Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Hell freezes over

Never in a billion years did I think I would defend Raheem Kassam of Breitbart but he's getting the same shtick I get about attacking his own side. He's not attacking his own side. This fight over the nomination to lead the referendum campaign is not a rift between eurosceptics. This is a fight between a eurosceptic peoples movement and a small band of (establishment) selfservatives who are trying to steal it from us and take it as their own. This we cannot allow.

If you are amputating a gangrenous leg, yes technically, you are "attacking your own side" but if you don't amputate, the infection will spread and kill the whole body. We don't want these SW1 parasites taking over and we don't want Tory fence sitters. The less we hear from politicians and parties the better - including Ukip.

The Times and the Tory inner circle is pretending Matthew Elliot's outfit will bring an air of moderate respectability to the referendum campaign in a way that the brash and populist Banks campaign, intractably linked to Ukip, cannot - but in the end, Kassam is right. The Tory position is untenable. To win this, we have to attack the Prime Minister, which Tories cannot be relied upon to do with enthusiasm or sincerity - and Elliot's crew cannot be trusted not to run off with the cash.

I stand by my view that Ukip cannot be central to the campaign and it's no secret that I think Bank's operation is thus far lamentable, but at the very least the rabble outside the bubble sincerely want to leave the EU. I'll take that over a bunch of Tory con artists.

That, however, is not an endorsement of Leave.EU. The Referendum Planning Group is meeting soon to put a third option on the table. We cannot hope to match Mr Bank's money, but we have precision guided missiles when all they have is cannon fodder.

We seek to recruit and train more and maybe turn some of this rabble into elite fighters. We will gladly accept Mr Bank's help if offered, and we shall extend our every courtesy to him in any case. If he's smart enough to know that Elliot and the Tory circle jerk shouldn't be in charge, then he's smart enough for me. But we're not waiting around for them to get their act together. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

TheKnow.EU - it's a problem


In web design there is always a gulf between what the customer likes, what the programmer is happy with and what is of use to the visitor. I can see why Mr Banks would be very happy with The Know.EU and I can see from both the presentation and the coding that the programmer is very happy with it. I would be. But I'm not the programmer. I'm a visitor.

First of all, the panel of people moves in bi-directional sweeps which is mildly psychedelic. (trust me on this). Whichever image you click on, it send you to the same donation page. Since there is already an opportunity to donate on the main screen, the widget itself is utterly pointless. Not a good idea for the first thing that grabs your attention to be pointless.

Then there's the poll. What is it for? It's not like it's scientifically valuable data. All it tells us is that the majority of visitors, probably coming in via the Daily Mail/Daily Express/Ukip, are concerned about immigration. This is not news to us, and presumably is not news to Mr Banks either. This conclusion cannot be used to refine the website in that people from this cohort are already catered for. In short, the widget is pointless.

Then we have the "latest news" widget. Click through on this and we see links from mainstream media - namely. The Daily Express, The Daily Mail and the Muslim obsessed Breitbart. Arguably Breitbart is not mainstream media but it is a quasi-racist, pretty far-right rag where the moderation policy (or the lack thereof) means the comments are often filled with utterly vile content that would make the Daily Mail blush. No serious campaign should be linking to this vessel.

Moreover, nobody will come to the campaign website to get what they have already seen on Twitter, Facebook or indeed the host websites. Thus, the widget is again pointless. Moreover, a people's campaign should be promoting the voices of people and their news - not the voices of a press that any good strategy should be keen to attack. I'll leave it to you to decide if the merchandise widget is of value. I wouldn't be in a rush to buy a t-shirt with The Know emblazoned upon it since the referendum question is no longer yes/no.

So straight off the bat we have a pretty pointless website that's actually pretty ugly, doesn't tell you anything immediate and gives the visitor no obvious reason to return to it. If you wanted a website designed by a committee, it would look a lot like this. I would be interested to see the average loiter time of a visitor and the number of return visits. I bet they're quite small.

More than this, were I to cast an analytical eye on "the facts" section, I would find it riddled with factual and strategic errors with no consistency of message. The user has to go two clicks deep to get to the actual content which is anaemic and of little campaign value. Certainly it gives the online activist no reason to use it as an online headquarters.

At best this website is a placeholder, but there is no defining strategy behind it. No philosophy or ethos. It's just a vanity site. That said, the same can be said of Business For Elliot's websites too.

What's actually needed is something not entirely dissimilar to Ukip's own website. It's not cluttered, it has immediate signs that something new has been added and it is a news source in its own right. Effectively it's a blog site - which is the most effective way to communicate. Where Ukip fails is that it does not update every day, has no editorial strategy and no common themes. It's not building a message and there is no apparent editorial philosophy. That website style though, at the very least, would be an improvement.

What we actually need is a campaign website run pretty much as an e-zine much like Spiked Online only with a guiding philosophy behind it, a team of competent writers each working to an editorial line and an overall set of editorial ground rules to ensure message discipline. In fighting this campaign, the lead website should be an antidote to the media, a rival to it and more to the point, more accurate, up to date and persuasive. Nothing about Leave.EU suggests to me there is a strategy or a philosophy.

In reality any campaign site needs a fully staffed newsroom. What we have here is a site that could be run by a part time administrator with very little knowledge of the subject matter. It adds no value. Possibly a news site could exist as a partner to the main website entity but TheKnow.EU as standalone site, while superficially pretty and ticking all the boxes that a placeholder would need to tick, it's useless. If I were Mr Banks, I would be asking for a refund.

The bottom line is that Banks can boast about all the emails he's harvested and all the Facebook likes until the cows come home, but if you don't have an effective campaign website, you don't have a campaign. Just a very expensive brand name that isn't actually selling anything.

The truth is, there are dozens of flashy PHP template websites that an amateur can install onto personal web-hosting in a matter of minutes and the outcome would look much like this. It wouldn't take much more than a day to populated it and you'd need little in the way of expertise to maintain it. Leave.EU looks very much like one of those efforts. I know it's early days, and there is more flesh to be added to the skeleton, but without a strategy and a philosophy, it's always going to be a mess and will accomplish very little.

Very well, alone.


Deep inside the Westminster bubble, there is a Tory machine at work plotting the referendum campaign. As I understand it, they are largely fence sitter tribalists and those positioning themselves to make a healthy sum for their retirement pots by misdirecting funds. There are jobs to be grabbed and reputations to build. Winning the damn thing is a distant second to any other consideration. The danger of ceding the campaign to them is clear. As I noted in my previous post this battle will require some serious courage of conviction. I doubt they have it. Here's why...

Tonight I was going to post a verbose and long ass rebuttal of this tiresome piece of propaganda attacking the EEA Norway option. It's a classic misrepresentation of the argument. The Norway option is mooted by Owen Paterson (as far as the bubble knows) is mooted as a stepping stone interim measure (a departure lounge). It is not the final destination - just an off the shelf means of achieving single market access in the mid term.

Springford also ignores the meat of the Paterson argument in that the majority of single market rules are not made by the EU. Instead they are Codex, UNECE, UNEF, UNEP, Basel2 and so on. There is so much omitted from this article we can either throw it out as a dismal piece of amateur propaganda or we can just assume Springford is profoundly ignorant.

Readers of this blog will now be well aware of the role of international organisations in regulating the single market and will also be aware that the EEA\Efta option is one we have since approached with caution in light of the new EU treaty.

The Telegraph is running naked propaganda along the lines of repeating a lie often enough. The volume of repetition eventually grinds us down as we tire of writing rebuttals. But were I to write yet another rebuttal of the "fax democracy" meme, I would be falling into the trap. This is what they want us to spend our time arguing the toss over.

This is all irrelevant to the real battle. The real battle will be over whether Cameron's reforms are worth having. It is the view of the Referendum Planning Group that there is no real attempt at renegotiation under way, Cameron is a passenger, and the main concern of the EU is the consolidation of the EU around the Eurozone. They can risk fobbing Britain off with an empty promise because they have Cameron as a salesman. It has worked before with the phantom veto.

As much as we have spoken about the need for a positive message, and a thorough intellectual case, the last weeks of the campaign will require that we are visceral in our attacks on Cameron's credibility. Undermining the character of the Prime Minister is critical. The last thing we need is a main Leave campaign falling into the trap of trading facts and figures over trade deficits and banana regulations, attacking all the decoys, when the real enemy is the PM.

