Tag Archives: eu

Nine wishes for 2009 #6: the EU to get real

You never know, it’s just possible this might happen.

2008 presented a real quandary for me: on the one hand, I was (not uncritically) supportive of the European Constitutional Treaty. Its mutation into the Lisbon Treaty made it weaker still, removing one of the main advantages of the Constitutional Treaty in the first place (specifically, that it was a clean slate and relatively easy to read compared to trying to follow a succession of amending treaties), but on balance it contained just enough good things in it for me to have voted “yes” in any referendum.

On the other hand, such a referendum was not forthcoming. I may be pro-European, but I’m also a democrat. I don’t believe the only way of ratifying a treaty like Lisbon is to hold a referendum, but we needed some kind of procedure to ratify it which recognised it was more than just another act of Parliament. There are many ways this could have been done – a super majority in both House of Parliament or two votes on either side of a general election – but fundamentally, the vote would have been lost whichever way you did it. And just to add an extra layer of cynicism, the Lib Dems came up with this idea of having a referendum on membership as a whole, knowing that neither of the other parties would back it, just so they could have a figleaf to put on their Focus leaflets.

And all that I could live with if the pro-European parties were prepared to stick their necks out and actually argue the case for European Union. Except they don’t, fearing it will make them unpopular.

Either way, by June it looked like this whole sorry exercise was over. Then, Ireland threw a spanner in the works by – uncharacteristically – voting “no” in their own referendum. Since then we have been in limbo, with no-one seeming to have a clue what to do next.

Unlike some, I don’t think Ireland’s decision to now have a second referendum is undemocratic. If the political class in Ireland feel confident that the public will change their mind and vote accordingly second time around, that is fine with me. I’m amazed they’re doing it though; if I were Irish I’d be very tempted to vote “no” just to spite them. The money is on a second “no” vote surely; isn’t it just delaying the inevitable.

The whole debacle is part of a wider failure of the EU’s political class to provide leadership on, well, pretty much anything over the past decade (Timothy Garton Ash showed the extent of the EU’s failure in his Guardian column last week). Enlargement and the Euro have been successes but all the heavy lifting for both of those we done in the nineties. All we’ve had since then is a lot of petty squabbling and a tunnel vision obsession about fiddling with the institutions.

This needs to change, finally, in 2009. Following the second Irish referendum the Lisbon Treaty will be either alive or as dead as dead can be; the zombie-shuffle of the past six months will finally be at an end. The first thing we have to take steps to ensure is that some of the more dim EU leaders don’t start drawing up plans for a Son-of-Lisbon Treaty. Instead, we have got to make do with what we have.

Secondly, we have major challenges to tackle. Immediately, there is the Middle East Crisis of course. By the end of 2009 we have the replacement of the Kyoto Protocol to worry about. And then of course there is how we deal with Russia, Turkey, the Balkans, the global economic downturn… all of these amount to a clear need for the EU to get serious and stop dicking around.

The Lib Dems can do their bit by campaigning in the European Parliamentary elections as an actual pro-European party rather than trying to dazzle people with irrelevancies. The decision to run the elections at the same time as the County Council elections won’t make this easy, and if we have a general election as well, debate about Europe will more or less dry up completely. But after spending 2008 in such a mess, it would be good to see us finally articulating an unambiguously positive vision for Europe. No-one else is going to.

Eek! Evil EU ban our traditional way of light!

Chris Applegate’s life work is without purpose. Why? Because the Daily Mail is unspoofable. What satirical mind could have come up with this pile of nonsense for instance?

Revolt! Robbed of their right to buy traditional light bulbs, millions are clearing shelves of last supplies

Millions of Britons are finally waking up to the fact that their beloved light bulb will disappear for good after 120 years.

Traditional 100-watt bulbs are vanishing from the High Street because of a controversial European Union decision.

Yesterday panic buyers were snapping up the remaining bulbs in a last-ditch attempt to stockpile the final supplies. Hundreds of leading supermarkets and DIY chains – including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Homebase – have already sold their last remaining bulbs after a surge in panic buying.

Other stores say they have enough stocks to last until the end of next week.

Let’s work backwards on this one. First of all, very few stores will have enough stock to last until the end of next week. That’s how modern shops work. Why keep loads of deadweight stock in store when you can have it delivered to you when you need it?

Secondly, until you read this, were you aware of any panic buying? No? Me neither. On the other hand I am very much aware that one of the main suppliers of lightbulbs on the high street, Woolworths, shut its doors for the last time yesterday. I was also very aware over Christmas how all stores were keeping their stock particularly low. During an economic downturn and with the banks in trouble, we should expect this as cash flow has become that much more important.

Thirdly, traditional? Joseph Swan invented it 131 years ago (with that crook Edison trying to rip him off as per). How does that count as “traditional.” My generation’s grandparents will have had gas when they were kids – that is how new an invention this is.

