaster. He lacks credibility and has no hope of establishing it. No chance at all. He has a place in British politics and should be listened to. But his place is not in 10 Downing Street. The idea is preposterous.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Are the Left v Right battles a phoney war - one being fought by people on the fringes ?

I'm not sure what "Left Wing" means any more. Common ownership of the means of production has gone. Largely because the goods and services the private sector produces are not labour intensive any more. What's the point of nationalising them? Where we do have high labour intensity is in the public sector - the NHS and Education for example. Despite what some on the Left say neither of these sectors have been or are being significantly privatised. The threat is largely a fiction. 

Defence is not a Left/Right issue. Trident is opposed by Michael Portillo as well as Jeremy Corbyn. Actually Defence is really a Foreign relations issue. It is blindingly obvious that the UK only needs a small independent capability. Our real Defence is via alliances. 

So what else? Should some things be better managed in the public interest than they are? Energy. Yes. The Railways. Yes. Does that mean nationalise them? Not necessarily. The Tube and the John Lewis Partnership might be models here (different ones of course). No need for ideology.

This Conservative Government is shifting the Left/Right balance in society slightly. But the mixed economy - the national Public/Private partnership - is much as it has been for 20 years. Social Democrats and Red Tories have much in common - a fierce determination not to have government by the extremes. That common ground is shaken sometimes. But it stands firm in the end. Usually! 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

England as an entity has no exclusivity of role in Europe separate from that of Britain

It really doesn't get much more bonkers than this ! To suggest that England, a country without a Parliament and few institutions other than the sporting, is somehow separate from Britain is nonsense! Yes of course England has a long history - but its status was long ago subsumed into that of Great Britain. The only way you can define "Englishness" as opposed to "Britishness" is by exclusion. They are the same thing - without the Celtic bits. Ask Englsh people to define what being British means to them and ask a matched sample what being English means and you'll get identical answers. 

England's interests in Europe are identical to Britain's. There is no specific English requirement at all - again except by exclusion of the Celts. Scotland and Wales do have specific needs in addition to the Britsh ones they share with the rest of the UK. England as an entity does not. The English regions and cities certainly do but not as a collective "England". London has nothing in common with the North East, but both have distinctive needs. 

Argue that all parts of the U.K. have special needs peculiar to their Region/area (as well as general British ones) and you would have a good start point for a debate. Argue that England as a collective has needs separate from British ones and you'll be talking poppycock.

Monday, February 29, 2016

We are stuck with this stupid EU Referendum which at the moment we need like a hole in the head

The use of a referendum in the UK is a recent phenomenum and a regrettable one. It is profoundly undemocratic. Our Parliamentary democracy for a couple of centuries or more was based on the premise that we chose Members of Parliament to govern us. Immensely complex issues are debated and Parliament decides. True there are Whips and it is true also that elected Governments usually get their way. That's how it should be - but there are checks and balances. There are also Civil Servants to analyse these complex issues and advise Governments (and Oppositions) as they make their decisions.

A referendum is a blunt weapon which forces a (usually) binary choice on the electorate. Complex issues are reduced , absurdly, to YES/NO choices. Parliament is bypassed. Government is superceded by the serendipitous choice of a largely ignorant populace on any one day. Was the Scottish Independence referendum really about independence ? Only partly. Mostly It was a protest vote against a Conservative Government. Will the EU referendum be about the myriad (and complex) aspects of the UK's membership of the European Union? Of course not. If anything it will be about immigration and many people will see it as a chance to protest about multiculturalism. Listen to Nigel Farage if you doubt that !

Governments and Parliaments abrogate their responsibilities when they resort to referenda. Usually, certainly in this case, it's because a Party Leader cannot control their own rebellious Party. And do they work? For a while maybe. But issues are never really put to bed. If there is a "Remain" vote will the likes of Dan Hannan and Nigel Farage shrug their shoulders and say "The People have spoken"? Of course not. And if we vote "Leave" ? My guess is that the disaster that would entail will prompt much soul-searching and some sort of fudge that will broadly maintain the status quo albeit with a thin veneer of difference for Britain ("Associate" member status ?) that could be sold as UK having "left" the Union. Though actually we wouldn't have! What a farce.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

CND, Trident and the need for a European context.

I am, in principle, against Nuclear Weapons. What person in their right mind would not be? Their only use in anger to defeat Japan in WW2 remains highly controversial. Did they actually need to drop an Atomic Bomb on two cities to show to the Japanese what a threat to them they were? I doubt that.

