Friday, 23 November 2018

Which would damage Britain more, Brexit or a second referendum?

When I was a child, I lived with my parents. They always did their best for me and I was never hungry or shabby. When I grew up I decided I needed to make a life for myself away from home. I met a girl and we married. In the early days of our marriage, we were poorer than I had been when I lived with my parents, but we stuck at it and worked through various difficulties until we achieved a comfortable lifestyle, very considerably better than my parents had enjoyed. And because my parents were good parents they backed me throughout this struggle and were delighted with the outcome.

Now, bearing in mind that your parents may not live as long as you, tell me which is more damaging, to endure through the early difficult years of independence in order to make a good life for yourself, or to give up at the first hardship and go back to your parents’ home where it’s safe and secure in the short run?

There are some unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, do not have an option. There are some people who choose the second option. But if everyone chose the second option, society would collapse, wouldn’t it?

Let us please remember that the 2016 Referendum was the UK electorate’s first opportunity for forty years to make a choice on the direction taken by the EU.

As it happens, I had read the fine print and voted ‘No’ in 1975. However, I blame no-one who was at that time under the impression that the EEC stood for free trade and nothing more. It’s no good now pointing to old documents, you really had to live through that campaign to know how much pressure was put upon a public that had only a couple of year’s experience of life on the inside and still saw an exciting prospect.

But to all those who now claim that changed circumstances within a scant two years necessitate another plebiscite to confirm our departure, may I politely enquire how vigorously you campaigned for a vote on the loss of sovereignty entailed by the formation of the EU at Maastricht? Were you satisfied with the opt-outs negotiated by Major or did you consider the UK was being marginalised within a determinedly integrating organisation? Not a change in circumstances worth a vote, eh?

How upset were you when the EU constitution, on which we had been promised a vote, was re-badged as the Lisbon Treaty and pushed through regardless of rejection by other countries? Did you worry at all about the erosion of the veto and the rise of majority voting? Did you care when the Eurozone members began meeting on their own to form a common position to put before the European Council, where they collectively outvoted the non-members? More huge changes, but again not worth a vote?

If none of these things caused you sufficient disquiet to call for a further referendum, then I respectfully suggest it is disingenuous to call for one now, when Brexit has not even been implemented and the only new information to hand is that negotiations turned out to be more difficult than expected. In that context, I invite you to bear in mind that prominent Remainers have publicly urged the EU to be tough on the UK in order to assist their campaign to reverse the decision to Leave. In other words, your own team has made a significant contribution to the difficulties of which you now complain.

The electorate gets one choice in forty years, the people make their choice and you think you can campaign with impunity for that choice to be overturned before it is even carried out? Seriously? You think that democracy in the UK will not be dreadfully damaged in the process? Two hundred years after Peterloo, has the establishment truly learned so very little?

Have you taken note of polls showing the low regard in which politicians are already held compared to other groups? In 2016 the government pledged to implement what the people decided. That pledge has not yet been met. If it is not met, then do not expect a restoration of trust in the political system within a generation.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Book Review:
'Adults in the Room' by Yanis Varoufakis

Some critics of Varoufakis are clearly unreasonable. He did not create the Greek debt crisis of 2015; he inherited it.

A so-called bailout programme which actually reduces the national income of the debtor economy, rendering it even less able to pay than it was before, is demonstrably unsustainable. Kicking the can down the road, by what is called ‘extend and pretend’, protects badly-managed international banks at the expense of ill-advised Greek citizens and their livelihoods.

A Greek default would have led to the country’s ejection from the Eurozone and who knows how much damage to the EU project.

We need to remember that the single currency’s advantage over earlier programmes such as The Snake and The EMS was supposed to be its irrevocable nature. If Greece could be forced out, what would prevent the next victim of the single currency’s poor design being forced out too? Was it reasonable to expect Greece to take one for the team? I hardly think so.

The Lesson of ‘Adults in the Room’ is essentially an old and simple one: When you are in a hole, stop digging. But that advice is sadly oversimplified. You find that others in the same hole won’t, for a variety of reasons, stop digging. What’s worse, the owners of another, much bigger hole, see digging you further in as a wonderful means of digging themselves out.

Though his short career as Greek Finance Minister may have appeared Quixotic, the sad truth is that Varoufakis was tilting at real giants, not windmills. As is all too common with giants, many of these were not all that nice, and there were simply too many of them out there.

I recommend ‘Adults in the Room’ not just to critics of the EU, but to anyone tempted to overdose on a Public-Relations-based idealisation of a deeply-flawed organization.


(5 Stars)

Sunday, 4 November 2018

What worries me about UK politics.

To begin with, let me declare an interest. In 1979 I stood for election to parliament as a Liberal, back in the days when there was a Liberal Party. I was one of the 100 prominent Liberals (‘prominent’ being a relative term in this context) whose names were listed in the press as opponents of the Lib-Lab Pact.

There is no longer any British political party representing my broadly centrist position. I have to say with regret that since the merger with the Social Democrats my former party has turned into something neither liberal (in the classic sense) nor democratic (as demonstrated by its attitude to the EU Referendum result). For me, this explains its failure to fill the vacuum in moderate politics created by the polarisation of the two main UK parties and the rise of fissiparous nationalism in Scotland.

I am troubled by the seemingly inexorable rise of identity politics. In politics, I do not care about a person’s identity, I care about the quality and rationality of his or her ideas. To value ideas only insofar as they are uttered by an approved sort of person and to dismiss ideas uttered by any disapproved sort is a classic ad hominem fallacy, offering no hope of reaching the truth. Identity politics emphasizes irrelevant divisions and breaks down social cohesion to our collective diminution as citizens.

Another major concern is the diminishing respect for free speech. Extreme political correctness is the new fascism. No-platforming, shouting down, political violence and other forms of mob censorship are rapidly destroying our free society. I find it so tragic that things for which my father’s generation fought and died are so little valued and so lightly cast away by people who have the nerve to call themselves liberals. I’m sorry, but such people do not know the meaning of liberalism; they should read JS Mill’s On Liberty and learn what it is.

I value social media. Living as I do in rural isolation, forums such as this allow me to feel close to people all over the world. At the same time, I worry about the apparently deliberate policy of some media to create what has been called ‘echo chambers’; self-reinforcing factions rarely exposed to alternative views. When the certainty of one’s own righteousness becomes intense, there is an unfortunate tendency to respond to contrary views with hostility and belligerence rather than reasoned argument.

(In passing, may I mention that as a former philosophy teacher I know a thing or two about rational discussion. It was frequently necessary for me to play devil’s advocate, putting forward arguments for a view I didn’t actually support because it was necessary that someone should. You cannot convincingly claim to be correct if you are not familiar with the main objections to your view and able to offer reasoned refutations thereof. Without this there is only emotion and prejudice.)

I am disturbed by an increasing willingness to define ourselves by what we are against, rather than what we are for. Admittedly, this is often instinctive and reactionary. During the Scottish Independence referendum the unionist campaign understandably resorted to playing down the prospects of an independent Scotland but I would have preferred to see far more emphasis on what the UK had achieved and could in future achieve through integration. Likewise, the Remain campaign’s scaremongering about the dangers of leaving the EU was far more prominent than any enumeration of the benefits of membership.

I know politics has always been a bear pit. Confrontation is the nature of the beast. Yet it is vital to keep in sight the underlying truth that the UK collectively is far more than the sum of its parts. Split its countries or its society apart and we all suffer.

I wish I could have said the same for the EU. Sadly I can’t. The direction it has chosen is one which benefits just some citizens at the almost unbearable expense of others.