Saturday, 31 October 2015

Brexit - Ping of Death - Tariff Threats

The Leave campaign are subject to a ping of death attack at the moment. Not in the literal internet security sense of the phrase but in the arena of battle where they fight to wrestle sovereignty of the UK away from the clammy hands of the career political class in Brussels. It's irritating but something that we're going to have to get used to and learn to provide an effective response to. This will require knowledge, teamwork and endurance. Whoever gets the prize of being designated the 'official' leave campaign will have to work quickly to consolidate and accommodate all others with a vested interest in order to maximise the depth of knowledge and to build an effective fighting force, because this ping of death is only going to get louder as time progresses.

It's not the BSE (Britain Stronger in Europe) team that we're up against here, and I'd suggest that right now, expending any energy on BSE is a wasted effort. The people in the other corner are much more significant players: Cameron; Osborne; Mandelson; Clarke - etc etc and they have access to all kinds of resources in order to deliver just the right levels of FUD to discourage Leavers from regaining their democracy.  Naturally, nobody wants to be seen to be the source of a ping of death, and the beauty of such an attack is that it's distributed. Each source need only expend a little bit of effort to fire off the occasional ping (Brexit doubt) yet the wide scope of the attack soon bogs down the target, leaving them fighting to deliver any service whatsoever.

It's fair to say that we've had a few such 'pings' from the USA during this year. The President himself has clearly stated on more than one occassion that he believes the UK will have more influence by staying in the EU. This is counter intuitive when you begin to understand how our relationship with the EU works. Inside the EU, we get 1/28th representation on the world stage where the EU acts as some kind of regional proxy for us - yet the belief of many Brexiteers is that by taking our own seat at the top table, we'd have a better chance of full representation and an increase in influence. We're not a small force internationally in any capacity so why should we be allowed to be treated as such? Surely the truth behind Obama's comments is that our position in the EU is a matter of convenience to the USA.

So then we come to Michael Froman (US Trade Representative) and his own extremely well timed contribution to the Ping of Death. This commentary half inched from the Guardian:

Froman  “I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity,” Froman told Reuters, "adding that EU membership gives Britain more leverage in negotiations. We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs with individual countries. We’re building platforms … that other countries can join over time.”

Let's break that down and examine that a little shall we:

Froman: “I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU"

Reality: Probably not if we're honest about this. How does proxying our national interests through an institution which is also juggling the interests of 27 other nations, many of which bear little resemblance to our own, somehow amplify our influence. This sentence is a substance free sound bite.

Froman: "...being part of a larger economic entity"

Reality:  Having a large number of countries neatly tucked under its belt does count for something, and this would have meaning if a) we were small enough to be insignificant - instead we're about the 5th largest economy in the world and b) the EU was really amplifying our national interests. But it's not - the EU acts in its own interests because the idea of the EU as a country is far more important to the political class in the EU than the idea of member nations having individual needs. I'm also repulsed by this continued notion that financial incentives are enough to lure people away from their democratic rights. One of my Grandfathers manned Liberators in WW2 and the other was both an SOE and later a member of Z Special Unit - I often wonder what they would think of a generation prepared to throw away hard won democracy for the sake of the removal of mobile roamming charges.

Froman: "adding that EU membership gives Britain more leverage in negotiations."

Reality: I think he's echoing the President's line here. No need to repeat my thoughts.

Froman "We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs with individual countries. We’re building platforms … that other countries can join over time.”

Reality: And there it is ... we've gotten past the pastry and are at the meat of his sausage roll now because Froman has a vested interest in the strategic implementation of both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP to you and me) and also the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

TTIP is a contentious and widely reviled, proposed free trade agreement between the USA and the EU. It's seen as elevating corporate interests over those of national interests, particularly Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) which allow corporations to sue governments should their policies be seen to impact profits. The upshot of this is that corporations will have significant power with which to lobby governments and shape policy, moving the balance of democracy further away from the people who, by this time, are simply relegated to consumer status. Yet another beautiful moment in the Mandelson cited 'Post Democratic Era'.

Let's not kid ourselves here, this isn't a new thing but it doesn't really make it any less ugly. I find myself yearning for a single nation agreement here because if this goes the way of the pear, I want to be able to vote out those on this side of the Atlantic who are / were responsible and have them punished (and not in the Tom Sharpe / Nanny Whip kind of way).