Fourthly, 100w? If your complaint about energy saving lightbulbs is that the light from them is “harsh” (I disagree, but there you go), why would you want a 100w bulb? Wouldn’t a 60w or 40w suit you better (lower wattage bulbs will remain on sale until 2011)? I am not a historian of the lightbulb but I’m pretty much willing to bet you that the “traditional” bamboo-filament bulbs of the late 19th century would have blown up if you put 100w through them.

Fifthly, an EU decision? The UK voluntarily signed up to the scheme.

Sixthly, energy saving bulbs cause seizures? Epilepsy Action don’t think so (hat tip: Blagger).

Seventh, energy saving bulbs cause rashes? Maybe, in certain cases, but only for people who already have dermatological conditions.

Eighth, energy saving bulbs damage the environment? They do contain trace levels of mercury, but if recycled properly are no problem (I’ve been using these bulbs for over 20 years and have never even seen a broken one – they’re much more robust than incandescent bulbs). “Traditional” bulbs contain mercury as well – in fact by switching to compact fluorescent lamps, you will reduce the level of mercury you use.

Regarding points six, seven and eight though, they are out of date as LEDs are set to replace CFLs over the next few years. The main barrier to introducing them has been, yes, the predominence of the “traditional incandescent light bulb.”

All in all, the Mail story amounts to a confection of lies and misleading scare stories. Pretty much nothing in it turns out to be true. So no change there then.

The people have spoken. The eejits.

Actually, contrary to what the above headline might imply (I couldn’t resist), I’m actually quite sanguine about the Irish “no” vote on Thursday. I’m not at all convinced that Europe has been “saved” by the Irish or that the Lisbon Treaty was anything other than a moderate and sensible reform, but this latest chapter in EU reform has been farcical from beginning to end and I pray dearly that it will soon be over.

The fundamental problem is that, since the mid-eighties we have had one EU reforming treaty after another. As soon as one is out of the way, and often before, work on another has begun. It has been a case of not so much salami slice politics as cheese slab politics. It has alienated large numbers of pro-EU people and switched the vast majority of the European public off completely.

The result is a paradox whereby a minority of hardcore Euro-sceptics have been able to hold sway. They have no popular support – look at iwantareferendum‘s futile attempt to get even 46,000 supporters after spending millions of pounds over the past year. Yet when referendums are held in the most pro-EU countries – France, the Netherlands, Ireland – the “nos” hold sway. This isn’t opposition; this is alienation.

The solution then is obvious: have a moratorium on further EU reform, at least on anything that would require a treaty change, for at least a decade. That isn’t to say that a lot of the good things in the constitution couldn’t still go ahead. We could still have Council meetings in public. We could still give the Parliament a more central role in selecting the President. We could still operate the “yellow card” system and ensure that national parliaments are sent legislation in a more timely manner. We could still operate the system of Citizen’s Initiative. I struggle to believe that even the most swivel-eyed of Eurosceptic would oppose any of that (go on, surprise me…), and it would a lot to calm tensions.

Is there really anything this treaty would have achieved that a bit of self-restraint wouldn’t replicate? One of the main reasons why I supported the Constitution was that it would end France’s veto on the CAP, but the truth of the matter is there is nothing to stop France from voluntarily giving this up. Except, of course, the French. Frankly, if they were willing to give up the veto, they should be prepared to consider the fact that agribusiness subsidies no longer have a place in a planet which is currently suffering from mass starvation. Either way, if reforms are necessary then which ones will become apparent from attempting to implement the status quo rather than insisting that at all times EU governance must be perfect both in practice and in theory.

What we must oppose, strongly, is the appalling idea of a multi-speed Europe in which “Perfidious Ireland” is shut out of Club Class. Oddly, I find that my villain of the week is not Declan Ganley (back in Westminster to answer to his paymasters before the dust has even begun to settle in Dublin), but Will Hutton. What a vile piece of steaming crap he belched forth in the Observer this Sunday. Rather than make a single argument as to why the Constitution/Reform Treaty is so necessary, he actually called for Ireland to be given one last chance to get the “right” answer before being kicked out of the EU! If that is how Club Europe is to treat its members in future, send me my 51st State application form in the post tomorrow.

Let’s not forget that Ireland has steered every other treaty through a referendum up until Nice with nary a problem. According to Hutton’s logic, that is only explainable if you work on the basis that Amsterdam, Maastricht and the Single European Act were the sort of treaties that “Hitler and Mussolini” would approve of. Shouldn’t we consider the fact that Ireland is having increasing problems getting such treaties past its public as a warning sign?

If a canary drops dead at the bottom of a mineshaft, you don’t insist the miners should keep digging on the basis that it is only very little compared to the strapping lads working on the coal seam. You get them out of there as quickly as possible. The reflexive reaction of too many pro-Europeans to want to shoot the messengers just demonstrates why a cooling off period is so necessary. Instead of continuing to bash their collective heads into a brick wall, it is time the leaders of the EU got on with the job of governing.

