Monday, February 29, 2016

A challenge to Brexit supporters from a floating voter

It's an unusual position for me to be a floating voter in any referendum or vote, but I still have not quite decided how to vote on June 23rd.

I would like to know exactly what the comparison is in terms of what the people supporting "Leave" propose Britain should do and what the people supporting "Remain" propose Britain should do before I make up my mind.

In the meantime I would like to issue a challenge to all the Brexit supporters who have been flooding my Twitter Feed, Facebook Timeline, and Inboxes with comments accusing "Remain" of following a "Project Fear" strategy,  pictures of various catastrophes with captions like "What George Osborne says will happen if you vote for Brexit" and please to avoid "scaremongering" from the Remain side.

This is the second referendum in Britain within two years, and the second time that the side of the argument who want all or part of the UK to leave the present arrangements has accused the side who don't want this of being "Project Fear" and scaremongering.

The following challenge does not apply to people who have only made this charge in the context that they have published an actual argument about why a specific claim which has actually been made by the "Remain" side was wrong.

So, for instance, it does not apply to people who have expressed the opinion, whether I agree with them or not, that the PM was wrong to suggest Brexit might result in the people who are presently residing in the "Jungle" near Calais having to be dealt with in Kent, if they based this objection on an actual argument such as the fact that the 2003 Le Touquet treaty under which the French police our border for us in France is a bilateral treaty which would not automatically lapse if we left the EU.

Now, I myself have previously published posts on this blog, particularly in the "Worst of both worlds" series, in which I produced specific arguments designed to prove that some people on both the "Leave" and "Remain" sides have suggested dire consequences of their opponents win which do not appear to be supported by the evidence. It's not producing reasoned arguments that I mind, whether I agree with them or not, because then you can debate them.

But I am getting more than  a little tired of the people on both sides, but particularly "Leave," who are producing a constant stream of this kind of allegation without bothering to back it up, often knocking down "straw man" arguments which their opponents had never actually made.


So here is the challenge

Can anyone, any one individual, who has published material accusing the "Remain" campaign of being Project Fear, of being scaremongers,  of threatening dire consequences if Britain votes to leave the EU, sign their name to a statement disputing that at least one warning of dire consequences in the event of an exit vote which was made during the 2014 referendum and dismissed at the time by the side who wanted to leave as "Project Fear" and "scaremongering" proved to be fully justified?

Just to refresh your memory, I will suggest one: "Better Together" and the UK government predicted that the SNP & "Yes" campaign's projections of the oil price were overoptimistic and that lower oil prices might leave a huge hole in the budget of an Independent Scotland.

On that issue the people who were called Project Fear" and accused of scaremongering were right.

If you think you have good reason to believe that something said by the other side is wrong, tell us what those reasons are. Suggesting that all and any warnings of potential problems by your opponents are just scaremongering with no evidence or argument to back up the charge is rather foolish and, if I am anything to go by, rapidly becoming irritating to floating voters.

A Leap year day paradox from GIlbert & Sullivan

Also for 29th February ...


Also for Leap Year Day


(From the film "Leap Year")

Quote of the day 29th February 2016 - leap year day

"1.Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things."

(Set of rules proposed by Douglas Adams on generational attitudes to new technology, quoted in an interesting article on generational differences in the "stumbling and mumbling" blog here.

Fortunately this is not an invariable rule and I'm happy to say that at quite a bit older than 35 I can still find new things exciting, but a lot of people do react the way Adams described.)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A six year old explains deficits to a Scottish Nationalist MSP

During a debate on twitter yesterday a Scottish Nationalist member of the Scottish parliament, John Mason, incorrectly referred to the UK's budget deficit as £1.5 trillion.

This is actually the approximate size of the National Debt - see http://www.debt-clock.org/

Called on this, John Mason MSP tweeted

"How is national debt different from national deficit?"

Oh my word. To think that it is possible to become a parliamentarian in the UK today without knowing the answer to that question.

One of the people who saw the tweet, Mark Brown replied "Hold on, I'll get my six year old to explain it in terms you might understand."

Alan Butler said that he already had, posting this:






Quite.

Sunday Music Spot: Ombra mai fu (Ode to a tree)

Most people have heard this piece, usually arranged for organ or orchestra, often sounding quite solemn, and referred to as "Handel's Largo" or the "Largo from Xerxes"

Here is it in it's original form: the "Ode to a Tree" which starts off a comic opera.



Feeding the Piranhas

John Rentoul has an interesting opinion piece here in which he argued that Ed Miliband "fed the piranhas" by providing support and encouragement to the hard left. He suggests that

"Ed Miliband fed the piranhas. He gave some meat to the most dangerous and destructive elements of his party, and encouraged them to think that there would be more. Once the feeding frenzy got going, the only person willing to put a whole cow in the river was Jeremy Corbyn. The piranhas have got what they wanted and all that’s left of the Labour Party is a skeleton."
 
"Much the same happened to the Republican Party in the US. John McCain and Mitt Romney fed the Tea Partiers and this year the killer fish came for the whole elephant. In Donald Trump they have found a candidate who is most unlikely to become president – a poll last week found 49 per cent of Americans were “terrified” of the prospect – but the piranhas don’t care."

He askes whether Boris Johnson has done the same thing by coming out for Brexit.

Hmmm.

The weakness of the "feeding the piranhas" argument is that it's fine if you limit it to encouraging people who are hopeless enthusiasts way out of line with most British people, but starts to fall to bits is you use it to mean the least concession to anyone who disagrees with the fashionable metropolitan consensus.

So for example whether Boris is feeding the Piranhas rather depends on what sort of Brexit campaign he encourages. There are an awful lot of British people who are more than a bit fed up with the EU and it doesn't necessarily put you on a fast track to extremism and electoral suicide to empathise with them. There are perfectly sane and reasonable people who support Brexit.

However, there are also a very vocal minority whose obsession with the EU is, to put it politely, a bit unbalanced. They are the ones responsible for the potentially suicidal infighting within the rival leave camps and hysterical kind of pro-Brexit messages which make many people want to vote Remain. They are the sort of people who stand a good chance of handing victory to "Remain" in a campaign which ought to be winnable for "Leave" just as Ed Miliband spent five years making it possible for David Cameron to be elected in an election which Labour could, had they been more sensible, have won.

If Boris Johnson et al encourage that kind of person they will indeed be feeding the Piranhas.

Apparently he didn't get the message ...

Labour MPs were supposed to be campaigning against Brexit yesterday.

However, their leader decided to campaign against Trident and it's replacement instead.

Evidently treating the party of which he is leader with the same disdain he has for the thousands of people in Barrow and Copeland who would lose their jobs if that policy were accepted.

I don't always agree with the GMB union but when they accused him of "playing student politics" on this one they nailed it.

The GMB's Scottish secretary told a meeting of the union's members in Newcastle, referring to Corbyn and the anti-trident members of the shadow cabinet, that

"They want to cancel the renewal of Trident, whatever the consequences.

