The Rest of The EU Referendum Campaign

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When the awful murder of Jo Cox MP was announced yesterday, I decided to stop campaigning for a while out of respect for her husband and young family. After 24 hours silence, I have decided to rejoin the fray because notwithstanding these terrible events, the country is still faced with an historic referendum that will determine the future strategic direction of the country for many years to come. It is therefore right that the democratic process continues although both sides may have to make changes to the tone of their campaigns and to recognise the public shock and anger that this attack has stirred.

Disappointingly, it seems there are some that are seeking to make political capital from this attack and in particular from conflicting reports that the assailant shouted ‘Britain first’ during his attack. I have two points about this. First, speculation about the details of the attack are unhelpful and could prejudice future legal proceedings. Trials can collapse if they are seen to be prejudiced by prior media reporting and therefore journalists and commentators should tread warily and avoid speculation. In my experience, witnesses to traumatic events can often give different and conflicting accounts of what they saw or heard despite trying to provide an honest recollection or perception of events. Often, it is only after a full investigation that an accurate picture can be established, and it is therefore important to let the police do their work without any media interference, speculation or comment based on rumours or only a partial view of the facts.

My second point is that whether or not the attack was politically motivated is largely irrelevant to the referendum question before the country. The question is not about political violence. It is solely about our membership of a European political institution. None of the subsidiary issues connected with the question should be affected as a result of a young mother with altruistic views losing her life on the street whilst honestly serving her country. Even if Jo Cox supported the Remain side of the campaign, it is right to say that her death does not automatically make the Remain argument correct even though we all feel complete compassion for Jo’s friends and family. It would be a terrible blow to our freedom of speech to allow her murder to stifle or constrain the debate on a national matter of such importance. Moreover, if we allow fear and violence to affect the discussion we play into the very hands of those that would seek to use violent or undemocratic means to undermine our parliamentary process.

Having said that, egged on by an ever-hungry media, the mood in the country does seem to have changed in the last 24 hours, and the Leave Campaign needs to modify its approach not only to respect the new mood but also to ensure that its message is not lost in a chorus that will likely try to convince voters that to vote leave is somehow to condone the events in Birstall. It is a matter of tone rather than substance. Most Leave supporters won’t change their minds but a soft centre ground could easily switch sides unless matters are handled sensitively. Here are 4 ideas in no particular order:

This week, the Leave Campaign seemed to gain real momentum in the polls and was starting to set the agenda. Any delay in campaigning is to the advantage of David Cameron and his Remain campaign. It will allow them time to regroup and to lead the discussion when it recommences, probably with an attempt to gain the moral high ground. The campaigns should start again as soon as is decently possible to limit this effect.

The immigration debate needs to be couched in terms of parliamentary accountability. Fear mongering about migrants should be avoided throughout social media. The main argument is that immigration is a matter that should be decided in our own national parliament rather than in Brussels. In many respects, this tragedy has put into sharp focus the good that MPs can achieve if empowered, and the Brexit debate should concentrate on why it is better to have that power residing in Westminster rather than elsewhere. I have always held this view about immigration and parliamentary accountability but it is not universally shared within the Leave Campaigns.

Attacks on the establishment will need to be handled very carefully. Individual MPs acting for constituencies are not in my view ‘the establishment’ and it is wrong to question their motives or honesty. It is when they act collectively within the Party system and as governments that much political honesty is lost especially when they act beyond their authority within unelected institutions that wield far too much power. That said, blatant examples of individual political dishonesty, double standards or duplicity are still fair game but the way that they are challenged needs to be thought out carefully.

Arguments about whether the Remain side are trying to weaponise the death of Jo Cox are counter-productive and waste valuable campaigning time. It is better to concentrate on getting out your own campaign message rather than to play on the home territory of the opposition. It is always better to turn the opposition’s negative campaigning into a positive argument for your own side of the argument. Support for our parliamentary process is a good example of how you can do this. Now more than ever, the Leave Campaign needs a positive message delivered confidently in measured terms and with a smile. There should be no anger: leave that behind.