In some respects, the Conservative Home claque uniting behind Matthew Elliot's embezzlement scam referendum campaign are already political failures. They are hasbeens and neverweres - so they can and will attack the PM, but nobody will care what they say. Similarly ex ministers will be accused of holding a grudge and as for the fence sitting wait and see brigade like Steve Baker, these people still have some party aspirations and so will be selective in the battles they pick. Such people are not trustworthy. Arguably, there is nobody inside the political inner circle who can be trusted. I can't even say for certain that Daniel Hannan won't pull a fast one.

Consequently those who really want out must be cautious to ignore the Tory campaign because it will have its own agenda and it will be fighting the wrong battle. This is where Arron Banks could have been the white night, but in being so obviously associated with Ukip and running a depressingly inept message, unless he is willing to take on the expertise then he's another unwelcome player on the field.

The bottom line is that anyone serious about leaving the EU must not wait for leadership and should not be counting on any support from anybody. We are are on our own with nothing but our own personal resources. The clever boys and girls in Westminster will have the money to waste and they will congratulate themselves on their flash websites and glossy leaflets, but the real fighting will be done by me and you.

It will involve targeting local leaders and opinion formers with high quality, concise and clear arguments offering a better alternative than what Cameron can offer and good reasons as to why the PM cannot be trusted and why the "reform" on offer is just the status quo re-bundled. Neither my time or your time is well spent shoving their useless leaflets about the price of groceries through letterboxes. The memes concocted by these self-serving, money grabbing whores and prima donnas are wholly useless and irrelevant to the fight.

As much as we need our core of bloggers, we will need prolific social media users, graphic designers and Tweeters. The big boys can buy their TV adverts and newspaper columns and we cannot match their reach, but with concentrated teamwork and forensic precision, we can target our limited resource and use the machine to our own advantage. The scattergun tactics we have seen deployed thus far are insufficient.

Ultimately if we want a win then we will need a winning mindset. That mindset starts with a few basic rules and assumptions.

1. Forget Ukip - divisive and cannot reach the swing vote
2. Any machine headed by Tories is just Ukip in a better suit
3. Arron Banks and Leave.EU are preaching to the converted
4. This is a people's campaign and politicians of any stripe are not welcome.

As far as we're concerned, there is no Leave campaign. There is a biff bam sideshow the media can speculate over and we can't hold our breath waiting for them to get their act together. We can hope but I don't recommend waiting on the men with the money. In the end, we don't want their material, their input is mostly harmful and anyone who comes waving the flag of their party or tribe should be met with suspicion. It's up to me and you. We are on our own.

In this, there is the elephant in the room. The media will not consult the real people doing the heavy lifting. We will see the Farage's and the other drongos on TV, and the media will report it as though it were an election because they don't know how to do anything else. That is the second major concern after the Tory con job.

While we must wait until the latter days of the campaign to tear holes in the Prime Minister, we have a whole two years to slam the media and question its fitness to represent the arguments. The Telegraph article linked above is published without a counterweight argument and uses wilful omission of crucial arguments without right of reply. It is written by a consultant to an EU funded think tank - and the Telegraph doesn't see fit to tell us this.

We have written at length on the matter of media corruption and the low grade, amateurism that now passes for journalism. Court circulars like the Spectator and the Telegraph must be regularly and routinely humiliated. While they are seemingly eurosceptic, they are ultimately loyal to the Westminster orthodoxy. The Daily Mail isn't eurosceptic and if you wanted to design a false flag news vessel it would look a lot like The Daily Express.

In this battle, even the right wing press is our enemy, the Tory party is our enemy and while we may not doubt Ukip's sincerity, their lack of tactical acumen means they are best neither seen nor heard.

The bottom line - there is no party, newspaper or campaign organisation that can save us. We have no allies, we have no lifeline and in this, the official campaign to stay in is the opponent of the least importance. Even the EU takes a back seat. As much as this is an opportunity to free Britain from the EU, it is also a chance to hit the media hard and shatter its unbreakable influence for good. To win, that's the battle we have to win first.

In that regard, the main campaigns are especially unhelpful in that they are using their money to fight this campaign through the media. They are fighting on their battlefield. We have to ignore the media when we're not attacking it and we need to bypass the politicians and we have to make this a people's campaign. It's about me and you and you decide your own level of involvement. Don't wait for a leader or a uniting banner because I can promise you, that's not coming. If we wait for them, all we'll get is a large bill for the taxpayer, a future inside the EU and a Matthew Elliot laughing all the way to the bank. He gets paid either way. 

Getting off the fence

In Conservative Home today Mark Wallace writes an obsequious piece eulogising his former employer - and his worthiness to run the EU referendum campaign. There are some basic notions that need to be dispensed with. Firstly the notion hat Elliot's campaign is "cross party" is a risible.

He claims "Elliott and Cummings have managed to assemble a broader alliance across the political parties – thus far they have Conservative, Labour, DUP and UKIP MPs signed up (Carswell is working with them rather than with Leave.EU, which presumably explains some of the attacks on him from the Banks camp) and will be announcing others soon. That’s a compelling argument that they have the wider cross-party base at this point by quite a long way."

In other words, Elliot has a rump of Tory MP's a, former Tory MP (with one foot still in the bubble) and a hand full of stragglers few have ever heard of. It is almost uniformly a Tory operation. And there's the problem. The point is that this referendum is not about the EU, per se, but our relationship with the EU. That puts Cameron in the frame, as the man seeking to negotiate a new relationship. Therefore, the referendum must be prepared to mount a strong attack on Cameron, even to the extent of damaging him politically, and thereby damaging the Conservatives electoral chances in 2020. Can we trust Tories to do that? No.

Moreover, the Tory camp consists of the "wait and see" brigade along with Elliot, who appears to have no particular drive to leave the EU and appears to be more concerned with making a quick buck out of it. As to Elliot's competence, as one commenter notes "The AV referendum would have been won if you had put a chimpanzee in charge (there was no contest)".

This debate is less a split between euosceptics as a split between the London establishment and everybody else. Arron Banks has made it quite clear on Twitter this week that he has no particular love of the SW1 claque, and in that he is right - they are entirely self-serving. They are not to be trusted. In that regard, in no way do I question Banks's or Ukip's sincerity in wanting to leave the EU. And in that, like it or not, Ukip and the Banks operation is the most genuine Leave constituency who are both grass roots and cross party in terms of their former voting habits.

For me, the choice comes down to who is most likely to succeed. That will ultimately depend on the strategy and the quality of the intellectual argument. Given that Better Off Out is risible and in terms of intellectual weight there is barely a fag paper's difference between Leave.EU and Business for Britain (and how risible it is), it wouldn't make much material difference if Ukip itself were running the campaign.

So in the end, it's a matter of whether I want an SW1 bubble outfit farming out campaign funds to their business interests, do I want this to be an establishment lead campaign, and do I trust the Tories to put up an honest fight? No, No, No. As with most most things in British politics, one laments the lack of a "none of the above" option. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Europe Delusion


If you read this piece and this piece, you will have an idea as to the extent and scope of international conventions, standards and regulations. I'm taking my lead from Philip Alston who is as close to an authority on the subject as you can possibly get. He writes from the perspective of Australia's struggle to balance sovereignty with globalisation. Even twenty years ago, Australia was making all the same arguments eurosceptics make about sovereignty and laws being made elsewhere.

What is noteworthy is that Australians don't complain about the EU making 75% of their laws. They're not members of the EU. So who makes Australia's laws? The same people who make ours. As we have noted sovereignty outside the EU is something of a red herring since the primacy of global conventions and accords govern what nations and blocs alike convert into law.

It is only because of the narrow framing of our national politics, aided and abetted by a juvenile and inept media that the process of globalisation is obscured from view. It's arcane at the best of times but in the UK, we have the EU obscuring it from view completely. I have actually lost count of the number of times I've used the expression "the EU is just a redundant middleman", but it is only in the last few weeks have I realised just how profound and true those words are.

Europhiles often claim we would be an isolated "rogue nation" outside the EU but Alston demonstrates in his book that Australia outside of the EU struggles to withstand the tides of globalised regulation and couldn't be a rogue state even if it wanted to be one. Far from being isolated, it has a Mutual Recognition Agreement with the EU for recognition of quality standards and regulations. That wasn't all that difficult to achieve in many sectors because the rules and regulations come from the same international law making shops.

This dynamic kinda knackers both sides of the Brexit debate. On the one hand we have Ukip and the likes making grand pronouncements about sovereignty, which is not even halfway realisable - and on the other hand we have europhiles saying that we wouldn't have all these protections, rights and conveniences were it not for the EU. The fact is, if the EU didn't exist today, as things stand in terms of the global trading rules, nobody would bother to invent it. The ground is covered.

