Saturday, 30 January 2016

Fluid Politics - Real Dynamism

"In the midst of this Referendum is a little secret, one that could be transformational. It’s the realisation that Brexit is not a pit full of sharpened sticks but a moment that can be seized for the greater good. And the people who recognise that will benefit the most - because change is recognised as opportunity for the wise and brave."


There's a seat here, with our name on it.



The old order of things

For a small island, we’re doing remarkably well in the world. Consistently outperforming the majority of our fellow EU members and projected to overtake the German economy by 2030. For reasons that are probably hard to fathom for many, the UK has a resilient spirit that keeps it punching well above its weight, allowing us to maintain global influence and promote our values.

And it’s because of this that I find our ongoing relationship with the EU as completely baffling. It’s often put to me that being a member of the EU, one face in 28,  helps us gain influence around the world giving us real collaborative clout. But for a nation like ours, does this arrangement sound like a promotion of status to you or are we being marginalised? For me, it’s the latter. Drawing together 28 disparate nation states in to a collective and expecting them all to cede to a common view is a big ask - one which requires sacrifices and concessions in order to get that commonality. In order to satisfy member nations, the mechanism at play need to be fluid and fair but as we’ve seen before, they’re not.

We have an EU parliament which fragments our MEPs to suit pan EU politics rather than domestic, completely neutering our 9% representation. We have a Council of Ministers where we’ve failed to block a single act since the mid 90's and flatly failed to halt the appointment of Juncker. And we have a Commission made of appointed staff rather than being elected by the people. In respect of this last point, people will tell you that our appointed Commissioner provides some kind of national representation in that circle (as Peter Hain tried to assert recent Question Time) but the truth of the matter is that its a job appointment to work for the EU - and not an channel for the UK to lobby its interests.

Breaking the hierarchy


Through these many cumbersome cogs, we’ve supposed to work the machine to our advantage.  It may have made sense back in the 70's with limited membership - but does it make sense now?

In these days where we recognise that change is a constant and that we need to be more agile than ever, it makes absolutely no sense to coalesce different nations in to a monolithic bloc. Unless, of course, you intend to use that power for geographic regional protectionism. Yet under the light of change, we know full well that the world is connected in entirely different ways now. I have no more difficulty communicating with someone in New York than I do Glasgow. So whilst there is some merit in regional dialogue over matters of security and resources, forming rigid political alignments with an ever growing number of nations just because they happen to border your own makes absolutely no sense. Wake up, the internet has happened! We are now connected world wide at the speed of light.

In fact, by posturing in this manner and forming blocs, we create a weather front where national ideologies clash - and when we reach a boundary that the bloc cannot consume or absorb, expect there to be thunder and lightning as expansionism is seen as a threat. Even beyond that, in a global age the presence of a cumbersome and rigid Supranational on the world stage must look like an ogreish attempt to dominate rather than an attempt to foster global collaboration.

Brexit gives us opportunity to change that stance and represent ourselves at the top tables. Each and every round of discussions allows us to foster new alliances, making sure the best decisions are made for the right reasons, rather than be bound to a single entity that is primarily concerned with asserting its own identity. In trade and standards, we’ve already seen the direction of travel moving away from archaic trade blocs with FTAs and towards sector specific agreements, something Dr Richard North calls ‘unbundling’. From ‘The Market Solution’:

The ability to act independently offers the prospect of "unbundling" - seeking sector - specific (or even product - specific) solutions. These can replace ambitious free trade agreements that promise much but are often able to deliver little. Rather than promoting geographically anchored bilateral deals and then seeking to justify them with estimated (and often exaggerated) gains, potential savings might be identified by sector, with the more  valuable targeted first. Currently,  motor vehicles, electrical machinery, chemicals, financial services, government procurement and intellectual property rights are thought to be the most promising.

It seems clear to me that there is a wave of change happening in the global arena - and the UK should be at the forefront of this wave, leading the way - with Brexit being the body board, gliding us to the next shore. Through these transformations, we get true collaboration and likely a fairer result for all.


Still inclined to think that the EU represents a sensible approach to our future of the UK? Then take a look at this blog by Pete North: The EU is not a trade bloc - it's a power cult

In this, he illustrates the increasing irrelevance of - and interference by the EU in the matter of evolving global standards. We can either shy away from this chance to take a leading role and remain one voice in 28 (for now - more later) - or we can take the bull by the horns and lead the way.


"Change is opportunity for the wise and brave"

What we can learn from this vision?

Brexit cannot mean pulling up the drawbridge and living in a bubble because doing so demonstrates that you're in denial about the direction of travel. If you think that's where we should go, then you'll consign this nation to the margins of tomorrow's history. It’s impossible for us to go back in time; wishing for such is a wasted effort. Instead, we must aspire to a new future. Not only does this go for the state of the nation and its relationship with the wider world, domestic issues must change too.

For too long has Westminster been a stuffy cabal packed full of faces (primarily of well to do men) who have promised everything for the vote and then thought 'serve' meant 'lead without consultation'. In the same way that we look to the EU issue to transform the global politics, we then need to look to the UK post Brexit to radically transform the way we operate. Bring out the broom and sweep clean - or incrementally transform - but change, because it is necessary.

The UK would gain international respect through promoting and upholding its virtues, yet showing that it can be flexible enough to make significant change. By demonstrating that, without of an overbearing bureaucratic entity looming over the top of us and taking all the credit, we can lead the way in domestic transformation without the need to beg for consent from another 27 nations.

Whether it’s equality (both gender and race) - or justice - or freedom, in this interconnected world where it’s so hard to hide away your sins, we can use our new found freedom to act as beacons of virtue, daring other nations to follow suit. Not because we have it legislated from the top down as some kind of hierarchical overspill - but from the ground upwards, because the maturity of our culture demands it, forcing leadership to shape up or ship out.

And just as we work in a truly collaborative and intergovernmental manner globally, so the national politics should change radically, enshrining a collaborative approach and eschewing the antiquated hierarchies that have dominated for so long. Brexit may just be the fire that lights the fuse, so it's no wonder that our most challenging opposition to date is the stuffy old establishment of Westminster itself.