Brexit would be massively inconvenient to Froman, fracturing the scope of his deliverable right at the point of closure. It's like buying a bag of marbles and then getting home to find out that the really interesting big one that you had your eye on slipped out of the bag on the way home.  There's no doubt in my mind that the US would have to come to the table and negotiate a free trade arrangement because the era of petty tariff wars is long gone and it's in everyone's interest. Here I have to state again, we're not a minor economic power, so let's not talk down our worth. However, for all those with a vested interested in keeping the dream of the undemocratic EU alive - the threat of tariffs is another convenient ping from Project Fear.

The antidote for the Leave campaign will be a firewall (dedicated crack team of volunteers well versed in the minutiae of the EU argument) - ready to intercept this kind of nonsense at the earliest opportunity - subsequently providing a swift and confident response for whoever ends up being the poster child of Leave. As the attack vector changes - the firewall rules will need to be continually refreshed to adapt to the emerging threats. This function has the potential to keep a lot of people very busy for the next two years.

And all that doesn't mean. of course, that we don't go on the attack ourselves; there's no fun to be had in this game if we always allow ourselves to be on the back foot. After all, the best form of defence is attack. All metaphorically speaking naturally.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Norway - nul points

If you weren't watching yesterday - there were interesting developments on the referendum campaign.

The main thrust was that the agenda was set first thing in the morning by the BBC declaring (as a leading  headline) that our PM was to denounce the 'Norway Option'. It seemed to me to be a very well coordinated straw man attack - because, as became apparent, there were not many people on the Leave side advocating Norway. All in all, people scurried away from debate on the matter rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in and challenging the facts. It's difficult not have grievances on the whole affair.

Firstly, if you're going to stand up and declare that you're ready to fight for Brexit, you need to know what it is that you're fighting for. This means arming yourself with the facts you need to effectively communicate your vision for a better future. That didn't happen yesterday - and the 'Remain' campaign got in several free blows without being properly challenged. Chief amongst those were some barefaced lies it would seem about the cost of Norway doing business with the EU and its exposure to EU laws (the 'Fax Law' concept).

To set the record straight on these matters, provides some hard facts on both matters:

It would seem that the UK pay more than twice as much as Norway per head to the EU:

We would have much better capacity for shaping rules outside the EU:

Had the Leave campaign 'representatives' been armed with any of this information, they would have advanced the conversation considerably.

Secondly, it's highly curious that Cameron is allowed to set the agenda like this when he's not even prepared to declare what it is that he's actually fighting for himself. Even today, we're hearing reports from other EU member heads of state that he's still yet to put any meat on the bone. Of course, the truth is that he's not even bothering. It seems even the media have decided that there's nothing to be gained by spending any more time on this issue and are much more interested in declaring it a straight fight between Leave and Remain and then setting up a series of Punch and Judy matches.

Take Evan Davies on Newsnight interviewing Owen Patterson. It wasn't Patterson's finest hour but it has to be said that Davies was wasn't interested in any intellectual conversation. Nuanced answers were cut short and at one point, rather unprofessionally, Davies cut across Patterson's answer declaring that he didn't want to hear about it.

Surely, when you're discussing a topic of great complexity, you'd expect an answer of some complexity? But apparently that won't do for BBC Newsnight. Perhaps Davies should have streamlined the process by giving Owen Patterson a multiple choice questionnaire to fill in rather than inviting him in to the studio. But the irony here is this -

David Cameron has been allowed to set the agenda, even feeding the media a series of questions to direct at the Leave camp - yet at the same time he's not expected to answer what it is that he's asking the EU for by way of reform. And the media just let this happen. They also allow him to carry on with his pretence that if he doesn't get what he wants, he'll campaign for Brexit. How can a man, who has so openly attacked the Leave campaign ever seriously been expected to renegotiate a better deal with the EU? He's shown his hand and the EU will be confident of his loyalty.

This whole episode reminds me of a quote from Sun Tzu's Art of War "Fight the enemy where they aren't"

That's what Cameron has done. In spite of the abject weakness of the 'Remain' camp's current position, he's moved the discussion in to areas that the public facing Leave camp were simply not ready to fight. For all the money behind and Vote_Leave, it would seem that they've faltered at the first strategic hurdle and it makes you wonder just what their funding is paying for. You don't win a fight like this by flashing half baked meme infographics around Twitter - you plan it like a military operation and get the opposition marching to the beat of your drum.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

How the EU is used to undermine democracy

If ever there was a beef to be had about the EU, it would be on the subject of democracy and how it fails to respect or support national democracy instead, looking to supplant it with an EU plutocracy. I say plutocracy because I see the EU as the creation of a two-tier state, with a wealthy political and corporate class creating a governance mechanism for the rest of us to be burdened with.