During the Cold War there was a Nuclear threat from and to the Soviet Union. The Cuba Missiles Crisis was a close run thing. I do accept that at that time the deterrent effect of having these weapons of mass destruction was real. That is not a case for the things per se. It is a case for having them if a State that is a declared enemy and threat - the USSR was - has them. But Ronald Reagan wanted a world free of Nuclear weapons and he was right. In the modern world I see no threat to the West that is a State nuclear threat.

There is a danger of terrorists getting their hands on a "dirty" nuclear bomb and finding a way to deliver it to a Western target. But the response to such a horrific event is highly unlikely to be nuclear. You don't fight terrorists with nuclear weapons ! And the fewer of the things that there are around the less chance there is they could get into terrorists' hands.

So I would like to see nuclear disarmament. I support the CND and always have. Until there is an international agreement (especially with Russia and China) to disarm I reluctantly accept that as a bargaining tool the West has to hold on to its stockpile. But there is no need to add to it and absolutely no need for the UK to expand it with Trident. I use the term "The West" advisedly. There seems to be no case for Britain to have an "independent" nuclear capability if others in our alliances (principally NATO) do have it. This, for example, is the position of Germany which has the status of a "Nuclear weapon sharing" State.

I am not arguing that the UK should get nuclear protection (such as it is and as doubtfully necessary as it is) "on the cheap". We should pay our way in NATO and if our current status as an independent nuclear power has an accumulated competence then we should share this as well. But there should be no "Big Boys Club" of nuclear powers membership 0f which we are entitled to as a result of our once status as an "Imperial Great Power". Those days are long gone. We are a big player in Europe on military matters as well economic and cultural. The extent of our military, and the nature of its weapons, should only be seen in this pan-European context.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The past is the same country. They did things the same there…!

“… the referendum would be about whether to accept the fact of membership on the basis of “renegotiated terms”. The Foreign Office, strongly pro-Europe, had approached the re-negotiations with trepidation, unclear whether or not the Government meant what it said about remaining in Europe only if satisfactory terms could be secured. There was no need to worry. “It soon became clear to me that the objective was to create conditions in which we could stay in” says one former official who was closely involved. “[The Prime Minister] was obviously quite determined from the word go to stay in, but he needed to a price to pay to satisfy the mood in [his Party] . The final deal exacted that price. It was not meaningless, but it was fairly cosmetic.”

From Ben Pimlott “Harold Wilson” about the 1975 Europe referendum ! Plus ca change.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Answering Michael Gove on Europe - a quick few words

If you haven't read Michael Gove's statement on why he is backing Brexit you can do so here:

Gove's  statement

And here is my brief response: 

Gove was trained as a Journalist and writes well. And as the most senior dissenter in the Cabinet he is right to tell us why he has take the action he has. But he, like so many Eurosceptics, look back not forward. Back to some distant "Golden Age" where Britain Ruled the Waves. I was born just after the end of WW2. That "Golden Age" has not existed in my lifetime and I think you probably need to go back to before WW1 to find it. As Churchill so rightly predicted and argued in the year of my birth if the follies of conflict were not to be repeated yet again we needed cooperation between nations not isolation. It took a while but now it is here it isn't going to go away. Thankfully. Yes Britain could slam our doors and hide. Yes we are large enough to survive on our own. But it would be folly to do so. "Folie de grandeur" that most stupid kind of hubris. 

The modern world is interdependent and even a Nation as substantial as Britain cannot ignore this. The new "Golden Age" for the UK could be as one of the leaders of a united Europe. What a rich prize that would be! What a proud new tradition we could create if we let that happen. Far, far better that than to pull up the drawbridge. The chance to move forward together with Britain at the centre of European progress that may never come again in our lifetimes. Better together. By far.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tories playing personal ambition games with Britain's position in Europe

Boris Johnson, finessing his position on Europe to suit his personal advantage, is not alone. But why single Boris out for criticism? Virtually everyone in the Payroll vote is playing a game where personal advantage is the driver. There are one or two Ministers (etc.) who are enthusiastically pro UK in EU and rather more who are anti. And perhaps a few of the latter will do what their conscience (rather than their ambition) tells them. But why, if you're a young Minister in your first ministerial job, would you do what the Leader doesn't want you to do? For you and me it's fun to be a rebel. But however rebellious I was as an employee at (say) 40 I didn't want to screw up my career by being too much of a non-conformist! 