That actually makes it all the more important to finally resolve the EU question and get out of the EU, because the debate has moved on from the ideas of the last century. In many respects, Australia is twenty years ahead of us in that it at least understands where the real threats and opportunities are. We are still in a state of collective myopia, barely aware of where our laws come from and barking up the wrong tree. As it happens, the EU debate doesn't even begin to address the issues and so long as we remain inside it, we will continue to fumble under a blanket of ignorance.

If at this point you're not hooked on this tantilising subject I would actually say that you're not really that interested in politics. When you look at the giants in the global playground, and contrast it with whatever utterances of Jeremy Corbyn make it as far as the local SW1 "news" papers, you realise just how insignificant Westminster village hall really is and how little comparative impact it has on our lives. By that measure, even the European Parliament looks like an adult crèche.

And if our politics is all but irrelevant, then so is our media. I've always had a visceral contempt for British media, but now such contempt is misplaced. Our news media is in fact another branch of the entertainment industry and the news columns of the press are no less irrelevant than the celeb gossip sidebar. They are one and the same. I've learned to ignore it in the same way I would the celebrity gossip - and I'm no worse off for it. They are not in the business of reporting news. If anything they exist only to prop up the illusion that any of our elected officials are in control.

Debunking rubbish


Like Ukip, Leave.EU is going to spend the entire campaign making work for Brexit campaigners, robbing us of time better spent on other things. But since this post is infinitely reusable it's worth doing. The above meme is doing the rounds and it's worth debunking claim by claim.

The first claim that freedom of movement is at risk is untrue. There is no practical possibility that we could disengage from the single market. Politically, we couldn't even if we wanted to. That consequently means freedom of movement stays. The EU wouldn't allow it any other way. And or would business.

The claim that millions of jobs rely entirely on EU membership is the oldest and most boring meme in the book. the jobs depend on trade - and as per the previous point, our membership of the single market is not affected by leaving the EU.

The peace in Europe meme is also a myth. If anything has kept the peace it is NATO, largely propped up by the USA. The EU's meddling in Ukraine is certainly a contributory factor to the low grade civil war happening there now, and the EU's failure to deal with the asylum crisis may reignite tensions in the Balkans.

Claim four is completely out there. As we have discussed on this blog at length, regulation is not written by the EU. It's made by Codex, ILO, UNECE, UNEF, WHO and a whole host of other bodies, largely influenced by corporates and alliances such as the Cairns Group. The EU talking shop does little more than rubber stamp regulations and by the time they reach the middleman there is little hope of editing them - and when we are structurally outnumbered, there is no chance of unilaterally vetoing them. What that means is that we cannot refuse a regulation which could wipe out entire industry sectors, much like small slaughterhouses in the 1990's. That's why the EU is not a democracy.

The fifth claim that the EU promotes tough environmental regulation is an interesting one. Again, the EU is not the author of such regulation and these are mainly the concern of the UNEP, WHO and various climate accords that are made internationally. If anything, the EU is a means of watering them down. That said, it is not a given that the promotion of tough environmental regulation is necessarily a good thing. There are many examples of bad and counter productive environmental regulations that could have been averted had we had a veto at the top table.

The claim that all member states abide by the same rules again ignores where most of the rules come from. Australia complies with the same rules for a number of industries, yet they are not obliged to surrender their veto at the top table like Britain has. Regulatory convergence is central to the concept of a single market, but the EU is not the single market. The single market of uniform regulations actually depends on which industry to which you are referring. The single market in automotive regulations extends far beyond the EU's own internal market and is set to go global in the next decade - with other industries to follow.

As to farming subsidies helping agriculture, indeed they do. But we are the second largest contributor to the EU budget and by leaving the EU we would repatriate what we pay in subsidy and pay it directly, possibly reducing some red tape in the process. We would maintain subsidies and there is no rational case that suggest we would not. Moreover, running our own subsidy system means a withdrawal of the CAP, which even the most hardened europhile will admit has a pretty damning history in terms of environmental protections and food production.

The claim that Brexit will lead to big business leaving Britain is a nonsense. It's a wholly empty threat. We know this because Brexit would not involve trade tariffs since the WTO rules out discriminatory tariffs and we would remain members of the EEA single market anyway. It's a non issue and it doesn't affect business. Both Airbus and Vauxhall have said they would stay n the EU. Some notable ones have hinted they might, but have made no definite declarations. All we see is idle threats, mostly from companies who depend entirely upon corporate welfare.

The suggestion that we would be a maverick state is somewhat peculiar. By not being in the EU is Norway an isolated rogue state? Australia even? No? It's absurd. And since we're not going to leave the single market, isolation is so risible it's not even worth another sentence.

Finally, the employment legislation is largely the product of the International Labour Organisation. We would keep most, if not all of it - and we would still adopt ILO conventions in the future. Australia does and so does Canada. Where extradition is concerned, it's always best if our own courts have the final say - though there is no objection in principle to reciprocal agreements. Most of this is detailed in our comprehensive Brexit plan.

We are used to seeing this kind of low grade tat and if it didn't come from Leave.EU it would likely be produced elsewhere. We're seen similar before and thoroughly debunked it. The irritation here is that it takes less than ten minutes for the Remains to concoct a nasty piece of propaganda like the above, but we have to de-construct the entire edifice of EU lies from the last forty years and explain to people the reality of the power structures. It takes more than a cheapshot tweet to get to the core of the issue. Just as well the final battle is not whether we're right or they are. The final question is whether we trust the word of a Tory PM. I sure as hell don't and I have no idea why SLATUKIP would either.

Out is the only option.


If there is one thing Banks et al are right about it is that the Tory eurosceptic camp is not in any way to be trusted. They are fence sitters which is no position from which to lead a campaign, and more to the point, they are Tory tribalists - and not to be trusted. Given that their collective intellectual capital is little more developed than Ukip's I don't give them any greater chance of leading us to Brexit even if they were entering with honest intentions.

More to the point, let us suppose that the new EU treaty offers us associate membership, aside from trading independence, that looks little different to what the EEA/Efta interim option would be. We would still be in the single market, but theoretically not part of the EU's "ever closer union". But that's still basically Britain on a leash to be yanked by the Eurozone supreme government.

So I ask myself if there is any package that would satisfy me. Supposing Cameron was able to pull off what nobody expects and get us all our trading independence back, we would have our global voice, single market membership and be in the second tier of the EU. Almost the best of both worlds. Would I then be satisfied? The answer is no.

For starters, we would have to take that trading independence on trust but that's besides the point. This is not just about sending a message to the EU, it is also a message to our own government that we the people are the ones who decide, not they. Moreover, Westminster is the institution that did this to us in the first place and it would only take an accident of numbers of for a Labour government to sign an accord to surrender any opt outs and concessions in exchange for a carrot dangled before us. Brexit is the only guaranteed means of keeping what we will gain.

By voting to remain in the EU we are voting to trust one of Cameron's empty promises along with trusting the EU's obvious duplicity. Europhiles talk about Brexit causing uncertainty, but if you ask me that's a helluva bigger gamble. Moreover, if we want to expand our global trading horizons, that's not going to come cheaply. We will have to sink a lot of money into international development over and above what we will inevitably continue to contribute to EU-UK cooperation budgets. We will need total autonomy in how we do this, not least so we can undo some of the damage the EU has done to potential trading partners in Africa.

There is never going to be a halfway house that gives us the benefits independence brings and there is certainly no value at all in being in the second tier of Europe on a tight leash. There is nothing political union can offer us over and above what we gain from single market access, and if there was, it could not compensate for what we stand to lose globally.

As much as Brexit is an economic and strategic decision it is also a gesture that the hegemony of the EU is done. the coming treaty that consolidates the eurozone is the high water mark for the EU. It is now as far down the line as ever it can be and it failed in its goal to create a supreme government for all of Europe. We never wanted that, but now it is no longer a possibility, we should break with the past and focus on building the future. In that future will be an EU we trade and coexist with, one we cooperate with but one that must persuade Britain rather than overrule it.

We must end this state of denial that the EU gives us influence. Trading blocs are a wholly obsolete model when the world is converging in other ways, industry by industry, market by market. Globalisation is a force that does not respect borders and does not evolve according to a master plan. It follows the money. In a world where it has never been easier to up sticks and take advantage of favourable trading conditions and lower taxes, we cannot afford to wait several years for the EU to develop its obsolete deep and comprehensive trade deals with partners irrelevant to our domestic economy. To get the very best from globalisation we need to be agile and competitive and the EU is an obvious and crippling barrier to that.