Change is either considered as a threat or an opportunity - and as change is a constant, your outlook on the matter will continually colour your life. If enough of us have the right outlook, perhaps we can carry the rest forward to a place that the EU couldn't possibly dream of.



Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Division of Opposition


"At first glance, the fight to Leave the EU would appear to be one of hope vs fear. A battle between two raging armies, slugging it out under the beady eyes of the watching media. But no war is won by pitched battle alone. There are other ways of winning and the best Generals know not to step out on to the field until they're sure the outcome is certain."

Can there be any greater betrayal than your allies leaving you mid battle?


Let's take a journey in to battle.

There's an imminent war that's been rumbling across the distant horizon like an angry summer storm. It's only a matter of time now before it reaches you. The dominance of the Union has momentarily stumbled and you've been given the chance to gather all those of like belief, rally them to the cause and form your allied forces in order to break free once and for all. And you'll need money to wage this campaign - lots of it. It's true that people have been vociferous in their support of your plans and methods and have given you what ever money they have - but it's the financiers you need to woo in order to lead the way. For reasons that are difficult to discern, they've turned their back on you and funded your allies instead.

The divisions between you are many, yet you have no choice but to fall in line and ride out together. After all, there is a greater common good here and everyone wants the same outcome. Your scouts and rangers tell you the odds are good; they've been sampling the scale of the opposition and the numbers are at worst even, possibly in your favour. Furthermore, they are weakened by the protracted sufferings and stresses brought about by years of injustice and misrule. Declaring a date for battle and marching on regardless must be their greatest folly and the urge to punish them for it is just too tempting to resist.

Your forces flank your allies and you draw to the edge of the field to size up your foe. They're hardly prepared, not least because of your pent up fury from the years maleficent manipulation. It will be enough on its own to carry the day. The horn sounds and the charge cascades in a stream across the battle field, with the roaring of every emotion screaming in the air, mingling amongst the steel blades and military hues of your forces.

But what if you had underestimated the opposition?

Full speed now, yet the opposition prance in formation as if waiting for something. At the same time, the very allies that won the right to bear arms for its people, funded by the financiers to lead the fight on their behalf, lower their weapons and peel off from the charge, leaving the field of battle. Your forces are left committed, exposed and confused. Charge now stalled, staring in disbelief at the actions of your allies, you dispatch a messenger to them demanding an explanation. Minutes later you have your response:

"The allies have formed a truce with the enemy, arguing that the terms of the Union are now favourable and should be supported by all. They have the promise of a new relationship and shall not raise arms against the Union. Through this peace, they feel that they have served their people well."

The odds are now stacked steeply against you and your diminished forces are like a dinghy along side the crashing tidal wave of the opposing forces that surge to swamp you. This fight is a foregone conclusion and as you swing your sword, taking as many down with you as you can, you cannot help but wonder when, where and why it all went wrong.

The answer is simple. The battle was never yours to win - and it was never really a battle; just a show designed to appease the people and project the sense of significance and change - enough to sate the people and have the argument done with for another generation.

Feel free to draw your own parallels with this little tale.



Division of Opposition

From wikipedia:

"Stanford University professor Beatriz Magaloni described a model governing the behavior of autocratic regimes. She proposed that ruling parties can maintain political control under a democratic system without actively manipulating votes or coercing the electorate. Under the right conditions, the democratic system is manoeuvred into an equilibrious state in which divided opposition parties act as unwitting accomplices to single-party rule. This permits the ruling regime to abstain from illegal electoral fraud"



Saturday, 23 January 2016

BBC - The EU Pact


"One by one, the citizens of the UK, switched on their radios and launched their browsers, keen on hearing impartial news of the EU referendum from which to form their opinions. The mouth of the state was only too happy to oblige when it meant leading them carefully down the well trodden paths of 'fear, uncertainty and doubt'. Yet the mouth remained firmly muted when it came to hope.

Does having the megaphone give you the right to dictate the truth?

Impartiality

The BBC has a duty to remain impartial. It's a tired old mantra now, hearing these words broadcast repeatedly to re-enforce a particular pubic perception. But just saying something doesn't make it so - no matter how hard you assert it. In fact, that's what makes truth such a gem because in order to obtain it, it takes more than just a flap of the jaw. You have to delve in to the depths, tunnelling beyond the layers of contrary assertion. There, embedded in the rock face, glistening in the dancing flame of the Davy lamp is the immutable truth just waiting to be shown off for all its worth.

Much as the BBC try to present factual gems, they only seem capable of delivering fools gold, palming it off as high quality, covet worthy material. Take it to an industry expert jeweller and you'll find that you've been ripped off. What's worse, when this fools gold is weighed up on the scales, it tips the balance of impartiality.

We all know what impartiality means - 'not supporting one person or group more than another' and it's synonymous with being unbiased and delivering neutrality on the matter in question. Yet more and more frequently I come across scathing commentary generally announcing that the BBC is anything but impartial; whether it's from the voices of disaffected Corbynites who feel that the organisation seeks to undermine their chosen leader in preference for one of a Blairite disposition, or the Brexiteers who experience the drip drip of 'Stronger In' flavoured FUD on an almost continual basis.

For illustration, here are just a couple of comments from my local rag, responding to a Brexit article:

"BBC seems to be, literally, a fully paid up member , receiving funds from EU - oh sorry, those from our taxes allocated to EU via our contribution."

and

"BBC are joined at the hip to HSBC and the IMF what is good for one is good for the other. HSBC is heavily involved with the IN campaign, but the number of execs moving from BBC to HSBC and vice-versa should be an indicator of the political motives behind both companies."

Alluding to the Rona Fairhead issue in the latter comment, I suspect.

Commentary like this is becoming commonplace now. Whether this general discontent has penetrated their media world bubble is anyone's guess. Before I delve in to the EU referendum element that concerns me so much, a note on the Corbyn angle. I'm not a Corbynite and I'm never likely to subscribe to his world view so have little self interest in the matter - but I do recognise an air of schadenfreude in the BBC's reporting around the Labour leadership issue. I suspect that particular odour will disperse once a more Mandelson friendly face is at the helm.