Although I think Tories (or once Tories) like Dan Hannan and Tim Montgomerie and Douglas Carswell and their like are very wrong on the EU question I do not question their sincerity and I admire their decisions to put their beliefs before personal advantage. Jeremy Corbyn I'm pretty sure did not do this. Like Michael Foot and Tony Benn before him he's a natural "outer". Only when he became leader did he become an EU enthusiast. I'm glad he did this and I'm pleased that his Party (a few oddballs excepted) is solidly pro "Remain". But like those pragmatically getting in line behind whatever nonsense Cameron "achieves" in his phoney negotiations Corbyn is part of the secret conspiracy to keep us in Europe. Boris may be as well. I hope it works, but I don't like it much!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Emma was right – we are a bit “grey”–but in Europe there is hope for us !

Britain “a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island”.



Emma Thompson has caused a bit of furore with her remark - the dim and the humourless have been up in arms as has “The Sun”. So all good so far!

Ms Thompson was arguing that Britain should stay in the EU and that she will be voting in favour of this outcome. What her critics failed to spot was that by drawing attention to the picture of our “grey old island” ( a picture that we all share from time to time !)  she was being affectionate not critical. We are a small island. We do have clouds. It does rain a lot. We do have a cake fetish. We can be miserable sods at times. We can be very grey indeed. Above all we are “sort-of Europe”.

Travel in any of the other 27 members of the European Union and you will see the EU flag flying all over the place, usually alongside the national flag. There is nothing remarkable about that – at least to the nationals of those countries. They know that you can be French or Portuguese (etc.)  as well as being European. Such a statement of the obvious will never be made because it doesn't need to be. It is self evident. But here say that we British are also European or suggest that the European flag flies alongsdie the Union Flag on your Town Hall and you risk abuse!  This is the “sort-of Europe” that I think Ms Thompson was referring to.

As long ago as 1980 I drove from The Netherlands (where I lived at the time) to Spain, a trip involving four European countries, without showing my passport and mostly without even slowing down except for a few seconds at the border. And since then this freedom has further developed to the extent that 19 of the 28 EU countries use a common currency. I still get a sense of huge satisfaction from spending Euros I got out of a cash machine in Paris a few hours later in Barcelona or Munich or Milan. Meanwhile at London’s airports travellers are being ripped off as they convert their Pounds into Euros! Our “sort-of” Eureopeaness couldn't permit the idea of surrendering the good old Pound could it? Silly old French and Germans and Dutch and Belgians and Italians and Spaniards and the rest in not seeing that they needed to hold on to their ancient banknotes…Foreigners, what do they know? Ha!

And yet… English is the lingua franca across Europe and (mostly) our European partners rather like us. And don't we travel to see them? I doubt that you could wander for more than five minutes in any European capital without encountering a few Brits. We have been increasingly at home across Europe for decades – and not just in the Benidorms where everything is geared up for us! The irony is that some British people who are anti the EU in their attitudes are often those who most enjoy travelling in or doing business in our fellow EU countries.

I hope that if we do vote to remain in the EU in the upcoming referendum that this will lead to a confidence in us all not only that we are Europeans but that we can be proudly so. Again I think that that is also what Emma Thompson meant when she said”

“I do like the European Union, I think it's important that we are all united and I think we need to be better united.”


In short its not whether we are British or European (a binary choice) but a realisation that we are both – and much, much the better for it. We may be grey, but we can be gay (in the old-fashioned sense of the word !)  as well. Emma was right–we are a bit “grey” – but in Europe there is hope for us !

Tim Montgomerie is moving away from the political mainstream by leaving the Conservative Party

The political commentator Tim Montgomerie has left the Conservative Party and explained why in The Times here. (£)

I know Tim Montgomerie slightly having met him a couple of times and talked and occasionally corresponded with him. I like him despite what is on the face of it a fairly wide gulf between us. I am a good generation older and a Leftie, albeit one without a Party affiliation and with non-traditional views on some things. Like him I would find it hard to be a member of the Party which is closest to my views – Labour in my case the Conservatives in his. I admired Tim’s role in the launch of the “Good Right” with which I have some sympathy in respect of goals if not entirely in respect of the path to reach them! And, if we take out the wrong and gratuitous reference to immigration, I can sympathise completely with Tim’s statement about the present Government

“…the overall direction of housing, tax, pensions…and family policy has been to intensify inequality between the propertied and the unpropertied, between the old and young, and between those without children and those with.”

