Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Labour threat to national security ...

Subject: National Security

Last week’s Queen’s Speech was a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a One Nation Government. It used the opportunity of a strengthening economy to focus on delivering security for working people, increasing life chances for the most disadvantage and strengthening our national security.

But the Labour Party want to derail that plan: they are a risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party has invited terrorists to our Parliament: ‘It will be my pleasure …to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking… I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.’

You can help stop Jeremy Corbyn. Donate £20 today and we will send you a limited edition ‘LABOUR: STILL A RISK TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY’ mug as a thank you.

Thank you for your support,

The Conservative Party

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

Remembering Jutland 100 years on

A hundred years ago today the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet were locked in combat in the North sea in what became known as the battle of Jutland.

It as far and away the largest naval battle in history up to that point and, on some criteria, was still the largest naval battle of all time.

First the Germans led the British scouting force into a trap, and then the tables were turned as the British led the entire German fleet into an even bigger trap, from which they only escaped by fleeing for home under cover of darkness.

Because of previously unsuspected design flaws, three British battlecruisers blew up with almost their entire crews of about a thousand men each. In consequence the British lost more ships and more men than the Germans, who claimed a victory.

.However, the morning after the battle the Royal Navy, with 27 fully operational battleships and over a hundred other warships, was left in control of the North Sea, from which all German ships had fled, many of them with damage which kept them in dock for months.

The British commander in chief, Admiral  Jellicoe, has been described as the only man on either side who could have lost the war in an afternoon: if the German plan to isolate and destroy a major part of his fleet had succeeded, he would have. As it was, the allied blockade of Germany was maintained and was to cost the Germans the war.

More than six thousand British sailors were killed in the battle. We will remember them.

Quote of the day 31st May 2016

Referring to the start of the official referendum campaign:

"It needs to begin with an amnesty on misleading, and at times bogus, claims. The public are thoroughly fed up with them. The public are right".

(Andrew Tyrie MP, chair of the Treasury Select Committee)

He added that

"The arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims made by both the leave and remain sides is not just confusing the public. It is impoverishing political debate."

Full report available at


Monday, May 30, 2016

Bank holiday music spot: Bach's fourth Brandenburg Concerto

Your vote: Your Future: Your decision - the first two referendum broadcasts

The first referendum broadcasts from each side have now been put out. If you missed either or both, here they both are.

The really interesting thing is that while both have, I regret to say, repeated claims that the Treasury select committee and others have advised them to drop, and both had a mixture of positive and negative messages, the "Remain" broadcast about securing the best future for a cute 14 month old boy named Sam has "mood music" which is overwhelmingly sending out positive emotional messages - vote Remain for our children's future.

The Leave broadcast is the one which is predominantly negative in tone - the attempted "dog whistle" is "Vote leave or he NHS will collapse and we'll be flooded with millions of Turkish immigrants."

So here is "Remain" with "Vote for a bright future for our children."

And here is the Leave broadcast, "Vote Leave or the NHS gets it."

Your vote. Your future. Your decision. Whether you want to Leave or Remain, use your vote on June 23rd.

Treasury Select Committee report on the EU referendum debate

I will probably come back to this several times but the Treasury Select Committee's excellent report on the EU referendum,

"The economic and financial costs and benefits of the UK’s EU membership"

Is now available at the Hansard website here.

Time for both sides to stop "Blue on Blue"

The worst possible way to engage the majority of voters, particularly those who are not members or supporters of the Conservatives, is to give the impression that the EU referendum is some sort of internal squabble within the Conservative party.

It is far more important than that, and it affects everyone in the country.

Those on either side of the debate who indulge in personal attacks on their opponents in the same party harm both their cause in the referendum and the cause they will be contesting at the next general election.

Paul Goodman was right to write on Conservative Home calling to an end to what he called

"This foolish futile leadership challenge chatter."

As Paul pointed out to leave supporters,

"All it is likely to do is to distract attention from the referendum at exactly the moment when, thanks to purdah, Leave now at last has a chance to fight the campaign on a level playing field."

In three and a half weeks' time British voters will make one of the most important decisions of our lifetime, more important than the fate of any individual PM or government. Everyone should try to put personal attacks and rivalries aside for those three and a half weeks and concentrate on the positive arguments for Leave or Remain.

Timothy Garton-Ash on Free Speech

A more fundamental principle of freedom even than the right to vote is that of Free Speech.

And there is no aspect of freedom and democracy which is more under threat, either in Britain or elsewhere.

Timothy Garton-Ash has written a  new book on the subject,

Free Speech: Ten Principles for a connected world,

and judging by Nick Cohen's commentary on the book on the Guardian/Observer website, I am going to have to read it.

Cohen's review is certainly worth a read: it begins as follows.

"Freedom is worthless if it is not lived. However important rights are in a constitutional democracy, they will wither unless you use them. From John Milton’s polemics against the Presbyterian attempts to enforce Calvinist censorship on the England of the 1640s, via John Stuart Mill’s rebellion against the conformism of the Victorians, to Salman Rushdie’s argument with the Islamists, the urge to defend and expand freedom of speech has been created by the threats of its enemies.

"What applies to great writers applies to everyone else. No one thinks hard about freedom of speech until they are forced to."

Quote of the day 30th May 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday music spot: Vivaldi - Concerto Grosso in G Minor

There is not going to be an "EU Army"

I have not lost sight that there is scaremongering going on by some people on both sides in the EU referendum campaign. Anyone who has had more than a cursory look at the articles on this blog will, I hope, recognise that I have been very critical of both, and the fact that I'm trying to share the truth  about one of the issues Leave has bee scaremongering about in this post does not mean "Remain" have a pass from me.

Some of the things being said alleging that Britainwill have our armed forces subsumed into an "EU Army" if we vote Remain are beyond ridiculous.

As I have previously pointed out, no well-informed person should have a problem with Britain's armed forces taking part in common military action with our allies in Europe.

We have been doing it for years through NATO, of which the vast majority of members of the European Union are also members.

Has the fact that we have been working with the German Federal Republic through NATO for well over half a century, with British troops sometimes under the command of senior German officers and sometimes the other way round, meant the creation of a "NATO Army" which could take over our country?

Of course it hasn't.

And the fact that there are a few lines about military co-operation in the Lisbon treaty is not equivalent to the creation of a "European Army" and does not mean that German troops in EU uniforms would be in a position to take over our country or our borders either.

Now, I am completely convinced that the defence of western civilisation and of Europe can, will and should continue to be co-ordinated through the NATO alliance which is tried, tested, and works. And Britain can and would veto any EU action which might undermine NATO as long as we are not stupid enough to elect someone like Jeremy Corbyn.