"For these armchair generals playing their student politics as they sip lattes in Holyrood and Islington, none of this matters."

"Well, the GMB says you do matter and we’re going to give these professional posers the fight of their lives.

"Failing to renew Trident is wrong on so many levels. Whether the professional posers with their brand of student politics accept it or not the people of this country do believe Trident makes us more secure."

You can read more at

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/12174979/Jeremy-Corbyn-is-playing-student-politics-over-Trident-GMB-union-warns.html

Quote of the day 28th February 2016

"If we want a simple moral rule to take through the centuries it might be - see who's helpless, and help them. That always looks good in retrospect. Meanwhile, moral curiosity needs to separate itself from moral hysteria, and even as we condemn our moral ancestors, we need to hold our ears to the wind, and listen for the faint sounds of our descendants telling their melancholy truths about us."

Conclusion of a BBC "Points of view" article which can be read here and turns from making moral judgements about long-dead public figures like Cecil Rhodes or John Stuart Mill to asking which aspects of present-day society will appear horrific to our descendants.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

G20 Finance Ministers and The Economist Magazine criticise "The Brexit Delusion"

Finance Ministers and Central Bank governors from the G20 countries do not like the idea of Britain leaving the EU and included in the final communique of their meeting this weekend a comment to the effect that Britain leaving would be a shock to the global economy.

George Osborne said he agreed with this but denied that he or his officials had pushed for it to be included in the statement.

A senior official from the Treasury told the BBC the chancellor's US counterpart had raised the issue during the meeting, as did others, including senior Chinese officials and Ms Lagarde of the IMF.

I'm not sure that "shock" is the word I would use to describe the immediate effect of Brexit on the world economy, although if it resulted in any kind of trade war or started a process which led to the breakup of the EU - neither of which is an inevitable consequence of a vote to leave but might be what they are thinking could happen - the consequences might not be pretty.

The vote whether to stay in or leave is of course a matter for the British people to decide, but I don't see why our trading partners should not express their opinion, whatever it is.

"The Economist" magazine isn't terrible keen on the idea of Brexit either.

Their leader this week was about



and argued that leaving the EU would "hurt Britain and deal a terrible blow to the West.

They followed this up with an analysis called "The Bexit Delusion."

Unlike the G20 ministers the Economist shared their reasons for thinking that if David Cameron loses the result will be "messy at best and at worst disastrous" and you can read them by following the link above. The magazine suggests that

"The immediate effects of a Brexit vote are likely to be bad. Prolonged uncertainty over Britain’s new relationship with the EU will discourage investment, especially foreign direct investment, of which Britain is the biggest net recipient in the EU. This is particularly worrying for a country with a large current-account deficit that must be financed by capital inflows. Fears about the current account, Britain’s credit rating and Brexit have been drivers of the pound’s recent fall."

"The longer-term effects of Brexit are also likely to be adverse. Most studies suggest that economic growth would suffer. A detailed analysis from the Bank of England in October found that EU membership had benefited the British economy. Attempts to model the consequences of Brexit point to economic damage. Two American banks, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, recently warned that growth and the pound would fall further after a vote to leave the EU."

Whether or not you agree with this, the Economist is certainly right that

"The trickiest issue for a post-Brexit Britain would be how to maintain full access to the EU’s single market, the world’s biggest. This is crucial since almost half Britain’s exports go to the rest of the EU. It matters greatly for the fastest-growing component of exports, services (including financial services). It will not be simple."

If the Leave campaigns come up with a clear strategy to do this it will be possible for a sensible person to vote for Brexit. I have heard some individual leave supporters put forward what might be the basis for such a strategy. But unless whoever becomes the official campaign can take this up and clearly articulate it they will probably lose, and certainly deserve to.

Quote of the day 27th February 2016

A story I was told last night at a dinner:

Shortly after the opening of Eurotunnel a resident of Whitehaven needed to go to Paris for an unspecified length of time on business, so he went to the ticket office at Whitehaven (Bransty) station and asked for a single to Paris.

"What! Where's that?"

"The Capital of France."

"How'do you wanna get there, Marra?"

After much ado he finally got his tickets to London and via Eurostar France, went to Paris, and set to work on the job there. Some three weeks later he was ready to set up his trip home, so he went to the ticket office at Gare du Nord station in Paris and said,

"Can I have a single to Whitehaven, please?"

The gentleman in the office replied "Certainly, M'sieur, Bransty or Corkickle?"

Friday, February 26, 2016

Cognitive dissonance

A follow up to my last point.

More than half the pro-Brexit tweets in my twitter feed today have been either

a) Accusing the Remain side of scaremongering, being "Project Fear" etc, or

b) Talking about "the risks of remain" (often linking to an article by Andrew Lilico in the DT called

"How the EU would dominate us if we stayed inside.")

Many of the tweets in the latter group have suggested that the risks of remain are being ignored. Are they serious?

Leave.EU, Vote.Leave, Conservative Home, Iain Duncan Smith and most of the other pro-Brexit politicians have all run articles, made speeches, or unleased a torrent of tweets and Facebook posts stressing the risks of staying in the EU. The quality of the arguments concerned has varied from reasonable points to baseless scaremonger.

I do find it bizarre that the same side of the argument is simultaneously filling my timeline and twitter feed with comments about how disastrous it might be if the other side won, and accusations that those same opponents are playing "project fear" scaremongering.

Cognitive dissonance, methinks.

Incidentally, despite the very one-sided title and an utterly ridiculous cartoon which someone using the pen-name "Blower" drew three years ago, Lilico's piece is otherwise not a bad article, looking in a reasonably objective way at the upsides and downsides for Britain of four scenarios if we stay in.

Of course, the people who just read the headline and look at the cartoon will imagine that a killer argument for "Leave" has been presented, which it certainly hasn't. The article itself, while I do not agree with every word of it, is definitely worth a read.

Euro-madness

I would argue that a couple of decades ago a large part of the political elites of Europe were infected with the Federalist form of a kind of Euro-madness - a conviction well beyond anything that reasonable evidence suggested that we could build a paradise on Earth through vastly greater Euro-integration amounting to a United States of Europe.

True believers in that cause wanted to adopt the Euro, harmonise everything, and transfer as much power as possible to European institutions.

It was an article of faith for them that, for example, if Britain did not scrap the pound and replace it with the Euro, our economy might be seriously damaged.

Two decades on, and confronted with the reality that in the real world no institution is ever that perfect and that Britain has done very well sticking with the pound, that kind of Federalist Euro-madness is much less universal anywhere in the continent, and almost extinct in Britain, and those who think that way tend to keep their heads down.

But in many parts of Europe an older form of madness is taking root - the virulent form of Nationalism.

We saw it in 2014 in Scotland, when the SNP put forward an economic and foreign policy proposal which was downright delusional and 45% of one of the four nations of the UK voted for it. For the avoidance of doubt, I believe you could have made a perfectly sane and rational proposal for Scottish Independence, but the nonsense on stilts which the actual "Yes" prospectus put forward wasn't it.