Tim told me a while ago of his distaste for David Cameron but as I felt it was a remark made confidentially I did not refer to it in my own Blogs or elsewhere in social media. Tim used to refer to himself as a NeoCon though I think that he does not do this now. But his personal allegiance would still seem to be to political point on the heavy Right albeit without any of the bigotry and prejudice that many in that position have. He is not a Farage supporter though I guess Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell as well as Robert Halfon would be bedfellows on many things.

My departure with Tim then is not personal and not because I am a Party hack pushing a Party line (any more than he is). It is because I believe him to be wrong and dangerously wrong on too many things. As it happens these are also the things that he says divide him from David Cameron which suggests that Tim is moving even further to a positon which is very distant from the political mainstream. He is not a politician but a thoughtful commentator – more Seamus Milne than Jeremy Corbyn. He won’t like that analogy but I'm sure that it is valid!

Tim was nine years old when Margaret Thatcher came to power and a teenager for all of her time in office. He clearly had no idea what was going on from personal experience. I was working in Glasgow during the miners’ strike and was close to the action. To believe that the vicious confrontation which she sought and drove onwards was justified you have to be either deluded or ignorant. Or in primary school as Tim was and receiving information through wide gauze filter! Thatcher, the only Prime Minister in modern times to be thrown out of office by her own colleagues, is a strange hero to have. Tim clearly thinks that Thatcher’s goals (The “ends” she wanted) justified the means. If he had been like me in his early thirties when she came into office rather than in short trousers and in a proper job at the coalface (metaphorically!) rather than working on his three Rs he might think differently.

Tim is wrong about the European Union and to suggest that “…nothing registers more strongly on the social injustice front than recommending staying in the EU” is borderline Faragist in its ignorance and bias. The EU, as well as being the primary reason for peace in Europe in our times, is also a force for social progress and for the cross-border sharing of responsibility. It is already clear that in Greece, the most troublesome problem the Union has faced, the social-democratic solution instigated by the country’s leaders in collaboration with their EU partners is working. The Eurosceptics were wrong on Greece as they have been on everything. The doom-laden scenarios peddled by the likes of Tim a year or so ago just haven’t come to pass.

Tim’s own arguments are contradictory. He says that “Austerity” in Greece is causing hardship but he wants the UK’s deficit to be addressed. And the only way to do this would of course be with Austerity. Not good for the Greeks but OK for us. Very odd!

Maybe Tim is not a natural Party man and there is no shame in that. I admire his social conscience and am certain that it is genuine. But his politics are so far from the “Art of the Possible” that they are almost Corbynesque! David Cameron governs from the Centre not because he believes it is right but because he believes it is electorally effective to do so. The General Election proved that he was right. There has only been one extremist Prime Minister in my lifetime and she is the one that Tim reveres. All the rest from Macmillan to Wilson and Heath and Major via Blair to Cameron have been from the Centre – and they have been internationalist as well. I very much doubt that the policies being articulated by Jeremy Corbyn are electable and I am certain that those being pushed here by Tim as his reason for leaving the Conservatives, along with the narrow nationalism, wouldn't  be electable either.

There is nothing disrespectable about governing from the centre. It’s not going to go away Tim. It really isn’t.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A vote to leave the EU would reduce our democratic freedoms not enhance them.


The European Union is not as democratic as it might be but it is still more democratic than the national parliaments of some of its members – including that of Britain. We choose who will represent us in Strasbourg and Brussels (the MEPs) via a fair voting system under which every vote counts. In Britain we have an unfair voting system and even a whole Upper House that is not elected at all!

The MEPs the 28 member nations choose are there to legislate. At any one time they can agree on policy to be implemented. So of course, as with our national Parliament, laws passed can be unpassed and decisions made can be modified or changed. That’s how democracy works. The Treaty/Constitution of the EU can be altered if the MEPs on behalf of their constituents agree collectively that it is right to do so.

One of the most important of the checks and balances is the application of the principle of “Subsidiarity” which says that decisions will be taken at the lowest level practicable. This is often national Parliaments but it could be at a lower level in the hierarchy. In Britain again we fall short of the democratic example set by the EU in that, apart from the Celts, we have no significant legislatures below Westminster. We fail the democratic test again.

We now have a bizarre situation where the British Government, the leadership of all our respectable political parties, virtually every one of our national institutions, the majority of our Members of Parliament, virtually every major Business (and more) acknowledge the necessity not just of remaining in the EU but in improving the effectiveness of our participation. And yet because of the Prime Minister’s need to try and hold his fractious party together (he’s failed) we have a preposterous referendum which could put our future at risk. And the war cry of the “outers” is all about improving our democracy by leaving when, as I have shown, the reverse would happen.