(And if we ARE stupid enough to elect Jeremy Corbyn or someone like him, we will have problems whether Britain is inside or outside the EU!)

As Field Marshall Lord Bramall, former chief of the defence staff, pointed out in a letter to the Times this week, the co-operation between EU member states which is taking place or proposed through the EU rather than NATO is mainly to address situations not covered by the NATO charter and there is no reason to believe that we or any of the other nation whose defence has depended on NATO in the most dangerous times want or will allow this to undermine NATO.

As you can read here, an EU spokesperson has said that “There is absolutely no plan to set up an EU army."

Quote of the day 29th May 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday music spot: Bach - Concerto for 3 Harpsichords

Babies for Brexit?

When I was a student there were all manner of student campaign groups of bizarre kinds, some real, some front organisations, often without any of the people who they supposedly consisted of.

For example,  "Tories against Cruise and Trident" or TACT had been set up by CND-supporting socialists to make a point, and didn't actually have any significant number of Tories in it, if any, and surprisingly enough, "Babies against the Bomb" had not actually been set up by babies.

We now seem to be seeing a similar explosion of groupuscles for the Referendum. SCientists for Europe: Scientists for Britain. Economists for Brexit - Women for In.

You wonder what on earth each side will try next.

Babies for Brexit?

One-legged Mongolian basket-weavers for Europe?

Dead Statespersons for Britain?

Rastafarians for Remain?

Remember, you read it here first.

Guilt by association

There are many valid reasons to criticise the EU and many to criticise Jean-Claude Juncker.

But the fact that, more than a decade before he was born, Juncker's father was conscripted into Hitler's army is not one of them.

Nor is what his father-in-law may or may not have done did during the German occupation of Luxembourg a decade before Juncker himself was born

I'm not impressed that some of the British Press and some UKIP supporters on msocial media appear to be trying to make something of this. It's not relevant and it's deeply offensive.

Play the ball, not the man.

Quote of the day 28th May 2916

Friday, May 27, 2016

Commandments Eleven and Twelve

OK, I am going to add another couple of commandments for conducting a referendum campaign with dignity and respect ...

11) Thou shall not drag dead people into the argument based  on a guess of how they would vote or on misleading quotes. 

I think I shall scream next time someone on either side of the EU referendum debate claims Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, or any other dead political hero as a supporter of their side unless they can produce a verifiable quote which puts the opinions of the individual concerned beyond doubt.

Mrs T voted for and emphatically supported the "Remain" side in the previous referndum and, as Prime Minister, used a three-line whip to force the Single European Act through the House of Commons. It is entirely possible that she would take an entirely different view if she were alive today, but sadly she isn't so nobody knows.

Winston Churchill is on record as expressing the opinion that a United States of Europe would be a very good idea, but at that time he expected Britain to be a friend and ally of that entity rather than a member. Nobody can be certain what his views on the current referendum would be: I suspect they might not be all that different from those of his grandson but we just don't know.

Some of those praying Winston Churchill's name in vain have circulated an inaccurate quote, which purports to be an extract from a speech made in the House of Commons on 11th May 1953, when actually it is two separate quotes ripped from their entirely different contexts and stitched together. The first three sentences came from an article he wrote in an American magazine 23 year before that and the last sentence was taken from an argument with De Gaulle in 1944!

Would it not ne more useful to look at the issues facing Britain and the EU today?

12) If someone is campaigning hard for one side, thou shalt not make silly allegations that they really support the other.

I thought at first that the Prime Minister's advisor Steve Hilton's intervention in the EU referendum debate might produce some interesting insights - until the moment I read his suggestion that David Cameron is some sort of closet Brexit supporter who would be campaigning to leave if he were not Prime Minister.

I thought that nobody else could possibly take this seriously, but then saw Michael Portillo doing so on TV. I am quite astonished that intelligent men like Portillo and Hilton can say such a thing with a straight face.

Despite the way the Leave campaign seems determined to blow the referendum, I think there is enough innate irritation with the EU in a majority of the electorate, and detestation of the organisation in a smaller but very vocal minority, that all David Cameron would have had to do if he wanted Britain to leave would have been to be neutral. If there is a Remain vote, it will be because the Prime Minister campaigned for it. And as a result his position should there be a leave vote will be difficult. In the circumstances it makes no sense to suggest that he really supports Leave.

The more sophisticated version of Steve Hilton's point - that being PM gives David Cameron a unique perspective and if he were not Prime Minister he would take a different view - is not quite as ridiculous but IMHO still seriously overstates the case.

Cameron was arguing for a reformed EU, but not to actually leave the organisation, when he was Leader of the Opposition, during his short time as a shadow cabinet member, when he was a backbench MP, and when he was trying to become an MP. Cameron has been described with some justice as an accidental European who has become less Eurosceptic in office for pragmatic reasons, but even before the start of this process he had never supported actually leaving the EU.

For very similar reasons, I think it is unhelpful to suggest that Boris Johnson does not really support the "Leave" cause for which he is now campaigning. It is entirely possible - indeed, likely - that he has changed his mind on aspects of the argument.

Well, if Boris has changed his mind, people are allowed to do that.

But the possibility is not trival that, if it is a close vote, his campaigning to leave might make the difference which actually causes Britain to leave, and the effort he has put into fighting for that cause would make that all the more possible. It is beyond all reason that he would do that if he really wanted to remain.

Sometimes it seems appropriate to apply Occam's Razor and assume people really support the side for which they are campaigning,

Religious Toleration

Religion can inspire human beings to do great things. Unfortunately hatred of a religious view (including atheism) - by those who have a different view has also inspired some of the worst crimes in history.

And no view, be it a religious faith or the more intolerant kinds of atheism, which cannot rise above that and consign it to history deserves to survive into the future.

Persecuting people because of their religious views, including the decision not to follow any religious faith, is completely unacceptable, whether it is done by adherents of a slightly different version of the same faith, a different faith, or where either party is an atheist or agnostic.

No religious position (again, including atheism) has completely clean hands in this respect although every religious position contains millions of people who do practice tolerance and respect for others.

But it is time that egregious acts of religious sectarianism stopped being tolerated, and states which practice religious intolerance or fail to make any effort to prevent it within their territory should start to face much stronger diplomatic pressure to reform.

There was a ghastly story from Egypt this week here which illustrates the sort of unacceptable treatment which every religious position receives somewhere where it is in the minority - and in far too many places.

One consequence of the ghastly wars in the Middle East is that communities which have lived there for centuries are being driven out because of their religion. We need to think carefully about what we can do to stop that happening - without further increasing a body count which is already far too high.

A tribute to the power of human imagination

A few days ago I posted Christopher Tin's "Baba Yetu" as a music slot on this blog., because it is a fantastic piece of music. It was also written for the fourth iteration of Sid Meier's computer strategy game, "Civilisation."

