The Leave Campaign Is Missing a Trick

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The problem for the Leave campaign at the moment is that we are trading blows over tactical issues rather than focusing on the big strategic questions that should rightly be addressed over such an important matter as our EU membership. As well as putting voters off our message, it suits the Remain campaign because it allows them to dribble out daily stories over the dire consequences of leaving which support their overall strategy of Project Fear. They can’t run a positive campaign because they know that it would open up to scrutiny all manner of things about the EU that are a complete anathema to voters. The response to this from the leave camp has been disappointing and it has lacked coherence and impact.

To my mind, the two big questions that need answering in this poll are: Where is the EU heading and what should be the UK’s future relationship with it? These are weighty questions with a lot of component parts which themselves are important to voters. However, by plunging into the minutiae of democracy, immigration and economics, the Leave campaign has not sufficiently highlighted that the EU’s overall direction of travel is towards a superstate. Number 10 is desperate to avoid any attention on the future EU because they know that if the subject was properly examined then voters would stampede towards the Brexit. It also explains why Remain has gone very quiet about David Cameron’s EU deal because they know that it affords no protection against future EU state-building, and any decent forensic examination would reveal that under the deal’s terms we are likely to be left half-in and half-out, marginalised, paying the bills and with less political influence than if we were properly out and back at the global table.

By constraining the debate in this way, the Prime Minister is being intellectually dishonest because our EU membership is indeed important and merits a proper strategic debate about our future place in the world. But he knows that if he can use the minutiae to distract attention away from the EU super-elephant in the room then he will be able to avoid the really big questions about our future.

I hope that the Leave campaign picks up on this because I really do think that the core leave vote will be insufficient. By all means, talk about immigration, democracy, sovereignty,cost etc but do it within a very clear framework of the future shape of the EU rather than as piecemeal vignettes. The Five President’s Report may seem dry to most but if presented effectively, items like the report and today’s leak in the Times about a planned EU Army could allow us to highlight the overall direction of EU travel and to develop some overall coherence to our arguments.

Milliband’s Elitist International Order – Built on Political Hubris

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Image from jessescrossroadscafe

So the former Foreign Secretary and failed labour leadership contender, David Miliband, thinks that Brexit would be “an act of arson on the international order”.  In making his statement today Miliband joined his predecessors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by trying to reinforce old-fashioned ideas about the international system that come straight out of discredited academic papers from the 1990s.  I have touched on this matter before in a previous post about the FCO’s vision of the world and how the mandarins’ model of the ‘international system’ is introducing dangers with implications for instability and civil disorder.  In that post I examined how many proponents insist that globalisation makes the Westphalian model of nation states irrelevant.  It is a thesis that promotes the idea of supranational organisations like the EU and world governance but I also explained why it is doomed to fail.  What’s interesting about Miliband’s intervention, though, is that it demonstrates the disconnect between those politicians who promote such ideas and the ordinary voters.  Most people abhor the idea of supranational governance and their loss of sovereign power so why is it that political leaders seem so attached to the idea?

The answer of course is political hubris and vanity.  Such arrogance is often concealed by obtuse discussions and deliberately obscure terminology.  It relies on a strategy that the people will follow along meekly because it’s to do with matters that ‘they don’t really understand’. This is what is meant by political elitism.  Such politicians are certain in their stance because ‘they know best’.

Of course, the backlash against political elitism is building in the EU.  Right across Europe so-called populist parties are on the rise as voters kick back against their lack of representation and effective disenfranchisement. They don’t want decisions taken so far away from them that their vote feels valueless and ineffective.  They want to be able to influence their own lives through the ballot box not be subjugated by people that don’t really represent or consider their views.

Such a disconnect may seem astonishing but it is really a function of human nature as I shall explain.  People are generally proud of their work and like the warm feeling of common endeavour such that they tend unconsciously to promote their own organisations and seek to increase their influence and power by empire building.  This is particularly a feature of governmental organisations and ministries of state but also of non-elected bodies who are nonetheless increasingly influential.  We have all seen and understand the term ‘institutional creep’.

With this in mind, it is easy to understand that when politicians meet under the umbrella of, say, the EU, they can easily be caught up in comfortingly fuzzy feelings of groupthink which lead them to forget that they are representing people rather than the group they are working within.  A classic example are the views of some MEPs but it also includes national politicians who forget themselves in forums such as the council of ministers.  The reason this phenomena is so dangerous is that whilst the politicians are elected, the organisations they attend are often not.  As I write, my iPad has flashed up a dark warning about Brexit issued by the IMF.  Elected to intervene in our rerferendum?  No.  Elected to manage a world economy? No.

The international order that Miliband refers to is increasingly elitist and representative of itself rather than ordinary people.  I am not an anarchist, and I accept that there needs to be forums for solving international problems.  But these need to be cooperative rather than executive forums which represent the views of voters, not self-serving, self-licking lollipops dishing out elitist diktats to those that ‘don’t really understand’.  The only way of correcting such political hubris is for voters to deliver a sharp and painful yank of the chain.  The reason that referendums are hated by the elites is that they offer ordinary voters the opportunity to rein in politicians that have exceeded their authority. The UK’s EU referendum is one such moment.  Our British democracy and rule of law has been a shining example across the world.  It is now time to reclaim that example, deliver a sharp shock to the elites’ international order and show that true peace can only occur through proper representative government not an old-boys club. We must vote to leave the EU and call a halt to this inexorable slide towards subjugation and the democratic abyss.

EU, Sovereignty and Democracy – A BBC Newsnight Failure

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Yesterday evening, BBC Newsnight screened the first of a series of programmes that they claim is to inform the public on matters surrounding the EU Referendum. It was such a shambles. A so-called impartial Evan Davis allowed Peter Mandelson to completely dominate the discussion such that the views of a panel of emminent experts with alternative ideas went pretty much unheard. The car crash was made worse by a facile attempt by the BBC to explain the principles of sovereignty with a small vignette designed to introduce the discussion. Such was the failure of the programme that I have felt compelled to produce my own article on the matter which I hope you will enjoy. For me, sovereignty and democracy issues go right t the heart of the matter and I feel very strongly about them. If we are not a country, what are we?

It’s a peculiarly human quality that we passionately seek to influence the things around us that affect the quality and conduct of our lives and the society that we live in.
If you look back at history, you can spot those critical moments when momentous events or decisions changed the shape of countries, continents or even the world. The end of slavery, universal suffrage, the end of the Second World War, the end of the Cold War. All such moments marked big changes in the way human beings decided to interact with each other and they allowed us to shape the countries that we live in today.

Often such events were the result of changes in people’s political views or they were precipitated by brave decisions taken by political leaders. In all cases, however, the ship could only change course because the people took command of the ship’s wheel and they willed it.