We now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that many of the warnings such as those on oil prices made by "Better together" and described as "Project Fear" by the SNP were all too accurate. Scotland is a great country, and it could have survived as an independent nation given a sensible plan, but it did not have one in 2014.

If those who voted on the basis of patriotism and that a great country like Scotland must be strong enough to look after itself had got just 6% more of the vote in 2014, it would have been one of the worst acts of political self-harm of the past century. Scotland would be about to re-start life as an Independent country with a catastrophic public deficit, mired in arguments about it's relationships with the rest of the UK and the EU, particularly about what currency the new nation should use.

There are some people who are courteously making an intelligent and constructive case for Britain to leave the EU, as my post last night gave an example, and what I am about to say does not apply to them. But far too much of the pro-Brexit case which is cluttering my inbox and twitter feed is as hopelessly infected with the nationalist madness as much of the stuff put out by the SNP was in 2014.

The "Leave" campaigns have been running a pre-emptive strike against the possibility that a "Project Fear II" might be deployed by Britain Stronger in Europe by dismissing everything the "Remain" side says as scaremongering, whether it actually is or not. Someone who I like and respect circulated this image today -


with the caption "What George Osborne thinks will happen to us after Brexit."

Actually the scaremongering from the "Leave" side has been every bit has bad as what has come from "Remain" - and there has been too much from that side too - with the ridiculous suggestion that if we don't vote to leave the EU then the TTIP trade deal might result in unwanted further privatisation of the NHS perhaps the most egregious of the many scare stories from both sides.

I am starting to wonder if I can take another hundred and seventeen days of this.

Dan Hodges has a piece today about nationalist Euro-madness which sane supporters of "Leave" should read on the Burns principle of

"O would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as other see us."

I don't go all the way with Dan, I know perfectly well that there are sane and intelligent people on the Leave side making a constructive argument which deserves to be listened to.

But he's nailed the way other Leave supporters are coming over, particularly those parts of the leadership of UKIP which Nigel Farage is not trying to sack or demote.

But people who conform to the stereotype Dan describes in his article "Those saying we should leave Europe are infected with madness." do exist, they are making much of the running on the "Leave" side at the moment, and if you are a sensible "Leave" supporter, those who come over like that are discrediting your case.

Facebook versus Twitter (neither are Britain)

Interesting that my twitter feed has been chock full for weeks of messages from "Leave" supporters (often the sort that make me want to vote Remain) with our excellent MEP for the North West, Sajjad Haider Karim, as almost the only consistent vote for the Remain side.

However on Facebook the balance is far more even, and if anything the remainers have it (not by much in numbers, overwhelmingly in quality of argument - which is not to say there are not excellent arguments and silly ones on both sides.)

This may be partly a factor of my personal collection of twitter and FB contacts but I suspect it may be a real phenomenon.

However, as GE15 showed, neither Facebook or Twitter are perfectly representative of Britain and the only poll that counts is the one on Referendum day!

Quote of the day 26th February 2016


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Here is a leave campaigner I respect

To balance my previous post about the silly kind of leave campaigner

Andrew Kennedy is a Conservative agent who is currently also campaigning for Brexit in his own time.

He's written a superb piece on his blog here responding to an unfair attack on David Cameron and calling on those who want Britain to leave the EU to campaign actively for this in a positive and constructive way.

If more of the people who want to leave the EU were campaigning honestly and constructively to that end the way Andrew is doing I think the chances of Brexit would be much higher.

(I currently rate the odds at 60:40 for Remain, though it could still very much go either way.)

If all campaigners on both sides were like Andrew we would be having a much better and more constructive debate which would do a lot more good for the country whichever way it goes.

Project Fear from the "Leave" side - black propaganda about the NHS continues.

In a recent post in my "Worst of both worlds" series which criticises ridiculous and inaccurate comments from both "Leave" and "Remain" supporters, I referred here to the scaremongering from  Leave.EU in their attacks on TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal) and particularly their attempts to suggest that TTIP might lead to the privatisation of the NHS such as this


They have continued this "Project Fear" scaremonger today when they tweeted this graphic -



accompanied by the allegation that "There are genuine concerns that EU/US trade deal TTIP could lead to privatisation  of the NHS."

One of the few things which all the competing "Leave" organisations agree on is that if we were to leave the EU we would need to resume using Britain's World Trade Organisation seat and start lobbying on our own for better trade relations.

If we were not an EU member our trade links with other nations like the USA would be even more vital to us than they are now.

Until yesterday I would have said that if Britain left the EU and were not part of the TTIP trade negotiations with the USA it would be absolutely essential that we held bilateral negotiations with the USA for a trade treaty, which indeed is what both the rival "leave" campaigns have said a UK which had left the EU should do.

Unfortunately for the Brexit campaigns, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman has now said that America is not particularly in the market for free trade agreements with individual countries and he appeared to specifically rule out signing one with Britain.

Any intelligent and forward-looking "Leave" campaign which wants to see a modern, open Britain engaging with the world should be thinking about how they could persuade the USA to reverse that view. Of course, if they succeeded, it is probable that we would then have exactly the same arguments about the terms of the hypothetical bilateral Britain/USA trade deal which we would then need to negotiate that we are currently having about the proposed EU and America TTIP deal.

To any "Leave" supporter who wants to say something like "that's OK, we want to continue trading with America, we just won't have a TTIP style deal with them" I would say this. If you don't want to see the British economy wrecked should you win the referendum, you HAVE to have a clear idea of how you would ensure that British exports to America are not disadvantaged by our leaving the EU. That means a two way relationship with the US. And a two-way relationship means both sides have a say what goes into the deal.

To suggest that Brexit would magically resolve all the issues we may have with trade deals with the rest of the world is either duplicitous or catastrophically naïve.

That's the first point about how Brexit might affect international trade deals like TTIP. But the second is to look at the facts of what is actually proposed. And the allegation that TTIP could lead to involuntary privatisation of the NHS, which originated on the terminally looney anti-Globalisation anti-trade and anti-capitalist left but has been swallowed whole and regurgitated by some Brexit supporters despite their being mostly pro-capitalist free-traders, is a falsehood and scaremonger of the worst kind.

As I wrote here during the 2014 European elections, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims to tackle market access issues and technical barriers to transatlantic trade. It has been estimated that the deal could bring an extra £10 billon to the UK annually. That is equivalent to an extra £400 to every UK household. This would both help to restore living standards, badly squeezed during the economic downturn, and make more money available for schools and hospitals.

TTIP has not yet been signed so it has not already "opened the possibility" of anything.

Free trade agreements similar to TTIP have already been negotiated between the EU and South Korea and between the North American countries. Neither the EU-South Korea FTA nor the North American Free Trade Agreement included or resulted in the additional privatisation of publicly funded health services.