We're not going to increase our quality of life and working rights by legislating for it with added rights and entitlements. All that will do is expedite the evacuation of wealth from Europe. The way we improve our working conditions and increase our wealth is to be out there making the best of a radical change in how things are done globally. For this to happen, as much as we need to resolve the technical drag factor of the EU we also need a confident assertion, a gesture that says we are back in play, the lines are open and we're waiting for your call - knowing that there is no yank on the leash when we start to prosper.

I don't believe as some do that Britain is declining, but I do believe that Britain's anaemic growth holds back so many possibilities and opportunities and I don't think the old ways can serve us as they once did. We need to break with the past and make it a clean break. There is no middle way and I cannot support any Brexit campaign that doesn't believe in the potential of Britain and certainly not one asking to take a leap of faith on the back of a Tory promise. They are not worth the paper they are written on. 

He said, she said... whatever!


Twitter is alight with speculation over "eurosceptic rifts" and spats between various individuals. This the sort of thing I'm supposed to care about but I just don't. The fact is, we've been saying for a long time now that unless eurosceptics miraculously up their game, the main Leave campaign will be abysmal. Nothing in that estimation has changed, it doesn't matter, and here's why...

Nobody at all can say that this blog only ever attacks Ukip. I've presented a fairly damning critique of Better off Out, The Know and Business For Britain. I'm not overly impressed with any of them and I cannot pick one out as being distinctively better than the other.

The gossip flying around from the Ukip conference is mostly unsubstantiated and largely relates to whoever will win the nomination to be the official Leave campaign. Given that they will all blether about all the nonsense we have already discussed on this blog, the fact remains that there will need to be a strong contingent of independent actors saying completely different things. Any calls for unity directed at me will fall on deaf ears. I am not uniting behind a bad message and if their output is stupid, I will say so, not least because it strengthens the progressive case for Brexit we will be promoting. We'll reach the people they can't.

Already today I've had a couple of spats with outraged kippers but I've muted them. If they want the last word in a Twitter spat, they can have it. They are not entitled to my time. The focus is now on preparing our independent campaign and our team of bloggers. The rest just don't matter.

What I will say is that while I have a strong dislike for The Know, I'm not wholly critical of Arron Banks in that he does at least participate in conversation and is not in transmit mode only. He may be reachable, though there seems to be a disconnect between what he says he understands and what actually comes out of his campaign. I find the content his clan is kicking out is cringeworthy. I'm hoping at some point we will see an improvement but I'm not holding my breath.

As far as I'm concerned, Ukip too is just noise. It's a dying party and though I cannot deter them from participating they are going to make the job a lot harder. Whatever energy I might invest in trying to educate kippers is time better spent identifying new targets and concentrating the effort there.

Recent events pertaining to the shape of the final campaign are far more worthy of discussion than the petty bickering we see today which will be forgotten in no time at all. In many respects we have a real chance given to us, not by Ukip and Banks, but by the circumstances into which we enter the final campaign. Cameron will have little more than an empty promise on offer, slated for some time in the near future, with a boatload of conditions and caveats. What he's offering is the status quo while the new EU treaty pushes us to the sidelines. We get less internal influence while turning down the opportunity of more global influence if we vote to remain in the EU. They are asking us to vote for second class citizenship with no major change in our relationship.

My earlier piece spells it out and the obvious choice is now to leave the EU if we can put the issue of international organisations back into the public domain. International reach vs downgraded EU membership is a clear choice. Were I not already convinced, I would find that argument the most compelling. Best of all, it doesn't even mention immigration or take a hard line on any particular issue. It just sets out the choice in clear terms. That's what the final battle will be about and if we have prepared the ground then it's a no brainer.

I would really like it if Ukip shut up about immigration but unlike Ukip, I'm not going to complain about the obstacles on the battlefield. I'll just need to work harder to cut through the noise. My guiding principle being that old Chinese proverb - A person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the man doing it.

What I could use is for all of you who have decided to join the blogging effort to let me know what your blogs are and announce yourselves on Twitter. Once I have a definitive list I will produce a prominent sidebar on www.eureferendum.com. I've been quiet over the last couple of weeks as I've been away but we're still very much going ahead with it regardless of the outcome of the official nomination. Since the battle does not heat up for some time, there is actually very little merit in campaigning right now. At the moment it's all about refining the message and preparing. What the others now do is beyond our control and entirely up to them. They are not going to up their game so we should have no expectations of them and just get the hell on with it.

Ever closer onion


Continuing the theme of international standards and conventions, when arguing the point with europhiles, they often tell me that standards are not laws and it takes the EU to turn them into law. But in building in compliance to standards that exporters to the EU must comply with, they are creating global laws for producers the world over. And make no mistake, UNECE is writing laws.

This week we learned that Codex Alimentarius fresh fruit & veg committee is working with UNECE to harmonise aubergine, garlic, kiwi & potato marketing standards, which for me is by far the most interesting story on Twitter given what else is on offer. Certainly more important than Jeremy Corbyn. Thus I found myself browsing through the UNECE Standard for Onions FFV-25.

It states beneath the picture that "The onions must not have any damage or injury. The skin must be intact. Unhealed injuries or mechanical damage exposing the edible of the produce are not allowed."

The regulations that enact such standards do not copy these standards. These articles ARE the standards. The language is clear. They are written with the expectation of official approval - and there is no possibility that we could deviate from these standards should we wish to produce onions and export them to the EU.

Thus in the formulation of these laws, we need our own producers involved at the highest level and an independent veto is very necessary. Just one comma or noun gone awry can have serious implications for entire industries. You'll find standards such as these for onions, wheelnuts and wing mirrors through to VHF radio equipment on lifeboats. It's easier to list what isn't regulated. In this, the EU is not the regulator and this is the level at which we must have full participation and a voice where it matters. Jobs depend on it.

We need a voice at the top table - and that's not the EU

Sovereignty is one of those words that keeps popping up. It's a tough one to call in that there are clear examples of national sovereignty overriding citizen sovereignty, and national sovereignty can often be a barrier to enjoying greater freedoms through increased cooperation and trade. Thus from the outset it is necessary to recognise there can be no absolute sentiment on the notion of sovereignty.

A great deal of the regulation does not involve sacrificing one party's interest for the benefit of another. When you are driving south and I am driving north, it is in the interests of both of us that we comply with a convention  about sticking to the left hand side of the road. A direct analogy to global law is the regulation of satellite orbits by the International Telecommunications Union. No one wants to put up a satellite that will bump into another one - but as regulation becomes more complex, there are always winners and losers, thus the process must transparent and fair and where possible, democratic.

I have been an advocate of greater parliamentary scrutiny on treaties in the past, but in practice a treaty in its final form is the only document that can be piratically scrutinised thus a large deliberative assembly can only ever add reservations and exceptions which may not be agreed, and the whole process can then stall depending on the veracity of parliaments objections - leading to many years of delay and reduced growth while banking up requirements for new agreements as industries row and develop.

That points to the necessity for a better consultative process. Philip Alston has it that in the ratification of the Geneva Protocols in Australia the Red Cross, working on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in lobbying to have the ratification occur was supreme over any elected assembly.

Their work was mirrored by the ICRC internationally, and it is unlikely that we would have come as far as we have on the development and spread of humanitarian law without the ICRC and the national organisations linked through the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

While parliamentary processes do not provide, and may never provide, for a formal input from relevant non-government organisations (NGOs) and lobby groups, Alston argued in 1995 that their role needs to be recognised and processes improved for consultation with them. NGOs dealing with issues ranging through the environment, international law, indigenous peoples and so forth are an important part of the new realities of international power politics.

Since that time, NGOs have indeed been consulted and recognised, so much so that they integral to the formulation of international conventions - some even acting as executors of national and EU policy over and above national governments. We have come full circle whereby NGOs are the fullest extent of consultative process and are in fact alien entities accountable to nobody, often funded by the very governments (national and supranational) they seek to influence. That's actually nothing new.

We have long known that the transnational NGOs have long since become corrupted by the junk science of climate change and a broadly Malthusian agenda. Thus we now have a nexus of bodies far from the reach of those we elect acting largely off their radar.

At the end of this process we have a chamber of MEPs who are neither equipped with the intellectual capacity or the time to give such agreements any real scrutiny and thus major treaties are either waved through on vague sentiment along party lines or blocked on the basis of half understood minutia, often wilfully distorted by media. This is the part of the process they laughingly call democracy.