I am posting the trailer for the sixth iteration of that game, not because I am particularly trying to sell it (I own no shares of other commercial interest in the companies concerned) but because this trailer is an inspiring statement of faith in the power of the human spirit, the human imagination, and human will and courage.

Quote of the day 27th May 2016

"It is with regret that I have to take issue with General Sir Michael Rose, Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Major-General Sir Julian Thompson and the other signatories to the Veterans for Britain pamphlet as I have great respect for them, but the spectre of a European army has no place in the context of the controversy of whether to leave the European Union"

(Field Marshall Lord Bramall KG, letter to the Times, 26th May 2016)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Worst of both worlds Ten

It says something about the way the EU referendum campaign has been conducted that this is the tenth in my "Worst of Both Words" series of posts. Each of those posts has identified a comment or argument from each side in the debate which was seriously unwise at best, or complete nonsense at worst. And there is still nearly a month to go!

Both sides really need to up their game if they are to provide the British people with the opportunity to choose between sound, accurate, and well-presented arguments.

This time I'm going to take aim in three directions: first at those in both campaigns and the press who are stoking bitterness and division, second and third at inaccurate and invalid arguments made by the Remain and Leave campaigns.

1) Talking up anger and division is bad for Britain, and unjustified.

Every Conservative parliamentarian who I have asked about this or heard speak about it says that the divisions within the Conservative party are nothing like as bad as you might imagine from reading the press. Yes, there are divisions, people feel very strongly on each side,  and those disagreements have produced some expressions of anger and frustration. . But as Dan Hannan rightly argues today on "Conservative Home " here, the present level of hostility within the Conservative party is nothing like as serious as it was at the time of the Maastricht Treaty. I remember those days too, and I agree with him.

Which is not to say that there are not people stoking up anger against those who take a view they do not share, in their own parties, other parties, or the press, and this really has to be discouraged.

As Nick Cohen writes in article called "Menacing Auntie" which you can read here there are too many people on both right and left, and both for and against Brexit, who see it as evidence of outrageous bias whenever newspapers or broadcasters report a view they don't like or a fact they find inconvenient. He writes

"Broadcasters must admit error, as should we all. But how many of them understand that they are dealing with sizeable sections of the population that treat any reporting that affronts them as lies delivered with malice aforethought? No complaints or arbitration procedures will satisfy them. As thoroughly as any Communist militant or postmodern obscurantist, they have wrapped themselves in chains of wishful thinking and denial from which they may never break free."

It is only fair to add that some journalists have been stoking the flames of anger and division rather than calming them down.

Too many have been practicing a sort of "Reductio ad absurdum" where they first reword somebody's argument into the most extreme form into which they can twist it, and then attack that person for hysterical scaremongering.

A classic example was Simon Jenkins in the Guardian today. Contrary to the impression which many people may understandably have gleaned from the rubbish printed in the newspapers, David Cameron has not said that voting for Brexit will cause World War Three to break out.

The PM has said, without denying the role of NATO, that the EU has helped keep the peace in Europe and that when Britain turns our backs on Europe we regret it.

When Simon Jenkins described DC as saying that Brexit would be “raising the risk of war” - putting those words in quotation marks, though they do not appear in the article linked to and I cannot find any evidence that the PM uttered them - he appears to have been twisting the Prime Minister's arguments to appear as inflammatory and hysterical as possible so that he could accuse them of being "Project Fear gone mad."

Jenkins' disgraceful article is here but I offer this link to help anyone who wishes to verify what I have written, and not as a recommendation.

I don't think I'm falling into the same trap as the Brexit and SNP supporters who demanded the sacking of Laura Kuenssberg or Nick Robinson when I criticise this sort of "Reductio ad absurdum" as a dirty trick from Jenkins and others, and I would be the first to agree that it has been used against both sides, for example against Gove and Johnson as well as Cameron.

Just to show that I can make positive as well as negative comments:

If Simon Jenkins' article was a depressing example of corrosive, sneering journalism, a counter-example of rather more balanced and constructive writing was provided by Max Hastings, who began his comments with an appeal for people to respect the views of others. Max argued that bitterness towards those who take a different view

"is wildly unreasonable, because there are heavyweight arguments on both sides"

Later he added

"On June 23, we are not being offered a choice between good and evil, Satan's emissaries and the angels. We shall be asked to make a marginal judgment call, which is what most of grown-up life is about."

The full article is here.

Incidentally it is by no means always Conservatives and Kippers who are talking up hostility towards those who take the other view. I don't think it was helpful, for example, for the head of Labour In, former home secretary Alan Johnson, to call Leave supporters “extremists” and appear to question their sanity.

Speaking to The Sun on-board Labour’s referendum battle bus Alan Johnson said:

  “We are the reasonable people... the Leave side are the extremists on this”

and he added that Leave campaigners have a “certain mentality that is not rational and not balanced” if they cannot see that the EU has done good things.

Source: Sun report here.

You could argue that I am being negative towards people who are negative, but in accordance with my Ten Commandments for conducting a referendum with dignity and respect I am trying hard to report what people have said fairly, not to accuse anyone of mental deficiency or being a liar, and to maintain my sense of humour!

2) Is £250 billion of trade really at risk if Britain leaves the EU?

Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) says £250bn of trade would be at risk if the UK were to leave the European Union. In a BSIE press release, former Chancellor Alistair Darling said:
"Those wanting to leave the EU want to pull Britain out of the single market, which would mean introducing tariffs and barriers to our trade and putting billions of vital trade at risk."
The figure is based on part of the Treasury's work on the impact of a Brexit.

Some people who support Leave do want to pull out of the Single Market, although of course the "Flexcit" plan aims to avoid that.

The treasury calculation was based on comparing the amount of trade done between EU members with the amount done by non-members and concluded trade with EU members was 76% higher. BSE used this to derive the £250 billion figure which includes both imports and exports, a point on which they should probably have been more clear.

But as BBC fact checkers pointed out here,

"Looking at how much trade is increased by signing a free trade agreement is not the same as predicting that amount would be at risk from leaving."

I do think there would be a cost in trade, growth and jobs from leaving the single market, and I suspect the consensus among economists that leaving might well have negative economic effects could well be right. But the suggestion that £250 billion of trade would be at risk if we leave the EU does not strike me as being at all reliable.

3) Vote Leave and Boris Johnson blame the EU for decisions by judges who are nothing to do with the EU.

Vote Leave have been tweeting this evening about how "Unelected EU judges control who we can and cannot deport."

The tweet includes a clip from Boris Johnson from a Sky News interview - here is the whole thing and you can see the relevant section starting about 3 minutes 30 seconds in.