The BMA has expressed concerns about the impact which TTIP might have on NHS procurement and whether it could lead to the reassignment of medical services which had ALREADY been outsourced. These concerns were passed on to the EU's negotiators by Conservative MEPs.

So insofar as "genuine concerns exist" they relate to the NHS's procurement and to services which are part of the 6% or so of NHS spending things which have been privatised already.

There are no valid reasons to believe that TTIP could directly lead to new privatisation.

The issues which do exist have been raised in parliament and were discussed during an excellent debate on TTIP in the House of Commons in 2014, which you can read on the Hansard website at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140225/debtext/140225-0002.htm.

During that debate the minister who spoke on behalf of the government - Ken Clarke - responded to those who were asking whether TTIP might lead to additional privatisation of the NHS as follows:

"I can assure the hon. Lady that nothing in the agreement would open up access to the national health service beyond what is already permitted, and what was permitted under the previous Government. Overseas suppliers are already able to offer hospital services and health-related professional services through a commercial presence here. The important thing for anyone who engages in the provision of professional health services and health care companies in this country is that they have to comply with UK standards and regulations in just the same way as British health care providers, and, as I say, those standards will remain under the sovereignty of this country."

The EU has published some details of their negotiating position on TTIP and the details they have published online here relating to how the agreement might affect public services includes the following:

  • Every EU trade deal comes with solid guarantees which fully protect public services. TTIP will too.

  • These guarantees mean EU governments can't be forced to privatise. They remain free to keep public services public – even if they open up other services to foreign competition.

  • Governments can decide, or change, who delivers a public service at any time. This means there's no so called 'ratchet clause' for public services.

  • TTIP won't affect governments' ability to: operate public monopolies or grant exclusive rights to a particular private supplier; decide how to run water distribution services, or publicly-funded education, health or social services; or subsidise these services.

  • These guarantees work. EU trade deals have protected public services for 20 years.


  • There is no realistic possibility that TTIP or any other EU trade agreement will force a British government to privatise a part of the NHS, or any other public service, that it did not wish to privatise.

    Hence the "Leave.EU" suggestion that a vote to remain in the EU might result in additional privatisation of the NHS represents either inexcusable mendacity or gross ignorance.

    There are intelligent people who support the "Leave" case some of whom are putting forward arguments which deserve to be taken far more seriously. The sort of scaremongering nonsense described above must be a great embarrassment to them.

    US says they are not interested in a bilateral trade deal with the UK

    Arguably the worst news for "Leave" since the beginning of the year - and if people voted on evidence rather than their emotions I would have left out the word "arguably" - is that the chief US Trade negotiator says that America is “not in the market” for a free trade deal with Britain alone, as you can read here.

    There will be those who say that this is just part of an effort by the Obama administration to persuade us to stay in the EU. They might even be right, though I think there is more to it than that.

    There will also be those who point out that to talk of "crippling Chinese-style tariffs" being imposed by the USA in the event of Brexit may be overstating the case. The GATT's most favoured nation rule would limit the ability of the USA or any other nation to raise punitive tariff barriers to our trade and it is not in their interests to try to destabilise an ally.

    However, the fact remains that access to a market of half a billion people is much, much more valuable than access to a market of sixty million. The US, Canada and China need access to the whole EU market much more than they need access to that of any one of the present member stares alone.

    There are three types of international trade deals. At one end are global deals, like the GATT ones, at the other are bilateral deals between two nations, in the middle are the deals which set up continental free trade areas like NAFTA or the EEA and the deals between those groups of nations.

    For the past decade or so, as countries like the USA despaired of getting much out of the Global GATT rounds because there was always someone blocking it, but wanted something bigger and more valuable than hundreds of bilateral deals, the action has been with regional deals.

    This is why the argument that we would be better off doing international trade negotiations entirely on our own is, frankly, completely divorced from reality.

    It may be possible to make an argument for a "flexcit" deal in which we still have the sort of relationship with Europe which would enable us to take part in such negotiations.

    But unless "leave" campaigners can put a positive case for that sort of trade model together before the referendum - and build a few bridges to the US and China - they deserve to lose.

    I cannot think of a more effective means of sabotaging the British economy than to simultaneously harm our trading relationships not just with the EU but with the USA and China as well. With Britain's budget deficit and national debt still at dangerous levels, that would be a very dangerous step indeed.

    Quote of the day 25th February 2016


    Wednesday, February 24, 2016

    Worst of both worlds 7: no need for insults.

    Continuing my occasional series of posts highlighting some of the bad arguments or behaviour from both the "Remain" and the rival "Leave" campaigns.

    Many people on both sides of the EU "Remain" or "Leave" debate have put their case in a courteous and respectful way. Sadly, others have not.

    The latter hit a new low today, from both sides.

    One MP tweeted to my excellent Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim today that he should "shush" and "keep out of debate" on Europe - apparently for no better reason than that he is an MEP.




    Not the best way for colleagues to communicate with one another.

    But this in the European parliament today, from the last remaining Lib/Dem MEP - the only one to survive what was otherwise a wipeout for her party in 2014 - was far worse:


    You may have gathered that I don't agree with a lot of the things many supporters of Brexit say, though others have made some good points. I have been tempted to use language like this against some of those on both sides, but for either side to call the other "idiotic" or "like lemmings" will not get us anywhere.

    Surely we can do better than this.

    Meanwhile one UKIP member has released a video about the referendum which shows ten out of ten for guts and effort, but I'm not so sure about marks for judgement ...



    It was probably not a good idea to ask the PM about his mum ...

    Probably not the most successful heckle in parliamentary history when a Labour MP shouted "ask your mother" at the Prime Minister when the subject of the NHS in Oxfordshire was raised at PMQs ...





    Snow joke

    Winter appears to be finishing with a cold snap. There was a thin layer of snow on many parts of the ground in Whitehaven this morning - something we have been known to go a couple of years at a time without seeing - and I had to scrape it off the car windscreen this morning.

    Quote of the day 24th February 2016

    "someone on Twitter had a plan to 'get Alan Johnson to campaign endlessly for the Stay side and then quietly make him Labour leader without telling him. He’ll never notice'.

    What an excellent idea."

    (Craig Brown a.k.a. "Someone on Twitter" quoted by John Rentoul in the Indy here.)

    Tuesday, February 23, 2016

    EU referendum 1975: Michael Cockerell - will history repeat itself?

    This collection of films by Michael Cockerell, mostly made at the time of the previous "In Out" referendum in 1975 on what is now called the EU and was then called the Common Market, is fascinating. There are an extraordinary number of parallels between 1975 and 2016 - sometimes switched between right and left.

    I remembered that Mrs Thatcher had been on the "Remain" side at the time but had forgotten how strongly.

    The main difference is that where forty years ago the whole of the media were strongly against leaving the EU this time most of them are pro-Brexit - although of course the MSM is much less powerful now, and in the media as a whole I think both sides should be able to get a fair hearing.