On the referendum

Of course, the EU referendum is a much more sensitive matter for me. In spite of Dave calling it 'my referendum', it's everybody's referendum in which all who turn up have an equal say. Each and every one of us must weigh up the facts of this most complicated matter, understand the risks and then make a choice. The undecideds will play a huge part in the outcome as well, frequently making up circa 20% of the potential vote, and it's already clear that the Remain camp are playing on fear, uncertainty and doubt in order to suppress that segment and cow them in to voting for the status quo (which we already know the Remain team are not actually capable of delivering).

Leave and Remain campaigners will naturally form an opinion and then work to demonstrate their point of view using whatever facts they've managed to mine from the depths. Yet the undecideds will likely look at the feed streaming in front of their eyes and ears, provided by the likes of the 'impartial BBC'.

And this is why it's so important that the organisation properly honours its commitment to impartiality rather than just paying lip service to the notion - yet steamrollering on without correction.

So why are the BBC on my radar again? Well, I bit my lip a few weeks back when they presented a program on Radio 4 called "How to make a Brexit". In the program, Carolyn Quinn journeys to Greenland, which is an inspired choice as the country has never been a member of the EU, leaving the EC back in 1985. Apparently though, this small nation, which has a population 1/10th the size of Bradford, provides enough high quality parallels for us to explore the potential impact of Brexit.

If the matter wasn't so serious, it would have been laughable and certainly provided more belly aching chuckles than the puerile drivel that pours out of Radio 4 at 6:30pm weekdays. The general tone was negative and the program meandered around, poking at the complexities of Brexit in a rather half cocked and doubt laden manner.

Although I complained to the BBC about it, I felt that eureferendum.com had already given them sufficient public thrashing in this article: http://www.eureferendum.co/blogview.aspx?blogno=85884

.. so I held back from blogging my own thoughts.

On Norway

Yet the BBC wasn't done with downplaying our exit options. Readers will know of my love for the Market Solution approach (temporary EEA/EFTA - with continued transitioning and evolution) and in what can only be described as a well timed documentary report, coincidentally aligned with a whole raft of other similar messaging from Remainers, BBC's Jonty Bloom steps in with his own sage words of peril, featured in the Radio 4 program "Norway's European Vision".

The radio show was preceded by this sweeper on the Beeb web site:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35354288

The collective works combine to present a miserable picture of a country whose industry is sagging under the uncontrollable weight of EU rules and regulations that, as EEA/EFTA members, they are unable to shape and helplessly subject to. Alarm bells should be ringing by now as the falsehood of 'EFTA victim status' has been a key attack vector repeatedly used by all on the side of Remain.

Let's get some real context here. A significant number of people in the UK are fighting to present a positive vision of life beyond the EU and EEA/EFTA could play a pivotal role in leading us out. It's a major front in the battle between the two sides because the visionary prize is so great that it could swing undecideds one way or another. With artillery shattering the ground either side, and red hot rounds slicing the air between the opposing fronts, you would have expected impartial journalists to take due care. Yet, on this most sensitive of subjects, this has failed to happen by wide margin.

Without undertaking my own autopsy, I'd direct to you this blog by Tony E where he thoroughly debunks the alarmist scaremongering vision that the program creators projected:

The Truth, The BBC and the EEA
http://thebrexitdoor.com/2016/01/22/the-truth-the-bbc-and-the-eea/

Without fail, eureferndum.com also takes the program and the BBC to task about their failings:

EU Referendum: BBC – the enemy without
http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=85902

I'm not ashamed to say that both clarify the situation better than I ever could.

If the program makers ever intended the report to demonstrate impartiality, they failed spectacularly. Why? Because the topical nature of their examination never broke through the skin of the subject, allowing them to present a doom laden scenario which, if accepted at face value, would be enough to put off the undecideds from accepting EFTA/EEA as a viable route for Brexit. And they must have known that.

Whatever mechanisms they have in play to control quality and fairness were either absent, bypassed or just not considered applicable in this event.

Understanding that the BBC actively sees its role in an educational capacity over this matter (see their 'The UK's EU Referendum - Everything you need to know' as an example), we can see how they've already positioned themselves as a trusted guide to the voter. So it is incumbent on them to uphold fair, balanced, well reasoned, rounded positioning of the facts.

What they should not be doing under any circumstances is peddling poorly researched material and presenting it as some word on the street style 'reality check' when the truth of their assertions is so easily undermined by people who actually care about the subject matter.

Just as bad as the lack of investigation is the complete void of any counter-narrative. So acute was the angle that it would be easy for anyone to suggest that the BBC were deliberately trying to frame the debate and scare people away from that route. With each scenario explored, a pessimistic angle had to be found in an attempt to shatter the illusion that there was any happy outcome.

But let's face it, the moment we were told a report on Norway was in the pipeline, it was blindingly obvious what the tone would be. So predictable have the BBC become in their messaging over the referendum that bias is a foregone conclusion. The tragedy is that they'll never correct it hence many thousands will never get to hear counter argument.

Omitting

The BBC (who have received handsome volumes of money from the EU) cannot directly campaign for Remain, but, as eureferndum.com points out, they can support it by omission. Omission of facts and omission of events.

Facts? As per the predictably downbeat Norway article, the lack of counter narrative left a factual void that was left to the blogosphere to fill.

Events? Not completely ignored because that would lay them open for easy criticism, but low impact coverage that gets brief visibility before being tucked away in the margins. Fact or just bitter imagination? Well let's take today's Grassroots Out launch event in Kettering.

Grassroots Out

For the Leave campaign, this is a big event and the surprise speaker was former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox.

A politician .. MSM love the idea of politician in a Punch and Judy show


Although I have a dislike of the political class and sincerely want this to be a people Vs establishment campaign, considering his CV and previous roles, some elements of his speech acted as a powerful rebuttal to the spurious claims made by the Remain campaign and even the Prime Minister. To quote a few lines:

"Look what's happening with the European Border Force at the current time, under the Commission, deployed by the Commission, even against the wishes of sovereign governments. What more proof do you need about the direction of travel that they intend to take?"