Boris claims that unelected judges have prevented the British Home secretary from deporting people we do not want here. That's true, but what he doesn't explain is that neither of the two sets of judges concerned have anything whatsoever to do with the EU and he is completely wrong when he then tries to suggest that this is entirely due to EU laws and policies and claims that a Leave vote on 23rd June would stop it happening.

In the cases of both Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, the judges who held up the deportation for years - though in both cases it eventually went ahead - were from the European Court of Human Rights which is nothing to do with the European Union. Their objections were based on the European Convention on Human Rights, not any EU law or policy. The ECHR is part of the European Council and leaving the EU would not affect our membership of that body or affect our relationship with either ECHR.

In some more recent cases, the judges who have challenged deportation orders were British judges on our own Supreme Court.

Obviously leaving the EU won't affect them either !

I have a horrible feeling that it's going to be a long, long month until 23rd June ...

Why the Leave campaign should have backed Flexcit

If the official "Leave" campaign were putting forward a comprehensive proposed strategy for Britain to adopt if we quit the EU, such as the Leave Alliance's FLEXCIT proposal, they would of course have come under fire from those making criticisms of the specific details of that proposal.

And they would not have been able to run with some of the arguments they have used - for example, the immigration argument would have had to be put far more carefully and while making less extreme claims if the FLEXCIT plan were being followed.

(Mind you, with a lot of floating voters that might not have been as big a negative as much of UKIP and other hardliners appear to think)

However, if Leave were putting forward a clear plan, they would not be as vulnerable to attacks like the poster and tweet below both of which appeared on Twitter today.

I still think this referendum is going to be close and could yet go either way. But both the official Leave campaign, and their rivals at Leave.EU, appear to be doing their best to blow it.

Quote of the day 26th May 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spoof posts of the week

I gather that the Taleban really has named a new leader, but this report about who it is should be taken with a pinch of salt.

As should the story that a newly discovered passage from the bible advocates leaving the EU.

News Thump also have their own unique take on the NHS doctor who joined DA'ESH for better working conditions,

Meanwhile, as rumours suggest that the long-awaiting Chilcot report might actually turn out to be worth waiting for and may even eviscerate what's left of the reputation of Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister still doesn't appear to get that the worst way he can help any cause is to speak in favour of it, whether the cause concerned is "Remain" or a "proper ground war" against DA'ESH.

One spoof which is not too far from the truth describes this with the headline,

Proper ground war needed to defeat ISIS insists proper war criminal.

There are a lot of people who would not consider that a joke ...

Speaker tells MPs to "Keep calm and behave like Ken Clarke" ...

Speaker Bercow tweaked the tails of MPs on both sides of the House of Commons (especially leavers, I suspect) asking them to take a leaf out of the book of Ken Clarke, sit down and remain calm ...

I've been trying to include the clip and finding, not for the first time that embed codes can be temperamental, but I think it is working now, touch wood ...

What's in a Name?

What will "Legal Highs" be called from tomorrow when they cease to be legal?

I gather the answer is "Psychoactive Substances."

Whatever we call them, and whether they are legal or not, the evidence strongly suggests that they are dangerous. Let's hope the policy of banning them works.

Palmerston at the FO

It looks like the Keith Simpson MP and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond have been following my tenth referendum commandment to keep a sense of humour.

Keith Simpson asked at Foreign Office questions whether Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat, has been positively vetted, and whether the Foreign Secretary could confirm the that cat is not an EU Commission mole.

Comparing Palmerston with the Chancellor's former cat Freya, Mr Hammond replied:

“He is definitely not a mole and I can categorically assure you that Palmerston has been regularly vetted.

“As for being a sleeper, he is definitely a sleeper, I am told very often in my office.”

“But unlike Freya, who went missing for two years, his attendance record has been 100 per cent.

“My experts tell me that that pretty much rules out the possibility of him being a commission employee.”

Quote of the day 25th May 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Free Speech in danger?

If there is one value which is absolutely fundamental to the preservation of democracy it is the one usually attributed to Voltaire:

Even Frederick the Great, who made Prussia a great power, made a point of allowing free speech, though not all of his successors followed suit.

And if there is one place above all others where the battle for free speech is most critical, it is at Universities and Colleges.

Students attend colleges to have their minds expanded, not to be allowed to retreat into "safe spaces" where they can block out ideas they do not like.

This is obviously a battle which has to be re-fought in every generation. I was a student between 1980 and 1985, and there were far too many student unions doing outrageous things in the name of "No Platform" policies back then - including, in one particularly egregious case, banning a college Jewish society in the name of anti-racism.

Back then, that got the college student union concerned suspended from the National Union of Students. These days it is student unions which are looking to disaffiliate from NUS - a policy which was very popular with the right of the Conservative student movement in my day but appeared to have dropped out of sight in the intervening 30 years.

I was very depressed to read the results of a survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) whose researchers interviewed 1,000 students in more than 100 universities for a new reportKeeping Schtum? What Students Think of Free Speech.

Apparently three quarters of the students interviewed want to ban all "offensive" speakers - and more than a quarter of them (27%) would include UKIP in the category of speakers who should be banned.

As will probably be obvious to anybody who reads this blog, I am not a fan of UKIP, but my attitude to them is exactly that laid out in the Voltaire quote above.

And although UKIP have a larger nutter quotient than the average mainstream political  party, most of their members and supporters are not fascists, racists, or anybody to whom a reasonable person would apply a "No platform for racists and fascists" policy if you supported one in the first place, which of course I don't.

For that large a chunk of students to think it is OK to ban them is a sign that the flames of democracy are not burning as brightly as they should be in our Universities and Colleges. Students are usually and rightly considered the future of our country: if the people who were surveyed by the future of HEPI are the future of Britain, I fear for the future of British Democracy.

The No Platform policy has been used, both when I was a student and recently, to try to silence speakers way outside the categories of extremists who its' defenders usually say it is meant to stop. Supporters of the policy often say that it is applied against those who have plenty of other avenues to speak - and they often say that that means affluent, right-wing straight white men.

Actually the people who have faced attempts by student unions to stop them speaking in the recent past include  gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, feminist Germaine Greer, ex-Muslim and anti-Sharia campaigner Maryam Namazie and liberal Muslim Mona Eltahawy.

As the feminist writer Naomi Wolf writes, the attitudes displayed in the HEPI survey are "catastrophic."

She added: “They show a terrifying trend, especially in British universities which for 800 years have served as lights of freedom of thought.”

Mind you, if a similar survey had been done in my student days, I am not sure how much better the results would have been.

I remember at one National Union of Students conference in the eighties, a speaker told the people in the hall that they were the future of our country, and one of my Conservative student colleagues - not by any means a hard-right one - looked round the hall and muttered to me a comment which was only half a joke,

"I b***** hope not!"