Our desire to exercise control and influence over our lives was the catalyst for the development of western democracies. Initially, like-minded people bound by geographical, language, cultural and ethnic ties came together in common interest, to engineer a better life and to provide mutual protection from outside threats. As countries coalesced, it was found that leaders were necessary to represent the common view.

In some cases, these leaders chose themselves and imposed their will through subjugation. However, history shows us that such regimes rarely endured because they lacked popular legitimacy. Stable and enduring leadership is only possible if there exists a solid contract between the people and those leading them. This unspoken contract allows leaders to lead but only if they command the support of the people. In return, the people allow those leaders a degree of freedom to act in the best interests of the country. In this country, we test that legitimacy every five years in a General Election and, of course, we call it democracy.

The important factor though is that this model of democratic nation states only works if the people are themselves defined by common language, geographical boundaries, culture and ethnicity. If they possess these common traits then they are more likely to be able to agree that the leadership is legitimate, and in this case, the people would be recognized as a nation state and would be described collectively by the Greek term demos. On the other hand, if the people did not share such common attributes, then there would be no hope that elected leaders could represent the people because the people themselves would not be of similar mind and would not share a common interest. In this situation, the contract would be certain to fail because the people would be unable to agree that the leadership was legitimate or that it represented the common good. It is only because we are bound to our fellow kinsmen by the glue of common bonds that we are able to accept the majority view even if we profoundly disagree with it. And I shall return to this shortly.

Now, how you view the value of the democratic nation state also depends on your view of history, and it is here that we encounter the fundamental divergence between British and European opinion. It is this schism that has distorted relations since the end of the Second World War and which infects the political debate about the EU today.

In this great country of ours, we are, by in large, proud of our achievements and history. With some exceptions, we have not fought amongst ourselves for hundreds of years. Collectively, we have spread British influence across the globe whether that be through our politics, the industrial revolution or our unique system of law. We tend to ignore the significance of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215, but it is almost revered in the United States as a founding symbol of freedom and democracy. Whilst we might occasionally take the Magna Carta slightly for granted, we nonetheless see our history as a benign influence and by in large a force for good.

The situation in Europe is quite different, however. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries were marked by terrible wars and hardship, and most of this can be traced back to a violent, iron-clad nationalism within certain European states. This is the fear that stalks the corridors in Brussels today. Whereas we see our national identity as a benign force for good, EU politicians see national identity and national interests as a destabilizing influence that has caused dark times in the past. It was the fear of a nationalistic resurgence that prompted the founders of the European Union to forge their project and it is the driving force for every closer union that exists in Brussels today. It is a project designed to batter down the nation state by drawing power away from national governments and instead to invest it in a centralized supranational political body based in Brussels.

Now, I have no doubt that the intentions of the EU blacksmiths are entirely honorable, but I don’t agree that their project is a catalyst for stability. I contend that by taking power further away from the people they are paradoxically sowing the seeds for the kind of instability that they are seeking to suppress.

First, there is currently no identifiable European demos. The EU member states are quite different culturally and ethnically and, aside from a common desire for peaceful trade, there is little else in common between a Frenchman, a Rumanian or a Turk, for example. Without that demos, there is no hope that a centralized EU could be described as a state or adequately represent a so-called European people because the people are far too different. It therefore would lack legitimacy for the reasons I have already provided.

The second difficulty is that a centralized European political and legal body not only fails to provide adequate representation for a common people, but it also takes decisions too far away from individuals. I mentioned earlier about our powerful instinct to influence those things around us that affect our lives, and that means that we not only want our government to be representative but we want to feel that our vote can actually change something. This is an argument for bringing decision-making closer to the people by decentralizing government within practical limits rather than sucking sovereign power further and further towards the centre and away from individuals such as they start to feel disenfranchised. History shows us that when people feel disempowered then instability often follows. We are already seeing this today in Europe with widespread electoral apathy, the rise of populist parties and the shadow of the extreme right. EU officials say the answer to this is more Europe but by insisting on this they are making the situation worse such that the eventual disintegration of the project will be far more painful with potential violence and disorder.

My third objection concerns the dishonest way that the EU is being shaped, and it is here that we need to consider cause and effect.

Whilst we in Britain have always wanted the EU to be a trading system as a means of liberalizing trade and opening up markets, EU politicians have always been clear that trade would be used as a lever to engineer political union and indeed a European State. Consider this astonishing statement by Jean Monnet the founding father of the EU:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will irreversibly lead to federation.”

So rather than the EU being forged as a consequence of globalization, the EU is cleverly using the tools of globalization covertly and incrementally to undermine nation states and to bind countries together so closely that in the end full political union and a United States of Europe would become inevitable. Free trade is said to be inextricably linked to the freedom of movement of people whereas in reality such freedom is attached to trade as a precondition whose real purpose is to break down national borders and for social engineering to break down the ethnic and cultural glue of nation states in a futile attempt to form a European demos.

But it is not just trade that is a tool for closer integration and the imposition of a supranational state. Another example is the single Eurozone currency. The Euro was said to be necessary to facilitate trade but its real purpose was as a Trojan horse for the harmonization of a host of fiscal and financial policies in yet another step towards a United States of Europe.  In 1997, Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt gave the following joint statement:

“One must never forget that monetary union is ultimately a political project. It aims to give a new impulse to the historic movement towards a Union of the European States. Monetary Union is a federative project that needs to be followed by other steps. “

Well those other steps have indeed occurred, and recent EU research papers suggest that there are further integrationist steps in the pipeline. Where is the referendum discussion on these future measures and the ultimate destination of the EU? We now have the European Court of Justice whose powers are ever expanding. This court takes precedence over our national laws and it not only pronounces on trade matters but continually intrudes into matters of law that cover all manner of policies that affect our life in Britain. Did you ever ask for this court to do this? I didn’t.

There are other examples, but the important thing to note is that each incremental step towards further integration is on a ratchet. You can step forward towards the unstated goal but the ratchet will never let you step back. The direction of travel is fixed which is why the referendum we are about to have is so important because we have a chance to go in a different direction. We are truly at a fork in the road. The choice is to embrace the EU project with all the implications for our democracy and way of life or to strike out and build a new home for our country in the international system. The Prime Minister seems to be suggesting that there is some kind of halfway house or fudge but in reality this really is our big moment. It is either all in or all out.

But to choose that path we first need an honest discussion, and this is where our national debate is failing miserably. During the last EU Referendum and also in this one, sovereignty concerns have been dismissed. Why can’t the Prime Minister, the media and the Remain Camp just be honest about the true purpose of the EU and its intended destination? We could then debate whether the path to an EU State is one we wish to follow? Instead, we get regurgitated dark threats about the future of trade and jobs if we don’t conform. It is a sad reflection on the EU project that proponents have to disguise its true purpose in this way. If it’s so good, why don’t Remainers just make an honest case for it rather than adding more weight to the trade lever that the government is deploying daily to scare us into staying. It is persuasion by fear but it is also dishonest because it masks the main sovereignty issue and the intended EU final destination.

