PMQS (2)

Following on from my post yesterday, regarding the lack of relevance of PMQs my point is wonderfully illustrated by the picture above showing MP Michael Fabricant donning what the Telegraph calls “a magnificent moustache” during yesterday’s session.

Despite long ceasing to function as such, PMQs is supposed to act as a check on the executive by MPs, Fabricant’s actions couldn’t more clearly show the function’s absence and in addition demonstrate the contempt held by MPS on how the process should work. Paliament’s failures laid bare.

Thus one is inclined to agree, albeit reluctantly, with the sentiments of former Labour party member Dan Hodges when he dismisses PMQs as a joke which makes a laughing stock of our nation:

Perhaps it was the sight of Michael Fabricant sitting on the back benches wearing a giant fake moustache. Or the Prime Minister’s joke about Ed Miliband “loving Engels instead”, a reference to Miliband’s Desert Island discs choice of Robbie Williams song “Angels”, which contains the line “I’m loving angels instead”. Or the fact Labour’s leader didn’t have the wit or wisdom to inflict the mercy killing the pun so richly deserved, and instead spent his own time at the Dispatch Box rambling aimlessly from one issue to another.

Anyway, whatever it was, as I sat there delivering my instant Twitter verdict – “Appalling joke aside, Cameron skated through this one. Ed’s PMQ’s strategy seems to be to meander from one issue to another. Weird” – I suddenly thought “what is the point?” Not just “what is the point of me sending this tweet?” which would have been a legitimate thought in itself, but: “what is the point of PMQs?” 

And:

What precisely do we conduct PMQs for? It’s certainly not for the benefit of the electorate, who think the whole thing is a farce. In fact, this is one of the problems.

Yet while Hodges identifies a failure in the system he is unable to put forward a suitable solution, blinkered by the Westminister Village as he is, he sticks with the status quo:

If we want scrutiny of the executive we can have it without the festival of banality that is PMQs. John Bercow has shown himself only too willing to drag ministers, from the PM down, to the chamber to deliver statements to the House on the important issues of the day. They give the opportunity for the government to set out their case in depth, for the opposition to conduct a detailed and forensic analysis of Minister’s responses, and for backbenchers of all sides to have their say free from the rabble-rousing that in unleashed at noon every Wednesday.

But as we see on a daily basis the status quo doesn’t work either. Parliament has long ceased scrutinising the executive; a mixture of conflicting interests between MPs’ representing constituents interests but wanting promotion, that Parliament no longer makes a lot of our laws and the lack of power of constituents to hold their MPs to account.

We need something different, we need the six demands.

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Dead Pensioners

I now rarely watch PMQs, its relevance about as important as Parliament itself. But my attention was brought to the following exchange between Cameron and Miliband today:

Edward Miliband: Here is the reality. This is not a minor policy adjustment—it is an intellectual collapse of the Government’s position. For two months, they have been saying that if we take action to intervene in markets it is back to the ’70s—it is Marxism—but now they realise that they are on the wrong side of public opinion. That is the reality. The Prime Minister must realise the gravity of the situation, as figures this week show that there were 31,000 deaths as a result of the cold winter, with about 10,000 as the result of cold homes. Can he explain how things will be better this winter than they were last?

The Prime Minister: What there will be this winter—and this is a vitally important issue—are the cold weather payments that we have doubled from their previous level. The winter fuel payment will be in place, as will the warm home discount, which helps 2 million people in our country. Last year’s increase in the pension of £5.30 a week will be in place. Every excess death in the winter is a tragedy, and there were 31,000 last year. The right hon. Gentleman might care to recall that when he was energy Secretary there were 36,500.

Edward Miliband: I asked the Prime Minister a very specific question: how are things going to be better this winter than last? The reality is that prices will be higher this winter than last. For the average household, the British Gas bill went up £123 this week. It was also revealed that the profits of the energy companies were up 75% in the last year alone. Why, under his Government, is it acceptable for the British people to pay exorbitant prices to fund exorbitant profits?

The Prime Minister: What is intellectual incoherence is not to address the fact that there were 36,500 winter deaths when the right hon. Gentleman was standing here as energy Secretary. That number was lower last year. What is intellectually incoherent is to promise a price freeze for 20 months’ time when we do not control the global price of gas—that is completely incoherent and a total con.