But actually most of them grew up.

Please God most of those students who today are calling for views they don't like to be suppressed rather than trying to defeat them with argument will eventually do the same.

National Security

And now for something completely different: a political message which is nothing to do with the referendum ...

A message from the Conservative Party.
Subject: National Security

Last week’s Queen’s Speech was a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a One Nation Government. It used the opportunity of a strengthening economy to focus on delivering security for working people, increasing life chances for the most disadvantage and strengthening our national security.
But the Labour Party want to derail that plan: they are a risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party has invited terrorists to our Parliament: ‘It will be my pleasure …to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking… I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.’
You can help stop Jeremy Corbyn. Donate £20 today and we will send you a limited edition ‘LABOUR: STILL A RISK TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY’ mug as a thank you.

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Quote of the day 24th May 2016

Mr Duncan Smith seems to think Turkey joining the EU is an imminent threat. Which is odd, because that would require the EU to be efficient and decisive. And Mr Duncan Smith thinks the EU is the opposite. Indeed, that’s one of the main reasons he wants us to leave.

“The EU can only move as quickly as its slowest member states, and that means it can only move very slowly indeed,” he said. “EU leaders and the Brussels army of bureaucrats can’t agree on how to fix the euro. They can’t agree on what to do about refugees. They can’t agree on what kind of transatlantic trade partnership they want with the USA – such that it is very unlikely that it will ever happen.”

So the EU is hopelessly slow, inefficient and indecisive, then – even when pursuing trade deals that would be in its own economic interest. Oh dear. That’ll make it difficult for Britain to strike a trade deal with the EU after we’ve voted to leave. Won’t it?

Suddenly, Mr Duncan Smith’s view of EU efficiency changed.

“We’re the fifth largest economy in the world!” he snapped. “Are you telling me that with a trade deficit with the rest of the EU, we aren’t going to be able to arrive at a deal that is particular to the UK? I don’t think so! I think they’ll do that straight away!”

So, to summarise. When it comes to negotiating a trade deal with the world’s largest economy, the EU’s chronic lethargy means it will probably never agree one. But when it comes to negotiating a trade deal with the world’s fifth largest economy, the EU will snap out of its torpor and agree one immediately.

Yes, I think I’ve got that."

(Michael Deacon

Monday, May 23, 2016

Should I add an eleventh commandment?

I'm thinking whether I should add to my list of commandments in the post earlier today.

11) Thou shalt not publish the private telephone numbers of people you disagree with and encourage lots of people to ring them.

You would think that would be too obvious to need mentioning? Apparently not.

And this would have been bad enough if it was the Leave side doing it to the Remain side or vice versa. No, it's the Brexit supporters doing it to one another.

Gordon Bennett.  I'm wondering if Jim King was right in the comments and they want to lose.

Gaffe of the Week

On the BBC news today I listened to a presenter who was talking about the Chancellor's warning that Brexit might precipitate a recession.

He meant to quote the treasury report as suggesting that "up to 820,000 jobs could be at risk"

However he actually said, presumably by accident, that "up to 820,000 votes could be at risk."

Definitely a contender for Freudian Slip of the Week ...

Ten Commandments for conducting a referendum with dignity and respect

1) Thou shalt not accuse all Remain supporters of being unpatriotic

Firstly, this does not help your case, and secondly, it isn't true. Saying things like "Remainers hate Britain" may apply in a few egregious cases of "every century but this and every country but his own" such as Emma Thompson, but it does not, repeat not, apply to the vast majority of those who may vote Remain.

If someone genuinely believes that Britain will be richer, better defended, and more influential in the world inside the European Union, then the patriotic thing for them to do is vote remain.

It is very unlikely indeed that either side in this referendum is going to win by much more than ten percentage points - if that. Both sides have been above 40% in the great majority of polls, which means if the turnout is similar to a general election, there will probably be more than ten million votes in each pile. Do you seriously believe that more than ten million British voters hate our country? I certainly don't.

2) Thou shalt not accuse all Leave supporters of being racists

There are some racists in our country and many of them will vote Leave, but the great majority of Leave supporters are not racist.

If someone genuinely believes that Britain will be richer, better defended and more influential in the world by cutting loose from EU institutions which are sometimes highly imperfect, then voting to leave does not make them a racist. See argument above about patriotism: I don't believe that more than ten million people in this country are racist and I know plenty of people who are voting "leave" for reasons which have nothing to do with race or immigration.

3) Thou shalt not accuse everyone on the other side of being stupid

Again, this does not help your cause and it isn't true either. Take as an example my profession - I'm an economist - in which the vast majority of experts think Britain would be better off inside the EU. However, those who don't think that - the "Economists for Brexit" group in particular - include some first rate minds who have a very good understanding of economics indeed.

And the reason I am beginning to lean against them is not because I think their economic arguments are wrong, but because I don't think Britain would vote for the free-trade policies necessary  to make their arguments apply.

So to take an example, calling those who disagree with you "economically illiterate" is not terribly helpful whichever side you're on. You might have a point if you are referring to a specific set of arguments which particularly fail to hang together - those of "Labour Leave" for instance - but it isn't true of everyone and accusing everyone who disagrees with you of stupidity does not come over well.

4) Thou shalt not accuse everyone who changes their mind of having no principles

There can be very good reasons for people to change their minds. As I pointed out yesterday there are very solid and respectable reasons why a number of people on both sides of the EU referendum debate are much less keen on Turkey joining the EU now than they were ten years ago.

Nor is it sensible to assume that everyone who changes their mind towards the side you currently support is a great statesman and everyone who changes their mind in the opposite direction is an opportunist and traitor.

5) Thou shalt not compare the EU to Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany

Both Nazi German and the Soviet Union were run by people who started aggressive wars against people in other countries and murdered many millions of innocent people from their own countries. Neither ever held anything remotely resembling a free election or tolerated anything resembling independent courts or a free press.

The people who founded the European Union, whether you agree with them or not, were trying to make another war like the one started by Nazi Germany impossible and to find peaceful ways to co-exist. You don't have to like what they created to recognise that not one of the five things I wrote above about the USSR and Nazi Germany applies to the EU.

Suggesting that the EU is like a murderous dictatorship such as the USSR or Hitler's Germany is downright offensive and makes you sound like an unpleasant fanatic. Even drawing more measured and reasonable parallels is unwise because the press is bound to report it in ways which cause justified offence and you'll have to spend days explaining what you actually said.

6) Thou shalt bear in mind how the press distorts what people said

It is far too late to hope for any sanity from the press, or that when the media report a grossly exaggerated version of what people have said, their opponents will respond to what was actually said instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint their opposition as headbangers or scaremongers.