    This was the outcome for the last British PM to call such a referendum, as depicted by the cartoonist Cummings. Will history repeat itself?



    Quotes of the day 23rd February 2016

    "You have to take your hat off to Corbyn. It’s a work of pure and evil genius to be able to say virtually nothing, but speak in such volumes"

    "Jeremy Corbyn eventually appeared on my screen. He had that look he always has when he’s forced to speak to journalists about issues of national importance – the look of a man who’s just been ordered by his wife to put down the crossword and put the bins out."

    "Labour’s leader had spoken. He’d spoken utter gibberish, but it didn’t matter because no-one was paying attention. Once upon a time this would have been noteworthy. But in British politics, in 2016, it was just another day with a “y” in it."

    "One of his staff had clearly also recognised his EU response was cutting through like a cold knife through titanium, and so given it another shove."

    "Forget Trident. Forget shoot-to-kill. Forget printing money until the presses run dry. Nothing Jeremy Corbyn has done or said since he became leader has the potential to do more damage to his party than this. 'Labour, the party that wants to let the immigrants in to soak up Britain’s benefits';.
    That’s not some attack line dreamt up by Tory spinners. It’s official Labour Party policy."

    (Dan Hodges, in a Telegraph article, "Jeremy Corbyn is completely irrelevant to the EU referendum and still he screws it up.")

    Monday, February 22, 2016

    A foretaste of the arguments to come

    An interesting debate between Dan Hannan MEP and Lord Mandelson about whether Brexit would be good for the British economy.

    It lasts just under eight minutes and I'd like to have heard it go on longer.

    Guess which was the first to quote Mrs T and say "I agree with Mrs Thatcher."

    You can find out at ...

    http://video.ft.com/4764529751001/Brexit-debated-EU-and-UK-better-off/World

    Occasional music spot: Francesco Manfredini Concerto grosso in C major


    Heckle of the week

    I did not quite hear what sent the House of Commons - and MPs on all sides - into fits of laughter early in Jeremy Corbyn's speech today on the EU issue, but you can find the event described on The Sun's website here.

    The Labour leader outlined his visit to last week's EU summit, saying to the PM: "Last week, like you, I was in Brussels meeting with heads of government and leaders of European socialist parties, one of whom said to me..."

    At this point Christopher Pincher and Simon Hoare called out together "Who are you?"

    Video of Cameron dismissing idea of second EU referendum


    Second quote of the day

     "Sadly, I've known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings, but I don't know any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows."

    (David Cameron during the debate on the European Council negotiations, dismissing the absurd idea that there might be a second referendum if the first one produces a "Leave" vote.)

    Quote of the day 22nd February 2016

    "If politicians begin to believe they are celebrities they need to go and sit down in a darkened room."

    (Iain Duncan Smith's response when asked during an interview what he thought about Labour's Alan Johnson describing the six cabinet ministers who had come out for Brexit as not being political all stars.)

    Sunday, February 21, 2016

    A vew from over the channel

    Here is a roundup of attitudes to the EU summit from other countries in Europe.

    http://www.france24.com/en/20160221-fears-eu-fracture-after-brexit-deal?ns_campaign=reseaux_sociaux&ns_source=twitter&ns_mchannel=social&ns_linkname=editorial&aef_campaign_ref=partage_aef&aef_campaign_date=2016-02-21&dlvrit=66745

    I respect the views of those who make the argument that David Cameron didn't get enough to persuade them to vote remain, but it is worth noting that there don't seem to be too many people on the continent who think he didn't get anything.

    Captain Eric Melrose Brown RIP

    The first Sea Lord issued this statement today in honour of Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown who died today.

    Rest in Peace

    Remember, on June 23rd we all have one vote.

    When Britain votes on 23rd June whether to remain in the European Union, everyone has one vote whether they hold any office or not.

    The PM has one vote. Boris Johnson has one vote. I have one vote, You have one vote. And they will all count the same when the contents of the ballot boxes are added up.

    So we should not get too upset about whether any given MP is voting in a particular way.

    There was a very silly headline in one of the newspapers today about David Cameron supposedly "going to war" with the cabinet pro-Brexit "rebels."

    He's suspended collective responsibility on this one issue and given them a free pass to take a different view. They're not "rebels" for taking him up on it.

    The key thing is that David Cameron has put a law through parliament which gives all of us a vote to decide whether Britain's future is inside or outside the EU.

    And because EVERY British citizen gets the right to vote, it isn't whether Boris goes for Brexit or Theresa goes for leave which will determine the outcome, or at least no more than what YOU think.

    So let's have a constructive debate - I'd like to hear a bit more making a positive case and a bit less insults and scaremongering from both sides - and then it is really important how every one of us votes. Never mind what the MPs say - YOU must vote the way YOU think is best for Britain's future.

    Sunday music spot: Telemann Viola Concerto in G Major, TWV 51, 4th movement

    This is the conclusion to the concerto from which the piece I posted on Thursday is taken. (This recording is not, obviously from the same concert!)



    The worst of both worlds 6: jumping the gun

    Continues my occasional series of posts about the worst arguments and comments on both sides of the EU referendum campaign.

    Regardless of what you think of the agreement which the Prime Minister secured on Friday after more than 30 hours of intense talks - and I'm one of those who thinks DC got about as much towards reform as we could possibly expect at this time, and that it was a great deal more than nothing, but nobody is suggesting it solved all the problems with the EU - it was pretty damn silly for people on both sides to demonstrate that they weren't paying any real attention by releasing their headlines or statements before the deal had even been done.

    I have a lot of time for many of the people in "Conservatives for Reform in Europe" but someone in the organisation discredited what might otherwise have turned out to be a good argument when a letter praising Friday's deal was leaked before the deal had actually been agreed. And thereby creating the justified impression that the signatories would have been willing to praise the deal whatever it said.

    Red faces all round on the "Remain" side.

    But was the treatment of the agreement by "Leave" supporting newspapers any better?

    It was transparently obvious that several newspapers such as the Express and the Mail were condemning a deal which they could not possibly have had time to analyse as it had not been agreed when the articles to which their headlines referred would have had to have been written. Basically the pro-Brexit newspapers - including the ones which enjoyed pointing out the "Conservatives for Reform in Europe" mistake - had done exactly the same thing the other way round.

    Perhaps those responsible for both might have been better employed answering questions such as these which "Open Europe" posed for both sides:

    Quote of the day 21st February 2016

    "David Cameron has demonstrated that the biggest mistake in British politics is to underestimate him.
     
    "Admittedly, his deal is not a total overhaul of the European Union. But it’s a far more significant recalibration of Britain’s position within that Union than his critics were predicting.

    "The “principled and upfront” protection outside the eurozone that Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor, advocated has been won. So have the guarantees that Britain will be exempt from further “political integration” – the nightmare scenario painted by the Eurosceptics.
     