So far, media discussions and public debates have focused on trade and migration but in my view these tend to obscure the bigger picture and are really two sides of the same coin. The question is who should exercise control over such matters? Should it be our nation state with its legitimate government or a centralized European Superstate without a recognizable demos and with no legitimate claim to power? In my view, matters such as immigration policy directly affect our way of life, and are therefore best controlled by the democratic nation state that has served us so well.

The power of ordinary people to use the ballot box to affect their own lives should not be pawned to a European system of government that doesn’t represent us or apply the same glue that binds each of us to our fellow Britons. In the referendum I shall vote to leave so that we can make our elected MPs accountable for all the things that affect us and regain control of our democracy. I hope after some careful reflection you will make a similar choice. In the meantime, thanks very much for making it until the end.

A Draft Speech for a British Prime Minister

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Good evening

When I announced an In/Out EU Referendum in 2013 I laid out my vision for a fundamentally reformed European Union which would be better equipped to face a competitive world beset with economic and security problems. I identified three key challenges that needed to be addressed, namely, problems with the eurozone, competitiveness and the role of national governments including a recognition of the importance of national sovereignty. In my speech I identified 5 principles that supported my vision. First, there should be improvements to European competitiveness by reforming the European Commission to provide a more nimble organisation more focussed on global free trade. Second, the EU needed to adopt a more flexible approach with less emphasis on one-size-fits-all political solutions, and safeguards that recognised national interests and diverse opinion. Third, I wanted power to flow back to the member states, and, fourthly, a greater role for national parliaments to improve democratic accountability in the absence of a European demos. Finally, I wanted to see a fair settlement that balanced the interests of those inside the Eurozone against those outside. My speech was positive and delivered in the spirit of a committed member of the European Union who could see a better way.

Since the General Election of 2015 you will be aware that I have visited most EU capitals and campaigned tirelessly for the kind of changes that I believe are necessary to produce a European Union best equipped for the 21st Century and to secure the UK’s position within it. It is important that people realise that most effective international diplomacy is conducted in private and outside of the glare of the kind of publicity that we have seen in Brussels this week. Proper diplomacy is quiet work, and it relies on relationships that in some cases were forged and nurtured over hundreds of years. I have to tell you that over the many private meetings that I have held in the last 10 months it has become very apparent to me that there is no collective will for the kind of changes that I outlined in my Bloomberg vision set out in 2013. It seems that the UK sees our place in the world differently to others and that this difference can not now be resolved. We have therefore truly arrived at a fork in the road.

The deal that has been agreed in Brussels this week therefore marks the high water of institutional change that other EU countries are prepared to accept. I expect that most of you would agree that it falls very far short of my 2013 vision of fundamental EU reform, and it highlights that the direction that other EU countries wish to follow is based on closer political union and centralisation something that the United Kingdom finds hard to accept. Some of you may well ask, why did you battle so hard for the deal if it was not something that fulfilled your expectations? Well, the reason is that I wanted to negotiate the very best terms that could be achieved and then let the British people decide if it was enough. Whatever international deal is presented to the people, it is the duty of a Prime Minister to ensure that it was the very best that could be achieved on behalf of his nation. If you hold the deal to be insufficient then I would much prefer that it was because it represents a difference of international opinion rather than because your Prime Minister didn’t try hard enough.

To my mind, the reasons for either remaining in or leaving the EU are now finely balanced. It is the most important strategic decision that we will make as a country since the Second World War and therefore it is right that the British people conduct a serious and mature debate on the matter before making their decision. Whilst the deal may seem poor, it needs to be viewed in the context of all the other reasons for either remaining or leaving this organisation. A poor deal alone may be insufficient reason to leave as there are a myriad other factors that also need to be considered. For example, there can be no argument that in some situations it is better and stronger to act as a group of like-minded countries. But on the other hand, does common action require a political union that draws sovereign power away from the people in individual countries and reduce the value of their vote?

I do not intend to set out all the factors that need to be considered as this will be played out in detail during the coming months before the referendum which I now announce will take place at the earliest opportunity on 23rd June. However, I do wish to make some remarks on the conduct of the forthcoming campaigns. First, it is right that such an important matter for the country is debated in a mature and objective manner. In this regard, I hope that both campaigns will set aside the usual political point scoring and negative campaigning and set out their cases objectively and factually. This is not only important to achieve a result based on proper democratic foundations but also because it will be played out in the full scrutiny of the the rest of the international community. One of my priorities has been to minimise the diplomatic fallout resulting from this referendum and the manner in which we conduct our national debate will reflect on us internationality.

It is also for this reason that I have decided to adopt a neutral role in the debate. Myself as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor will play no part in the debate other than to facilitate it. There is important diplomatic business to conduct over the coming months including the economic recovery, the refugee crisis, Syria, Iraq and Libya. This will require close contact with many countries that will be affected by our vote in June, and it would be untenable for us to attend such meetings if we had adopted any other position than a neutral one in the matter of the EU referendum. Aside from these three senior government politicians, the rest of the cabinet is released from cabinet collective responsibility with immediate affect to campaign as they see fit. I have placed some constraints on ministers but these are minor and intended to ensure that a proper amount of time is spent on other ministerial duties. I am determined that whilst the debate may rage, the government will not be sidetracked and will continue to deliver on the promises made in our manifesto. It is also important that Britain now holds the fullest and most meaningful of debates and with this in mind it is important that elected politicians play a full role in examining the issues before the people finally decide.

This country has played a huge role in international affairs over the course of our long and proud history. The direction in we choose to go will not only determine our own future but will also set a model for the rest of the world who will watch with great interest and in some cases with a degree of fear. Closer to home, it is important also to recognise that there will be no second referendum on the matter. Our decision in June will set our course for the foreseeable future and therefore it will also be important that we come together as a country to unite around the collective will of the people once a decision is made. It is a big moment for us but I am confident that the British people will conduct their deliberations carefully and soberly before deciding wisely.

Could Cameron do a Hugh Grant on Saturday?

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The differences between the Prime Minister’s EU aspirations outlined in his 2013 Bloomberg Speech and the thin gruel seemingly contained in his draft EU renegotiation agreement are so stark that I find it perplexing. In no way, could the draft agreement constitute the promised ‘fundamental reform of the EU’. It throws some minor titbits in the UK’s direction but the EU itself is largely unchanged and will lumber on regardless especially as there is no legal cement provided by treaty change. However, Cameron is no fool, and all this makes me wonder what he is really up to? I can’t accept that what seems to be on offer is the end of the story and I find myself wondering if he could really be a Leaver who might be prepared to throw caution to the wind and declare an honest hand in the manner of the British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant in the film, Love Actually

Then I woke up!