But ahead of this stage is a battle for the soul of regulation between corporates and NGOs. Giants in a playground. A game of regulatory cat and mouse as each measure produces untended behaviours and means to duck the spirit of the law, as indeed this weeks Volkswagen scam demonstrates.

So here we are with foolhardy moves to rush through the creation of a global single market by way of TTIP, brushing aside the multitude of complaints without means of national veto, to create a regulatory supergiant that the rest of the word has no chance of evading or resisting. For sure it raises standards for the rest of the world, but mediocratises our own. We have seen this before with the deregulation of fireworks in the mid nineties. As a pyromaniac and budding arsonist teenager, this was a dream come true. As a marginally well adjusted adult, I am less enthused by any lowering of standards, especially in auto safety. My faith in our own standards facilitates my enthusiastic driving style.

We do not yet know if TTIP will succeed in its aims but and as we have discussed there are many genuine criticisms of TTIP which mean it may never come to fruition in its current form. Frankly I see no way an agreement on pharmacology, chemicals and the automotive industry can ever pass in tact. In light of the buried report on US automotive safety, I can't see Strasbourg being in a hurry to wave it through. So in due course, reality will have overtaken much of the content of TTIP and we'll be back to square one.

In that regard the EU is overambitious and unrealistic and is rushing this as indeed they have done with every major agreement - recently with devastating consequences in the East. TTIP may prove to be the bridge too far. If that then is the case we've wasted a lot of time, killing growth potential, to accomplish little when multilateral alliances could have been brought together to create a regulatory forum, possibly even encompassing the far east. And we could have bypassed the NGOcracy in doing so - while retaining a veto.

Industry alliances transcend borders of nations and blocs and leave the EU standing redundant. If we want a global single market it will have to be done carefully, one industry at a time concurrently. It cannot be hammered through to create a global hegemony as the EU has attempted.

What we actually need is an automotive and chemical equivalent of the Cairns Group with nation states and trade guilds alike presenting evidence as a counterbalance to the NGOcracy. This is infinitely more flexible that a formalised treaty bloc and doesn't even exclude us from cooperating with the EU in temporary alliances. More to the point, insofar as sovereignty and democracy goes, a national veto is about as good as it gets.

The truth is sovereignty is overrated, unrealistic and in a globalised world, increasingly implausible. So the question is how we get the best results in the shortest time with the greatest respect for cultural and political differences. In any such estimation, if your design was only half decent, it would still be an immeasurable improvement on the EU - and institution that exists purely for the sake of promoting its own hegemony through a process of hubris and coercion - where all concerns are secondary to the perpetuation and survival of its mistake currency. Though it is an artefact of its own accord and we can do little about that, we have no business being members of it. Not now, not ever. This referendum is an opportunity to correct our historical mistake.

The new global market means we will never have full sovereignty over our own affairs and we're not going to have a bonfire of regulations, but as EU members we are almost powerless to prevent bad regulation from becoming law. At least by having an independent veto we can put such affairs back at the heart of our political discourse where they belong, where they receive the necessary attention and scrutiny.

The global nature of trade rules makes the EU redundant in many respects and if we are not going to be at the heart of the new Europe, then we need our voice back at the top tables. We cannot rely on the mechanisms of the EU to produce fair and transparent regulation. Our independence is the best way of holding the EU to account and influencing the rules it will eventually codify into regulations. As a major global player, we cannot afford to be subjugated and sidelined and we can't be part of any club where we have no real say in the rules we comply with. Australia and Norway have a voice at the top table. Why can't we?   

Whose rules are they anyway?


Whenever I talk to europhiles it always comes down to their inherent phobia of democracy. What if those evil Tories abolish human rights and bring back slavery? It's a silly notion and Australia shows that we do not descend to the status of primitive savages without our enlightened EU supervisors.

This week I have been reading Treaty-Making and Australia: Globalisation Versus Sovereignty by Phillip Alston. Published in 1995, he observes that "In countries like Australia, national sovereignty has long been a thing of the past when it comes to many areas of business regulation. In the world system, Australia is substantially a law-taker rather than a law-maker. This process of globalisation of regulatory law has been accelerated by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Thanks to the GATT, our food standards will now, effectively, be set in Rome rather than Canberra or Sydney."

"The impact of the GATT is no more than an acceleration of what has been going on for a long time. For years, some of our air safety standards have been written by the Boeing Corporation in Seattle, or if not by them, by the US Federal Aviation Administration in Washington. Our ship safety standards have been written by the International Maritime Organization in London. Our motor vehicle safety standards have been written by Working Party 29 of the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Our telecommunications standards have been substantially set in Geneva by the International Telecommunications Union."

He writes that "Globalisation has become a trendy subject but really globalisation of law should always have been trendy, because it has been going on for thousands of years, albeit at an accelerated rate this century. Human beings have always had an overwhelming capacity to define big ideas as their own when in reality they were someone else's. Every great law reform has a hundred authors who claim it was originally their idea. Nations have the same capacity for delusion at a collective level.

Nations revel in the illusion that their laws are creations of their national imagination, of the capacities for problem solving of their local political institutions. Most political leaders do not realise that most of the time they are voting for laws that are nearly identical to laws previously enacted in other states (at the same time political scientists have documented systematic patterns of verbatim copying of laws to the point where even serious typographical errors get copied). That is because they are only dimly aware of the mechanisms of globalisation."

Keep in mind this is written in 1995. This was about the time we were seeing massive anti-globalisation protests around the planet, but not in the EU. The EU obscures the horizons so people think the more influence of these global bodies is attributable to the EU, thus the organisations that really run the show are barely on our radar. It's not even on the menu for discussion and our MPs and hacks just don't have the first clue.

Fast forward to today and very little has changed. The same dynamic is as strong for Australia as ever it was. Course, one thing the left object to is when Australians occasionally elect a right wing conservative who says no to these international bodies. That is something the EU will never do. And that is why europhiles love the EU. It ensures that the British people are never consulted and are prevented from refusing the supreme government. They don't trust democracy and they don't think we should have the right to choose.

In reality Australia shows us that in most cases we will accept global conventions and standards and the rare exceptions where we don't, like Australia is when we are acting in the national interest to deal with emergencies, much like the refugee crisis where the old conventions and accords simply don't speak to the problems of this century. Europhiles might observe that sometimes Australia stretches international law to breaking point in doing so, but then so does the EU. When it comes to breaking EU law the biggest offender by a country mile is the European Commission.

With this in mind it rather skewers the notions that outside the EU we would be obeying the same rules of the club without influencing them. Philip Alston has it that the collective influence on social policy of non-treaty material from international sources has been very much greater than that of treaties. (ie Lisbon) Indeed, many of the most influential sources have not even been agreements between governments, let alone ones with the legally-binding nature of treaties. For example, important sources include international organisations or conferences which are not restricted to governments or, indeed, do not involve them at all. Many of the most influential intergovernmental agreements have been made within restricted groups of countries such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rather than in the United Nations or some other global context.

To date, intergovernmental agreements at the regional or sub-regional level which affect key social policy in Australia have been relatively few. However, the growing trend towards regionalism, and the rapid economic and social development of many Asian countries, promise to increase the number and importance of such agreements within the next decade or two.

Whether or not from intergovernmental sources, the nature of influential non-treaty standards varies considerably. Some are "declarations" or "statements" consisting largely of "rules" or "principles". For example, the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, both made by the United Nations General Assembly, have had considerable influence within the West. Other United Nations agreements, however, such as the Guiding Principles on Developmental Social Welfare and the Declaration on the Right to Development, have not been significant here. This partly reflects, of course, the fact that some of these documents are addressed principally to the problems of less developed countries.

And as I recently noted in Junkers' landmark speech outlining the terms of the last Greek bailout he said "There are, as I said, no wage cuts in this package. This was never, never ever on the table. What is on the table is a proposal to modernise the wage grid of the public sector. And, for the private sector, we have agreed to review collective bargaining practices. Our only request has been that this should be done in line with the best European practices in cooperation with the institutions and International Labour Organisation which are the specialists when it comes to this question."

And THAT really is the nature of the beast. In the coming referendum campaign we will hear much of what the EU supposedly does for us, yet in reality from disability rights to standards on car wing mirrors, we are looking at a myriad of global organisations to which most of our politicians are only dimly aware of that drive most of what we now implement as law. The EU lacks the manpower or the intellectual resource to regulate to this extent so it outsources and copies declarations and conventions verbatim. We do not need the EU to do it for us and in all instances we are better off having an independent right of veto and parliamentary scrutiny.