With all three parties agreeing largely to the same expensive energy policy, PMQs is reduced to two men bickering over who has killed the fewest number of people. Shameful doesn’t even begin to describe it…

Scotland And The EU

Today, in what appears to have been a low key affair, the Scottish first minister Alex Salmond launched his government’s independence blueprint, calling it a “mission statement” for the future. Yet on first reading not a great deal has changed in the Nationalist’s flawed case. The same problems remain as I noted here – there’s still no coherent case on the issue of currency for example:

Alex Salmond has been pilloried after unveiling a blueprint for Scottish independence that assumes the English would continue to share the UK’s ‘crown jewels’ including the pound and BBC programmes.

Today’s announcement appears to have been nothing more than a rebranding exercise. Certainly on the vexed issue of whether Scotland would remain members of the EU and if they would still retain the UK opt-outs on the Euro are still in doubt. The Referendum White Paper argues:

If we vote for independence, the eyes of the world will be on Scotland as our ancient nation emerges – again – as an independent country. Scotland will become the 29th member of the European Union…

Of course, as we are well aware, it cannot be both an independent nation and a member of the EU. Those two positions are completely incompatible. But crucially what the paper doesn’t address convincingly is how Scotland will remain members of the EU on the same terms as it has now.

In Scotland’s favour there is a kind of precedent that echoes their potential position and that is the one of Greenland. Greenland as part of Denmark joined the then EEC in 1973, despite 70% of the Greenlandic votes having been against membership in that referendum. However when Greenland gained home rule in 1979 it still remained a full member of the EEC. It wasn’t until it had a separate referendum on leaving in 1981 that it decided to leave. Even then it still has a special relationship with the EU as part of its overseas countries and territories.

Yet the EEC has moved on and we are now post Lisbon, so there is now no real precedent for how the EU should deal with a region of a member state seceding from the European Union, a situation the white paper itself acknowledges:

Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union provides the legal basis, and defines the procedure, for a conventional enlargement where the candidate country is seeking membership from outside the EU.

As Scotland joined the EU in 1973 this is not the starting position from which the Scottish Government will be pursuing independent EU membership. Article 49 does not appear to be the appropriate legal base on which to facilitate Scotland’s transition to full EU membership.

This though is at odds with earlier comments made by EU Commission President Barosso who is of the opinion that Scotland would have to reapply for membership:

A letter from Mr Barosso to the House of Lords economic committee, which is examining the independence question, also confirmed his position that a new independent state would “become a third country with respect to the EU”.

“What I said, and it is our doctrine and it is clear since 2004 in legal terms, if one part of a country – I am not referring now to any specific one – wants to become an independent state, of course as an independent state it has to apply to the European membership according to the rules – that is obvious.”

Asked whether an independent country would have to renegotiate its terms, Mr Barroso said: “Yes.”.

Ploughing on regardless convinced Article 49 does not apply, the white paper argues that there would be a “continuty of effect”:

We recognise that specific provisions will need to be included in the EU Treaties as part of the amendment process to ensure the principle of continuity of effect with respect to the terms and conditions of Scotland’s independent EU membership, including detailed considerations around current opt-outs, in particular the rebate, Eurozone, Justice and Home Affairs and the Schengen travel area.

So apparently all an independent Scotland has to do is pursue membership of the European Union by seeking an amendment to the EU treaties rather than applying as a new member:

The alternative to an Article 49 procedure, and a legal basis that the Scottish Government considers is appropriate to the prospective circumstances, is that Scotland’s transition to full membership is secured under the general provisions of Article 48.

Article 48 provides for a Treaty amendment to be agreed by common accord on the part of the representatives of the governments of the member states.

Article 48 is therefore a suitable legal route to facilitate the transition process, by allowing the EU Treaties to be amended through ordinary revision procedure before Scotland becomes independent, to enable it to become a member state at the point of independence.

The problem is that Salmond with his assertions of “seeking an amendments to the EU treaties” via article 48 is now entering ‘David Cameron territory’ with his similar claims of trying to achieve the goal of repatriating powers. Article 48 is here – it only allows the EU treaty to be amended by unanimous consent.

This then becomes a paper which assumes the UK and the EU will agree with whatever Salmond demands. Unanimous consent which requires agreement of the UK – that Scotland has voted to leave – and countries like Spain, Belgium and Italy who have their own separatist problems and would be determined not to encourage further such sentiments. One suspects therefore Salmond’s chances are going to be close to zero.