"Let me tell you as a Doctor, ever closer union is in their DNA, and there is nothing they can do to change it."

"The very best the PM can get from his EU renegotiation is better membership of the wrong club"

On project fear ...

"The first thing they [Remain] say is our security would be at risk if we left the European Union. Let me tell you as a former defence secretary our security does not lie in the European Union, the cornerstone of our security is Nato ... It is NATO which has kept the peace in Europe since World War 2"

These are strong words considering that Cameron has repeatedly suggested that being members of the EU is a matter of safety and security.

"I didn't give up my job as a family doctor, to go to Westminster, to see it play second fiddle to Brussels and the European Court. When I gave up my medical career, I didn't expect to see a British Prime minister have to take the political begging bowl round the capitals of Europe just to change our own benefit laws in our own country."

Pretty damning criticism by the former defence secretary of the EU, the Remain campaign and the Prime Minister himself, mocking Cameron for his pitiful charade.

So what coverage do we get from the BBC News web site? Well here's the front page:

Spot the article - hint, don't spend too much time looking


As BBC News is funded by the UK tax payer, I fully expect it to prioritise news accordingly, yet we have a story about the snow in the US, a report about criticism of Google taxation and an article about a reusable space rocket taking up the top three slots. The battle for sovereignty - of nation vs supra-national entity - the matter of the fabric of our very own nation .. missing entirely.

Yet perhaps it features as a headline on the politics section?

Like a B movie at an old three screen cinema, it never made it to the main screen


And there it is, tucked in behind the Google Tax article and another on the Labour leader's visit to Calais. When read, the report briefly skips through Fox's contribution to the event when in political reality, such a stinging criticism of the PM from a big beast of the same party would usually have made ringing headline news.

Ahhh .. but they have their very own dedicated referendum section. So perhaps it's headline news there?

Apparently GO launch is not referendum material

So I think it's safe to say, the BBC have done whatever they can to limit coverage for the Leave campaign in this instance. Bias by omission, pure and simple. Other than the initial interview on Radio 4, Michael Caine's stinging criticism of the 'faceless bureaucrats' in the EU also got short shrift from the BBC web site.  The opinions of a significant number of the population are not being represented here, yet they're more than happy to take the license fee.

Ponder for a moment, why would the BBC act like this and expect to get away with it? What are their motivations?

ITV, Sky can choose to ignore these stories without major criticism because they do not extract a license fee from TV users. We can exercise people power with these people and starve them of money - because that's how a consumer society works. Yet the BBC can ride these waves on a raft of free money, sticking two fingers up as they bob up and down.

The EU Pact

In these times, where the BBC is becoming painfully aware that it's an anachronism, every charter renewal must feel like an exercise in running the gauntlet. What obsequious pact could this organisation make with the government (facing the most critical test of its metal in the last 40 years) in order to ensure favourable continuation of the charter after 2016?

Is this what's happening? Is some deal going on? I have no direct evidence to suggest it is. Only conjecture, suspicion and a dearth of trust for both establishment institutions, each existing on a sense of entitlement that they take for granted.

Okay BBC. Here's some news for you:

"In the corner of the living room, the mouth of the state crackled through the TV speaker, uttering an endless sea of opinion shaping certitudes at the adults. They sat hypnotised and in awe, absorbing the very latest of what to think and how to act - it was all they had ever known. Every day they learned a little more from the mouth; understanding who was good and who was bad - and of what it meant to be a compliant and acceptable citizen.

Yet, playing in another room, beyond the captive range of the mesmeric authoritarian narrative were two children. Unlike their parents who grew up knowing only three TV channels, the kids had the whole internet at their fingertips. And thankfully for them, the mouth of the state was just one small voice in a sea of millions. The kids would enjoy the freedom of thought that their parents never knew."





Monday, 18 January 2016

EEA / EFTA - Facts not Fear

"Dave dropped the spade and rubbed the mud from his hands before spitting on the ground and walking away, to meet with Osborne and Mandelson. He had to let them know ... the Norway Option was dead and buried. As the chauffeur whisked him away in to the Westminster night, the Prime Minister would never have envisaged the sight of Norway rising, clawing it's way back through layers of FUD and mud. And somewhere in the darkness, it bided its time to exact a bloody revenge"

He thought the matter was dead and buried - but as with many things, he was wrong.

This is a video about EFTA / EEA vs the EU:




- and it's based on a brilliant blog found at euquestion.blogspot.com.

http://euquestion.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/fud-fight-keeping-score-on-norway-option.html

The author has provided one of the clearest comparison check-lists yet regarding continued EU membership vs EFTA / EEA arrangements. Readers will know, my advocacy for this approach stems from Flexcit (and latterly TMS) where it's used as a foundation from which to build our way back out to the world.

The video doesn't say what Norway decides to do of its own accord - only highlighting that which it is obliged to accept under EFTA / EEA.

The big question for me in all this, and hopefully the video will convey it - is why did David Cameron decided to attack Norway so early in the debate? Personally, I think his team realised that EFTA / EEA was the the most realistic threat on the table to continued EU membership. As you will see, his 'pay but no say' mantra is well oiled and repeated; you can almost see the coaches behind him willing him to successfully convey the message and convince the people of the UK that the exit is blocked.

Interestingly, I think I've spotted a 'tell' during the House of Commons section where he trips ever so slightly over his words. The importance of delivering this knife in to the belly of the Leave campaign in plain daylight almost got to him. Perhaps you'll spot it too.

At the end of the film, I suspect that you'll be convinced, like me, that 'Dave' felt he had no option but to assassinate his biggest threat early on. It's a move which has allowed him to continue his 'negotiation' charade without distraction. It's so much harder to triangulate when there's a reasonable option on the table rather than two warring extremes.