And yet. Surely, the Prime Minister can’t think that the British voter will fail to notice a dud deal when they see one. David Cameron is far too clever for that, and I therefore fully expect that he is playing a subtler game and that his real strategy has yet to be revealed. Here are some thoughts on how things could unfurl

In the first scenario, the conventional narrative is correct and what you see is what you get. In this case, the Bloomberg Speech contained promises that, in the context of a 2013 Coalition government, the PM never thought he would have to keep. The majority he gained in the 2015 election was unexpected and so he now finds himself having to wriggle out of his previous declarations. In this case, Cameron has already decided that the UK will stay in the EU and he has calculated that he can scare the voters into supporting him. He is following the Wilson model and he will brazen it out by trumpeting what a great deal he has secured. His assertions will be supported by a ‘3-shirt, acrimonious’ meeting with fellow EU leaders from which he will emerge bleary-eyed and victorious after a hard-fought battle with the French playing the traditional role as the defeated European foe. If he feels his side of the campaign needed an extra boost he might even walk out of this weekend’s talks before returning to ’emergency’ talks a month later to secure the ‘important’ terms that he demands. The press might have you believe that this would constitute a ‘failure’ on the PM’s part but in the eyes of his core vote and the undecided middle ground it would probably be seen as a show of strength and reinforce the idea that the deal is actually something substantive and worth fighting for. This is the scenario being played out in the press but it is the least likely to my mind. The deal is so transparently a paper tiger that there is a real likelihood that the electorate will reject it and vote to leave, leaving the PM on the losing side and the wrong side of history. It’s why I believe it’s not that simple.

Before moving on, we should briefly address the key question of which target audience is the PM addressing with his recent remarks? It can’t be his party who increasingly see his round-robin of european capitals as a begging mission and a bit of a national humiliation. I don’t think either that it is the europhiles who are largely convinced ‘Remainians’ anyway. In my view, he is addressing European politicians and the public in other countries, and I need to explain this.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is absolutely right that a British Prime Minister should seek to minimise the diplomatic damage that will undoubtedly result from the referendum process as to do otherwise would be against our national interest. If we end up leaving, we need to minimise the strategic fallout which could be considerable. On the other hand, even a vote to remain in the EU could undermine long-term diplomatic relationships if it was secured clumsily. With this in mind, I believe that the PM had no choice but to enter into EU negotiations seeking realistic (weak) changes and to portray the UK as ‘willing’ Europeans and ‘reluctant’ potential leavers. If he had entered into talks demanding huge and unrealistic changes that could never be accepted in other capitals he would have been perceived as a pre-determined leaver and the EU would have just given up on us amid much diplomatic rancour and long term damage.

If this explains the PM’s behaviour and remarks in the last few months, it also raises questions about what he is really seeking. If it is indeed a diplomatic charade, then it raises the possibility that the Prime Minister actually does want us to leave the EU or is at least agnostic. I noted that the PM has not unequivocally signed up to Tusk’s draft letter and there have been remarks from No10 and Ministers about it ‘being the basis of a negotiation’ Does this mean that the UK might attempt to introduce new and as yet unseen material into the talks? Certainly the French are alive to the threat as even President Hollande remarked last week that there should be nothing else in the talks beyond what is stated in the draft agreement. If the UK wanted to ensure that the talks were unsuccessful, then I can think of no better way of engineering it than by making a late bid for new clauses. The effect of failed talks would be electrifying. In the extreme case, the PM could come home on Saturday declare himself a reluctant leaver and campaign to leave. This would be the Hugh Grant option. Does this explain why some of the more senior ministers seem to have gone silent? In reality, probably not although its a nice thought. I believe that it is more likely that he plans to use the failed talks as a lever to gain something altogether different such as the Associate Membership model. Under this plan, the UK would sit in outer ring of slowcoaches whilst an inner core forged ahead with closer political integration. To my mind, Associate Membership would constitute a second class status which I would vigorously oppose but I mention now to illustrate that the Prime Minister’s position is still opaque.

There are probably a number of other scenarios that you could think of and any one could be true. The important point though is that nothing is ever as it seems with politics and international affairs. David Cameron is a wily animal and in my opinion we have not yet see the half of it. The clues will be in his remarks and by careful consideration of which audience he is talking to. The BBC’s Andrew Marr show may well provide the clue. The weekend ahead promises to be extremely interesting.

Why The FCO is the Enemy Within.

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So the former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has come out for the Remain camp in the EU Referendum campaign joining other foreign secretaries like Jack Straw and, in all likelihood, the present incumbent Philip Hammond who has yet to declare his hand. For Hague to discard his well-documented euro-scepticism in such a public way seems surprising but in fact he is merely following a well trodden path of politicians who enter the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with one view of world affairs and then leave their term of office with completely different opinions altogether. The questions is: why? And why should this matter to all of us?.

The first thing to say is that the mandarins in the FCO see many politicians of different complexions come and go but regard their role as ensuring that British foreign policy remains consistent and predictable, and that, above all else, there are no sudden and unexpected policy lurches in one direction or another. In essence, they see ministers as transient and the civil service as providing the continuity. Now if you think about this it does seem to make quite a lot of sense. Friends, allies and trading partners have a view of the UK’s place in the world and they want to know that at the international level the UK’s actions will be predictable and consistent. I can’t say for sure, but I am willing to bet that this point is hammered home during a new minister’s induction briefings. It is also easy to imagine that most new ministers would be encouraged to view their role in non-political terms. This makes them more susceptible to advice from their civil servants than perhaps in other offices of state. Now, whilst this may sound harmless, what if the FCO’s global perspective is based on theories that undermine the very essence of our democracy? What checks and balances are there to protect the interests of the British people who may see the arguments as largely academic even though they cut to the heart of what it means to be a nation?

The FCO’s model is essentially based on theories expounding globalisation and the inter-dependence of states. This is a complex area, and if you want to read into it then google will provide any number of long academic papers written largely in the 1990s and early 2000s after the end of the Cold War. In essence, these argue that improvements in communication and transport coupled with large global flows of people and capital have reduced the effectiveness of national geographical boundaries. They say that in this ever complex world, governmental power is circumvented and made redundant, countries are unable to solve problems alone and they increasingly have to rely on cooperation with other states to derive solutions which they cannot provide by themselves. It is a theory that promotes the idea of expending or pooling sovereignty through membership and acceptance of supranational bodies like the UN and more topically the EU. It is seen as a mechanism for peace because it suppresses the nation state and violent nationalism. In some respects, it is an argument for big government, even global, and it is an NGO’s and lobbyists’ dream. But as I shall explain, the effects of globalisation can only reach so far because of our desire as individuals to be capable of influencing the world around us and to change those things that affect our lives.