It isn’t a cake, and it doesn’t taste like tea

I despair of the EU at times. Fair enough, a Jaffa Cake is a cake – no doubt about it. It is made of cake mixture. It might be a little cake, but it is still a cake.

But a tea cake? A tea cake is a chocolate covered marshmallow with a biscuit base. The key word there by the way was biscuit. I can guarantee you that the judges at the ECJ have never had one, preferring their poncey Belgian biscuits. They probably think shortbread is a type of small baguette and all.

The problem with this ruling is, what is now to stop Mars from calling Twixes cakes? Or even, damnit, Mars bars? Where do you draw the line? Where, eh? See? You don’t know!

M&S have opened up a can of worms from which we may never recover. The very foundation of our society is teetering on the brink. It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a cake is something that is soft when fresh and hard when stale while a biscuit is hard when fresh and soft when stale. Strip that away, and what do we have left? I can tell you: sheer anarchy.

And what does the UK Column have to say about all this? I’ll give you a clue: it begins with “fuck” and ends with “all”. Clearly they have been taken over by Common Purpose. Somebody tell David Noakes.

The Column Purpose

Dedicated readers may have noticed some feathers being ruffled in the comments sections of my articles on the UK Column and Common Purpose. My favourite is a link to a video of a lecture given by Brian Gerrish. If you have two hours of your life going spare, check it out. My favourite part is his claim that he has had sight of a secret document on the Common Purpose website which is all about “how to take control of a city”. Damning stuff, but apparently he couldn’t download it because that would leave a “footprint”. In which case, if he couldn’t download it, how did he manage to read it?

Gerrish’s style is fascinating. He seems to excel at lulling his audience into submission by showing them slide after slide after slide of completely dull emails and other papers and ask innuendo laden questions about them. Do that once and it is pretty meaningless but repeat the process and it can be bloody effective. You have to take a step back to realise that he’s just taken 1+1+1+1+1+1+1 and come up with pi. Given that he insists that the common practice of taking questions in public meetings in groups of three is a Delphic mind control technique one is compelled to ask: what mind control techniques did he pick up of his own during his time in the military?

There is also a recurring thread in all this about Demos and the IPPR being Communist organisations. Communist? As think tanks go they are about as work-for-hire and cravenly capitalist as you are likely to find (no offense, like). Demos’ latest work with Charles Leadbetter about direct budgeting in the health service is about as close to dismantling the Stalinistic tendencies of that great British institution you are likely to find short of privatisation.

I also enjoy all this “Common Purpose = CP = Communist Party” stuff. This from a newspaper which used to call itself the Plymouth (and Devonport) Column. PC sounds very similar to CP if you ask me. And what about Column? Sounds a bit like both “Common” and “Communist” to me. I think we should be told.

Following all this as I have been over the past few months I’ve been fascinated by this split between Brian Gerrish and David Noakes. There was some kerfuffle a few months ago when one faction refused to distribute the other factions newspaper. It now emerges they have formalised their split, with Noakes publishing the Westminster News (and retrospectively going back and changing all the old Columns so they have the new masthead – nothing wrong with a bit of Stalinistic airbrushing of history is there?) while Gerrish is now publishing the Column with the help of the New Battle of Britain group.

Their latest effort is now available to read online. This issue they have chosen to take to task the “quisling” Daily Mail for running a campaign on plastic bags when it should have been dedicating all its pages to covering the IWAR demonstration at which a couple of old soldiers and a dog turned up (that’s me being all figurative and sarcastic folks – did you see what I did there? Whichever way you spin it 3,000 people turning up to a national demo is a fucking disaster). They also seem to be getting very into divine revelation. Given their apocalyptic visions of the EU, don’t be surprised if they don’t all end up chugging the Kool Aid in some abandoned farm in the middle of nowhere at some point.

Gerrish = Koresh – it’s all linked, see?

Nick Clegg: I’m more hardline than Mao

Gavin Whenman has been expressing exasperation with Nick Clegg’s use of the word sclerotic. He has a point.

Personally, I find the following quote equally perplexing:

“It’s not an act of leadership to throw your hands in the air and let a thousand flowers bloom.”

Who was it who originally talked about letting a thousand flowers bloom? I believe it was a certain Mao Tse Tung. I don’t recall Mao being known for being a particularly weak leader. Why is Clegg inviting us to draw comparisons with him and the great despot? What’s this obsession with being seen to be tough (again)? And isn’t it generally Lib Dem policy to, wherever possible, let a thousand flowers bloom?

“Europe is not an issue of conscience. Europe is an issue that is quite central to our party’s identity.”