It is therefore a matter of emphasis and tone, and I would urge all Leave campaigners to think carefully before they press the ‘send’ or ‘tweet’ button. Undecided voters and soft Leavers need to be very carefully handled between now and the vote next Thursday. It would be a shame to lose this argument through ill considered behaviour or arguments.

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.

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 Single Leave Campaign – An Outline Blueprint

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With the EU Referendum polls showing a healthy lead for the Remain Camp and the Prime Minister seemingly on the verge of a deal in Brussels you would think that the various Leave campaigns would be directing all their available firepower at the vacuous nature of these orchestrated talks and the total lack of meaningful reform that they will provide. But oh no! At a seriously important moment in how this might play out, the Leave Camps have decided to direct their fire at each other and also within their own individual campaigns. For a committed Brexiteer, this is totally dispiriting and totally unnecessary. It is largely about the 3 campaigns jockeying for lead campaign status from the Electoral Commission but it is also a dispute about the key messages and how the campaign should be run. There are also large egos at stake, and the result is that at grassroots level activists are left bemused and dispirited. More strategically, the media is starting to portray the Leave Campaigns as a disorganised rabble with all that this means for how the matter is perceived by the general population. This is hardly a recipe for success, and so this morning I thought I would produce a plan that I believe could bring together the major Leave camps under one umbrella whilst allowing them to raise funds and campaign in their own particular way.

In designing this campaign structure I have held one thought in my mind, and that is that unlike a general election there are no political parties who can legitimately claim leadership. The leave movement is actually owned by ordinary people with the strongly held view that the UK should leave the EU. Importantly, it is not owned by those that would seek to organise the campaign; they are merely servants for a broader political idea. This is important because individuals have many different reasons for being prepared to get up early on a wet Saturday morning to deliver leaflets or man a town-centre stall. For some, it is about controlling migration. For others, it is about regaining sovereignty and for another group it is about saving money. All are valid reasons and it is right that the referendum allows these views to be examined otherwise the poll will not have achieved its democratic purpose of determining the people’s will. With this key point in mind, I believe that a united Leave Campaign should try to facilitate all these views. It is not for any one group to impose their will on how the arguments should be revealed. That is for the activists on the streets, in the media and writers in the blogosphere.

Before describing my proposed organisation it is worth mentioning the key campaigning themes as this seems to have been a source of much of the friction. Leave.EU seems to be of the view that immigration should be the major theme of the campaign and this is reflected in much of which is pushed out by their spokesmen. In my view, this particular theme is guaranteed to appeal to the key UKIP support but will not necessarily appeal to the moderate and undecided centre ground if it is couched in the terms often favoured by controversial individuals such as Nigel Farage. That said, the target audience for Leave.EU is still very important and if campaigning along these lines results in a large turnout of the UKIP rump support, then it could prove decisive in determining the result. On the other hand, VoteLeave’s target audience is the undecided centre ground who may be more attentive to arguments about sovereignty and finance. LabourLeave have equally valid messages for their target audience. The point is that all these target audiences will have to feel sufficiently motivated to make the trip to the polling booth and vote to leave and so all campaigns are important with nobody right or wrong. Like many grassroots activists, I don’t care why someone votes to leave so long as they do. With that in mind, my proposed campaign structure tries to reconcile the different views of the main campaigns by adopting a federal structure (sorry to use the ‘f’ word in a skeptic blog) which would allow the individual campaigns to run their own affairs under the umbrella of a joint steering group which would be the officially designated lead campaign. Here’s what it would look like:

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The steering Group would have the following features:

1 Board members would be drawn fairly from the main leave campaigns. This would not necessarily be solely from the three campaigns I have mentioned. Board composition would have to be agreed as some individuals are divisive but whatever the differences, agreement must be achieved.