But it will make it much easier to work with people after June 24th, if we remember that for example the PM did not say that Brexit will cause World War III or a good number of the more inflammatory things put into his mouth by the media. Neither has Boris Johnson said all the ludicrous things which the press has given the impression he said.

7) Thou shalt at least try to get thy facts right

As I have pointed out in numerous "Worst of Both Worlds" threads on this blog, and as various fact checkers have pointed out, the level of misleading information from both sides during this EU referendum campaign has been an absolute disgrace. Both sides need to do better.

A certain MEP from the region where I used to live tweeted to a friend of mine today - a fellow floater unimpressed with both sides -  that his side was not "in the same league" as the other for crazy scaremongering.

I'm afraid both sides have indeed been guilty of crazy scaremongering and I told him that I thought his side most definitely was in the same league.

8) No matter how badly you think your opponents have broken the seventh commandment above, thou shalt not use the "L" word

Despite what I wrote just above, it's not going to help us put matters right if people are too quick to describe arguments they disagree with as lies or call the other side liars.

It is my impression that, in the great majority of cases during this referendum where someone has called a person on the other side a liar, the individual so described actually believed what he or she had said.

Whether you are pro Leave or pro Remain, before calling someone on the other side a liar, think.

Whatever has incensed you, I guarantee someone on your side has said something equally untrue. I suspect you know perfectly well that I'm telling the truth when I write that, and if you don't you need to apply your critical faculties more carefully to what your own side is saying.

When you came across a statement from your own side which you know was untrue or misleading, did you call it out? Did you, like the pro-Brexit MP Doctor Sarah Wollaston, who refused to hand out Vote Leave's leaflets about the NHS which she considers misleading, refuse to go along with it?

If you didn't, do you really have the moral high ground to attack people on the other side?

9) Thou shalt not claim that there are no valid arguments for the other side.

Whichever side you're on, there are. There really are. It would not be so close if there were not.

10) Thou shalt try to keep thy sense of humour

If there is one thing that can help us get through this, it's the ability to laugh at ourselves and others.

Quote of the day 23rd May 2016


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Turkey - Facts and Scaremongering

A classic example of how not to discuss a sensitive and difficult issue if the way some people on both sides of the EU debate have been discussing Turkey, migration from Turkey, and whether and when Turkey might join the EU.

The first thing which has to be recognised in any such discussion is that many people on both sides of the EU debate have changed their minds about Turkey over the years, and this does not prove that they are fools, liars, hypocrites, or have elastic principles.

There is a saying often attributed to John Maynard Keyes, although there is no proof that he ever said, it, which is nevertheless a wise one:

For thirty years after Turkey's first free elections in 1950, the development of democracy in Turkey was regularly interrupted by army takeovers: the last such military coup was in 1980.

But from the election of Turgut Osal's Motherland party government in 1982, there followed a period of 20 years when power alternated as the result of elections between moderate-reformists of the centre-right, and those of the Democratic Left. While Turkish democracy in this period was by no means perfect it was still perfectly plausible for reasonable, intelligent and well-informed Western observers to view Turkey as moving in the right direction towards becoming a normal, stable democracy whose eventual membership of the EU would not present any serious difficulties for other members. Turkey also appeared to be almost the only Islamic country which had developed its' own successful version of the separation of church and state.

Even after the initial election in 2002 of the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development) party which has been in power since then, that did not at first appear to change. The AKP initially presented themselves as moderate Islamists who would govern in accordance with the principles of democracy: until 2013 the AKP was allied to Fethullah Gülen's Cemaat Movement, which presents itself as a very moderate form of Islam.

The great majority of quotes from British politicians such as David Cameron or Iain Duncan Smith supporting the accession of Turkey to the EU, date from between 1982 and 2013.

David Cameron who had previously been a very strong supporter of helping Turkey join the EU has not to my knowledge completely abandoned that position. He was very enthusiastic back in 2008 and 2010 and still supported it in 2014. However since 2013 his comments on the subject have gradually grown less optimistic both on the prospects for this and on the timescale.

The change in circumstances in 2013 began with a massive corruption scandal in which senior figures in the AKP government were arrested: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the Cemaat movement for the accusations which he said were part of a coup attempt and accused Gülen and his supporters of being terrorists. From 2013 Erdoğan's government has regularly been accused - justifiably, in my humble opinion - of highly authoritarian and anti-democratic behaviour including a crackdown on press and social media, such as seizing opposition newspapers and taking them over, electoral fraud, demeaning the Constitution and alleged human rights violations, and has blocked access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on numerous occasions.

Hence, for very good reasons, a lot of people who previously supported Turkish entry into the EU have changed their minds - including prominent members of both the Leave and Remain campaigns.

For the same reasons, any well informed and honest person will tell you that there is no chance of Turkey being allowed to join the EU while they behave like this.

It has been suggested by some members of the Leave campaign that in the event of  a Remain vote Britain would not be consulted about whether accession countries like Turkey could join.

This is complete and total nonsense - what US fact-checkers call a "Four Pinocchios," a statement with no basis in truth whatsoever. All members of the EU, including the UK if we stay in, would have a veto over the accession of any new member wanting to join. While Turkey is run as it is today, it is extremely likely that at least one member state would be bound to exercise such a veto.

As Damian Chalmers, professor of EU law at the London School of Economics, told the BBC here, the UK and every other member state has an effective "double veto" in that both every government has a veto (the first thing a new member needs for admission is a unanimous vote in the European Council) and every national parliament has a veto (the next thing they need is for the parliament of every existing member state to ratify the accession treaty). He added that "We are talking many, many years" before Turkey would be allowed to join the EU.

We will have some serious issues in managing our relationship with Turkey whether Britain is in or out of the EU. But let's base our approach to those issues on the facts.

Those who say that as an EU member Britain would have a veto over Turkey joining the EU are telling the truth and this is a matter, not of opinion, but of fact. Anyone who claims that we would not even be consulted in the matter is wrong.

Sunday music spot: Charpentier's Marche en Rendeau

Quote of the day 22nd May 2016

(Sir Edward) "Heath loved to sign copies of his own books. Indeed it became a common joke that an unsigned copy of one of his books was a rare item of value.

One day, while he was signing, a woman approached him and shyly asked for his autograph, handing him a book.

It was Harold Wilson's volume on the governance of Britain.

Heath said nothing, inscribing carefully and slowly closing the book before handing it back. The woman thanked him and left with her prize.

Nobody said a thing but watching over her shoulder Stephen" (Sherbourne) "noticed what he had written.

'A million apologises for the damage I have done to Britain, yours Harold Wilson.'"