Crucially though, the fact that we would keep all of these global conventions for all the bodies governing our exports, this keeps us in line with the EU in that EU regulations merely codify them into law.  If Australia has a Mutual Recognition Agreement with the EU, then so can we. There is little likelihood of losing our access to the single market - and what we gain is the ability to forge our own trade deals.

Contrast that with what we are being asked to remain in. The offer on the table is to stay in a reformed EU. What that means in practice is a two tier Europe where we obey all these global rules and regulations, have no say in how they are made, have no independent right of veto, and not only are we not at the top tables of global governance as Norway and Australia are, we are also not even at the top table of the EU, since the Eurozone members have primacy over policy. As much as the EU already mutes our voice, at the top table, we are actually being pushed onto the sidelines of Europe by way of not being a Eurozone member.

The rhetoric about being isolated and going it alone at this point sound rather silly when you consider that we are a far richer and more productive country than Australia - and Canada for that matter. They "obey all the rules of the club" yet they are not obliged to surrender their voice at the top table. The global single market has overtaken the EU, and since we are not in the Euro, we have no need of political integration, thus we have no reason to remain in the EU.

Academic programmes will still continue. In all likelihood we will still have a visaless agreement with the EU and we will continue to contribute to the EU budget for those areas where co-operation is deemed worthwhile. We have nothing to gain from staying in the EU, but quite a lot to lose in terms of regional and global influence over the rules we comply with. We are never going to have full sovereignty as is imagined by many eurosceptics, but the right to say no in those exceptional cases is vital not only to preserve that which is worth preserving, but also to ensure shoddy deals like TTIP are not rammed through for the sake of expedience and vanity.

Our veto at the top table is our guarantee that the emerging global single market will be a fair and free one where the people are not subjugated to corporates. And if any nation will throw a spanner in the works, it is Britain because it's full of good (if misguided) people who keep asking "What if those evil Tories abolish human rights and bring back slavery?". 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

TTIP is gambling with our lives


This nice tidy explainer from the other side of the pond outlines the basics of TTIP. Several sectors in the TTIP could make significant improvements and cut unnecessary red tape. It is estimated that somewhere between 10-20 percent of the cost of a product traversing the Atlantic is attributable to divergent regulations.

"For instance, European and American auto safety requirements could be better harmonized in order to reduce costs for manufacturers and drive down prices to consumers. The U.S. and EU auto safety standards and tests differ in many details but afford similar levels of safety. What this means for manufacturers is that they have to run tests twice in order to get cars approved in both markets. One study estimates that these extra tests end up adding about 25 percent to the cost of American made cars in the EU."

TTIP is all about creating a global single market by way of harmonising automotive regulation etc. That sounds good in theory but a mutual recognition of standards without the proper scrutiny means our own markets can legally be flooded with substandard produce - and we have no jurisdiction in inspecting foreign regulators. Today we learn that not only is this a theoretical fear, but a real likelihood.

The Independent reports today that the motor industry has been accused of withholding a report that reveals US cars are substantially less safe than European vehicles - for fear that the findings would hamper the drive to harmonise safety standards as part of the TTIP deal.

The major study was commissioned by the car industry to show that existing EU and US safety standards were broadly similar. But the research actually established that American models are much less safe when it comes to front-side collisions, a common cause of accidents that often result in serious injuries. The findings were never submitted – or publicly announced – by the industry bodies that funded the study.

It is said that "Because of the sheer size of the EU and U.S. economies the TTIP has the potential to set regulatory standards on a global level. TTIP rules could become world standards which countries wishing to join the partnership in the future would have to adhere to. In this sense it creates an excellent opportunity for a global race to the top." - yet today proves things are likely to go in the opposite direction. While we are members of the EU we have no outright veto in this. Don't you think we ought to? I do.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Dead chicken media


Having taken a week off I am seriously struggling to get back into the swing of blogging. You would think a week away would give me a backlog of issues to address, but in reality the media's inane chatter is so far behind the curve I could six months off and still be more up to date. Their world is so far removed from mine. Where the EU referendum is concerned they're not even close to being on the same page. Everything is filtered through the narrow prism of Westminster politics and to them, anything happening outside of that simply doesn't exist.

As a political animal, there are days like today when I feel completely alienated from whatever's going on. The media throws out a story in the same way a burglar might throw a dead chicken laced with sleeping tablets at the guard dogs. Twitter looks like a pack of dobermans ripping the decoy meat to pieces, and the resultant snarling and shredding becomes background footage for media coverage of it. Meanwhile, as the dogs are distracted, the thieves move in through the front gate in broad daylight and steal the family silver. 

Every day it's a new dead chicken press release laced with industrial strength tranquillisers. What's more depressing is that anyone would think the dogs were never fed judging by the enthusiasm and urgency the dead chicken is torn to pieces. But the dogs are fed. They have prime steak fillet on a golden platter placed before them every day. It's ignored because there's something addictive in the tranquillisers. Some days it looks like the media has a tennis serving machine stuffed full of dead chickens, lobbing them over the fence at a rate of one a minute. The older wiser dogs ought to know by now not to chase the decoy but they do. They never learn. They are happy with this arrangement. 

This is one of those days when I ask myself why bother? Today, I don't have a good answer. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Uncertainty you say?


We have outlined in great detail how we envisage our relationship with the EU after Brexit, but the dismal hacks of the SW1 fraternity wouldn't do anything as outrageous as visit a website like www.eureferendum.com to find out. If they had, they wouldn't be able to write such fatuous articles.

In predictable fashion they are seeking to paint Brexit as a leap into the dark, invoking the uncertainty meme. Yet when it comes to uncertainty, it's the europhiles who have the questions to answer. Mr Cameron will likely go to the polls with no reforms to the EU on the vague promise of some, as yet undefined, concessions in a new treaty, the terms of which we do not yet know. It is they who are unable to spell out what the post-referendum EU looks like.

From what we can surmise the new treaty will create a full-blown euro area supreme government, with Britain in an outer tier of EU members but still affected by the move to deeper integration. There is no status quo on the ballot paper. They are selling us second class citizenship and fringe membership which means we can never be "at the heart of Europe" as the europhiles claim.

We are to be subordinated to an entity whose main concern is the survival of the Euro currency along with whatever else that entails. We are being asked to gamble our future on an undefined vision of the EU - on the word of a man who has failed to accomplish any meaningful reform. At the very least it means more of the same but with fewer rights than before and our prime minister is just a passenger in the process. That sounds like a bigger gamble to me. Reckless, you might even say.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

We're better off with Spongebob


I had hoped that a week away would have spared me from a timeline full of media effluent about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. This is the party that lost the election, got rid of a deadbeat leader, installed a worse one and has launched "policies" that absolutely guarantee Labour will not win the next election under any circumstances. Why on earth would any of us care what it says or does?

If there is anything to take home from all this is that the media is singularly incapable of making the distinction between what it thinks is important and what is actually important. Before I went away the media reported Juncker's State of the European Union Address as a speech on immigration as a second rank story to the Labour leadership. This being the speech that defines the EU's agenda and priorities for the next year at the very least. The government of Europe makes what is essentially it's own equivalent to the Queens Speech and the media is barely aware it happened.

What we got from that particular speech was all the hints you could possibly want that not only is there no renegotiation under way, there is also a new treaty in the works, which will radically restructure the EU and Britain's rank within it, demoting us to a second class status with no return of sovereignty over trade. That's some seriously big news right there and yet on Sky this morning we saw Dermot Murnaghan and accompanying pundits speculating on the absolutely non-existent renegotiation as though it were something in progress - and whether there will be an early referendum. Had these people a scintilla of expertise between them, they would know full well that there is going to be no treaty revision and absolutely zero likelihood or technical possibility of a snap early referendum. This is just biff-bam blether in the only format the media can actually cope with.

What is worse, is that our politicians actually use the media as their means of staying informed, creating a perverse feedback loop or error, idiocy and outright fiction. Thus when the referendum actually heats up, the correct response to any politician pontificating on the matter is "go fuck yourself". The average MP is pretty thick and the ones who shine from that crowd shine only by contrast. Boris Johnson is an inbred dimwit but next to the lobby fodder on the back benches he might as well be Stephen fucking Hawking. They actually don't now the basics of what they're talking about. Not historically, not politically, not technically. We have idiots representing us who take their cue from a media run almost entirely by teenagers and those androgynous nodding Beeboids who can't keep their hands still when on camera. Their trade is sensationalised memes and gossip and we'd be better informed if it simply didn't exist. Our media in its current state is an absolute cancer on the political process.

