24 October 2011

The Conscience of the King

Which is the title of the 13th episode of the TV series Star Trek's first season, but also could refer to the behaviour of all three Party Leaders in reference to the forthcoming vote in the House of Commons on whether to hold a referendum on EU membership (in whatever format)As already stated by Hal Berstram when I took over co-editorship of this blog, 'readers could look forward to discussion of the intelligent case for leaving the EU' - with Europe once again pushed into the forefront of the political landscape, at least as far as the political class are concerned.

Arguably the finest journalist in print today of any newspaper is Christopher Booker of the Sunday Telegraph. The original editor of the satirical publication, Private Eye, he is still contributing material both to its investigative section 'In the back' as well as the innumerable small jokes, often in cartoon format that litter its pages. Better known on the Left nowadays for his scepticism over Climate Change (or Anthropogenic Global Warming), he first came to my attention as one of the only (if not the only) journalists to focus on the EU's forays into the public sphere in the 1990s and early 2000s. He has been consistently vindicated on every aspect of his European observations, not the least of which was criticism of the common cross party consensus that the EU was a 'good thing'. I'd hazard this is one of the main reason why, he , like I smells a rat, when Climate Change proponents say 'the science is settled' and 'there is general consensus' , telltale phrases that imply a vested interest in something which is in many cases quite lucrative. I feel confident that, as global temperatures continue to fluctuate and fall in many cases, Booker's stance will be vindicated again. However, this is not the main thrust of the post.

In one searing work, the Castle of Lies , he and co-author Richard North (an admittedly single-minded campaigner who destroyed his photocard EU license because it had the EU's 'ring of stars' emblem on it and who went to prison for a day for withholding the 'policing' element of his Council Tax for his local force's failure to deal with a burglary epidemic in his part of West Yorkshire) laid bare the EU's true nature for anyone who was willing to see it. In the sequel, The Great Deception, they looked at the EU's roots and exposed its deliberately anti-democratic nature, as well as the fiction that British War Leader Churchill ever intended the UK to be part of such an organisation. In all honesty, I'd find it hard to nominate a journalist who has done more to influence my political beliefs in a positive, as opposed to a negative way.

Thus, I can only echo the sentiments of my co-author here on the blog in his call for a referendum. Very interesting to see the attitude of the man who he believes will be PM in 2015, who has described people calling for a referendum as 'barking' and a 'reckless distraction' thus destrying the ground his conference speech had gained him in the eyes of many Eurosceptics. whilst it's true that to agitate for a referendum at a time of global crisis might seem something of an unwanted diversion, such a diagnosis fails to recognise that the issue goes to the core of what type of governmental system we want.

What I fear is two things:

A/ The phraseology of the referendum question - will it be a loaded question to try and appease the 'Fib Dems' (who on this issue I agree with Hal are 'spineless collaborators') or will it be the question which the UKIP want:

'Do you wish Britain to remain in the EU, a deeply corrupt, utterly undemocratic institution whose cost outweigh is benefits by about 100 to 1 and which is widely believed to be run covertly from Beijing and Pyongyang?

B/ The possibility of a 'third option' on renegotiation, which as former Icelandic PM , David Oddsson (who kept Iceland out of the EU) pointed out wouldn't be offered to the UK. Indeed, I'm not even sure the preferential treatment afforded to Norway and Switzerland would be offered. that's the greatest fear for the otherwise dominant UKIP, that the 'fear factor' will drive either a 'Yes' or a vote for option three.

Thus whilst I disagree with Hal's vision, which given the lack of linguistic or cultural commonality would simply not work in countries as diverse as the EU membership, I'll stand happliy on the plaform with him and other anti-globalisation protesters and Greens who normally I would be looking to expose as in the pay of certain hostile powers to say that this issue cannot be ignored. If you truly care at all about our democracy - you need to be writing to your MP, regardless of his politics, and ask him or her why they aren't supporting democracy by defying party whips to vote in favour of it. I'd be especially pleased if any readers who might live in Doncaster North especially could ask.....

22 October 2011

Europe: the case for a referendum

Some considerable excitement going on (in relative terms) in the House of Commons on Monday, where several dozen Tories (mainly from the right of the party) and some maverick Labour MPs, plus Caroline Lucas, will be voting in favour of a referendum on staying in the EU.

All three main party leaders will be whipping their MPs against the motion. (I note in passing that the Lib Dem manifesto contained a pledge to hold an in/out referendum on Europe. We can safely assume that that pledge went the way of all their other pledges, then? Well done, Fib Dems.)

My view is that there is a very clear case for a referendum. Opinion polls show very strong support - often a majority - for leaving the EU. At the last Euro election, the UK Independence Party came second in terms of vote share, and many Tory party and Green party members are also in favour of leaving. Circumstances have changed hugely since the last referendum in 1975. So for me, the case is difficult to argue.