(Anecdote told by Stephen Sherbourne about his former boss Ted Heath as recounted in yesterday's Times by Lord Danny Finkelstein)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Innocent until proven guilty

There is no crime other than murder which can do more devastation to the lives of vulnerable people than child abuse.

There is no crime including murder of which a mistaken or malicious accusation can cause more devastation to the lives of innocent people than child abuse - such harm including, of course, the genuine danger of being murdered by vigilantes who believe the accusations.

In the wake of a whole raft of scandals from the Saville Affair to Rotherham, most intelligent people have reached the ghastly conclusion that child abuse is significantly more common in Britain than we had until recently thought, that people of any colour, any creed, and any status in society many be perpetrators or victims, and that our society has failed too many victims by not taking genuine accusations seriously enough.

Sadly there is also far too much evidence that we have also failed those who through mistaken identity or malice have been wrongly accused of this awful crime. Danny Finkelstein had a very disturbing article in Thursday's Times called "Destroyed by false accusations of child abuse" which begins be reporting some of the findings of an academic study of the impact of mistaken or false allegations on a number of people who were accused of child abuse but against whom no charges were brought, who were acquitted, or had their convictions overturned.

The murders of  Darren Kelly and Bijan Ebrahimi, innocent men who were killed in two separate incidents  by people who wrongly thought they were paedophiles,  demonstrate only too clearly how harmful and dangerous being on the wrong end of  mistaken allegations of child abuse can be. The errors of mistaken identify which led to mistaken allegations against Lord McAlpine and the ignominious story of Operation Midland demonstrate how difficult this is to get right.

It is tragic that so many children have been failed in the past because action was not taken in many genuine cases of child abuse. It is also tragic that the justified reaction against this unacceptable situation has let to dire consequences for some people who were falsely accused. It would be a third tragedy if a further over-reaction were to cause future allegations of child abuse not to be properly investigated.

Britain must not alternate between opposite over-reactions, between on the one hand complacency which leaves real cases of child abuse not investigated and genuine victims unprotected, and on the other panic and witch-hunts which destroy the lives of innocent people.

We must find a happy medium in which child abuse is taken seriously and action taken to stop it without this becoming a witch hunt in which those investigating fail to treat the accused and their families like human beings or remember that they must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

The most powerful countries in the world ...

An interesting study by a geostrategy consultancy, reported here on the UK defence site, suggests that Britain is the second most powerful country in the world, behind only the United States, in terms of the ability to project power globally.

The study divides nations into Superpowers, Global powers, Regional Powers, and local powers. It finds that the US is the world's only current superpower, and Britain as the only Global Power, putting us ahead of the eight countries ranked as Regional powers which are Russia, China, France, India, Canada, Japan, Germany and India.

This is based on global reach and the proportion of the world in which a nation is capable or projecting military power.

An interesting analysis, but before we get too complacent I think that, despite the fact that this gives NATO countries the top three spots and two more of the top ten, both the UK and other NATO members states need to take a long hard look at what plans we have in place to deal with any further adventurism from the country placed at number five in that list. That will apply whether we are in or out of the European Union.

The problem is not that Vladimir Putin wants to start World War Three, it's that he could very easily touch off something dangerously close to it by mistake if he gets the false idea that the West is not willing and able to defend itself and our allies.

Justine Greening on the EU vote

Justine Greening has a piece at Conservative Home today about which side she is supporting in the EU referendum and why.

I will say that it makes a nice change to read an almost entirely positive piece from either side, which in my opinion does not contain a single scaremonger, personal attack, or dodgy statistic.

(I see from the comments that someone on the other side from Justine, who appears to have been on the lookout for something to be offended by, managed to find three words that they could take as an insult but I don't agree with them.)

You can read Justine's article in full here but here is a sample:

"I have never been a default ‘Remainer’: in fact, I have always had what I consider to be a pretty sceptical streak when it comes to Europe. When I went to work as a chartered accountant in mainland Europe for a couple of years during the 1990s, working with European clients, I did wonder if I’d come back a converted Europhile, but I didn’t. I grew to love the diversity of Europe and its different cultures, rather than its Union. However, when the time came to actually think where I would put my cross on the Remain/Leave ballot paper, it involved a much more forensic approach to assessing what the right thing to do would be for our country, combined with an element of gut instinct.

For me, any debate on our economy and jobs is a very personal one. When I was growing up in Rotherham during the 1980s, my own father lost his job in the steel industry and was unemployed for a year. I’ll never forget what that was like for my family and how hard it was. Successful companies create jobs, but they need a level playing field to compete.

That’s why Margaret Thatcher set about getting the Single Market in place – so that British companies could get on with competing – and they have done that very successfully, which is why we export so much to the rest of Europe. Our car manufacturers – now a net exporter for the first time since the 1970s – need that level playing field, not to be at a disadvantage with tariffs trading from outside it. I can’t see the point of leaving the Single Market and the level playing field to then try instantly to rejoin it. If you’re not in a club, you’re not going to be given the same benefits as others who are – otherwise what would be the point?

And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s that the intractable problems that our world faces – like the Syria conflict, ebola in West Africa, or the impact of climate change – will be there whether or not Britain is in the EU. They are best dealt with, however, by working together with our neighbouring countries, in partnership. That can be exceptionally difficult, since we often have very different views about the best course of action, but that’s all the more reason to be a voice round the EU table having our say.

Why put ourselves at a disadvantage?  How Europe responds collectively affects us. Europe is our continent: that’s a geographical fact, not an option. It’s why Europe is such a huge part of our history – it’s a continent we’ve shaped as much as it’s shaped us. This will be the same for our country’s future too. Britain’s voice matters and should stay at the table. We will keep winning the debates by being in them."

Saturday Music spot: a Vivaldi Concerto arranged by Bach

To be clear, this magnificent piece was actually written by Vivaldi for four violins, and in that form was one of the many pieces of Vivaldi's music popularised by the late Yehudi Menuhin after, like almost everything Vivaldi wrote, it had been long forgotten.

JS Bach transcribed Vivaldi's music for four harpsichords instead of four violins, and that is this version.

It is unbelievable, but true, that the musical world somehow largely managed to forget about both Bach and Vivaldi for one and two centuries respectively. Bach was then "rediscovered" and popularised by Mendelsohn and Vivaldi, almost within living memory, by Menuhin. In my youth I remember reading a letter in The Times by a professor of music about the fact that his generation of music students were told that they would probably never hear a piece by Vivaldi performed, but they ought to study him because he was important to the development of other composers (like, I presume, Bach). He added that he remembered this with wry amusement every time yet another recording of "The Four Seasons" came out.

So that's four great musicians to remember when you hear this piece!