Please bear with me as we get a little technical, but it all comes down to the nation state and for a fuller explanation I recommend that you read this wiki article providing a definition and the historical and contextual background. Please think carefully about the following two quotes from wiki:

“A nation state is a geographical area that can be identified as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign nation. A state is a political and geopolitical entity, while a nation is a cultural and ethnic one.”

In another wiki article Sovereignty is described as follows:

“Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity. It is a basic principle underlying the dominant westpahlian model of state foundation.”

Now, I would say that countries have evolved into nation states through common interest, ethnicity, culture and the need for collective protection. Sovereignty occurs because of the critical relationship between national leaders and those they serve. It is an agreement that sees a population bound by common ties investing in leaders whose role is to protect and serve the nation state. The leadership derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people and this is the basis of sovereignty. If the leadership is seen to subvert, undermine or pawn that sovereign power then the bond is broken, it is no longer serving the basis of its power and it ceases to be legitimate.

If this sounds largely academic, what does it mean in practice? At this stage I would like to look at the EU because there is confusion between cause and effect. The EU is a particular case of interest because it is being forged with the tools of globalisation rather than as a consequence of it. To explain this we need to remember why the EU came about. The founding fathers always saw the EU as a means of suppressing the dangerous nationalism that caused so much suffering in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The idea was that if the people of Europe could be united by a common political structure and ideals then ‘parochial’ and ‘dangerous’ national concerns would evaporate or could be circumvented. They saw a powerful EU as a vehicle for peace, and they viewed the mechanics of globalisation as a means for breaking down national sovereignty and driving the project forward. However, it is interesting how historical perspectives influence views on these matters. For the most part, the UK has never suffered from the effects of the extreme nationalistic ideologies that we have seen on mainland Europe in the past. At least until recently, Britons have been completely at ease with our history, who we are and what we stand for. Our patriotism has never had undesirable nationalistic undertones and in fact we fought several wars against the extremism which the EU founding fathers worried about. I would also argue that our sense of national identity and common endeavour have been a catalyst for great cultural, educational and scientific innovation, and our liberal values have been an inspiration across the world. This difference in understanding about national identity is the root cause of the differing attitudes between the UK and our EU partners about the purpose and extent of the EU project. Our vision is different because we are unabashed that our rich history of national identity is in our very soul rather than the European understanding that it is something that should be hidden and suppressed. It is worse than a mere difference of understanding, however. The EU leaders are actively using the tools of globalisation to batter down national sovereignty. Think about how EU policies seek to destroy those critical characteristics of the nation state such as Schengen (geographical boundaries) and the freedom of movement of people (cultural identity and ethnicity). However, the real dishonesty is that such policies are presented as unavoidable components of free trade whereas the real intention is to use them for an altogether different purpose.

But does any of this matter? Well, I believe that the crucial relationship between the people and the leadership of the nation states is already starting to fragment, and that by imposing policies designed to weaken sovereignty, the EU is actually causing the very tensions that the project was designed to prevent. These tensions include the rise of populist and extreme parties and a dangerous electoral apathy. There is a feeling by people that their vote makes little difference and that they no longer have a voice. Trust in leaders is at an all-time low and there is strong whiff of revolution in the air. This cannot end well in my view: the bond between people and leadership is dreadfully weakened and can only be restored by bringing decision-making closer to the people not further away. People need to see that they can make a difference and that the power of globalisation will not overpower their ability to change their lives. The Westphalian model of the nation state and western style democracy remain the best way of achieving this, and I refute the idea that it has to be dismantled to prevent European states going to war with each other. Another European war is inconceivable because trade links and capital flows alone are enough to cement common interest and cooperation without any further need to unpick the very glue that binds the people together. I do accept that globalisation complicates decision-making in international affairs and that countries should cooperate to solve problems. That said, I refute entirely the notion that globalisation heralds the end of the nation state and the version of supranational government being peddled by EU leaders.

As with many things in the political arena, it comes down to balance. In my view the foreign policy wonks at the FCO need to revisit their academic assumptions on international affairs and balance them with democratic factors. As for politicians, they come and go. Perhaps we’ll get one with great vision who can spot the dangers but don’t hold your breath.

This article provides the main reason that I shall campaign to leave the EU. The fundamental reform promised by the Prime Minister could only be delivered by reinforcing the foundations of the nation state and this is something he is not seeking to change or that the EU is willing to address. We need to protect our nation state by voting to leave. International cooperation can continue afterwards regardless.

Campaign Issues for All Leavers

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This is a plea to Leave Campaigners of all complexions.

We seem to have entered a phoney war for the various EU Referendum campaigns. The ‘Remain’ side has clearly got a strategy that it is so far unwilling to reveal whilst ‘Leave’ is divided into various camps dominated by LeaveEU (linked closely to UKIP) and VoteLeave (linked to Westminster Eurosceptics). There is also a number of smaller campaign groups with some good ideas and I will refer to one of these in particular later on. As a committed Leaver, (reasons here), I am concerned that the Leave side is putting out contradictory and confusing messages which will fatally weaken the campaign and that some groups are adopting tactics that will fail to convince the undecided centre ground who will ultimately determine the outcome of the poll. We will only have one shot at this so it is important that everyone sets aside political tribalism and preconceived ideas for a higher purpose and to ensure that we get it right. To this end, I thought I would cover a few factors that I believe are key to our success. If you agree, I ask you to lobby your camp with these ideas.

The first is unity. The various Leave campaigns must come together and agree a consistent message. If not, ‘Remain’ will exploit the differences and portray leavers as inconsistent and lacking any clear plan for what would happen following a vote to leave. George Osborne has already made comments to this effect and we can expect much more of the same unless things change. There are positive reasons for a Leavers’ union too as both camps could bring important strengths to a combined campaign. VoteLeave could provide media and westminster access, expertise and personalities whist Leave.EU has an existing army of well-organised, extremely enthusiastic and dedicated UKIP activists that could be easily tapped into for local campaigns and doorstep campaigning. Such a union would also allow a single campaign to disassociate itself from any particular political party and all the tribalism that such associations promote. Whilst the grassroot supporters of VoteLeave and Leave.EU seem amicably disposed to each other, their respective leaderships are too wrapped up in egotistical arguments over leadership and related tribal politics. The news yesterday that the two sides had failed to agree to any kind of merger is a massive blow to Leavers of all camps and I would recommend that supporters of both sides lobby their leadership to make them think again especially as it seems the differences are more about leadership personalities than campaign technicalities. If we enter the referendum with these two large camps operating separately then Leave will lose the referendum. Its as simple as that. More background to this issue can be found in an article here.

