Category Archives: Politics

The EU referendum – at last

So after months of facile soundbites, misinformation and angry confrontations, we finally get to vote tomorrow on whether we should Remain in the European Union, or Leave.

I’ve been hugely disappointed at the tone set by both sides, and by the way they’ve managed their campaigns.

But not surprised.

Politicians just don’t get it, do they? We want facts, reasoned debate and mutual respect. Instead we get exaggeration, lies, rancour and vitriol.

If you don’t know the answer to a specific question or issue….just say I don’t know. Or we can’t be sure.

The Remain team’s trump card has been the assumed economic implications of leaving, the challenge of securing new trade deals, and the resulting impact on jobs and incomes.

An additional strength of the Remain argument is the potential destabilisation of Europe, should the UK leave. A Brexit could be the straw that breaks the Greek camel’s back…and the Italian’s and other southern EU members’, constrained by the rigidity of the EU and suffering systemic levels of high unemployment. But could the possible disintegration of EU federalism expose us to a repeat of historic conflicts…?

The Leave team’s trump cards are immigration, and control over our borders and sovereignty. But I got very bored during the course of last night’s Great Debate, orchestrated by the BBC. The Brexit team of Boris, Gisela and Andrea were programmed to repeat their mantra at the end of every segment: Vote Leave and Take Back Control. And there were a lot of segments.

Which side can say with any honesty how the country – and Europe – will evolve over the next 10, 20, 50 years, whether we vote Remain or Leave tomorrow?

On balance, I stand by what I wrote on this blog in January – before David Cameron returned with his non-existent deal.

I embrace everything about Europe…its people, languages, history, food, wine.

Everything.

Except the bloated, bureaucratic European project that is the EU. It’s teetering on the precipice of failure, and I’m leaning heavily towards the exit door.

I’m not racist. I’m not xenophobic. And I’m not rooted in the past. But I can’t believe the status quo is sustainable.

I love Europe. But I love its separate, beautiful, independent cultures rather than its homogeneous, bureaucratic mass.

I will be voting to Leave the EU tomorrow. Not without some trepidation about the immediate financial and economic turmoil. Not without some concerns about the longer term implications for all European countries, and their interaction. And not without an expectation that it might be more awkward to travel to our beloved Italy. Or France. Or any of the other EU member states.

But my vote will be cast in the knowledge that we will be able to have more control over how we spend our taxes on our own priorities. And in the expectation that over the longer term, having more control over our borders will allow us to eliminate the obvious risks of complete freedom of movement within EU member states, and to alleviate some of the pressures on our health system, our schools and housing demand.

But I completely respect, and understand, all those who will vote to Remain.

Only time will tell whether Remaining or Leaving the EU tomorrow is the right thing to do over the long-term.

Until the next Referendum, at least.

And the only thing I’ll miss now the campaigning is finally over is the frequent airing of that brilliant musical memory from 1982…when The Clash wondered whether they should stay or go, when I first went to Bermuda, and when we all hoped that being a part of a united Europe would undoubtedly be A Good Thing.

Europe – IN or OUT?

I love Europe.

In the early 1960s, when I was just 5 or 6 and England still hadn’t won the World Cup, my pioneering parents bought a travelette (a collapsible caravan contraption). The neighbours in suburban West Wickham waved us off, and we drove all the way down to the Costa Brava, spending two weeks on the beach of a blissfully unspoiled and still quintessentially Spanish fishing village.

I honed my nascent German language skills – and snogged Bridget Heap from Clarendon House – in Koblenz, on exchanges with Detlef and his family in the 1970s.

More recently, Gill and I have whizzed all over France on Eurostar

We have a continuing addiction to all things Italian, and have just returned from skiing in bellissimo Champoluc.

In April, we’ll be going to Greece for the first time, visiting Thessaloniki to write an article for the lovely folks at Silver Travel Advisor, then moving on to historic Mount Olympus and Halkidiki.

I embrace everything about Europe…its people, languages, history, food, wine.

Everything.

Except the bloated, bureaucratic European project that is the EU. It’s teetering on the precipice of failure, and I’m leaning heavily towards the exit door.

I’m not racist. I’m not xenophobic. And I’m not rooted in the past. But I can’t believe the status quo is sustainable.

When we signed up for the Common European Market in 1973 – ratified in a 1975 referendum – could our worst fears have anticipated the reality of 2016?

  • an annual EU budget of close to €150 billion
  • more than 750 Members of the European Parliament
  • EU auditors reported that the bureaucrats had misspent €7 billion of the 2013 budgetThe auditors have refused to sign off the accounts for 20 years in a row
  • 2-speed economies of the greatly enlarged EU over protracted periods, and yet no single country being able to resort to interest rate changes to stimulate or slow down its own economy (thank goodness we stayed out of the single currency and retain the £)
  • a plethora of unwanted and stifling legislation handed down from Brussels
  • untrammelled immigration, from other EU countries and – through assimilation over time – well beyond Europe

I may sound like a Daily Telegraph reader, or – worse – a UKIP voter, but it feels like we have lost control, to differing degrees, of our sovereignty, our legislation and our borders.

And I don’t buy the IN camp’s scaremongering that our economy will collapse if we decide to exit. Yes, there will be obviously some significant adjustments required, and there may well be a reduction in GDP and a threat to some jobs. But that impact will hopefully be temporary, until we rediscover old allies, sign up new trade relationships with vibrant emerging markets, and embrace our renewed independence,

But we will regain control of our own British future for the long term.

I love Europe. But I love its separate, beautiful, independent cultures rather than its homogeneous, bureaucratic mass.

I’m walking inexorably towards the OUT door. Possibly regardless of any outwardly face-saving deal Mr Cameron might try to bring back ahead of the referendum, to persuade us to stay IN, as I fear it won’t represent substantive change.