Cameron and Osborne (and dare I say Mandelson .. yes, he's there somewhere) will have moved on from this issue and will be keen to glibly discredit it rather than revisit the scene of the crime. The spectre of Norway rising may just force them to though. But this time, we'll be armed and prepared.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Status Quo Fallacy (with apologies to Francis Rossi)


"As a prominent Leave campaign grabs the bull by the horns and boldly deals with the 'exit plan' conundrum, Remain suddenly find themselves rushing to discredit. Yet when looking at a potential future within the EU, can they say what plans are in store for the UK if we Remain?"


At the end of this post is a little story, written to fill the gaping hole that is - the future if we Remain


 

Significant Dynamite


Leave.EU have stuck their neck out recently and I admire them for it. It's common knowledge now that, in collaboration with DR RAE North, they're exploring the possibility of The Market Solution to illustrate just how the UK could extricate themselves from the EU.

For months, many of us have been asking both Leave camps to show their metal and deal with this perceived uncertainty. Brexit is a move in to new territory and it's safe to say that the votes of a large percentage of undecideds will hang on whether the destination comes with a credible road map. Anyone who is serious about promoting Brexit must concede that it's incumbent upon the Leave campaign to have that map and illustrate that it can be done. The more water tight the solution, the better the credibility of the Leave campaign and its message. Leave.EU have obviously recognised the value in that and made their move which must elevate their prominence in both the eyes of the public and also that of the electoral commission when it comes to designation.

More about this collaboration can be found here: http://eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=85885

The fruits will almost certainly be an exit strategy which realistically deals with the issue of acute timescales, reduces the day one impact to UK administration and establishes a solid foundation from which we can build our way back to the global stage.

This neatly matches the change in perspective that has begun to emerge in the Brexit camp. People are waking up to the notion that this is not an act of pulling up the drawbridge but a real transformation opportunity where we come out from behind the curtain of the EU and take a position of prominence and international agility again across the world.

If you combine the will of the people to transform the UK in to a true global player with a credible plan of attack, you have an explosive mixture ready to do more than just 'blow the bloody doors off'. It's a dynamite combination.

BSE Remains


BSE and the Remainers (sounds like a Death Metal band to me) have so far delighted in weaving a web around the UK, suggesting that safe Brexit is impossible due to article 50 time constraints. I have no doubt the brevity of the timescales is a deliberate set of handcuffs that will be exploited to the max. They've blended that threat continually with the taunt that the Leave campaign cannot illustrate what Leave would look like.

Well now we can, in glorious technicolour. In fact, Remain have been made aware of exit strategies for some time but, quite naturally, they choose to ignore them and then continue their assertion that there is no plan. This to perpetuate the myth to the nation that the UK will never be able to get out of the spider's web. It is, frankly, a stinking and rather manipulative deception. I guess, when you're ensconced in the arms of the EU octopus and you've divested yourself of any sense of national identity, you'll say what ever it takes to avoid being prized away. In their heads, these people probably don't see themselves primarily as British, instead they're EU nationals just waiting for the country to be hatched in the next treaty.

Now the luxury of 'uncertainty' has been taken away from them and naturally they've started to throw their toys out of the pram. Rather than extol the virtues of the EU (they struggle to do this for some reason), they've decided to roll in the gutter instead. Immediately Will Straw demonstrated either wilful ignorance or active deception by quickly moving to suggest that by adopting this exit strategy, the UK would be subject to:

  • Acceptance of EU budget contributions
  • Maintaining freedom of movement
  • Retention of ALL EU law
  • Removal of the UK's influence over the laws we would have to accept.

As I've said before - for some people, it doesn't matter if you're right, as long as you're first. And this is what BSE have moved to do - attempting to fix the narrative before the people have time to examine the detail themselves. They hope that the population accept the message and overlook the detail. "Move along, nothing to see here".

BSE, and Will in particular here, ignore the basic principle of the Market Solution which presents EFTA/EEA as a "stepping stone" on a phased exit journey. They're looking at the departure lounge and telling the people that it's the holiday resort. They'd like it to be the final destination, but the simple truth is, it isn't. And what comes after the initial stage is a progressive transformation of the UK's position in the world as we sit down at the top tables looking the EU directly in the eye.

It's worth pausing for one moment to consider whether Stronger In are running on empty in the positive message tank, giving us: Months of conflating the pungently toxic EU with the rather delightful continent of Europe in a desperate attempt to confuse the electorate; persistent fear-mongering with unqualified or debatable risks; absolutely no sense that they have a positive wave of messaging that could carry the vote on its own.



The Status Quo Fallacy

 

What if this vision of the UK leaving with a reasonable exit plan takes root in the heart of the electorate? What if the people of the UK start to believe that life could actually be better without us merging under the control of a Supranational entity?

Just what can the 'Remains' tell us with any certainty about life under a future EU to counter this vision?

And right there, if you stop and look at them for a moment ... there it is! The 'Status Quo' fallacy, hanging in the air for all to see.

Things are not going to stay the same with the EU. Even the slowest amongst us can see that since the Treaty of Rome, things have moved on dramatically. Let's not pretend we've seen all there is to see of this iceberg either. Under the water line, there's much much more to come and I'm sure if it were exposed, it would sink the Remain ship entirely.

For all their talk of 'little England', it's already becoming apparent that theirs is the retrograde position for the UK, the one that curtails our position in a changing world. Combine this with the maelstrom of uncertainty about the future shape of the EU and you have a cocktail as welcome as blended sprouts in cold vomit.

Jackanory Time

 

Lacking any such narrative for tomorrow's world in the EU, we can help BSE out by painting one for them:

"It's 2030. Thirteen years previously, after a torrent of negative campaigning by the Remain side and having been mind-crippled by unparalleled EU funded FUD, the UK population voted to remain in a 'reformed EU'. The fight was down to the wire and, yet again, pollsters were shown to be wide of the mark, yet surprisingly on message. But when the count came in, Remain won by a mere 2%.

