Shortlisted In The Brexit Competition

As described in the above video showing a BBC Daily Politics interview with Lord Lawson back in July this year, the Institute for Economic Affairs launched a competition for submissions on the best way to exit the EU. As an encouragement the competition came with a cash prize of 100,000 euros (rather ironically) for the best submission:

Against [the background of an ‘out’ vote] competitors are invited to compose a Blueprint for Britain outside the EU, covering the process of withdrawal from the EU and the post-exit repositioning of the UK in the global trading and governance systems,

Naturally, when looking at the list of judges where the concentration of their expertise was largely economically based, there was some reluctance to submit a paper when in reality the primary reason for EU exit is political. The founding father Jean Monnet always made it clear the EU was a political project. Ted Heath described it as a “common market” knowing full well it was a Trojan horse to facilitate political union. The Euro for example is a political project disguised as an economic one – with disastrous consequences.

In this context the primary objective of any withdrawal by the UK is to stop and then reverse the progress of political integration between the UK and the rest of the EU member states. This means that a successful “out” vote will be more a political event rather than an economic one, albeit one with considerable economic consequences.

Thus a twin-track approach has to be adopted. Not only to win a referendum, to negate the fear, lies and “cling onto nurse” tactics which have been used so effectively by, for example, the dishonest Europhile Nick Clegg – but it’s also an acknowledgment that political withdrawal will be much quicker than an economic one. Should the UK public vote for a withdrawal from the EU they will be understandably impatient for a relatively rapid exit.

In this spirit as not to delay attainment of political objectives the economic question should be “parked”. The primary aim is to deal with political issues while clearing the way for a favourable economic settlement in the future, which given the enormous and fiendish complexities of international economic treaties will take time.

The best way of achieving a reasonably quick political exit while acknowledging the economic difficulties is the Norway option – a ready made solution that allows the UK to leave the EU while remaining within the Single Market. It means no immediate disruption to trade but allows us to exit politically.

This was the fundamental premise of Richard North’s submission, written with some help from fellow readers and bloggers. The publication of the shortlist of the 20 best initial submissions to the IEA are made today and Richard North’s “Norway option” has been shortlisted. To be shortlisted to just 20 out of 149 entries is an achievement indeed, and an endorsment that the “Norway option” arguments is seen to have merit. Particularly important given our Prime Minister argues against it using a lie.

As I understand it UKIP did not submit an official paper (though some members may have done so independently). It’s not unreasonable to assume that this would be their meat and drink; leaving the EU is their raison d’etre. But apparently not. The lack of a credible exit plan from UKIP is a frustration I’ve echoed before.

Revealingly it takes a few unpaid bloggers to be on the shortlist, while UKIP doesn’t bother. Being on the shortlist now means writing a full submission of between 10,000 and 20,000 words by 10th February 2014 in order to win the IEA prize. More than anything winning means having the possibility of a document – an EU exit paper – that has “prestige”, a document that would be taken seriously by virture of its IEA status.

Any contributions by readers to the final full submission are very welcome here and/or on the Eureferendum forum.

The Harrogate Demands

A relatively short interview by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with the Independent, rather cheekily titled “how I became PM of the world” – echoes of Gordon Brown’s “I saved the world” – highlights a great deal wrong with how we are governed. It begins with an acknowledgement from Jack Straw that our constitution is fundamentally broken:  

JOHN RENTOUL: Jack Straw said that he thought that the Prime Minister had too much power in the British constitutional system, and I was hoping you would respond to that.

Quite so. The Prime Minister does have too much power because they are only accountable to a small number of people – their constituents and to party members who elect them as party leaders. Naturally this means that MPs of the ruling party, when elected, owe their job and career to the Prime Minister – indirectly if not directly.

Thus proper scrutiny of government cannot take place when there is a conflict of interest between service to one’s constituents and loyalty to one’s government. This is a conflict that Witterings from Witney knows only too well – Cameron in effect has to scrutinise himself. An MP for Witney but also the Prime Minister.

One of Harrogate’s six demands deals with this conundrum by making the Prime Minister directly elected by the people. In essence, and as a consquence, we separate out the executive from the lawmakers (MPs). 

Despite some criticisms that it leads to an American Presidential type of system, in truth not a lot changes yet a lot changes. The Prime Minister still appoints a cabinet – the same is done now – but crucially those appointments do not come from those within Parliament. So at a stroke it removes the conflict of interest.

The Prime Minister does not become head of state unlike a President so in that sense all remains the same.

And by having the Prime Minster directly elected removes the current system where they are effectively elected by proxy. How many people vote for a local MP because of a good job they do or because they like, or do not like, the potential Prime Minister of a certain party?

This is a very unsatisfactory position which not only was illustrated most clearly by the party leader debates during the 2010 elections but the oft criticism of Gordon Brown that he was not “elected”.

Another intriguing part of Blair’s interview was this:

… I think there is a general problem in politics, not just in our system but in Western democracy – I mean, it’s a far bigger topic this.  But, I do think it’s really important.