And if we vote to leave, it might just signal the beginning of the end of the grand federal Europe project.

God Bless America

Stars and Stripes flags flutter proudly, high above perfectly manicured lawns.

A few firecrackers spit, as the barbecues sizzle.

White picket fences gleam in the summer sun.

It’s the 4th July in Connecticut, an affluent state just north of New York, and Americans are revelling in their Independence Day holiday weekend.

We enjoy our own BBQ and generous celebration, thanks to good friends Michael and Amanda Warren. Originally from the north of England, but now assimilated Americans after living here for almost 25 years, and bringing up their 3 children in the land of the free.

Later, we watch the “Macy’s 4th July music and fireworks concert” live on TV. A dazzling pyrotechnic display dances over the Hudson River, as a succession of musicians laud their mighty country.

Afterwards, we watch The American Sniper on TV. Based on the real life of Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper plays the fiercely patriotic Navy Seal, who joins up after watching 9/11 and knowing that being a rodeo cowboy does not give him what he craves.

In 4 tours of Iraq, he kills more than 150 “insurgents” in their own country and becomes known as the legend.  A huge bounty is put on his head by the Iraqis.

Back home between tours of duty, he struggles to come to terms with leading a normal life with his wife and young children, when he could be in the war zone protecting his comrades and everyone in his home country.

Barack Obama is nearing the end of his second term of office. The Democrats’ natural instinct is to recoil from fighting wars overseas, after the disastrous Iraqi conflict undertaken by the Bush Republican administration.

But the new ISIS threat increases by the day.

The United States of America is at a crossroads. Does it continue to be the world’s policeman and, like Bradley Cooper, remain proud to fight on foreign soil for freedom at home, behind the white picket fences?

Or is that exactly why the developed world is terrorised today by an organisation that makes Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda look like boy scouts?

How will USA and the world look next 4th July, I wonder…….

 

The English Mouse Squeaks

The dust has just about settled on the Great British General Election of 2015.

Ed is in Ibiza, reading up on his Marxist tracts, wondering where it all went so wrong. And avoiding gloating calls from his brother.

Nigel resigned as leader of UKIP,  ostensibly honouring his promise, but is now back – Lazarus-like – at the helm.

Nick resigned as leader of the Lib Dems after his party got a real kicking for “doing the right thing for the country” during the 5 year coalition.

Nicola rules the new UK political landscape from Scotland, with 56 out of 650 Westminster MPs.

David rolled up his sleeves, carried on with business and is already attacking the key challenge of Europe.

So the pollsters got it all wrong. Up until that bombshell Exit Poll at 10 pm on 7th May, they were all predicting that the Conservatives and Labour were neck and neck, a hung parliament a certainty and a coalition or alliance of Lefties cobbled together to form a majority the likely outcome.

The reality was oh so different. But was it really that surprising?

Alex Salmond – the ex SNP leader after the Scots voted NO in their independence vote, but now bizarrely a Westminster MP – claimed rightly that the Scottish lion has roared today.

But what happened south of the border was the English mouse squeaking. Very loudly. “Middle England” is usually a pejorative term, but millions of hard-working English voters came out in favour of a free market economy, lower taxes, a smaller state, saving more than you spend…and possibly the desire to vote separately for the UK’s position in Europe.

The left will call this the middle class mouse, but that’s where Ed and his Labour cronies were mistaken. The country is no longer defined by lower, middle and upper classes.

Ed used lazy, outdated rhetoric and repetitive sound bites from a bygone age: posh Tories; bankers’ bonuses; I’m here for working families. But people voted against the risk of a Labour-led government repeating the economic mistakes they made under Gordon Brown. And more importantly, perhaps they rejected the socialist ideology of a larger state machine, funded by higher taxes and supporting a bloated welfare state. Just look at France under Monsieur Hollande…….

I wrote here back in April, in an article on the new pension freedoms:

In broader terms, this is a metaphor for capitalism v socialism. The political right want to decrease taxation – personal, to maximise the disposable income in your pocket each month, so that you can decide where best to spend it; corporate, to encourage businesses to invest in people and physical assets. And yes, to make a profit, which should NOT be a dirty word.

The political left believe in increasing taxation to maximise taxes because they want to spend more on public services. Because they know better than us what we need. The Nanny State.

I know which philosophy I prefer. Capitalism – with a social conscience, of course. Socialism doesn’t work, in economic terms. It scares away the wealth creators, discourages inward investment and inevitably causes a downward economic spiral.

The English mouse squeaked in favour of working hard, saving for your family, creating personal wealth, starting up companies, paying sensible taxes and, yes, balancing the books. And being incentivised to go out and work, rather than sit at home on the sofa enjoying a benefits lifestyle.

This new Conservative government now has a real opportunity to do the right thing for the long-term: encourage enterprise, stimulate further employment and economic growth and – more importantly – rebalance public services and the welfare state so that taxes are used to help those that need it most, rather than those who choose not to help themselves when they are able.

The Beveridge Report of 1942 formed the basis of the modern welfare system. It was designed to address the 5 “Giant Evils” of society at that time: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease.  Our welfare system of the 21st century should reinforce those principles, rather than the broader, more lax ones it has come to stand for in the intervening 70 years, abused by many undeserving of its worthy intent.

If the current government can deliver, we just might end up with a group of politicians who are conservatives with a social conscience, no longer the Nasty Party, and who create a country for the many rather than for the perceived elite few.

Sort out the marauding Scots and our EU position too, and there will be no surprises at the next General Election.

But mess it up, and David, George, Theresa or Boris might also be off on holiday to Ibiza in May 2020.

I wonder if Ed will still be on the sun lounger….