When it comes down to the final question on the matter of EU membership their opinions are not welcome because this time we vote, not them. It is not their decision and none of their business and not one of them is qualified to speak on the matter. Even those supposedly on my side are thick as shit. Kate Hoey knows sweet FA about nine tenths of anything and John Redwood is utterly ignorant and completely derivative in the memes he uses (and routinely gets them wrong) - and because I know the origin of most of the arguments, and who got them wrong first, you can see the Chinese whispers game in play. Not even the great Daniel Hannan can be bothered to do his homework. The only saving grace our campaign has is the fact that the "Remain" spokesmen are equally ignorant and smarmy with it.

Having spent a week with family where the television is seldom off, I've gained a new insight into just how moronic television news is. Not only have they no expertise to call on, they are not even interested in seeking it. Honestly, what does Polly Toynbee or Dan Hodges know about anything apart from the petty manoeuvrings of their collapsing tribe? Why would anyone seek their worthless opinions? The mouldy loaf of bread I just threw out has a more qualified opinion on the EU than Nick Cohen or Janet Daley. What are these people even for except to fill air time?

My friends, if you are the type who does employ a television as part of your media experience, please keep in mind that when you watch the news you are in fact watching moving lights without substance or relation to reality - which actually ins't working to any kind of agenda other than its own self-gratification. If it had a political agenda of it's own it would demonstrate a degree of competence. It's not biased. It's just profoundly and astonishingly ignorant.

If bright lights and moving pictures is what you need to start your day off, save the politics until you get to a computer and instead switch over to Nickelodeon and watch Spongebob Squarepants, not least because of it's superior intellectual sophistication. You are more likely to find adult content with more penetrating political insight. Better still, switch the bloody thing off. They have had their say, they have nothing of value to add and we are better off without their malign influence and their collective incomprehension.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Off duty

I am away this week in rural Scotland where internet is virtually non-existent. Normal service resumes next week.

Corbyn is an irrelevant decoy divorced from politics

Of all the things I presently consider important in British politics right now, Corbynmania is not high on my list. In fact, I might go as far as calling it tedious. If anything, it illustrates the degree to which the media has degraded when it comes to prioritising and reporting news of consequence. But that's nothing we didn't know already.

The media reaction has been pretty abysmal with the usual saturation coverage of every piece of trivial flotsam associated with the matter. It is often said that our politicians are out of touch but in reality, it is the media with their myopic fixations who are deeply out of touch. They have no idea of just how little those outside of their bubble actually care about it.

To ruminate on the ramifications of this event on British politics, at best I can say that it may spark some lively debate. It may well steer the political discourse in a direction not anticipated, but since a Corbyn-led Labour party will never be voted into power, there is little to get worked up about. In any event, it is more than four years before there is another general election.

As we discussed in last month's issue, if there was any danger of a real sea change in British politics, the public would mobilise faster than the establishment to thwart any such surge. And as dull as it is, it's nothing new either. History repeats and we have seen this before. Labour's history is replete with divisive leaders. Even in my lifetime I recall the woes of Neil Kinnock. There were the most stupendous rows and bitter fights, not to mention hugely expensive court cases. I can imagine we will see more of the same as the parliamentary party deserts Corbyn.

But even so, this is the politics of the Westminster bubble - far removed from the real business of government, adjacent to politics rather than the essence of it. It is an adjunct of the entertainment industry masquerading as news. The media now frames all politics in terms of tribal alliances with the next general election as their point of reference. But for Britain, the next major political contest is not a general election. It is a referendum on future membership of the EU.

In that respect politicians are entirely irrelevant. In a representative democracy politicians vote on our behalf, thus it is we who must persuade and influence politicians. In a referendum, we have our own votes and it is they who must persuade us. Roles are reversed and they become the supplicants.

In this particular fight, it is not a traditional battle of party agendas. Both Labour and the Conservatives are deeply split on the issue and it's not as simple as staying in or leaving. In both camps there are those who mistakenly believe the EU can be reformed and are waiting to see what reforms David Cameron will present to us. In this the EU itself is not a disinterested observer. It is an actor in its own right and will seek to heavily influence the vote by way of selective statements of intent.

In the final stage of the referendum campaign, the result will not be a feud over the respective merits of EU membership. It will depend on whether the public believe that Cameron has achieved any real reforms and whether his promise is worth the paper it is written on. The EU will be watching very closely and carefully doing all it can to bolster the Prime Minister's image and his credibility. 

EU watchers will be well aware that the reform process is but a piece of political theatre and the EU is less interested in tinkering with treaties of old as designing the new one. It is unlikely that the EU will be in any mood to revisit aspects of employment law or human rights and thus there is every likelihood that Corbyn will fall into line and back Cameron.

At this point it's anybody's guess which way the vote will go, but the we know that the EU would prefer to deal with a Conservative government post-referendum and will invest heavily to make sure the more visible symptoms of the refugee crisis are swept under the carpet. This will allow Cameron to claim he has influenced the EU in solving an acute problem which is seldom off our screens.

This is real politics at play here. The result of this referendum defines the shape of European affairs for the next generation and there are many vested interests devoted to ensuring Britain stays in the EU. This is happening with barely a mention in the media while the Corbyn decoy keeps them busy.

If I were to tune into either the BBC or Sky News this evening, whatever constitutes politics in their book is going to be far removed from those who follow actual politics. The biff-bam confrontational party politics of Westminster are divorced from much larger, more critical games which are beyond our media's capacity to report, much less understand.

As to the sideshow of British party politics, the Corbynmania may see a disintegration of the Green party and may thwart Nigel Farage's ambitions for eating into Labour strongholds in the north of England. The refugees from Corbyn's Labour may even revive the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, spelling the death of fringe parties. But rather than being a sea change in British politics, it is a reversion to type.

But supposing there were no EU referendum on the table, this would still be a non-event. Corbyn's off-the-cuff "radicalism" is no better thought out than the fag-packet policies of the United Kingdom Independence Party, and more amusingly, the EU would be a frustrating factor in Corbyn's ambitions for putting the state back at the heart of British life.

Certainly EU state aid rules and environmental regulations would put Mr Corbyn's reindustrialisation policies in the dustbin, and as for Corbynomics, no chance, Lance. No way, Jose! Between the EU's impositions and the public's own allergy to radicalism, the likelihood of a Corbyn government achieving anything are slim.

All we can really expect from the next few years is some entertaining exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions. There will be much extruded verbal material excreted by our issue-illiterate media but little in the way of enlightened thinking. Corbynmania is just white noise and space filler.

In terms of gripping leadership contests go, the one that has real ramifications is the contest for the Electoral Commission nomination to lead the campaign to leave the EU. We see Tory splinter groups versus eccentric millionaires and grubby spivs who can see there's a buck to be made from a big publicly funded campaign. Those who get paid whichever way it goes. The outcome of this contest decides the effectiveness of the campaign to leave and thus whether Britain stays in the EU. In terms of significance, such an event outweighs a general election in importance by an order of magnitude.

Given that Labour's position on the EU has never been one of principle, but a political device to reflect unity in Labour and splits in the Tories, any firm stance now is going to look cynical and opportunistic and not at all trustworthy. The Corbyn "wait and see" stance we see now is merely party political manoeuvrings. In that regard, Labour is utterly irrelevant to the whole process and have nothing of value to add in the coming parliamentary term.

What we really see is a spent Labour party, ill at ease with modernity. It has retreated to its comfort zone in the absence of any fresh ideas. Corbyn's socialism does not speak to this century and has nothing new to say. There are bold ideas a modern Labour party could embrace but the dinosauric Corbyn is actually no radical. He's a museum piece.

Certainly there is a debate to be had about the model of ownership of utilities and how they are managed, but a reversion to state monopoly merely takes to us back to the bad idea before the current bad idea.

The centralisation and nationalisation of utilities was in effect the theft of local municipally owned corporations and thus Mrs Thatcher was in effect pedalling stolen goods. A relevant Labour party would be talking about real localism, real sovereignty, constitutional reform and using the market mechanisms that presently exist to embark upon remunicipalisation.

It would then be an opportunity for the market to decide if public ownership really did prove better value. I can certainly imagine some circumstances where communities could control their own local power generation with micro nuclear plants and CHP. But Labour isn't going to talk about anything like that. It's just going to spend the next few years navel gazing until it finds the correct procedural moment to oust Corbyn and install someone anodyne enough to win an election.