I advise any young person who wants to go into politics today: go and spend some time out of politics.  Go and work for a community organisation, a business, start your own business; do anything that isn’t politics for at least several years. And then, when you come back into politics, you will find you are so much better able to see the world and how it functions properly.

See what he did there, he is arguing that being in politics – being an MP – means being special. To be an MP means having to “qualify” in other aspects of life.

Essentially it’s putting MPs on a pedestal, at 18 you can own property, run a company, raise a family but you can’t become an MP…unless you “qualify”.

This sentiment ironically from the man who was Prime Minister at a time when the Labour Government lowered the age for standing for Parliament from 21 to 18 in 2006 via the Electoral Administration Act 2006.

Being able to vote at 18 and not being to stand until 21 always caused me a great deal of consternation. Society essentially said you’re fit, responsible and adult enough to vote for a criminal, adulterous and lying tosspot like Chris Huhne, but said you’re not fit, responsible and adult enough to be able to vote for yourself.

There should be no previous qualification on standing for Parliament – implied or otherwise – and if our democracy worked properly it would not be needed. The people would vote for whom ever they thought appropriate, regardless of age. If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to stand.

Thus Tony Blair’s words are merely confirmation that it’s all gone wrong.

Take The Morning Off?

With the UK apparently braced for severe storms and heavy rain overnight, former BBC weather television presenter Michael Fish has advised people to take the morning off work:

“These strong winds…are going to be unfortunately at around getting up time and rush-hour time,” Mr Fish told Sky News on Sunday morning.

“So the message we’re trying to convey at the moment is to delay your journey just by two or three hours in the morning and then you should be safe.” 

I’m sure he thinks he means well, but it’s interesting that he worked for the government funded Met Office and the BBC – funded under law by virtue of a tax. Both largely immune to the dynamics of an economy.

Conversely of course to those who are self-employed such an option means not getting paid, and to those who run SMEs means employees not turning up to work thus impacting on turnover.

But no matter just take the morning off…

Someone Hates TBF

Rummaging around the internet (occasionally) I searched for the term Boiling Frog – as you do – this meant I stumbled upon this site.

The author, Tod Kelly, is really really angry about the Boiling Frog metaphor. No really he is…

I really, really hate this metaphor

He continues…

Can we collectively, as a society, take its amphibious body, throw it in a pot, and crank up the fire until it explodes?

Charming, I’m sure…

It’s constantly thrown into political discussions and presented as either a reasoned argument for action or evidence that proves a supposition, despite the fact that it is clearly neither.  Rather, the boiling frog is just a lazy excuse not to have to bother thinking critically about whatever ludicrously hyperbolic comment one can dream up.

But…but even worse he asserts the analogy is not even true…

And if that’s not enough reason to retire the metaphor, there’s also this: it isn’t actually true.  In fact, it’s literally the opposite of true.  As Professor Douglas Melton of Harvard Biology points out, “If you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot—they don’t sit still for you.”

As a rather warm frog myself it’s tempting to get angry at his lack of understanding and compassion for my current predicament, but one must consider that he doesn’t live in the European Union so his experience is somewhat lacking. One must never get angry at a chap’s lack of awareness, even if one is sitting in a saucepan of water being gently warmed up.

Instead I merely chuckled at his article, like EU Commissioner Barroso did when asked if Cameron could repatriate powers back for the UK.

Not that any of this bothers me of course; my blog title is not a reference to the metaphor it merely reflects the fact I’m an angry Frenchman who lives in the Sahara Desert.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

As inevitable and predictable as the sun rising in the east, each time new technology emerges what subsequently follows is “moral panic”. An irrational fear of the unknown. Naturally such scares sell newspapers – it promotes the idea that essentially we are all desperate to be serial killers, but the only thing that prevents us is the lack of technology. It’s similar to the phenomenon detailed in the book “Scared to Death“.

This has been a common theme that exposed itself with massive clarity with the advent of cinema, home videos and computer games.

A classic example was the issue over the content of videos in the 1980s. Campaigner Mary Whitehouse notoriously gave a presentation to MPs in 1983; showed a compilation of highlights of so-called video nasties where many of the scenes of films, she objected to, were taken out of context and edited in such a manner as to create maximum impact. The result of her campaign was the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

It was an example of moral panic, one which culminated in this infamous Sun headline ten years later (pictured below), just after the conclusion of the trial regarding the tragic murder of Jamie Bulger, despite that no evidence existed that the film “Child’s Play 3” had any relevance in case whatsoever. The judge had simply made it up:

Another example has been computer games. I always remember that the Daily Mail once had a full page spread complaining about the computer game Goldeneye, a best selling game on the Nintendo 64, inspired by the James Bond film of the same name.

“Die, die, die” was the headline, as it reported that a two year old boy said those words as he played the game. A headline that was shocking I’m sure…until we realised that his hands weren’t big enough to grasp the controller and so play the game properly and that the article was describing level four. Which meant that the 2 year old boy had to know terms like; “install covert modem” and “find data allocation tape” in order to progress through the game to get to level four. Less a problem in society, more an example of a boy genius.