Quote of the day 21st May 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

The problem with polls

Veteran pollster Peter Kellner has a fascinating article in the Politics Counter today.

The article is about why he thinks Remain is more likely to win the EU Referendum and most people reading it will probably focus on that conclusion but actually what he says about why opinion polls are often wrong is in some ways even more interesting.

I had a twitter exchange with a journalist on the North West Evening mail this week, after taking exception to the results of one of the voodoo polls in the paper.

Basically any newspaper website, or any other website, which simply asks readers to click on their view without making any effort to check for things like multiple voting is going to produce totally unreliable results and would be anywhere near correct only by great good fortune in the same way that a broken clock is right twice a day.

That's why Mike Smithson of Political Betting calls such polls "Voodoo polls" and he's right,

The interesting thing about today's Kellner article is that he addresses the difficulty that both online and phone polls are addressing in terms of how hard it is to reach a representative sample of voters, and as he says, the amazing thing is not that the opinion polls are sometimes badly wrong as how often they are right.

Here's an extract from the article


Before we discuss these differences, a broad point needs to be made about all polls. They face a huge challenge getting anything right. By definition, online polls survey people who have chosen to join a polling panel.

In theory, telephone polls are able to reach everyone who has a phone. But they are at the mercy of response rates; and in recent years these have collapsed. Twenty years ago, according to one of our most respected telephone pollsters, they achieved a response rate of around 30%. To obtain 2,000 interviews, they asked their computer to generate 7,000 random residential telephone numbers. These days, to obtain 2,000 interviews, they need to start with as many as 28,000 phone numbers, for response rates have fallen to just 7%.

In short, all polls require research companies to extrapolate from the small proportion of the general public they can reach to the far larger number of people who neither join online panels nor respond to telephone polls. The surprising thing about is not that today’s polls sometimes get things wrong, but that they have such a good record of getting so many things right.

The reason why our leading polling companies are so good, so often is that they go to great lengths to make their samples match the country’s population – by age, gender, region, social class, past vote and so on. Usually this process generates accurate results. But sometimes it doesn’t, either because the silent, unpolled, majority, differs from the poll-friendly minority in some way that is not captured even by the smartest demographic sampling – or because of “mode effects”, in which the way a poll is conducted prompts some respondents to conceal their true feelings."

Seriously, for anyone who wants to understand the workings of opinion polls, Peter Kellner's article is an absolute must read. You can read it  here.

Surprising news

I was astonished to learn this evening that Rod Liddle has been suspended from the Labour Party.

Not because I find their action in suspending him in the least surprising, obviously.

I'm astonished because he was still a member.

Considering how rude he has been about them in his columns in the papers for years, it is very remarkable indeed that he has neither resigned nor been expelled before now!

Worst of both Worlds 9: Juncker and Vote Leave lose the plot again

If I had a hundred pounds for every really, really silly tweet, message, article, leaflet or newpaper piece I have read during the EU referendum campaign, including material from both sides, I could afford to retire early.

This week's examples of how not to make the argument come from EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and from the Vote L:eave campaign.

When you are trying to explain to people how you will respond if they do something you are trying to persuade them not to do, it is usually an excellent idea to try to make the comment sound like a warning from a friend rather than a threat from an enemy.

You'd think the President of the EU Commission would know that.

Apparently not

"I'm sure the deserters will not be welcomed with open arms"

was what he told readers of the French newspaper Le Monde in an interview reported here by Reuters, adding that

"The United Kingdom will have to accept being regarded as a third country, which won't be handled with kid gloves.

He also said this was not a threat but it certainly didn't come over very well.

Meanwhile Vote Leave's latest utterly ridiculous tweeted graphic was this one:

Anyone who could authorise the release of such utter nonsense either thinks they are going to lose  and are desperately looking round for even the weakest argument, is very badly informed, or thinks the electorate are.

There was a silly, meaningless and entirely symbolic  European Parliament vote last year suggesting that the British and French UN Permanent seats on the UN security Council should be transferred to the EU.

But we don't "have to worry" about such a thing because there is no possibility whatsoever of ther EU causing it to happen. Britain or France could and would veto any attempt at the UN to amend the United Nations Charter in such a way. Britain and France could and would also veto any serious attempt (which the EU parliament motion was not) to persuade the EU to formally put such a proposal forward on behalf of the Union.

The people who might pose a threat to Britain's Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council are not the European Union but the SNP. If a major part of the UK were to break away, it might be possible for Britain's enemies to argue that what was left of the UK was no longer the same nation which had been given that seat under the original UN charter. Hence if Scottish Independence were ever to happen we might lose the seat for reasons which were not down to the EU at all.

If I regarded it as a strong possibility that a "leave" vote would trigger a second Scottish independence referendum and a vote by Scotland to leave the UK, then I would argue that, far from a vote to leave the EU safeguarding out UN Security Council seat, it would endanger it.

Since I think one of the better arguments made by Leave supporters lately has been that the SNP will only call a second IndyRef if they've very confident of winning, and at the moment they are not, I don't think the vote on June 23rd will affect out UN seat either way.

Another ridiculous tweet by vote leave this evening which is daft for very similar reasons:

Whether we vote Leave or Remain, British forces will work with our allies through NATO and there is absolutely no way we could be forced to put our armed forces under EU control

Since our armed forces already work with those of most other EU nations as part of the NATO alliance, it has been the case for longer than I have been alive that British troops can end up serving under an American general, or a Dutch Admiral, or a Canadian Air marshal. I have not heard a single advocate of a "leave" vote attack NATO - in fact most supporters of leave are also strong supporters of NATO.

Our soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting shoulder to shoulder under a common command structure with our allies, and pooling our sovereignty and defence with our NATO allies has hardly turned us into a conquered province subjugated by NATO.

Anybody who says there is something wrong with sharing the burdens of defending Europe should logically be even more keen to leave NATO than the EU. But apart from Jeremy Corbyn and a few of his acolytes I know of nobody daft enough to want to leave NATO.

There is nothing wrong in principle with working with countries like France and Germany for our mutual defence, unless you are still stuck in the attitudes not just of World War II but those of the Napoleonic wars!

The reason I don't want Britain to take part in an EU army is absolutely not because there is anything wrong with working with these countries, but because in NATO we already have a perfectly good structure to co-ordinate our armed forces with them for our mutual defence which has stood the test of time, and as it is not broken there is no need to fix it.

And there is absolutely no way that Brussels could force us to take part in European army if we remain a member of the EU. We could veto any such proposal. So we do not have to vote leave to keep our own defences.

The Leave side often accuses Remainers of making up ridiculous scare stories and sometimes they are right. But it's the Vote Leave who have been circulating preposterous and untrue scare stories today.

Just over another month of nonsense by both sides to go ...