The second dynamic is the Leave message. If we are unable to offer a clear and easily understandable vision of life outside the EU and what would happen after the vote then Remain’s tactic of preying on voters’ fears of the unknown will prevail and we will lose the poll. Undecideds do not like strategic risk as we saw in the Scottish referendum. The problem is that many leavers have conflicting visions of life after Brexit and are rarely able to agree a model which, to some extent, is a matter of political taste. With this in mind, we need a known entity that at one stroke could be supported by all leavers, defeat the fear mongering and provide reassurance to voters. That solution is initially through membership of The European Free Trade Association often known as the Norway model. At this stage, I should refer readers to a very clever individual called Dr Richard North who heads up an organisation at eureferendum.com. Dr North and his denizens have devised a strategy that would see us apply for EFTA membership to protect access to the single market and to allow a controlled exit from the EU. Importantly, the plan envisages membership of the EFTA as only a first step towards adopting a more global position in the world. It would allow a controlled withdrawal from EU institutions and from laws that have 40 years of complexity and inertia behind them, and it is therefore less risky (and therefore more voter friendly) than a bilateral brexit agreement that could be acrimonious and disadvantageous. Importantly, it would protect UK interests (including access to the single market), make exit negotiations far easier (as EFTA is an existing entity) and finally it offers voters a known brexit model that would allay fears. Now detractors would say that EFTA membership would still mean that the UK would be subject to single market rules including freedom of movement and that is partially true but the important point is that this would only be a first stage and one that would make a referendum victory much more likely. Most importantly, Dr North’s plan is a process it is not just about membership of EFTA which is only the first step. In my opinion, Dr North’s commitment and frustration occasionally affects the tone and accessibility of his site, and I feel his treatment of the media and the 2 main leave campaigns is mistaken and counter-productive because it deters some who might otherwise be supporters. That said, I utterly endorse his well-researched proposals for this brexit model and I believe we should all rally around his ideas. I have very much simplified his work and the plan is far more comprehensive than I can represent here. Whatever your political complexion and allegiance, if you are a leave campaigner do nothing else today except read this paper and think about how Remain and Leave will try to convince the crucial uncommitted voters in the middle ground. Dr North’s strategy is known as FLexCit and can be found here. You can also hear him describe his ideas on this 30 minute video.

Turning next to timing, it does seem that the current media focus on a renegotiation decision by February parrots Remain propaganda. The media is making much of the forthcoming EU summit this week but in reality there is a far more complex strategy in play here. Cameron’s so-called ‘demands’ are actually an irrelevant side-show whose only purpose is provide media theatre so that when the actual agreement is produced it can be heralded as a great victory for Britain in the face of severe opposition from the other states. And this agreement will be called Associate Membership. It will no doubt be referred to as the British model but in effect it will relegate the UK to the periphery of the EU and allow eurozone states to further integrate towards political union. It will be portrayed as a great victory but will actually change nothing from the current situation except make the UK a more irrelevant sideshow. Now, Cameron’s strategy is very clever as you would expect from a PR executive but can be easily countered if his fox is shot early before it is produced. With this in mind, I would implore leavers to publicise this briefing note on the Cameron strategy to supporters but also directly to reporters of the mainstream media. You will see from the flow diagram that Cameron’s is trying to engineer a position whereby Associate Membership occurs whatever the outcome of the referendum and in my view this is another reason why the Leave Campaign should be based on the EFTA solution. We need to ensure that the vote becomes a plebiscite between competing models rather than Associate Membership or…er…Associate Membership which is what Cameron is trying to engineer. A last point on timing. In my view, there will not be a vote on this for a long time and we need to careful that we don’t bore people with all the arguments too early. This is a time for getting the campaign infrastructure sorted out. We need cash, activists, a combined campaign and an agreed message. This can only be provided by campaign leadership but I fear it will only occur if supporters make it clear to their leaders that the outcome of the vote trumps all other concerns. Please write to your leaders and make your views known as this is too important to ignore.

I would like to end with a note on media (I don’t admire them but they are unfortunately a necessary evil (My views are here). This is one area where I do disagree with EUReferendum.com’s approach. They correctly identify the problem concerning the lack of proper analysis but they seem to react to this by throwing brickbats at individual reporters and media organisations. The tone is aggressive, and in my view will alienate the very people that we need to culture in order to get key messages across and to prevent the slick propaganda machine of Remain having primacy. They refer to them as ‘legacy media’ but I feel this might be wishful thinking by committed individuals who perhaps feel somewhat ignored. It is fine to suppose that social media and the blogosphere will provide the platform for transmitting messages but these hit the wrong target. The vast majority of the undecided middle ground is not following bloggers or twitter feeds that discuss the EU referendum. Social Media audiences are largely (but not exclusively) composed of other bloggers, activists who have already made up their minds or journalists looking for feeds. We are talking to ourselves and missing the main target. Where social media is useful is for making contact with individuals and organisations and seeking to modify their attitude towards your campaign (which I suppose I am trying to do here!). So, for example, we should be lobbying individual mainstream reporters about the Cameron Strategy discussed above, and using persuasion not brickbats to get them to look more deeply into the situation. It will also culture useful contacts for the future. I would propose that campaigners address friendly and persuasive tweets to individual reporters on the subject matter such as the Bruges paper mentioned above. If enough people do it, then eventually people like the BBC’s Andrew Neil will take notice and set the news agenda which is what we need.

Good campaigning to you all. I’ll be the one carrying a pile of leaflets.

EU: Making A Failing Democracy Worse

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I promised that I would dip a toe into the acid bath of EU matters, and with my feet well protected in rubber boots I will wade in….ankle deep at any rate.

Whatever your viewpoint, the first fox that needs shooting is that the EU is primarily an economic organization. In my view, that is a diversion. It is actually a political structure that lists economic management as one of bailiwicks, and uses economic arguments to further its statist ambitions. Once you accept this proposition then the debate about whether we should stay in the EU or leave becomes more a matter of political taste and where you sit on the tribal spectrum.

It was the vision of European leaders that the EU would use political, economic and social policies to unite the continent in an ever closer union in order to suppress the nationalistic tendencies that did so much damage during 2 world wars. For the founding fathers, political union was accepted as being a long game but it would become inevitable once centrally imposed social and economic policies developed poorer countries and ultimately bound them together in a unified political process. Harmonised fiscal and social policies, a single currency, a parliament, commission, foreign policy and, as recently announced by Juncker, an aspiration for an EU army, are much more than an economic single market. They are the trappings of a state.