2. Members and the main spokesmen would have to sign up to some main principles. The most important of these is that the leave campaign is actually campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and not just using the referendum to leverage a better deal from Brussels. In this regard they should sign up for a single referendum and immediate use of Article 50 after a successful vote. I don’t believe that the leave campaign should try to be prescriptive about the question of exactly how the UK would leave as this will be a matter for the government of the day. Options can be provided, but the aim is to be clear that the government of the day must indeed take the UK out of the EU. Second, members should recognise that colleagues from the other campaigns may have different views on how the campaign should proceed. This should not be a recipe for argument but welcome diversity. The board is facilitating the campaign, not trying to run it.

3. The board would dispense public referendum funds to the various campaigns according to agreement and their relative size. Feedback from private polling of interest groups could also be fed down to the separate campaigns to maximise effectiveness.

4. The board would provide a point of contact for the media (media centre?). Better to have this at the top rather than allow the media to try and undermine unity by playing off the separate campaigns against each other. The stronger the leadership at the top and the clearer the message then the less likely this problem will arise. The key message is that diversity of opinion is welcome within the leave camp. The media centre could be manned by personnel from all 3 campaigns and queries answered by the individual most likely to receive a favourable response (e.g. VoteLabour rep vs Guardian enquiry; LeaveEU rep vs Daily Express etc)

Sitting under the steering group are the individual campaigns. These would lose their current strategic role and they would be reprofiled to face their activists. Their key role would be to assist activists and provide campaign resources to street level. The key features of the individual campaigns are as follows:

1. They would be free to raise their own funds subject to the rules.

2. They would be free to run their own campaigns as they wish and to determine their target audience subject to the same requirements as the Steering Group which is that they are actually campaigning to leave in a single referendum.

3. Their key role would be to provide logistic support to the ground campaign such as leaflets, campaigning gear, advertising and information support.

4. They would decide how best to run their campaigns and appeal to their target audience. e.g. mail shot vs leafleting vs street stalls

5. They would manage their database of supporters and sign people up as in the current way.

A key part in my plan would be the joint coordination centre sitting beneath the individual campaigns. This organisation would run a combined database of volunteers to ensure that activities take place across the country in a coordinated manner. It would put local coordinators in touch with volunteers of all complexions to allow manpower to be allocated to the campaigning task. It should be possible to coordinate activities quite closely. For example, leafleting activities could be arranged carefully to target specific audiences according to their likely receptiveness to different campaign themes. I am not prescriptive about how this would work other than to say that there must be some coordination of activities otherwise the street level campaigns will be ineffective and inefficient. The closer the coordination the more effective the results.

Finally, there are the volunteers. In my experience, most of the activists from the various campaigns recognise the joint endeavour and are quite happy to campaign alongside each other. For my part, I would happily man a town centre stall with 3 piles of leaflets and people from the other leave organisations. Questions from the public could be directed to the activist with the best knowledge and likely appeal. In my view, the current difficulties are not at this level, they are within the senior management.

In sum, we need a federal structure that allows the campaigns operational freedom but with a close element of coordination. The current set up is self-destructive and will doom us to lose unless it is gripped quickly. I commend this plan to all those who are in a position to make the changes. Please publicise the ideas if you agree.

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.

Unmentionable Racial Issues

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In a previous post, I talked about how some subjects are never discussed because they are, or have been made, politically toxic. As a result, important issues lie unmentioned and simmering with politicians preferring to ignore them rather than raise their heads above the parapet. With this in mind, it was extremely refreshing to read an article in The Sunday Times by journalist and former chairman of the Racial Equality Commission, Trevor Phillips, on the deep racial problems lying within our multi-cultural society and our inability to discuss them.