With this mind we come on to new technology such as 3D printers and their potential ability to produce guns, as noted by this headline in Telegraph:

Sir Peter Fahey, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, told Sky News that the weapons were a “new phenomenon”, but said his officers were determined to prevent them making it onto the streets.

Earlier this year concerns were raised that the printers – which construct everyday solid items using very thin layers of plastic – could be used to make a gun containing no metal parts.

One can see a future “moral panic” in the making. I’m sure that 3D printers can make guns, but to complain is to assume that weapons cannot be made out of other relatively innocuous items.

For example a rocket launcher can be made out of a drainpipe and a model rocket, a weapon can be made out of very hot coffee laced with ridiculous amounts of sugar, a very effective crossbow can be made out of a wooden coat hanger, some wood, a couple of clothes pegs and an elastic band.

As the 1970’s film Scum (3:33 mins) clearly shows, a sock and a couple of snooker balls can also be very effective. It always amuses me that despite extremely strict security clearances and checks in UK airports they give out free newspapers as you board the plane – which can then be turned into a Millwall Brick.

Thus with 3D printers we can clearly envisage and predict another “moral panic” and a Daily Mail front page outlining the dangers of people…having such technology at home.

Nothing ever changes…

China In Your Hand?

As Richard North notes the forthcoming announcement of the construction of a giant new nuclear plant at Hinkley represents a staggering escalation in costs. However leaving aside the continuing folly of the UK’s energy policy it’s intriguing that much comment has been made about the fact that it is Chinese, not UK, investment that is involved, as indicated by this Telegraph piece (pictured above):

But others were less sanguine about China possibly coming to dominate Britain’s nuclear industry. “It’s troubling how far the Government is bending over backwards to allow this,” said Paul Dorfman, research associate at the energy institute of University College London.

Que much teeth-nashing – sorrowful that a country which was once at the forefront of nuclear power is now having to rely on Chinese investment to “kick start” our nuclear industry. But as is typical of our increasingly isolationist and “Little Englander” media, it ignores the wider picture. And it misses the insidious, and in this case the subtle, nature of our membership of the EU.

The UK and China have been forging a closer relationship for some time now; and crucially it has been doing so in the process of an increasingly close relationship between China and the UK government to support internationalization of the Chinese currency – Renminbi (RMB).

China is seeking to replace the US dollar, with the RMB, as the major world reserve currency. To help fulfil the criteria it is doing so with increasing co-operation of the Hong Kong and London financial markets, as noted by the South China Morning Post:

With Hong Kong’s support, London has become the leading offshore RMB centre in terms of payments with Hong Kong and China.  According to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), London now accounts for 28 per cent of offshore RMB settled transactions.

Thus China has an enormous vested interest in the health of the UK financial sector. One can imagine therefore that it won’t be best pleased to see the increasing efforts of the EU to impose ever draconian rules deliberately designed to damage one of the UK’s most important parts of its economy:

George Osborne has launched an unprecedented legal challenge against European plans for a financial transactions tax.

The move, which will be seen as a further sign of fraying relations between the UK and the rest of the continent, is designed to force the European Commission to reconsider the levy on Europe-related financial activity.

And:

Chancellor George Osborne stood isolated after European Union finance ministers vowed to press on with proposals to curb bankers’ bonuses.

He told a meeting of EU finance ministers that he could not back the plans, which he fears could damage London’s financial centre.

By cosying up to the Chinese – which is not to everyone’s liking – Osborne has a big player on our side when defending the City from EU laws. A big player that is effectively helping to prop up the Euro. A bigger game is being played here.

If one is to be generous we could argue that George Osborne has played a bit of a blinder, however a more realistic criticism would question whether the heavy reliance on the Chinese been so necessary if we weren’t members of the EU?

Hot Wired

In light of Autonomous’ Mind’s excellent post on the stupidity of the media’s reporting of our current energy crisis, I had a quick gander at this Hansard account from Thursday 17 October 2013. What’s intriguing is the openness of MPs in mentioning the EU when discussing our energy policy in contrast to most media reports.

That is not say though that all of the discussion had a degree of sense. This from Alex Cunningham – Labour MP for Stockton North – in particular struck me (my emphasis):

I think that just 25 people have benefited from the green deal in my constituency so far, but thousands of people across Stockton-on-Tees could have warmer homes thanks to a tremendous project to externally clad their homes run by the borough council and deliverer partner, Go Warm. This has attracted £20 million of investment and 300 jobs. Sadly, a legal judgment means that BT is the only company that can remove the eyelets that support the wires in the houses that are benefiting from the scheme. This is slowing the programme down because of insufficient resources to do the work in a reasonable time. Will the Minister please intervene, tell BT to get its act together, get the work done more quickly and give my constituents the warmth they deserve?

Having dealt with BT for over 10 years in my previous job I can accuse them of many things, but that they are somehow culpable of failing to provide “constituents with warmth” is a new one on me.