Now there is no doubt that the EU has been beneficial for former Soviet Union countries like Poland. However, the question is whether a political union is still necessary to save Europe from itself and maintain stability in the post Cold War era? In my view it is no longer necessary. For a start, it is pie in the sky to think that the EU could ever deploy its own army. There is just too much historical baggage and a plethora of differing opinions for effective policy formulation. Think about the current and past EU foreign policy disagreements such as the Yugoslavia fiasco, and more recently, the different attitudes within the EU towards Russia. This is why NATO, acting solely as a security mechanism and backed by a strong US should remain the foundation of Western European security. The alliance has a clear mission that is universally supported by its members, and its security focus is unencumbered by the distraction of European political state-building. Moreover, it is my view that free markets in goods and services will ensure the economic interdependence of states and act as a far tougher glue than any social or political engineering by a central European authority.

Turning to the politics, the EU is essentially dominated by socialist and social democratic parties that have an altogether different viewpoint that is at odds with the political culture here. Despite the current polling balance of left and right parties in the UK, I believe that the British instinct is essentially Conservative in nature and not in the mould of European social democracy although I would accept that the situation in Scotland currently seems to be different to elsewhere (but watch what happens when they are responsible for raising their own taxes). This difference in political culture is readily apparent by the behaviour and constitution of the European Parliament which by British standards is as left-wing as anything we have seen here in the UK since the Michael Foot days. Whilst the British electorate periodically elects Labour governments it only does so when the Party moderates its politics towards the centre, and in my view this demonstrates that mainstream Britain sits further to the right of the political spectrum than most of our European neighbours.

Whilst differences in political culture causes practical problems for policy, my main issue with the European project relates to its size. I have previously discussed some of the factors that seem to be undermining the credibility of our political process here in the UK, but perhaps the main issue is the feeling that politicians are too remote and that voters feel unrepresented and unable to affect the outcome of the political debate. For many, it seems that a vote cast has little value, and voters therefore feel powerless and disenfranchised from the decisions affecting their lives. This problem is not just confined to the UK and is characterised by the rise of extreme and populist political parties at each end of the spectrum with potentially destabilising implications. When voters become disenfranchised they eventually take matters into their own hands by voting for decisive change with unpredictable results. Witness the rise of the far right in France, for example.

History suggests that the feeling of disenfranchisement gets worse as political structures get larger especially if power is retained centrally. It is far harder to represent an individual voter’s opinion if he/she is one individual in a massive sea of people with different political views and culture. On the other hand, whilst smaller structures improve representation they can be inefficient and prevent administrations from balancing competing needs between regions. It comes down to balance again, but one things is for sure, if the existing UK political structures have become too large and distant for voters, then we are making the situation worse by hitching our wagon to the European monolith where the democratic deficit is magnified tenfold.

I am increasingly concerned about voter apathy, cynicism and disenfranchisement and where we might end up if we don’t fix this democratic deficit soon. The more I have reflected on the matter, the more I am favouring a massive devolution of power, including taxation, away from a central federal government based at Westminster down to some newly created English regions plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have a population of 65m, and with other countries operating very well with populations of 6 million or even less, there is plenty of scope to design our regions such that they would be economically viable and capable of operating more like the states in the US. Decentralisation to a federal model would increase local political accountability and promote voter engagement. Crucially, as part of this project, we should take back powers from Europe and return them to the British people. Decision making needs to come closer to the people not further away from them.

There are many that argue that we would be damaged economically if we withdraw from the political structures of the EU but I believe this is a disingenuous distraction with political undertones. I will offer one fact that illustrates why trade with the mainland would continue whatever political alterations are made to our relations with the EU: half of the cars that are made in Germany are purchased in the UK. We just buy too much of their stuff for them to close their trading doors to us.

This is a political matter not economic. We need to bring decision making closer to our electorate, and EU integration is going in the wrong direction. I would vote OUT in a referendum at the moment but I remain open-minded about potential reform. The changes would need to be significant, however, rather than superficial.

More hay and rumination, Fritz and Pierre?

Pick and Mix Policies for the Politically Homeless

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The problem with tribal politics is that politicians and voters are forced into narrow categories where there is little scope for interpretation or shades of grey (no we’re not going there today). Politics has always been tribal to some extent, but the 24 hour scrutiny of a media that is hungry to write stories about internal divisions has made party politics even more partisan and boring. The Whips hold sway, and with some notable and interesting exceptions, politicians rarely put their head above the parapet to challenge their party orthodoxy with interesting and new ideas. I discussed some of this in a previous post, Avoiding the Debate.

Recently, I have started to reflect on which political pigeon hole I should adopt as my home, and I found that I don’t really fit anywhere particularly well. I suppose if I was forced, I would say that I’m socially liberal but economically conservative. I believe that self-reliance should be promoted wherever possible as it enriches lives, but on the other hand I want the State to provide a temporary safety net for those of my fellow citizens that fall on hard times. But, note, a safety net not a means of dogmatically redistributing wealth, and so I would place limits on the extent of taxpayer support (see here for my post on the welfare state). In a similar vein, I think that the State should be as small as possible for efficiency but that does not mean zero state activity as government intervention in some areas is necessary and beneficial. I don’t think governments should run trains but they should run the security services and law enforcement, for example.

Even on other economic matters I do not necessarily adhere to conventional doctrine as whilst I believe in a free market I also think that limits should be placed on its excess. I don’t want higher taxes but I do think Google and the like should pay their way if they expect to trade here. Similarly, I’m not opposed in principle to the private sector providing public services so long as it is properly regulated to ensure the necessary standard. Sometimes, the private sector can do a better job than civil servants, and that can offer value to taxpayers so long as we don’t get ripped off. And, finally, do let the bankers make loads of money so long as its not at our expense, they pay their taxes and they don’t rely on us to bail them out when they cock it up.

On other topical matters, I have decided that on balance I would like the UK to leave the political and legal structures of the EU and to implement proper immigration controls (see post here) for the benefit of all the people living in these Isles. Yet, I also want to protect the rights of our existing immigrant population now that they have settled here. I see them as British as myself. On civil rights, I believe in our democratic rights and legal system but I also think that with citizen rights come responsibilities and that the balance occasionally gets skewed the wrong way by inappropriate laws some of which are imposed from outside the country. On social affairs, what’s wrong with gay marriage, for example? Why should I try to stop someone experiencing the same happiness that I have found in my own union. It affects me, my lifestyle and my country not one jot. It is only religious and extreme political dogma (see post here) that would oppose such ideals and I have no truck with that.