The quality of the debate so far has been dire. The attempts to reduce an immensely complex matter to soundbites has led to a simplistic shambles of a polarised shouting match - Jingoism and Nationalism battles scare tactics. Referenda do this and I agree with those who say that the referendum will come down to an instinctive choice (gut feel) in the polling booth. This is not an argument for a referendum, it is an argument against. We trust our Parliamentary democracy (flawed though it is) to take decisions for us - but not in this case. No matter it’s going to happens so let’s make sure the side of reason and real democracy wins it not the side of chauvinism and bigotry.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Marco Rubio's rejection of the world outside the United States is athrowback to "America First"

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio made a fool of himself in the latest Republican Party debate but in repeating his soundbite (as above) he revealed what is a key part of his pitch - America is not like the rest of the world. This bizarre and nationalistic claim was not a random accidental cry. It was pre-scripted and rehearsed as his opponents were quick to claim. It is also, in the minds of many Americans, not just true but a good thing.

American politicians like Rubio (he's far from alone) reflect the dominant American belief that America is Beautiful and the rest of the world dangerous. Probably full of Muslims and other dangerous and heathen non-Christian folk. A minority of Americans travels beyond their shores and an even smaller minority knows much about the world outside the home of the American Dream. Which means that in key areas where the rest of the Western world has moved on (Gun laws or Capital Punishment for example) America is stuck in the past. But reference the rest of the Western world and the response is likely to be, as Mr Rubio puts it, "We don't want to be like the rest of the world".

The most significant change in the post WW2 world has been the internationalisation of the planet. Fuelled by the transport and communications revolutions we are, if we choose to, able to travel almost anywhere we want. And when we travel we learn - often subliminally - about other cultures and other ways of doing things. Some of us are luckier than others in this respect of course. I once had a job in Shell which in the course of a year or two took me to around 50 different countries. Whilst doing this I read a book "Riding the Waves of Culture" which has become, rightly, essential reading for anyone engaged in an international enterprise. The core message is that countries and cultures are different and that if you want to be successful you better try and understand that! An obvious message you might think - but add to it the opportunity to learn as you travel and you will not only be more sensitive but better at what you do.

The problem with Mr Rubio and all the others who peddle "America is the greatest country on Earth" meme is that if you think that you will never either understand or learn. The "American Way" becomes the only way. The great hotelier Conrad Hilton created his international chain based on the principle that each hotel, from Paris to Peru, would be an American oasis in a strange and hostile land. Cruise ships today do the same. Whatever your port of call you return at night to the cultural comfort of your ship! Better than not traveling at all you might think, and I agree. And if as a result of a day in Naples or Nagasaki you see things which challenge your established assumptions then all to the good.

I love the United States of America and can quite understand that its extraordinary physical diversity offers such variety that many Americans will not feel the need to leave its shores. Many of the world's greatest cities and National Parks (etc.) are in the US and they are unmissable travel destinations. But the overriding culture and attitudes are American everywhere. Watch a News programme on the television and if there is any news from abroad it will come long after the traffic reports or the sports update. Only a third of Americans have a passport which means that the perception of other countries of the majority of non-travellers is conditioned substantially by the media. How else could Donald Trump’s mad call to ban Muslims from entering the United States be supported by at least half of American adults?

America could have a world role which extends beyond their economic and military clout – which is, of course, considerable. But their at best ambivalent attitude to the United Nations shows that at the heart of the American psyche is an indifference to the rest of the world, unless they perceive it to be a threat. Over the past twenty years the United States is more known for its bellicosity that for its role as a peacemaker. There was historically always for some an “America First” mentality which eschewed the case for the world’s most prosperous nation to play a world role. Mario Rubio’s comments are consistent with this. If you are so certain that what the United States does is right that you don’t want in any way to be “like” the rest of the world then you are unlikely to be open to new ideas – if they are foreign.   


This graphic helps illustrate my point about the lack of an international perspective of US citizens:

Monday, February 08, 2016

The EU referendum–the Devil has the better Communications tunes

If I was running a Communications agency pitching for a brief in the EU Referendum Campaign – and was indifferent to the issue – I would far prefer to get the brief from the “Leave” campaign than from the “Remain”.