This 'significant majority' was accepted as a mandate by the then Prime Minister David Cameron to take the the UK in to a new relationship with the EU. 'The British Option' as it was called, brought us to the outer ring in 2022 after it was ratified by the people of the UK in a second referendum. Although originally seen as a triumph against 'ever closer union', in 2030 there are now well established concerns. Whilst the likes of Norway (which continues to top the world ranking for prosperity) sit at the top tables of global bodies where the rules are hammered out, the UK are now further retracted and marginalised, neither taking a global position or one of prominence within the EU.

To compound matters, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey have now all joined the ever growing federation, with Boznia Herzegovina and Kosovo also on the cusp of membership. Our margin of vote in the European Parliament and European Council are lower than ever and about to shrink yet again. In spite of complaints about the inability of any one member to stand up to the EU in any meaningful way, the committed europhiles, in thrall to their pay masters, repeat the mantra that we should be grateful to have the opportunity to 'collaborate'. Our hands bound behind our backs, we're unable to harness the power of the now maturing international markets, instead we remain chained to an ageing customs and political union in spite of the fact that EU exports have continued to decline year on year.

But our voice within the EU and our freedom to trade with a prosperous wider world are not the only ways that we've had our wings cut. The core nations of the reformed EU handed over their seats at the UN security council to the EU and as a result of treaty changes, associate members were forced to cede to the common position. In light of the new EU army established under Commission President Nick Clegg, we're told this is a perfectly reasonable stance for the EU to take.

From a position where the UK threatened to become the worlds 4th greatest economy, to a tepid shadow nation neither fully conceding itself to a Supranational or clawing its way back to the top table, it's not hard to see why the UK of 2030 is full of dissatisfied citizens wondering where it all went wrong. Still, with the pending 'Treaty of Federal Unification' on the horizon, we all have the opportunity to put this right and rejoin the new unified core. Here we can regain our collaborative influence within the EU, after forgoing our currency, sovereignty and right to elect our own ruling law makers.
"

Jackanory? Perhaps, but who knows where the EU roller-coaster will take us in the future. Now Leave.EU are working on a plan - they've set the bar. What can 'Stronger In' or even David Cameron tell us will happen with any certainty if we Remain? Surely there can be no answer from them to this because the plans of the EU have never been clearly and honestly laid out in front of the people. If they had, we'd never be in this mess.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

EU - are we democratic yet?



"One of the chief complaints the Leave camp have regarding the EU is that of the 'Democratic Deficit' - that there's a huge void between the people of the UK and the European Union that somehow leaves us disenfranchised. Is this a fair assessment?"


Jean-Claude Juncker - living proof of the potency of the UK voice in the European Council

Caveat - it's is a lengthy subject which can go to infinite depths. This is just a high level fly-by in order to contrast and compare. I use the introduction of law as the dimension of comparison as it's significant and at the forefront of people's minds on this matter. There are other dimensions to this debate but appreciate that I'm writing a blog post and not a book.

It's a common complaint - the EU is undemocratic; a dictatorship run by unelected failed politicians, giving us as little say in affairs and law making as possible. Generally, people accept this to be the case but from time to time, committed Europhiles will go in to a frenzied fury at the notion that the EU gives us anything less than equivalent democratic freedoms. Being central to the referendum debate, it's worthy of investigation - but let's start first with what we mean by the term 'democracy'

Democracy - noun:

"A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives."

Specifically in the UK, we have Parliamentary Democracy.

"Parliamentary democracy, democratic form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the parliament (legislature) forms the government, its leader becoming prime minister or chancellor. Executive functions are exercised by members of the parliament appointed by the prime minister to the cabinet. The parties in the minority serve in opposition to the majority and have the duty to challenge it regularly. The prime minister may be removed from power whenever he loses the confidence of a majority of the ruling party or of the parliament. Parliamentary democracy originated in Britain (see Parliament) and was adopted in several of its former colonies."

How our system works (high level)

 

The UK operates a bi-cameral system, with the House of Commons and the House of Lords actively taking part in UK law making and the Queen being a symbolic head of state.

The House of Commons is populated with MPs who are directly elected by the people of the UK during a national election. The House of Lords is full of hapless life peers and cronies ... no wait, The House of Lords is populated by a wide range of people from all walks of life, bringing a wealth of experience to bear.

Laws are introduced via bills which can be initiated in either house but will be read multiple times by each. Typically, laws need to be agreed by both houses - excluding those times when the Commons brute force legislation through via the Parliament act. The important thing to note here is that because the HoC is populated by democratic mandate, it has primacy whereas the HoL is limited.

It's the last point that is really important. The people we vote for are ultimately responsible for all law making. When they screw up or go wayward, we can vote them out. We can argue that the mechanism used to elect the MPs is inefficient (First Past The Post) but ultimately the power of the vote in people's hands controls who resides in the HoC.


Another model of democracy for contrast (US model)

 

The USA is another example of democracy in a bicameral setting in action. The United States Congress, as it's known, comprises of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The members of both these houses are directly elected. The head of state (President) however, is indirectly elected via the Electoral College. States vote and then representative electors cast votes on their behalf in the Electoral College.

Bills are proposed in the House of Representatives, discussed by committees, debated by the house, voted on and then passed through to the Senate. Similar steps are taken at this stage, at which point, assuming that the Senators shout 'Yea', the bill heads to the President. Then the President can sign off or veto the bill.

So the people of America have a say all the way through the process, able to influence the makeup of both houses and the President. I'm sure there are issues with it but it's hard to argue that democracy isn't afforded to the people of the USA.

How the EU system works (high level)


So what about the EU?

Three aspects of the EU come in to play when new legislation is made:

1 - The Commission

The Commission President is proposed by the European Council (via Qualified Majority Voting - QMV) to the European Parliament who will then vote by majority and appoint.

The remaining Commissioners are nominated by member nations in agreement with the President and then the proposed Commission is then, again, approved by the European Parliament.

The commission is the sole institution for creation of laws within the EU. None of these people hold their position by direct election.


2 - The European Parliament

The European Parliament are seen to have democratic mandate, being elected via proportional representation by the people of member states. They have their own President who they elect themselves every two and a half years.