    "This is not quite the fundamental reform Cameron spoke of in his 2013 Bloomberg speech. But while the Out camp will mock, his assertion that the UK now enjoys “special status” within the EU is entirely accurate.

    "We were told it would be impossible for him to maintain Cabinet unity through the course of the renegotiations. He did. We were told he would find it impossible to secure agreement on migrant benefits. He did – to the extent Out are now claiming the issue was never a major one at all. We were told the entire referendum pledge was hollow, and would be discarded when the general election was out of the way. It wasn’t. We were told pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers would be gagged. They aren’t. "

    (Cameron's critics) "should look at the speech he delivered on Friday night as he unveiled his deal. Despite the lateness of the hour, it represented the most articulate and passionate case for Britain’s place in the EU made by a Tory party leader since Margaret was banging the drum for the In campaign in the EEC referendum of 1975."

    (Dan Hodges in a Telegraph article which you can read here.)

    Saturday, February 20, 2016

    The Eu Referendum: Michael Gove's position

    Whether Britain should remain in the EU is an important decision and one on which honourable and intelligent men and women can differ.

    I think David Cameron has done a fantastic job in trying to get as much as we could expect at this time in terms of reform of the EU. I think the battle over the last 48 hours was real and that what DC came away with in terms of a clear exemption for Britain from "ever closer union," protection for non-Euro countries, a more competitive EU and a restriction of migrant benefits will be of genuine benefit if we vote to remain within the EU.

    Equally DC he was never likely to get a complete transformation of the European Union project. He went for objectives which were challenging but just about achievable.

    It is wrong - and frankly, an insult to the intelligence - to pretend that what the Prime Minister achieved was nothing of consequence. It would be equally wrong if anyone were to pretend - in fact I have not heard anyone in the Conservative party who is pretending - that what was agreed this week removes all the problems with the EU. And there will be some people who have a rational and consistent vision of the sort of Europe they would like to see and for whom no deal which was realistically available would persuade them it was in Britain's interests to stay in the EU.

    Some of those people have been rubbishing everything the Prime Minister's has been trying to achieve from the word go. Others have held their fire until now, and thereby, if they are Conservatives, stuck to the letter and spirit of the manifesto promises on which they were elected. And one of those is Michael Gove.

    I respect the positions both David Cameron and Michael Gove have set out and intend to take my time to think about the arguments both have made.

    This is an extract from the statement Michael released today:

    "For weeks now I have been wrestling with the most difficult decision of my political life. But taking difficult decisions is what politicians are paid to do. No-one is forced to stand for Parliament, no-one is compelled to become a minister. If you take on those roles, which are great privileges, you also take on big responsibilities.

    I was encouraged to stand for Parliament by David Cameron and he has given me the opportunity to serve in what I believe is a great, reforming Government. I think he is an outstanding Prime Minister. There is, as far as I can see, only one significant issue on which we have differed. And that is the future of the UK in the European Union.

    It pains me to have to disagree with the Prime Minister on any issue. My instinct is to support him through good times and bad. But I cannot duck the choice which the Prime Minister has given every one of us. In a few months time we will all have the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or leave. I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU. And if, at this moment of decision, I didn’t say what I believe I would not be true to my convictions or my country.

    I don’t want to take anything away from the Prime Minister’s dedicated efforts to get a better deal for Britain. He has negotiated with courage and tenacity. But I think Britain would be stronger outside the EU.

    My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.

    But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out.

    We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling."

    You can read the full text of Michael's statement on the Vote Leave facebook page here.

    EU referendum on 23rd June: "The choice is in your hands" says David Cameron


    Foxhouses Road Resurfacing

    Foxhouses Road in Whitehaven is still being resurfaced. The road has been temporarily re-opened today while repair work is paused over the weekend: I presume it will be closed again for a time early next week until the work is complete.

    The new road surface is not finished and care is needed on this road, so if you are travelling to the Mirehouse or Valley Park area of Whitehaven by road and are easily able to take another route I would recommend doing so.

    Quote of the day 20th February 2016

    "In a newspaper article, Thatcher made what was really the winning argument.

    'In politics,' she said, 'You have to consider "what is the alternative?" The European Economic Community or what?'

    She ridiculed the idea that we would be able to get new trading treaties. "Now we have broken one treaty, we want you to give us another on a different basis - as a free trade area"."

    (Danny Finkelstein in today's Times, referring to Margaret Thatcher's contribution to the remain campaign in the 1975 referendum,

    I'm quoting this because these questions are worth asking today, not because I want to contribute to the irrelevant argument about how she would vote, were she still alive, in the referendum which was called today for June 23rd.)

    A reminder - what Corbyn's Britain would be like





     
    On Thursday 5 May, Britain faces a clear but crucial choice: the continued security, stability and opportunity provided by this Government or the insecurity, instability and incompetence of Labour.
     
    Across England and Wales, we can continue to give our communities the safety and security that Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners deliver. In Wales, we can end 17 long years of Labour rule, and bring real change for the Welsh people. In Scotland, we can provide strong opposition to the SNP, holding them to account and saying no to a second referendum.

    And in London, we can stop Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn’s man, from becoming Mayor and using City Hall as a four year experiment for Labour’s radical and divisive policies.
     

     
    The outcome of each of these elections will affect how Britain is governed over the next four years. That is why it is so important that we act now, to ensure security, stability and opportunity for every person.

    Please donate today to help us to deliver for Britain this May.
     
    Thank you for your support,

    Conservative Campaign Headquarters



    Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

    Occasional music spot: Corelli's Concerto Grosso in G Minor

    Perhaps a little out of season as this piece is sometimes known as the "Christmas Concerto"

    Never mind. It's just too good to only be listened to at Christmas!



    Friday, February 19, 2016

    Deafening Silence

    If Britain or the United States is engaged in military action and accidentally hits a school or hospital, or a wedding, or can otherwise be shown to have killed innocent civilians, you can bet that the Stop the War Coalition, and a very big chunk of the left, will scream their heads off about it.

    If it's Britain, there will be people protesting outside Westminster and Downing Street, if it is the USA they will be protesting outside the US Embassy.

    If Israel makes a military response to the people who have fired hundreds of missiles at their civilians, and any Palestinian civilians get killed - which usually happens, incidentally, because the people who are attacking Israel have used them as human shields, hiding their own military assets among civilian targets - you can bet there will be calls for boycotts against Israel, protests outside the Israeli embassy, criticism of the British government for not criticising Israel strongly enough, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

    And actually, I can understand why people get upset about innocent civilians getting killed and I don't criticise them for it.

    What I don't get is the deafening silence from all the people who would be shouting their heads off this week if it had been RAF bombers, or USAF bombers, or IDF bombers, which flattened hospitals and schools in Northern Syria and killed innocent men, women, children and the doctors and nurses who were trying to help them.

    When we were debating extending the RAF military action against DA'ESH into Syria, many people expressed concern about the prospect of British bombs hitting innocent Syrian civilians. The government said that we would do our best to minimise such casualties and to the best of my knowledge British forces have been largely successful in hitting only the enemy.