Rather than being relevant or radical, Labour's new found socialism is a timid retreat into old habits. The Party would no longer recognise radicalism or originality, and from where I'm standing, it looks like a slow countdown to extinction. If it is any consolation, the other parties are not far behind them.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Referendum Planning Group

Firstly, many thanks to all the people who attended the meeting today. The turnout was about right. We expected a few no-shows but what is clear is that despite our many differences, we are reaching the right people.

For those visiting this blog for the first time, there is nothing much I can add in terms of what was said today, and after a long day, taxing the few social skills I have, I would just draw your attention to this post and the links therein. That and to strongly reiterate that we eurosceptics must change the record and ditch the eurosceptic baggage if we want to win. If you took that much away from today then it was worthwhile.

As to where we go from here, the ball is in your court. We waited for no instruction to call this meeting and shall issue none to you. You decide your own level of involvement and whatever we set in motion will snowball as you make us aware of your efforts. All we ask is that you keep us in the loop, report on your successes and failures so that we can persistently refine our message. Much of what needs to be said has already been said on this blog so please have a browse through the archive.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Mr Juncker is not wrong


EU President Jean-Claude Juncker has labelled a UKIP MEP's opinion "worthless" after David Coburn heckled him. Mr Juncker was delivering his inaugural "state of the union" speech to the European Parliament when David Coburn shouted something out. Mr Juncker deviated from his speech to respond, saying: "You can interrupt me from time to time. I will not at each time respond to what you are saying because what you are saying is worthless."

I suspect tact was lost in translation, but I am happy to take him at his word. He's right. Ukip have nothing of value to add. All they do is emote. Such is not productive or worthwhile. Had they any intelligent policies that would stand ground as an alternative they would be in a position to condemn, but fatuous grandstanding is all they are capable of. It is little wonder Mr Juncker holds them in such contempt. Why wouldn't you?

But then I have always said that singling out Ukip is unfair. MEPs are almost universally intellectually subnormal and I don't actually blame anybody in the Commission for treating MEPs with contempt. They are not a useful addition to the process. More than anything I think business at the EU level is too important to be left to MEPs. As dismal as Westminster MPs are, they are a quantum leap from the knuckledraggers we find in Strasbourg. That's why I want our own parliament back in control. We are not well served by this arrangement.  

Must do better


Already I've had a delivery of the above leaflet. Given that the referendum is two years away I don't see the value in delivering it now. Somebody has wasted a lot of money and effort to make this happen. Inside it's got soft focus stock photos of nurses and policemen. It is the ultimate in political blandness. What could be more pedestrian than the schools 'n' 'ositals riff?

I can see who it appeals to though. I live in the sort of neighbourhood this stuff works on. White Transits, Ford Fiestas, neatly trimmed privet hedges and white people. Lots of white people. The district is largely Tory and Ukip polls well here. Why I live here, god only knows.

As a piece of political propaganda though, it doesn't speak much to my demographic. The cost of living shtick doesn't really set me on fire when my dual fuel bill is less that £20 a week, I'm young and healthy so couldn't give a monkey's about the NHS and the last thing I want to see is more police on the streets.

For sure I'm a pretty poor sample from which to be making any evaluations but single for people with disposable income who are naturally sceptical of populist messages, making big promises about how much extra we can spend, this leaflet will find its rightful place in the bin alongside half a dozen pizza menus. Politicians are always making promises about more schools and hospitals and they never pan out. Why are we to believe them now? This is patronising. 

More than that, this will be the territory on which the remain campaign will seek to distort the debate. The remain campaign will be able to sow just enough seeds of doubt that any fantastical claims about being several hundred pounds better off will be met with scepticism by those who don't know and aren't inclined to find out. There probably exists any number of persuasive works outlining the savings, but it is unlikely they will reach the ears of those in doubt.  

But that doesn't matter. If we manage to win the argument that we will be notionally financially better off, that alone is not going to be the decider. By the time of the referendum, immigration will have slid down the agenda as the EU pumps in billions to keep the crisis off our screens and if our main fall-back position is petty accountancy, then we're on shaky ground.

This may be be a strong message to run with for one sector of the electorate who are already sympathetic but it's that swing vote we should be speaking to. Unless we have something better than dubious statistic cooked down to the nearest third of a tenner, then we will lose the people we need to turn the tide. I don't think we can win any arguments with this.

We definitely don't want to get sucked into long debates about agricultural subsidies and fishing. Few have a sophisticated perception of farming for starters. All I see as an ignorant city dweller is farmers with massive houses and range rovers complaining that they can't make a living from farming. I wouldn't mind their problems.

If we are having this debate the winner is not the one with the most credible figures. It's the ones with the most credible message. The opposition have business leaders, trade associations and experts. We have Ukip. I don't see us walking away from that scrap in one piece. It didn't work in 1975 and it won't work now.

We must must keep in mind that Labour's election message that Britain was a poor and desperate hungry place where pensioners are huddled over bar heaters and children go unfed was an unrealistic portrayal of Britain. Consequently, defying all expectations, the Tories took a majority. Brits are more comfortable and wealthier than most assume. Things are not bad enough to want to rock the boat. A promise of a few quid either way in a much larger debate about the future of the nation is not going to be the decider. In this we should not take the public for fools. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The EU's high water mark


One of the great claims of the EU is the number of countries queuing up to join. Amongst those being the states in the Western Balkans. Yet, even here, the process of enlargement has stalled. I found a synopsis of "local experts" assessment on the state of EU influence. It doesn't look good.
"Local experts" argued that the EU is basically acting on policy autopilot, with an overwhelming focus on process (e.g. benchmark decision-making) and less on substance (e.g. actual progress on deep democratisation and good governance). The EU’s own internal struggles and negative politics with its Grexit and Brexits, together with the political chill resulting from the enlargement fatigue, have contributed to its losing leverage in the Western Balkans. In turn, elites are often not keen on passing reforms which are threatening their power interests or remain comfortable in spoiler politics. In these circumstances, the costs and benefits of a distant EU prospect are reassessed when set against the more tangible benefits offered by other strategic actors.
You don't have to be a "local expert" for that to ring true. We see the same dynamic repeated in spades in Ukraine. We see token face saving efforts that stop short of any real reform in order to avoid upsetting the applecart, knowing that any serious and invasive reform may unsettle a fragile equilibrium. Consequently the Ukrainian parliament is still in hoc to the Russian oligarchs and politically the EU has reached a stalemate.

In Ukraine the EU will still take advantage of what it can where it can, moving in to grab whatever is still available but having reached a state of diplomatic and political paralysis, Russia is now free to act as it chooses, and further EU integration seems implausible now.

The situation in the Balkans seems eerily familiar. The EU is adept at managing perceptions so the recent agreement in the Balkans will be held aloft as a great EU victory, and the self-congratulatory bubble will take that point home with them, but underneath how it works in practice is very different. Where the outer rim of the EU is concerned, agreements are merely words on a page.

Across the Balkans the feeling is that the EU has made many promises but has failed to deliver, leaving them to look elsewhere. Certainly while the EU diplomats congratulate themselves the military exercises between Russia and Serbia send the precise opposite signal. Having had Ukraine snatched out of Russia's sphere of influence, Russia will be keen to erode the EU's influence where it can. Thus the race is on for the soul of the Balkans. 

There are two ways this can go. Either they will learn from the Ukraine experience or they won't. We have seen no upper limit to the hubristic indulgences of the EU and even though it has a full plate of woes within, and it's diplomatic timetable is fully booked, that may not prove sufficient obstacle for the EU not to make yet another pigs ear. The EU must have its empire and that is that.

The EU is keen to close the bridge to Greece, bringing Macedonia and Albania further into the fold somehow. Why they would want any such obligations I don't know, but if they do they will have to act soon. Serbia and the region is slipping out of the EU's sphere, and any expansion of the neighbourhood policy will prove to be little more than an empty gesture. It is limited in what it can do and EU promises in the region are a weakened currency.

While all eyes are fixed on Brexit and the possible emergence of a two tier Europe, there is that third tier limbo to consider. It could be that while Britain is moved out to associate status, the same will be extended to candidate states and all point in between. It will be the EU's managed retreat. In terms of the authority it can exercise, it will be a paper empire and as reality intrudes the illusion will wear off. It will show the world that the EU has reached its high water mark - and now the tide is receding. The dream of "the colleagues" is fading.