Currently, the UK have 73 seats in the European Parliament which gives the UK as a nation 9.7% of the vote, compared to it being as high as 20% previously. Naturally this gets diluted as the EU expands.

3 - The European Council (not the Council of Europe)

The European Council comprises of the heads of state from the member nations and has a President who is elected by the Council members via QMV.

At time of writing, the UK have circa 8% of the vote here, from as high as 17% previously.

Whereas the Commission proposes legislation, it's the Council & Parliament that act as the authority in most cases (under something called ordinary legislative procedure). Here, Commission proposals go to the Parliament and the Council. Parliament can intervene and propose amendments subject to Council approval. Again, this is high level stuff and there are exceptions but it's enough to show you where the laws are born and the makeup of the institutions that pass them.

Points of note

The obvious point here is that we (the people) do not directly hire, nor can we directly fire the Commission who propose the laws. Regardless as to how you feel about the EU, it's undeniable that there is democratic void here. Yes, 'we' do as a member state nominate a Commissioner but at a national level, there is no engagement with the people about that process (or understanding by them) and there is no intent to engage. Intent being critical here. It never gets discussed, it just happens.

A democratic process is happening but not one that directly involves the people of the member states. The person that we nominate doesn't actually represent us anyway, instead they are expected to represent the EU - so it's not a form of national representation, it's appointment to a job. When it comes to the Parliament voting on the Commission, we have less than 10% input on the matter but furthermore, those MEPs are made up of 10 separate parties (at least I counted 10, certainly no less - see here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/search.html?country=GB) which are members of 8 different political groupings. So it's not a single national voice in effect here and we cannot expect them to vote contiguously - they're fragmented.

From that, we can conclude that it's fair for people to talk about the Commissioners as undemocratic.

But we also have to consider the role of Commission President. There is engagement with the Council, but our voice in this is small at 8%. You only have to look back to the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014 to see how easy it is for a nation to be marginalised (and a head of state to look completely impotent).

Again, democracy is happening here but just like the Commissioners themselves, the people are not consulted and our voice is weak, so it's fair to argue again that from the perspective of the people, this is not democratic.

I think the example of fragmentation in the Europarl given above says everything we need to know about national effectiveness in that body. 10 parties following 8 political groupings - none of which can be whipped in to a single national line. Is this the most effective form of democracy that they could give us?

And finally on the matter of European Council, it's well recorded that between 96 and 2014 we made 55 attempts to stop proposals and failed each and every time. In fairness, it's a small percentage of the overall number of votes that we made but the 100% failure rate does demonstrate the inherent weakness in the system.

Consider also that as membership grows, our voice may shrink even further. This in a union which is a diminishing market that forces us to use them as a proxy at the top tables.

So we see multiple bodies at play here. The Commission itself clearly falls short of the democratic mark. The Council is weak and Europarl fragments our meagre voice. Compared to other systems it can only be seen as a notional democracy at best.

As the laws that are made trump our own sovereignty, this arrangement makes no sense at all if we are to consider ourselves a free and independent nation. The margins of representation can only be seen to be proportional in the context of the EU being a country in itself. Then we're not a nation looking for a voice, but a state in the federation. Many of the Europhiles arguing that there is effective democracy point to the mechanism and accept the levels of representation in the federalist context, citing 'collaboration' as a sop to acceptability.

This argument becomes somewhat circular when it's pointed out that we don't need to be ruled by anybody in order to collaborate with them. That's the true sign of political maturity. Intergovernmental arrangements not supranational. At which point it's often stated that being in 'the club' and acting as a bloc of 28 means that we have more clout at tables such as the WTO. But this falls down quite quickly because outside of the bloc, we can choose when it's in our interests to collaborate and do not have to accept it when we don't.

And this is where we don't and probably won't reconcile our views with the Europhiles. They see national interests as selfish and isolationist and find it hard to accept that collaboration should be conditional. We see the EU as marginalising our global voice with the supporting mechanisms giving us poor leverage. Personally, I think that when you have your own voice and veto you probably have greater scope for making deals with allies (you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours).



Legitimacy

Even if you can argue that these are democratic mechanisms at play, it's not the same as having democratic legitimacy. To have that, the people affected would need to have been consulted (in referendum or clearly by manifesto) at the time when sovereign powers were transferred from our nation to the EU. i.e. Maastricht / Lisbon etc. If we had been consulted and supported the changes that fundamentally tipped the balance of power, that would have given them democratic legitimacy. To be clear, under the covers the intent of the 1975 referendum may well have been to establish the supremacy of EEC over UK law (supporting the political aims of the Treaty of Rome), but it was never sold to the people of the UK as such, clearly positioned as a common market for trade purposes. The official material produced during the campaign scoffed at the notion that we would lose parliamentary sovereignty.

If the politicians at the top knew what was to come, then clearly the people of the UK were mislead and the referendum cannot be used as a mandate for ongoing integration.

Right now, we're operating under a structure of governance that has no legitimacy from the perspective of the people. We have not been adequately consulted and I'd go so far as to say that our own governments have conspired to stop us having a say on the matter. One only needs to think of the Labour party manifesto from 2005 where they pledged:

"The EU now has 25 members and will continue to expand. The new Constitutional Treaty ensures the new Europe can work effectively, and that Britain keeps control of key national interests like foreign policy, taxation, social security and defence. The Treaty sets out what the EU can do and what it cannot. It strengthens the voice of national parliaments and governments in EU affairs. It is a good treaty for Britain and for the new Europe. We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign whole-heartedly for a ‘Yes’ vote to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe."

They reneged on that pledge using a technicality. Effectively the initial proposal was rejected by France and the Netherlands and then, after undergoing revision, was then re-presented as the Lisbon treaty which allegedly contains 90% of the same content. Gordon Brown signed this off in 2007 without fulfilling his pledge and importantly, the people were side stepped.