I think a bit of me is also nationalistic in the sense that I believe we should act in the interests of the UK and all its citizens. Now that may sound a bit scary or suggest that I could be a closet EDL or BNP supporter but I could never vote for them because I believe in the equal rights of all British citizens whatever their ethic origins or religious beliefs. I believe that the UK should continue to play a role on the international stage but with our own interests placed at the centre of our approach to diplomacy and international aid, and not necessarily for the benefit of those around us (depending on the issue, they may coincide, of course). In this regard, I would like to see us deploy our overseas aid budget more strategically to support foreign policy.

Above all, I want to feel that I have some kind of influence on what happens around me. That means that I am gravitating away from the centralized Westminster political model towards a more federal system of government. That is the preferred Labour answer for English devolution if I correctly understood their comments following the Scottish Referendum. Following my earlier post on Devolution, blackandwhiteram made some interesting remarks about the US federal system, and on reflection I think that the size of our population could now make a similar system viable for the whole of the UK. A fully federal system would allow the regions to tax and spend (but not borrow) in order to provide services but with a greatly reduced federal government at Westminster providing mainline services such as defence and foreign policy. There are some difficulties with this model which we discussed previously and it would be necessary to design the regions carefully (or come up with an English Barnett formula to reduce regional inequality – see the Devolution post I linked). A federal system needn’t cost a lot more if Whitehall was reduced in size and a layer of local government stripped away to make space for the regional assemblies or whatever you want to call them. Most importantly, it would improve voter representation and influence, and we could get away from this charade that is currently taking place in the run up to the general election.

So I am indeed politically homeless. There are signs of new thinking. I notice that Tim Montgomerie has started to promote a right-leaning initiative that challenges the Conservative orthodoxy by introducing an element of social justice, and maybe this is a sign that some of the dogmatic political boundaries are starting to erode. Its worth a read although its still not quite right for me.

So, homeless for the moment. Good job I’ve got a sheep shed to sleep in.

Welfare: Redistribution or Contribution?

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It seems to me that the intricacies of the British welfare system have become so complex that we have stopped thinking about who and what exactly it is for. Is it a safety net or a means of redistributing wealth within our society? These days, politicians would never discuss this question in such politically bald terms, but if you turned back the clock 40 or so years and you would find no such shrinking violets. In some respects, I feel this is a shame. At least the old class warfare discussions were politically principled and had a touch of intellectual honesty about them. Today, it is almost as though politicians have mislaid their politics or conveniently forgotten them as they seek to confuse the floating voter. As a result, arguments about welfare become foggy either through dissembling, complex technical discussions or, worse, piecemeal and inefficient reforms which are largely advanced to court the voting approval of narrow interest groups. But in my view the lack of a clear vision about the purpose of welfare makes reform difficult as the lack of a strategic framework encourages ad-hoc and expensive changes that rarely achieve the intended purpose. It also encourages that modern scourge of government: political meddling in operational matters.

So where do I sit on this? Well if pushed, I would fall on the safety net side of the argument but with some provisos. Ha Ha, they shout, the old ram wants to pick on the poor and disadvantaged. Rename him, Ebenezer at once! But, actually, not at all. In my view, it is a measure of a peaceful, successful and humane society that we should help those that fall on hard times or become sick such that they are unable to support themselves. We will discuss religion (I don’t do it) in future posts but the texts of many religions nonetheless demonstrate that as a species we have long demonstrated an innate sense of compassion and consideration for our fellow beings even if it is not always put into practice (which I very much intend to return to).

It therefore seems that our basic instincts are to act compassionately, and I would certainly like to think that I live in a civilized society. Yet in my view that aspiration shouldn’t extend to using state spending as a means of redistributing wealth. That model has clearly been shown historically to fail. Look at the disasters in the former (and, increasingly, existing) Soviet Union or in Venezuela. At face value, state-manufactured equality sounds attractive but the principle always gets mismanaged and corrupted, the rich flee, the economy suffers and everyone gets poorer defeating the primary objective of the idea. No, to my mind welfare is a safety net, and it is certainly not a mechanism for making poor people better off. The best way of achieving improved living standards is to provide a framework that encourages individuals to compete through education and civil rights, and then to encourage innovation and individualism to allow people to achieve their maximum potential. Note though, that potential cannot be the same for everyone no matter how much we meddle or wish it otherwise. That is not a fact of politics, it is a fact of genetics and the way of the natural world. This is the key point that nobody will discuss because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control every individual’s outcome in life.

Having said all that, it doesn’t solely have to come down to the survival of the fittest, and we have it within our ability to set moral limits and achieve some kind of balance. If someone is ill with a life-threatening condition or something that would materially affect the quality of their life then I feel that we should find the cash to look after them. That shouldn’t extend to boob jobs, tattoo removal and varicose veins, though, and it doesn’t mean that a patient should get a free consultation with the GP just because they have a cold. The principle of self-reliance rather than collective-reliance should always come first and this should be applied as the first test. Its not just in health matters either; the same principle should apply to the benefits system. I really don’t like the way that some try to stigmatize those in receipt of benefits, and whilst generalizations may appeal to the Sun readership, it cuts no ice with me. That said, it is right that people should be encouraged to return to self-reliance and the only way of achieving this is by setting limits on the amount of collective aid that will be provided and by limiting the conditions that may prompt its delivery. The Coalition government recognized this, and in my view was quite right to point out that nobody on benefits should receive more than an average wage. Quite where the level should be set, however, is a serious matter for debate and I would be interested to hear views.

Lastly, we’ve talked about the need for balance in our welfare state, but before we get carried away by dealing in absolutes, let’s take a look at redistribution in terms of one of the less savoury aspects of capitalism. Twenty years ago I would have argued that the free market should run free and unencumbered. Certainly, it seems to provide the best framework for successful trading and commerce, and ordinarily this would benefit all. However, globalization, improved communications and porous borders have decreased the power of national governments and allowed unaccountable multinational corporations to trump elected officials. This has undermined our system of liberal democracy to such an extent that I do fear that we are in danger of a political retrenchment brought on by popular antipathy. I find it ironic that those who have benefited most from globalization have accumulated such wealth whilst exhibiting such little awareness of the wider world that they may have already endangered their own existence. By any measure, it just cannot be right that 1% of the world’s population owns 80% of the worlds wealth. That means that the benefits are not being shared out equally. Oh wait, you don’t mean redistribution, Old Ram? We thought you were against it?

Its a conundrum for sure. I instinctively feel that we should be wary of regulation yet as a very minimum, all corporations should be made to pay the tax due in the countries where they conduct their business. That doesn’t mean to say they should necessarily be taxed more because they are large, but it does mean they should pay their way. Its a question of balance again. I’m not sure of the answer to this one and it demonstrates the dangers of dealing in absolutes, but I’m sure if I eat some more hay and ruminate a little something will come to me. Over to you.