In his brave article (unfortunately behind a paywall), called Ten Things About Race that are True but we Can’t Say, Trevor highlights how New Labour’s attempts to tackle discrimination failed to addressed the problems of multi-culturalism in practice. He says that local authority funds promoting multi-ethnic diversity have been misused by community leaders who benefit from preserving isolation. He highlights that many young people are “trapped behind walls of tradition and deference to elders”, and identifies that the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France were partly of a consequence of segregation within Muslim ghettos. He believes that similar issues lie behind our own 7th July bombings.

The article would be incendiary if it wasn’t written by a well-known and respected black journalist, and perhaps this is the point. Trevor is absolutely correct that in our desperation to avoid causing offence we are ignoring critical issues and he cites as an example the institutional reluctance to tackle the grooming of young girls by some young Pakistani men in our cities. He also points out that the recent fury over Benedict Cumberbatch’s use of the term ‘coloured’ meant that his important point about the need for more black actors to be employed got completely lost. His key point is that it is “more and more difficult to address problems in our society because we are too afraid to describe them”

Bingo! This is exactly the point I tried to make in my previous post on toxic policies, and Trevor is also correct to highlight that unless we are brave enough to overcome this reluctance, then the far right, already ascendant in some European countries, will continue to make electoral progress for merely ‘speaking the truth’

Trevor Phillips will develop his theme in a Channel 4 documentary on Thursday at 9pm, and I for one will be interested to see it. Well done Trevor.

Unpicking the Immigration Debate

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Today’s release of the latest ONS quarterly immigration statistics has caused a predictable political storm, so I thought I would dip my toe into this emotive matter. The problem with the immigration debate is that people always start by shouting about EU controls and racism before considering the facts and trying to come to a considered conclusion. I can’t promise I will achieve this but I’ll give it a go. Please also note that when I refer to ‘national interests’ in this essay I mean the interests of all those currently residing here whatever their origins. And, yes, that includes those that arrived here as immigrants. Its a longer post than normal but bear with me.

When we discuss UK immigration policy we do have to distinguish between EU and non-EU migration because the law currently regards each category separately. I will mention both but initially I would like to discuss some general factors.

It would be fair to say that global population movement is becoming ever more straightforward. Improved global communications have made it much easier for potential migrants to learn about possible destinations and to compare their present situation to what they hope might be possible elsewhere. The over-riding desire is for a better life but that may be prompted by a number of drivers including economics, employment, corruption, poverty, war, disease, religious discrimination and any other number of the horrors that we see across our screens each day. In the worst case, these push factors are ruthlessly exploited by organized crime syndicates who traffic people in the most amoral and dangerous ways. Few will fail to be moved by pictures like this one taken near Australia.

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The UK is clearly an attractive destination for many, and I was struck by a recent BBC interview of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the Italian Navy, many of whom identified the UK as the place they wanted to go to. It is easy to understand why. The economy is prosperous, we have a solid legal system that protects individuals, by and large, from persecution, crime is low and we protect ourselves collectively with our welfare system (see my previous post on welfare). A key pull factor is the existence of trans-national networks in the form of relatives or friends who have already settled in a country and of course this is certainly the case for multicultural Britain.

The worrying aspect is the number of people that want to move. If you want to judge the potential scale of the problem then have a read of this Gallup paper. It takes a global perspective on migration but there are aspects of it that are startling for the UK. Some key facts are as follows:

* 700m adults worldwide would like to migrate to another country if they could.
* The US is the preferred destination followed by Canada and the UK
* The paper concludes that developed countries such as our own could be overwhelmed if aspirations became intentions.
* The desire to migrate is highest in sub-saharan Africa where 36% or 166m people would migrate if they could.
* In third place, the UK would attract 46m people with France 39m and Germany 26m

It is very hard to know for sure how many people would actually leave their own countries but as transport links and communications improve it will become easier, and if even a small proportion of those who aspire to migrate actually moved, then a great number of people could try to reach our shores. It is worth pondering these two images. The first shows the projected increase in the UK population, and the second redraws the map of the world according to population density. Compare the size of the UK with, say South America or the US. We already have lot of people.