Summary

You're free to draw you own conclusions but the upshot is clear to my mind. The EU delivers an anaemic form of democracy to the peoples of the member nations, leaving them at arms length. Worse still, the transition of powers from nations to the EU has happened under a fog of misdirection which leaves it in a position of authority without popular mandate.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Brexit - It's not a light switch


"As hope grows that we could actually free ourselves from the clutches of the EU, attention turns to the exit strategy. It's become apparent, some people have been looking at this much longer than others."


Much as we would love it, let's be honest, Brexit isn't going to work like this


It's unfair to suggest that we should all somehow be at the same place in this debate. We've all come from a variety of backgrounds, some of us academic and others not (and there's no shame in the latter at all), yet we've all converged on this notion of Brexit. Each of us bringing our own hopes and fears in to the debate, wanting the outcome to tick as many boxes as possible with the least amount of effort.

At the same time, those of us playing catch up have to be honest with ourselves. We can't march in and start shouting the odds, making demands that simply may not be realistic. If we receive feedback that suggest there are problems with an approach, we have to step back and be prepared to accept that we will need to at least review the scenario in light of the new evidence.

I've gone through that arc already and I'm not afraid to admit it. In fact, I'm proud of the fact that I'm prepared to be proven wrong because it's the only way to grow your understanding of any situation. Nobody is born an expert.

But it's no surprise that there's a lot of intransigence in the Brexit camp at the moment. Too many people harbouring desires that are unrealistic and rather than facing up to them, they're clustering with like minded people in order to provide a comfort blanket. It's time for these people to face the music; to put up or shut up and realise that unqualified ambitions only amount to folly out in the wider world.

The 'light switch' moment for me was realising that Brexit cannot be a light switch moment in itself.

Like many, my hopes were that the votes would be sorted in to two large Leave / Remain piles - and if the Leave pile was the heaviest, the scales would tip and then flick the Brexit switch. At which point we'd automatically repeal the European Communities Act 1972 causing all EU flags to drop, legal rights to be repatriated, freedom of movement to be ceased and a flood of tears to come from Brussels.

But the stakes are high. Much higher than I ever imagined or conceived. This is not some boolean operation in which only we effect the outcome because we're now part of a global community and we have to take that in to account. As we inch towards the vote in 2017, we'll have to face the fact the nature of the exit strategy and the associated risk will have a huge bearing on how financially viable Brexit is perceived to be. If we are seen to be vague fantasists or dreamers then panic will ensue which will play right in to the hands of the Remain camp. Support for Brexit would then vaporise from the margins that would need to be convinced if we were to win.

The voices of dissent will not just be domestic but international as people speculate whether the UK will remain a good investment or not. Right up there on the list of parameters for consideration will be Article 50 which expects withdrawal within two years of notification. Yes, with a unanimous vote from the European Council we could get it extended but that's a risk that the markets will not be happy with causing confidence to dissolve under the spotlight.

What we need here is a transitory first step in order to act as a launchpad for the future of the UK. One that recognises time-scale pressures, market concerns and the stresses that Brexit will place on administration. In addition, consider the fact that what we're looking to achieve here is not regression in to the old world (prepare to be mocked into oblivion) but evolution in to an entirely new phase in the life of this nation. And so back to my point that some people have been looking at this matter longer, harder and with a great deal more pragmatism and understanding than others.

This is where Flexcit comes in to play. It's an approach that's revered by some and feared by others. Those that fear it fall in to two camps.

1 - The Remain camp, who will naturally gag at the sight of a 'realistic' plan with genuine sensibilities. Their patter has largely been to suggest that that the Leave camp don't know what Brexit would look like. Having a plan which is detailed, measured and most of all realistic in dealing with the complexities of getting out of the EU is anathema to them.

When Remain try to rebuke Flexcit, they cite 'The Norway Option' and start spewing out the Fax Law meme (which by now would appear to have been thoroughly debunked after investigation). Their mistake is to think that Norway is a destination rather than a stepping stone or launch pad to greater things. Let them continue believing this, it will do them no good. Then consider whether they can illustrate the future under Remain. They'll struggle to give you any detail here.

2 - Those whose aims are not actually to deliver the UK in to a new globally focussed phase but want isolationism and to pull up the drawbridge. Typically, these people are motivated by shutting the door and see the Market Option transitory phase as a threat to their desires because 'Freedom of Movement' is not squashed in an instant.

It seems that many of these people have failed to read the plan, or if they have, they've failed to understand it. Case in point, a recent online discussion where I was repeatedly asked how long any EFTA/EEA phase would be in effect under Flexcit. To me, this demonstrates thinking that suggests Brexit is an endgame; that EFTA/EEA needs to be tolerated for a minimal period of time before we finally can pull up the drawbridge and stop 'dem nasty immigrunts'.

It was also suggested to me that this option was a form of 'Associate Membership' - which just goes to show how far wide of the mark people can be with their understanding, yet these people believe they're ready to publicly pass judgement on the plan and entice the undecided in to the Leave camp with a blank sheet of paper.

How can you talk on the one hand about taking a step in to the wider world, becoming a global player and projecting a forward thinking progressive vision - yet act like you want to haul anchor and float the island off in to the middle of the Atlantic? You simply cannot subscribe to this contradiction and expect to remain credible under scrutiny.

What you're left dealing with are two camps from opposing sides, neither of whom are really interested in making the UK a global player - both of whom are fighting against the evolution of the UK from shadow nation to global players at the top table. They are both anachronistic because the world is only moving one way and the tide is against them.

All along, we have to focus not just on what we want as individuals but what would be good for the country as a whole and demonstrate to the wider populous that Brexit is a safe and profitable pathway for the nation to take. That may mean sacrificing some of your desires in the short term in order to gain the long term opportunity. It took us forty+ years to get in this mess - you think it will only take two to get out? Failure to understand this means that you believe Brexit to be the end game, and not the start of a new journey. That's one hell of a mistake to make.

The Remain camp is full of the same old tired faces that were telling us the world would end if we didn't join the Euro. The EU is not a static position but also an evolving project with its own inherent risks and massive levels of change and uncertainty. There's a huge attack surface for us to exploit but to do so will require solidarity and that may require compromise and the acceptance that we're playing the long game.