Yes, but even more central to our party’s identity is democracy. Regardless of whether you think the idea of a referendum on Lisbon is democratic or not, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the majority of the Parliamentary Party wanted us to support one. Surely therefore it was incumbant on Clegg to not vote on his conscience and go along with his colleagues? He had lost the argument. He was the one who insisted MPs not be forced to vote against their consciences.

I’m getting increasingly irritated by the ret-con claim that Clegg’s abstention was somehow “principled“. A principled stance would have involved him voting against the Tory amendment in the face of his parliamentary colleagues. I can understand the principled position of those like Andrew Duff who are opposed to any referendum, but not this claim that an in-out referendum is necessary while a referendum on Lisbon would be disastrous. In any case, a principled stance would have prevented him from writing this article four years ago. He knows this. How dare he attempt to claim some sort of moral high ground here?

Not impressed.

Ming Campbell abstained on his own policy

This has probably been blogged elsewhere, but looking at Public Whip today I was intrigued to note that the Lib Dems failed to get their own MPs out to vote in support of having a debate on the in/out amendment referendum. In a vote which was not likely to get passed and which the Lib Dems are surely planning to use against individual rival MPs, the Tories got 87% of their MPs out, Labour got 88% of their MPs out while the Lib Dems managed a mere 84%. Read into that what you will.

The absentees are an odd bunch. The most notable one is Ming Campbell. However badly Clegg may have subsequently handled it, let us not forget that it was Campbell that got us in this mess in the first place. It’s a shame he didn’t at least vote for his own policy.

Public Whip has not yet published the results of last nights vote. One of its quirks is that it defines a rebellion as a vote against what the majority within that particular party grouping was voting. On that basis, the 15 MPs who voted against the three line whip to abstain will be listed as loyalists.

UPDATE: Just had a look at the Tories who abstained in the in/out vote. They include, not exclusively, the usual Euronihilist suspects such as Bill Cash and Douglas Carswell. Clearly, for all their protestations, a significant number of them would have loved the opportunity to really put this to a vote.

What do the Lisbon Treaty, colonic irrigation, psychic locksmiths and “Vogue Escorts” massage parlour have in common?

Another month, another name change. The British Free Press, formerly the UK Column, formerly the Plymouth and Devonport Column, has now become The Westminster News (pdf). Yes, it’s back, and this time it’s fatter than a Sandra in a sponsored fat suit. The reason for all this padding is that it has lots of adverts from a range of sources, some less mental than others. Indeed, there is so much padding, that it appears David Noakes has forgotten to give us his usual quota of nutty-bonkersness. It still contains some highlights however, and some of the adverts themselves are rather revealing:

Front page: “Ten thousand Whitehall jobs to go” – yay! Oh wait, that’s meant to be a bad thing. Boo! Parliament to be abolished on 5 May 2010. MPs to go along with this because “they have been groomed for this purpose, chosen by the Party list system over the last 20 years to ensure an obedient majority of pro-EU MPs.” Our MPs are elected using the list system? No-one tells me anything! But then, if they did, what would be the point of the Westminster News?

Page 2: The health page. Article about St George’s Cross being Cornish juxtaposed by adverts for enemas and colonic irrigation. I’m sure we aren’t supposed to draw any inferences from that. Moving on…

Page 3: Apparently Northern Rock was bailed out by the US of A. Good old Uncle Sam! A new Marshall Plan, eh? Oh, wait. That’s meant to be a bad thing too. Boo! Adverts on ethical t-shirts, spectacles, a cattery and a dance school.

Page 5: Constitution and politics. Or, to be more precise, recycling in Westminster Council. Meanwhile, in a continuation from page one, it is revealed that Francis Maude, Jacqui Smith, Ken
Clarke, Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and Tim Yeo “might” be members of German intelligence. Or they might not. We won’t know until after their deaths. Bum.

Page 6: A one page guide to the Constitution and its remarkable similarities to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 Enabling Act. It’s says so here so it must be true.

Page 7: Adverts for caligraphy, swimming with dolphins, a solicitors, a travel agency and a hypnotherapist promising to help you quit smoking in time for when the ban starts on 1 July (um…). Meanwhile it emerges that MPs will suffer the most when Parliament is abolished (those who aren’t members of German intelligence anyway) and that it will take decades to fill the soon to by emptied Whitehall with new residents.

Page 8-9: Lots of property to buy in Ireland. Yay! The mighty Irish, descendents of the Tuatha de Dannan – who are really Israelites – are bound to reject the evil constitution in their lovely referendum aren’t they? They’ve got a magic stone and everything!

Page 11: Classifieds. The locksmiths section includes adverts for a clairvoyants and an astrologer. Not quite sure how these powers open my front door, but I’m sure all shall be revealed.

Page 14: Escort agencies juxtaposed with composting (“Give a green gift for Christmas” – always good to plan early).