As for what the result of a referendum would be... it's very hard to say. The case of the AV referendum shows that the initial opinion polling may bear very little relation to the final result. The "Yes" campaign would be hugely well funded and would be able to use the three main party leaders and front benches in its campaigning (actually, looking at them again, maybe that's a handicap rather than an asset). As in the AV referendum and the 1975 campaign the "No" campaign would suffer from being a mix of left and right wingers with few affinities with each other; the combination of Enoch Powell and Tony Benn on the "No" platform in '75 probably created a negative crossover effect whereby each turned off the other's supporters, and you can imagine the same thing happening with (for example) Nigel Farage and Caroline Lucas this time round.

But part of the reason for holding a referendum would be to find all this out. Therefore, I will be emailing my MP (the extreme Tory right winger Priti Patel) to recommend that she vote in favour of a referendum.

The obvious next question is: If there were a referendum, how would I vote? Probably I'd vote "no" although not for the same reasons as most of the "no" group. I'm basically a Eurofederalist who wants legislative matters decided by an elected European Parliament with Westminster relegated to the kind of role that a county council has in England at the moment. I'd abolish the European Commission and run the whole system through parliament with a European Prime Minister and a figurehead president. The various national heads of state would be kept on for ceremonial purposes.

But the current EU isn't anything to do with this vision. The European Parliament has very limited powers and most decisions are taken by unelected commissioners. To be frank (and there is a danger of sounding like Van Patten here but I'm going to say it anyway) the current EU governance structure is closer to China than any parliamentary democracy. And that's very dangerous.

So, I'd vote to come out of Europe for the moment, but if a true federalist Europe could be constructed either by renegotiation of existing treaties or by reconstruction from the ground up, I'd be an enthusiastic supporter of British re-entry.

One other point: There is the possibility of a 3-option referendum with "renegotiation" as the 3rd option. if this were the question, I'd be wary of voting for renegotiation because it's too fuzzy and allows too many opportunities to sell the voters out. In the 1975 referendum, Harold Wilson made it clear that a yes vote was a vote for renegotiation of the terms of the UK's membership - but in the end almost nothing was changed. One can imagine Cam/Clegg or Miliband doing much the same thing.

So, any MPs reading this: please do the right thing by your constituents and vote yes to a referendum on the EU on Monday 24th.

10 October 2011

The demise (?) of Dan Hodges

Once I had stopped throwing my Blackberry around the train for not working properly today and remembered that I had a perfectly functioning Samsung Galaxy S as backup, Tweetdeck dealt me the sad news that Dan Hodges had left the New Statesman.

For those who have never read his stuff (and there can't be many of you on the left, nor apparently among the Tories), Dan is a maverick blogger with strong Blairite tendencies. He is no great fan of Ed Miliband most of the time, and according to the (usually less than reliable) Guido Fawkes, Ed's office was instrumental in securing Dan's dismissal from the Statesman after such classic anti-Ed fodder as "Ed Miliband has a strategy - it's called Ralph Nader", "No one likes Ed Miliband - but he doesn't care" and "Ed's hit himself with a hammer. Why is he surprised it hurts?"

The Statesman itself issued a tweet saying that Dan had resigned rather than being fired, and there has been no word - yet - from the man himself, so it's not at all clear what happened yet. The Guido Fawkes view is that Dan was forced out because of his anti-Ed Miliband views. However, there are a lot of anti-Ed views expressed on the site and only some of them have come from Dan. Until recently the Statesman had Lib Dem Olly Grender on the books, and they also have the dreadful Tory Graeme Archer, the small 'l' liberal legal specialist David Allen Green, the hard left (ish) activist Laurie Penny, and economist David Blanchflower (the British Paul Krugman); none of these are sycophantic Milibandites. The only real hardcore pro-Ed voice on the Statesman's main writing team is Mehdi Hasan.

It also seems unlikely that Dan's persistent attacks on Ed are well crafted enough to prompt a nasty phone call from the Ed team saying "get rid of this geezer". Basically, Dan writes two kinds of articles; the Ed is Crap Article and the Article About Something Else. Sometimes the Article About Something Else is worth reading (e.g. his recent post on the Tories' problems over whether to abolish the 50p rate or not was excellent.) The Ed Is Crap Article is, and always has been, desperate Blairite trolling replete with all the tricks of the trade - asides from unnamed "cabinet ministers", the "concerned insider" saying "we really don't know what Ed's doing anymore", Tony Blair lurking in the background tutting disapproval, and some guy Dan meets up for a pint with every fortnight who doesn't know the names of any contemporary politicians at all but thinks Enoch Powell had the right idea in sending 'em all back home. Or something like that. I do computer programming sometimes and I'm thinking of producing a piece of software that will automatically write a generic Dan Hodges "Ed Is Crap" Article at the press of a button, using randomisation to generate slightly different copy each time (along the lines of the early web classic the Post Modernist Essay Generator). Maybe I could sell it to the Statesman and they could carry on as if all was well.