    But Russia and the Assad regime do not appear to have made any such attempt. Last month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 200 children were among the 1,015 people killed in Russian airstrikes between September and mid January according to one left-wing source which isn't entirely ignoring what Putin has been doing, the Guardian. The Independent too alleges that this week's attacks on Syrian hospitals by Russian and Assad regime forces were no accident but a cold-blooded and targeted attack.

    Where is the condemnation of Putin and Assad from those who would have been quick to share their outrage if it had been British or American bombs which flattened those hospitals? Where are the protesters outside the Russian Embassy?

    It is time to stop the killing in Syria. The only way we're going to stop DA'ESH from killing people is though a military defeat. But at the moment it appears that the forces of Russia, the Assad Regime, Turkey, and some of the other factions are ignoring the so-called "Islamic State" and butchering one another. I don't see any easy answers, but we need to stand up to Russia and Assad.

    Quote of the day 19th February 2016

    “If we have that sort of debate over these next few weeks then I think there’s a very real chance that the anti-Europeans will win.

    “If we have two campaigns that are scaremongering then in that case the biggest fearmongering tends to win.

    “The real danger is that the pro-European case, the real case about this country’s position in Europe is not being made.”

    (Former SNP leader Alex Salmond, quoted in  The Scotsman, accused both sides in the EU referendum debate of scaremongering.

    For the avoidance of doubt I personally have a lot of sympathy for that view but would go further - I don't think a positive case for either side is coming over properly.,)

    Thursday, February 18, 2016

    A Crucial Choice

    In May this year there will be elections for the Mayor of London, for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, for Police and Crime commissioners in Cumbria and many other parts of England, and for many local councils. Here is a reminder of the choice on offer ...





    No deal today should not be seen as a failure

    The European Council - formerly known as the EU Council of Ministers which better describes it - does not often manage to resolve difficult matters in one sitting.

    And the worst possible way to go into a difficult negotiation is to be desperate to get a deal at the present meeting.

    The more people think you have your back to the wall and have to take whatever is on the table, the worse the deal you are likely to be offered.

    So the second-worst thing we could do is build up too many expectations that there will definitely be a "deal" at the EU summit which starts today and the worst thing is to say that if there isn't that means it's a failure.

    If David Cameron gets a good deal, excellent. If he has to walk away and try again in a fortnight, or in April - well, we have until the end of 2017 to hold the referendum.

    Occasional music slot: Telemann Viola Concerto, 2nd movement

    Apart from being a cracking piece of Telemann's music the other interesting thing about this recording is the collection of instruments on which that music is being played.

    25 of Jacob von der Lippe's instruments were reunited for the first time in this concert, played by their respective owners. More info: www.vonderlippe.com



    Congratulations to Innovus

    Congratulations to Adrian Davis-Johnston and the team at Innovus who have scooped the Outstanding Social Enterprise of the Year award after creating hundreds of jobs in Cumbria.

    Innovus, which invests in innovative local companies, collected the award at The University of Manchester’s inaugural Better World Awards ceremony last week.

    The awards are designed to showcase a wide variety of social responsibility work which makes a real difference to individuals, communities and society as a whole.

    Since its launch in 2013, Innovus has attracted and nurtured a diverse pipeline of project proposals from the supply chain.

    Within its first two years £2.7m has been invested in projects, 283 inventions have been assessed, 56 jobs have been created or safeguarded and a further 315 jobs are currently forecast to result from current projects from investment secured to date.

    NNL’s Adrian Davis-Johnston, Innovus programme director, said: “We’re delighted by this achievement. Innovus has so far been a resounding success, with funding secured to March 2017 and the full potential yet to be realised, and holds great potential to be adopted more widely as a model for regional open innovation. 

    “We’re not gathering moss and the project team is now looking to ways that the Innovus model can benefit communities throughout the Northern Powerhouse.”

    More details on the inCumbria website at http://www.in-cumbria.com/-Prestigious-award-for-job-creating-investment-programme--307d3ed3-25b3-4420-8093-ffc66802de91-ds

    Quote of the day 18th February 2016

    Robert Peston on the importance of the negotiations to take place tonight and tomorrow morning, in an article which you can read in full here:

    "There are three outstanding issues to resolve:
    • Will the independent powers of the Bank of England to regulate and supervise our banks and financial institutions be permanently protected by a promise of future EU treaty reform that would prevent eurozone members from duffing us up in a commercial sense?
    • Quite how far will the EU go in allowing the prime minister to limit child benefit payments to migrants and for how long will it allow him to lessen in-work credits to them?
    • Will the UK have an exemption - also to be enshrined in a future treaty amendment - from the EU precept that all members are on an inexorable journey to "ever closer union" (or less autonomy for national governments).

    Now I am going to say something deeply unfashionable - which is that these three decisions are more important than most commentators and politicians will allow.

    The point is that they collectively represent a recognition by the EU that limits to its political, monetary and economic integration are not transitional but permanent.

    In that sense, they represent the official death knell for a United States of Europe that was the ambitions - sometimes vocalised, sometimes disingenuously denied - of the EU's founders and fundamentalists.

    So even if you think David Cameron has won less for Britain from his tortuous negotiations with the other 27 than he might have done, he may succeed in rewriting European theology."

    Wednesday, February 17, 2016

    Danny Finkelstein - Business Leaders make Lousy Politicians

    There is an excellent article by Danny Finkelstein in today's Times about the problems with bringing business leaders into government.

    There have been a few people who have had some success at both - Peter Walker, Lord David Young, and Michael Bloomberg come to mind - but the list is surprisingly short.

    Danny argues that the fact that politicians in Western democracies are seen as weak and unable to get anything done is not primarily due to personal failings by the individuals concerned, but because they are working with constraints which were deliberately written into constitutions like that of the United States, or evolved in constitutions like Britain's unwritten one, for very good reasons.

    When a businessman turned politician like Donald Trump gets elected - it does occasionally happen - and tries to "get things done" by ignoring those who opposed him or her the result is more likely to be chaos.

    Finkelstein cites Silvio Berlusconi as the closest parallel to Donald Trump who managed to get elected leader of a Western democracy - and I think he makes a persuasive case.

    "No successful political system allows someone to act like a buccaneering chief executive." he writes. And when people from the business world get elected and fail it is because they can't see this and adapt.

    "And as for politicians" he writes,"They are, as they are supposed to be, a bit like the rest of us.

    Confused, ambitious, hopeful, kind, idealistic, pragmatic, self-interested, caring, vain, over-optimistic.

    It's not heroic but it works well enough for political democracies to be richest, safest, most tolerant places on earth - and for the best time to live in them to be right here, right now."

    The worst of both worlds 5: trashing Britain, and scaremongering about the NHS

    Continues an occasional series of posts which highlights some of the worst points put on both sides of the EU membership referendum debate ...