Many of us have been screaming for years that the EU is a huge danger to our fundamental freedoms, yet due to the softly softly approach of the EU project, they've managed to get where they want without facing significant resistance. But it's becoming clearer now that there is a definite cabal driving an agenda that undermines national freedoms and democracies in favour of a new status quo; something more frightening and less democratic than the federalist paradigm we've been fighting against for years.

Wait - so this isn't just about transition of powers from one democratic institution to another, more centralised body? In my opinion, no.

Firstly, the lack of 'hire and fire' accountability of EU legislators, who will be neck deep in the tidal wave of lobbyists sloshing round Brussels, means that for every power migrated away from the UK (or any other member nation for that matter), there is a dilution in the effectiveness of your voting power. When they push laws that you don't like, you simply cannot get rid of these people. A national election becomes a token exercise of faux democratic appeasement rather than creation of a genuine mandate by the people. What's worse is that national governments can use the EU as a mechanism to drive through unpopular laws at that level in order to deliberately circumvent national political institutions.

Find that hard to believe? Well here's Karen Bradley from the Home Office quoted (5th Oct 2015) in The Independent discussing the practice:

Secondly? Well then there's the unsettling matter of Portugal. The nation recently voted against the pro austerity conservative government and for the socialist opposition who formed a coalition with radical left anti austerity parties. Yet, the Portuguese President has vowed to block them from taking power. Why?

He says: "Never in 40 years of democracy, have the governments in Portugal relied on the support of anti-European political forces."

In other words, if you're not prepared to support the EU, you don't get to govern. This should send shivers up and down the spine of anyone who thinks that their vote actually counts toward shaping the destiny of their nation. The EU is already in a situation where it needs to have more direct political control of member states in order to maintain the precarious currency union that it has and it will certainly need more control as the project advances.

Alarming as it is, there is one further thought that unsettles me more about the matter of Portugal. It's a dramatic event which, with proper scrutiny would do much to expose the true nature of the EU to anyone concerned about its future direction and intentions. Yet, it appears to be getting zero air time from the likes of the BBC. For some reason they either don't see it as news worthy, or they're being highly selective about what they want to report.

Now we understand what was meant by Peter Mandelson when he said we were living in a "post democratic era". The referendum is possibly the only chance this generation will have to reverse the intentional damage that is being done to democracy.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

BBC charity in EU £9 million funding 'shocker'

It's fair to say that the BBC are going to be under huge amounts of scrutiny for the forthcoming EU referendum. They've already been derided for perceived lack of impartiality, having already been found to have received huge amounts of money from the EU (millions) and also for their frequent interchanging of the term 'EU' with the word 'Europe' at seemingly every opportunity.

The latter issue is a huge irritation not just because it's a blatant mistake but because that simple switching has a huge impact on perception over the referendum. People generally like Europe as a beautiful and diverse continent but couldn't give a flying fig about the self appointed technocrats masterminding their federalist dreams from Brussels and Strasbourg. Yet this isn't the BBC's issue alone and new reporting in general has been slack all round.

But when it comes to the money, the BBC appear to be on less stable ground. Only back in February 2014, Miles Goslett from The Spectator ran a story detailing how a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to the BBC uncovered millions had been received in EU funding.

See here:

So here we are a year and a half later and The Telegraph are running a story about BBC Media Action (BBC claim this is an independent charity) apparently received over £9 million in order to "deliver the EU’s “European Neighbourhood Policy”.

You can read the full story here:

Regardless as to how the BBC try to extricate themselves from this perception of money fuelled sock-puppetry, their reputation for impartiality will have taken yet another hammer blow after this.

The very surprising (and dangerous) love-in between Peter Mandelson and George Osborne

After 'Yachtgate' you wouldn't have expected these two to have much to say to each other. Yet it would appear that they share common DNA over the matter of the EU. Peter Oborne makes some interesting observations (full article can be found HERE), best summed up in this short paragraph:

"Europe is another common area of interest, for both men are ardent supporters of the EU. Mandelson is the mastermind of the campaign to keep Britain in Europe, while Osborne is the Government’s official negotiator, charged with obtaining better membership terms."

Somehow, the concept is not surprising - but it goes to demonstrate that the EU project goes well beyond party politics.

For further insight on the matter - see THIS from