Actually I'm being slightly unfair on Dan here - recently he did discover a third type of article - it was the Ed Balls Is Crap article. File under "slight variation of the formula."

Despite the fact that I rarely agree with Dan (although occasionally I have enthusiastically endorsed his writing), and that I think his anti-Ed stance is tired and one-dimensional, I'm nonetheless sad to see him leaving the Statesman, partly because I enjoyed commenting on his articles (usually either to accuse him of being a Tory plant or a plant from Ed Miliband's office designed to offer only token and thin criticism to make Ed look good), partly because - as evidenced by his Twitter feed - he does have a great wit at times, and partly because even though he's mostly wrong, he's often interestingly wrong - unlike someone like John Rentoul for example, who is just annoying. And also because it probably means he'll be doing more on Labour Uncut - the right-wing Labour blog started by Mr Webcameron himself, Sion Simon - which is full of people with views similar to Dan, but who express them much less articulately. To the extent that I can't be bothered to visit the site: Labour List is as far right as I go, and even then rarely.

04 October 2011

€-zone - the end of the beginning...

Well it's now around 18 months since the Eurozone crisis first erupted with the initial Greek bailout, and the can has been kicked down the road so many times that I've lost count. Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy have all been dragged into the widening vortex, the politicians and central bankers wrangle interminably, and now the private banking sector begins to unravel with the news that the Belgian/French bank Dexia needs recapitalisation.

It is difficult to avoid the feeling that this whole slow-motion car crash is coming to a close. In the words of the late William Burroughs, we may now be reaching "a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."

It is hard to predict exactly when total economic collapse will occur. There were 14 months between the freezing of the interbank credit market in July 2007 (the first hard evidence that something was dreadfully, terribly wrong in the financial system) and the collapse of Lehmans in September 2008. The European sovereign debt crisis has been going on for longer than that now.

Things are a little scary. In the initial wave of the collapse the initiative was taken by Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling. Although Mr Brown's reputation has suffered a bit under a wave of Tory propaganda, and he failed in any way to capitalise or build on the momentum from the initial banking bailout, that you are reading this at all, rather than scrabbling for food in a looted shopping centre in a real life version of Mad Max, is probably down to him, and if there were any justice, he would be remembered as perhaps the greatest prime minister of the last fifty years, despite all his (many and deep) failings.

Do not expect any salvation from the UK this time round - the morons have taken over the pitch. Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have not an iota of economic capacity between them. More worryingly, there appear to be no other world leaders with much of a clue either.

It is impossible to predict where we will end up if the global economic system does collapse (and I still sincerely hope a way through can be found) - my only advice is as follows:

  1. stockpile tinned food.
  2. get down the allotment.
  3. If you join a militia group make sure it is the left wingers, not the EDL, and use violence only as a last-ditch self-defence measure.
  4. It will not be wise to identify yourself as a Liberal Democrat even after the political system has collapsed. Folks have long memories
  5. 12-string guitar may have added poser value for buskers.
That is all for today. Good luck.

The new men in the High Castle....

Further greetings to those diehard followers of the blog, once more from inside 'the Bunker' in NYC, this time due to some literal teething problems that have exposed me to the much maligned US healthcare system - which as I expected, was excellent, if a little pricey. Anyhow, it will not have escaped people's notice that arguably the greatest symbol of Capitalism, New York's Wall Street has currently been 'occupied' by protesters for about 3 weeks. This has excited significant media attention across the world. Some ill advised forays against the NYPD, whose admitted partial over-reaction has instead of dousing the fire, roused it, has intensified the spotlight. With the protest showing no sign of being over, despite the Police actions, perhaps it's best to look at the protestors somewhat myriad demands in a little more detail. Helpfully, veteran Leftist Richard D Wolff, a supporter of similar popular protest movements in countries such as Cuba ( at least until 1959) and Vietnam (at least until 1975) has outlined what he hopes will be the end result in today's Guardian

'Let me urge the occupiers to ignore the usual carping that besets powerful social movements in their earliest phases. Yes, you could be better organised, your demands more focused, your priorities clearer. All true, but in this moment, mostly irrelevant. Here is the key: if we want a mass and deep-rooted social movement of the left to re-emerge and transform the United States, we must welcome the many different streams, needs, desires, goals, energies and enthusiasms that inspire and sustain social movements. Now is the time to invite, welcome and gather them, in all their profusion and confusion.'