All mass communications relies on the creation of clear, simple messages which can be rapidly absorbed and which relate to needs of the target group. A political campaign is archetypical “mass communications” – especially when the suffrage is universal as it is with the referendum. And the “needs” need not be physical needs but can be, and in this case are, purely emotional in character. Placing an X on a ballot paper is a powerful act and whilst self-interest plays a part it is primarily an act of commitment, support, rebellion, protest, backing for a particular candidate or choice.

In the referendum the choice is binary (spoilt ballot papers or abstentions apart). And emotions will rule for many. There are complexities in the In/Out choice which even those with the time to do so will be reluctant to explore. For the vast majority of the electorate there can be no expectation that the minutiae of the Common Agricultural Policy or the extent of the implementation of the principle of Subsidiarity will be explored. The hand hovering over the ballot paper will be driven to Remain or Leave by strong, but far from necessarily well-informed opinions, prejudices and emotions.

For the “Leave” campaign it is possible to break down what they believe to be the benefits of the UK leaving the UK into a few simple messages. Messages which are indeed clear, simple and easily absorbable. As hard-core Europhobe Tim Montgomerie put it in The Times:

  • I want Britain to be a free nation again – as free as America, Japan, Australia and other great nations
  • We need unfettered control over our borders and it is up to us, nobody else, to choose who has the right to live in the United Kingdom.
  • The Great Britain of Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill has become not much more than a supplicant county council… the British people did not choose to subjugate themselves [in this way]
  • It’s Europe rather than Britain that is weak… an ageing, heavily regulated and welfare dependent Europe is the world’s only regional economy not to have enjoyed any kind of sustained recovery
  • The single currency has condemned millions of young Europeans to unemployment…

And so on! The communications positioning and potential slogans which emerge from this (and elsewhere) are something thing like:

  • We are a big successful Nation we should take our own decisions
  • We must control our own borders
  • Europe is failing, the UK is recovering
  • Our net contribution to the EU is the second highest of any nation – what do we get for these costs?


That four bullet point summary of the seminal messages of the “No” campaign is enough - triggering as it does powerful visual images like the one above . To register these messages in the minds of the voters is all they need to do. This can be done with all the usual communications tools and imagery.

The rational case for Britain in Europe is strong but the no campaign has the advantage in respect of imagery and emotional appeal. Never underestimate the power of patriotism and the inherent fear of the foreigner in the British psyche!


Saturday, February 06, 2016

So what actually is Englishness ?

I'm sitting wearing my England rugby shirt as I write this and later today I will be off to Murrayfield to cheer on the England rugby team against the Scots. No ambivalence about the importance of my Englishness there ! In sport to be English means two things. Support for England and also support for Britain (eg in the Olympics). But what about away from the sporting arena? Do I feel a distinctive "Englishness" which is distinct from my "Britishness". If I was Scottish or Welsh (Northern Ireland is more complicated!) there would be no problem. Scots are Scottish first and foremost and then British (or 55% of them anyway!). For the English it's different.

How is "Englishness" distinct from "Britishness" ? Only by exception, I would argue. Obviously "Englishness" excludes the Celts. But that's about it. Take a sample of English people and ask them to define what being "English" means. And take a matched sample of English people and ask them to define what being "British" means. The results would be identical except that the latter group might emphasise that being British means having the Celts as our compatriots. But as far as values are concerned I doubt that you would find any difference. Does the "British" bit of me have different values from the "English" bit ? Of course not.

Obviously English history prior to the Union was not British history. It couldn't be, Britain as a Nation did not exist. Similarly Shakespeare was not British, except in retrospect. He is as English as Robbie Burns is Scots. Actually Burns is an interesting case. He died in 1796 a few years before the Act of Union. He is no more British than Shakespeare was. And roll forward to, say, Edward Elgar. Was he distinctly an English rather than a British composer? You could argue that either way I guess and it doesn't really matter. Like me he was both English and British.

Our cultural heritage for the last 215 years is British and the way we are as a United Kingdom has evolved over that time. It was the "British Empire", it is the "British Broadcasting Corporation" - we talk about "British values" and "British Food" and "British weather" and so on. It was the "British Spirit" which won us the war. We have "British institutions" , and, of course, a "British Parliament". The Pound is "British" , as is the weather!

If the Scots break away from us formally Britain will start to disappear and gradually we English will revert to being the country of "Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Harry Potter and David Beckham's right foot" as Hugh Grant's Prime Minister put it in "Love Actually" - though we'd have to drop Sean Connery. Mind you he's dropped us hasn't he ?