    I supported David Cameron in promising the people of Britain a referendum from 2013 onwards because his arguments in a speech that year convinced me that the political establishment could not carry on ignoring the opinions of the British people and the only way to resolve the question of our relationship with Europe was to let the people decide.

    I still think that was the right thing to do, but by heaven, I am heartily sick of the nonsense coming from some people on both sides of the argument. And this week it has hit a new low. By now there are quite a few people on my mental list of individuals for whom the best thing they could do for their preferred cause would be to go and lie down in a darkened room between now and the day after the referendum. (And in some cases long after that!)

    I noticed a long time ago that there is an inverse relationship between the skill at their job of any member of the acting profession and the probability that if they say something about real-world politics it will make any sense at all. (Michael Caine and Rowan Atkinson being among the very rare exceptions.)

    Emma Thompson, a brilliant actress, illustrated the point perfectly with her comments this week about Britain. She argued in an interview reported here that "Of course" she would vote "Remain" in the forthcoming referendum, and that

    "We should be taking down borders, not putting them up."

    Her piece de resistance was to describe Britain as

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

    None of the reports I have seen have given the context for this comment and it would not surprise me in the slightest if, were we told that context, her comments might not be quite as unforgivable as they appear without it.

    But it should not have come as a surprise to anyone that this insult to Britain was a gift to the pro-Brexit media, and was plastered over the front pages of several newspapers such as The Sun to damn the "Remain" cause. If the comment had been made the week of the referendum I suspect it would have been worth a couple of million votes in the "Leave" box.

    One might almost imagine that Emma Thompson is actually a "false flag" secret Brexit supporter who was trying to bring the "remain" camp into disrepute.

    As Grant Tucker wrote in today's Times TMS column,

    "I'm not sure the remain camp will be changing their name to Misery-laden Britain stronger in sort-of-Europe any time soon."


    So that's this week's most egregious piece of idiocy by a proclaimed "Remain" supporter. What about the "Leave" side? Well, the award for the past week's most ridiculous and misleading scaremongering from supporters of Brexit has to go to Leave.EU attacks on TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal) such as this ...
     

    and particularly the suggestion that TTIP might lead to the privatisation of the NHS such as this



    My first problem with this argument is similar to the point that the "Leave" side themselves made over suggestions that Brexit might affect the 2003 Le Touquet agreement which is a bilateral agreement between Britain and France.

    If we were not part of the EU Trade negotiations with the USA it would be absolutely essential that we held bilateral negotiations with the USA for a trade treaty, which indeed is what both the rival "leave" campaigns have said a UK which had left the EU should do.

    It is immensely probable that we would then have exactly the same arguments about the terms of the hypothetical bilateral Britain/USA trade deal which we would then need to negotiate as we are currently having about the proposed EU and America TTIP deal. To suggest that Brexit would magically resolve all the issues we may have with trade deals with the rest of the world is either duplicitous or catastrophically naïve.

    More to the point, the suggestion that TTIP has opened the way to involuntary privatisation of the NHS, which originated on the bongo-brained anti-Globalisation anti-trade and anti-capitalist left but has been swallowed whole and regurgitated by Brexiteers despite their being mostly pro-capitalist free-traders, is a falsehood and scaremonger of the worst kind.

    As I wrote here during the 2014 European elections, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims to tackle market access issues and technical barriers to transatlantic trade. It has been estimated that the deal could bring an extra £10 billon to the UK annually. That is equivalent to an extra £400 to every UK household. This would both help to restore living standards, badly squeezed during the economic downturn, and make more money available for schools and hospitals.

    TTIP has not yet been signed so it has not already "opened the possibility" of anything.

    Free trade agreements similar to TTIP have already been negotiated between the EU and South Korea and between the North American countries. Neither the EU-South Korea FTA nor the North American Free Trade Agreement included or resulted in the additional privatisation of publicly funded health services.

    The BMA has expressed concerns about the impact which TTIP might have on NHS procurement and whether it could affect the reassignment of medical services which had ALREADY ben outsourced. These concerns were passed on to the EU's negotiators by Conservative MEPs.

    Similar concerns were raised in parliament. The issue was discussed during an excellent debate on TTIP in the House of Commons in 2014, which you can read in full on the Hansard website at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140225/debtext/140225-0002.htm.

    During that debate the minister who spoke on behalf of the government - Ken Clarke - responded to those who were asking whether TTIP might lead to additional privatisation of the NHS as follows:

    "I can assure the hon. Lady that nothing in the agreement would open up access to the national health service beyond what is already permitted, and what was permitted under the previous Government. Overseas suppliers are already able to offer hospital services and health-related professional services through a commercial presence here. The important thing for anyone who engages in the provision of professional health services and health care companies in this country is that they have to comply with UK standards and regulations in just the same way as British health care providers, and, as I say, those standards will remain under the sovereignty of this country."

    The EU has published some details of their negotiating position on TTIP and the details they have published online here relating to how the agreement might affect public services includes the following:

  • Every EU trade deal comes with solid guarantees which fully protect public services. TTIP will too.

  • These guarantees mean EU governments can't be forced to privatise. They remain free to keep public services public – even if they open up other services to foreign competition.

  • Governments can decide, or change, who delivers a public service at any time. This means there's no so called 'ratchet clause' for public services.

  • TTIP won't affect governments' ability to: operate public monopolies or grant exclusive rights to a particular private supplier; decide how to run water distribution services, or publicly-funded education, health or social services; or subsidise these services.

  • These guarantees work. EU trade deals have protected public services for 20 years.

  • There is no realistic possibility that TTIP or any other EU trade agreement will force a British government to privatise a part of the NHS, or any other public service, that it did not wish to privatise.

    Hence the "Leave.EU" graphic above suggesting that a vote to remain in the EU might result in additional  privatisation of the NHS is as bad as Emma Thompson's remarks attacking Britain.

    Unemployment drops by 60,000

    Unemployment in the UK dropped by 60,000 between October and December 2015, and is still at a ten year low, according to the Office for National Statistics.

    The number in work climbed to 31.4 million, which is (still) the highest since records began in 1971.

    The number of Britons in work increased by 278,000 in the three months to the end of December, to 28.28 million, while for non-UK nationals, the figure rose by 254,000 to 3.22 million.

    In other words, the success of the UK economy is sucking in people from other parts of the world, but they are coming to work rather than claim benefits and the majority of new jobs are going to British workers.

    Pay increased by 2.0% during the period, very similar to the growth rate between September to November 2014 and September to November 2015, which was 1.9%

    More information on the BBC site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35594650

    Quote of the day 17th February 2016


    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    Distress signal ..

    Apparently when the PM arrived at the European Parliament today the Union Flag of the United Kingdom outside the building was upside down:

    E.g. This way up ...



    (Union flag upside down - a signal of distress)



    when it should have been this way up


    (Union flag flown correctly)


    It is not quite clear who was responsible for the distress signal and what they meant by it.