Leave aside the fact that approximately 5000 protestors is dwarfed by the population of one Manhattan street, but the message is not that objectionable. However much I disagree with denizens of the Hard Left in any form, they are free to express their opinion (although like some other right wingers I notice this tolerance does not extend from some on the left to anyone deemed 'right wing' especially in regards to race) - Thus we see, thus far a gathering of a whole raft of single issue pressure groups and Left wing activists, which is all well and good.

However, with the ensuing paragraphs, the true agenda becomes clear:

'So permit me, in the spirit of honoring and contributing something to this historic movement, to propose yet another dimension, another item to add to your agenda for social change. To achieve the goals of this renewed movement, we must finally change the organisation of production that sustains and reproduces inequality and injustice. We need to replace the failed structure of our corporate enterprises that now deliver profits to so few, pollute the environment we all depend on, and corrupt our political system'

So the red fist within the Green glove becomes clear - we are to replace the existing 'economic system' and replace it with what precisely, Richard?

'We need to end stock markets and boards of directors. The capacity to produce the goods and services we need should belong to everyone – just like the air, water, healthcare, education and security on which we likewise depend. We need to bring democracy to our enterprises. The workers within and the communities around enterprises can and should collectively shape how work is organised, what gets produced, and how we make use of the fruits of our collective efforts'

A classic paragraph - and seemingly ignorant of the history of the past century. Richard, Newsflash for you, my old son - There was a country that did exactly what you suggested. Perhaps you've heard of it - comprising much of the landmass of Europe and Asia, and stretching across 11 time zones, it lasted from bloody beginnings in 1917 for 74 years and was so vast, even it's dismemberment into 15 separate 'official' states left it's largest statelet as the world's biggest country - it was called the USSR. As I say, I'm assuming with your academic background, you've encountered it? Ah, but anticipating that objection, what's this we see?

'We all know that moving in this direction will elicit the screams of "socialism" from the usual predictable corners. The tired rhetoric lives on long after the cold war that orchestrated it fades out of memory. The audience for that rhetoric is fast fading, too. It is long overdue in the US for us to have a genuine conversation and struggle over our current economic system. Capitalism has gotten a free pass for far too long.'

So the rhetoric is 'tired and faded' is it Richard? I'd suggest you visit Russia, or more enlighteningly for you, The former COMECON states of Eastern Europe to see just what their memories (and I agree they are fading all too quickly) of genuine socialism are - I'm not sure you offering to recreate it will win you many friends in Vilnius, Tallinn, Riga or indeed even Tirana or Skopje.

However, let us assume, for a moment, that like some political alchemist, you can manufacture a system that doesn't go down the lines of every other collectivist regime I've ever seen, and grant that what happened in Eastern Europe was a long and disastrous anomaly, - what then?

'Humanity learned to do without kings and emperors and slave masters. We found our way to a democratic alternative, however partial and unfinished the democratic project remains. We can now take the next step to realise that democratic project. We can bring democracy to our enterprises – by transforming them into cooperatives owned, operated and governed by democratic assemblies composed of all who work in them and all the residents of the communities who are interdependent with them.'

I'd argue this paragraph betrays such a misunderstanding of human nature, it's hard to know where to begin. Ask the people of another socialist icon (although unlike Cuba and Vietnam this seems to be 'persona non grata' for the Left over here and in the UK - perhaps it's too close to genuine socialism for comfort - the truth can be very painful), the Korea DPR, whether humanity 'has learned to do without Kings and Slave masters', as a third generation of hereditary tyrant is groomed for power, with a network of gulags at his disposal. Indeed, in fairness, you could look to autocratic regimes across Central Asia of an ultr-nationalist bent in Uzbekistan, Tajikstan and Turkmenistan and see much the same. As for your demand that the economy be transformed into 'cooperatives owned, operated and governed by democratic assemblies composed of all who work in them' it's been tried before, and the results weren't pretty.

However, despite it's blatant flaws, I'm grateful to this article for revealing who the intellectual influences behind the 'Occupy wall Street' protesters really are - vicious, retread socialists who were thwarted in their desire for Global Socialism two decades ago, but have seized on the admittedly dire economic situation, and taken advantage of many Americans profound ignorance of the world outside the USA, to reiterate the old rhetoric 'of democracy and economic freedom' , knowing what the actual reality was and, in places like Cuba and North Korea, still is. One of my favourite works of 'alternate history' is the Philip K. Dick novel, The Man in the High Castle, a dystopian novel posited in the alternate future wherein the Axis WON World War Two and a new 'Cold War' had developed between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. If we follow Wolff's prescriptions, I think some future writer might posit a future whereby the USSR Won the Cold War and the World lived under primarily Communist rule. My greatest fear is that the naive 'Occupy Wall Street' protesters are doing their utmost to make that less of a dream, more a reality......