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cartogram population map

But does a large and growing population matter? Well it depends on your point of view and what matters to you. A sudden increase could place pressure on services, but if the economy was growing then this could be accommodated so long as there wasn’t a sudden surge. We also have space for new development at the moment but as a countryside dweller I would not wish to see our green spaces become totally covered over with concrete. That said, I am sure that there are many readers who love the city life who would place their cosmopolitan lifestyle high up the wish list of life. There are also the cultural changes that would undoubtedly occur as people from overseas became residents and brought in their own cultural norms. Now personally, I don’t really mind about these either. But I might if cultural diversity started to challenge the fundamental things that make me feel British such as our democracy, legal system and rights. I have touched on one component of this issue in my recent post The Religious State.

One important factor that is often ignored is the security implications of large-scale migration and this seems particularly relevant today. I have mentioned the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa wishing to move and you only have to look at the chaotic scenes in Italy as migrants are rescued, disembark and then disappear from holding camps to make their way illegally across Europe often without documents proving their origins. Whilst I am sure that the majority are just looking to improve their lot in life, it would be relatively straightforward for an organization like ISIS, for example, to deploy sleepers, amongst the throngs who may eventually come to these Isles to do us harm. There is also evidence that ISIS intend to use migrant movements to destabilise Southern Europe and shipping routes in the Mediterranean. This is certainly something that we need to bear in mind without assuming the worst in all those that make the treacherous crossing over the Med.

And then there is the economy. A key advantage of net immigration is that it can fill shortages of skills when the economy is growing fast. Whilst this perpetuates growth and suppresses inflation, it can be a double-edged sword. For example, we currently restrict the number of medical school places available for UK residents whilst bringing in trained foreign doctors to fill jobs in the NHS. There can be doubt that we have loads of bright kids that could fill additional places to study medicine and yet we choose to restrict the numbers to save money. I do like it when we save money, but I don’t like to see our kids stymied in their aspirations. More broadly, the danger is that we save money by outsourcing training and education to other countries who probably can’t afford the costs anyway and who suffer disproportionately when they lose domestically-trained individuals. It is a tricky one; where does the national interest lie, and whose national interest is it? The same applies to low-paid workers. We bring in foreign workers to do jobs on the minimum wage that many of our own people would decline. This keeps industry competitive but it also encourages some to rely on the welfare state which I discussed in the post linked earlier. If the entry of unskilled low-paid foreign workers was restricted then pay would rise and in-work benefits would subside…to the benefit of taxpayers but at a cost to industrial competitiveness.

Looking at these issues, it seems to be a problem of degree. We want migrants to come here but not in such numbers that we are overwhelmed or which disadvantages the people already resident here. Acting in the national interest is why we have countries. On balance, this does mean that we should implement comprehensive border controls. We do have one advantage and that is geography. Our Island status makes it easier to control entry and exit to the country although we would have to spend more than the existing and pitiful 1.7% of our tax revenue to so so. Neither should we distinguish between EU or non-EU migrants. We should judge each application on its merits and only take those immigrants that we have identified as being advantageous to accept according to our needs at that time. Now, that is not to say that we wouldn’t negotiate bilateral agreements that would waive visa requirements with certain countries but, in the case of the EU, it would be on a case by case basis. I have yet to understand why the free movement of people within the EU is such an important component of the internal market and it seems to me to be more of a measure designed to socially engineer economic equality rather than free trade. I will eventually write a post on the EU as I expect there will be no getting away from it, but for the moment it is sufficient to say that the EU is essentially a political structure and therefore all things can be negotiated if there is a will.

Finally, we cannot ignore the components that drive migration. We cannot resolve economic inequality by throwing open our doors but we can try to address some of the less desirable factors by playing a full role in the international community and by directing our overseas aid budget more strategically. And I will post on that too before long. But that is enough for now. Please be polite to me and one another.