It illustrates yet again the problems of an ill-prepared independence case. It’s difficult to see as a consequence any other option than Scotland voting to remain members next year particularly factoring in the status quo effect. But the lessons, which are so relevant to an EU referendum, are still not being learnt south of the border.

Thus sadly those who campaign to leave the EU are currently doomed to failure.

Update: Captain Ranty is not too impressed either, expressed in his own inimitable way.

Falken’s Maze

Witterings from Witney highlights a blog from Openingly Lying Europe which promises:

“…a date with the future: what can the UK achieve in talks over its EU membership terms?”

It proclaims…

Open Europe is offering you a front row seat at a simulation of what will arguably be the biggest negotiation round of them all: Will the UK will stay in the EU or negotiate a new relationship from the outside?

Interestingly ‘Openingly Lying Europe’ was not shortlisted for the IEA Brexit (if it submitted one at all) – but then that would mean submitting a paper which demonstrated the mechanism and means by which we can leave. Its absence confirms once again that it has no wish to do so.

Yet they are “very excited by this date with the future”:

Such simulations are commonly referred to as ‘war-games’, and our event will take place in our specially customised ‘war room’ in Westminster on 11 December, featuring leading European politicians and experts – many of whom are themselves involved in EU talks.

Such ‘war games’ consist of what deal will David Cameron be able to strike in Europe?

“Will EU partners grant Cameron any meaningful concessions?”
“Will there be an EU treaty change?”
“What areas can Cameron devolve back to member states?”
“What can he do on issues like free movement of workers or the UK’s budget contribution?”

None of this can be achieved. Once again Openingly Lying Europe supporting our membership while masquerading as a eurosceptic think tank.

So given that it refers to ‘war games’ and ‘simulation’ one is tempted to reference a classic 1980’s film of the same name particularly the famous scene on the futility of nuclear war as demonstrated by the flawed game ‘noughts and crosses’:

The computer concludes:

“Greetings, Professor Falken. A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess”

The only difference is Joshua, the computer in the film, learnt  – something Openingly Lying Europe is unwilling to do.

Breaking The Law?

There are in my view two fundamental objections to the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment on the UK’s position on prisoners’ right to vote.

The first is by allowing an unelected and unaccountable court to effectively act as a legislator as well; telling Parliament what laws it can and cannot pass – against the expressed wishes of the UK population. It is with dazzlingly irony that the judgement doesn’t actually give prisoners’ the right to vote but instead removes that very right from the rest of us.

The second is that the right to vote is not a human right, unlike for example access to food, clothes and medicine. It instead is a contract between the government and its taxpaying citizens. Democracy resides on the basis of the rule of law. As responsible adults we have duty to abide by those laws, even ones we disagree with and in return we have the privileges of being able to make or influence those laws. It should, if it worked properly, allow us to have say in how our money is spent.

Thus if we breach our side of the bargain and break a law we should expect to be removed from the process during a period of incarceration as a consequence of not keeping our side of the contract.

Conversely if we have no means of making law – we simply have no choice- as in a dictatorship run by fear via tanks on the streets then we have a moral right to ignore the law and break it by virtue of the government having not kept their side of the bargain. An example of this is the Arab Spring.

And this leads me onto our membership of the European Union. One of the most insidious consequences of EU membership is it encourages UK citizens to demand that their government breaks the law when we have no moral right to do so. The EU – and this is crucial – does not rule by fear, it rules by our consent.

The UK, by due process via Parliament has chosen to be a member, has chosen to implement EU law and in many ways gold plates such laws, and has chosen to accept EU diktats. Thus Parliament remains sovereign because it still has the right to leave. It simply chooses not to. The fault line in our democracy is between us the people and Parliament, not between us the people and the EU.

The EU is a club we as a country chose to join and as a country we can choose to leave. The basic principles of joining any club are as follows:

  1. Abide by the rules or laws
  2. Change the laws within the context of membership
  3. Or leave

Public opinion is increasingly saying option a) is not acceptable, option b) which Cameron allegedly advocates is not possible as has been pointed out many times, so that only leaves option c). But option c) remains elusive because the UK population has not yet exercised their peacefully, law-abiding right to demand exit via current electoral processes.

And the establishment cannot cope with option c) so they try to work within option b) with unproductive results. It leads to demands to treat EU membership like an a la carte menu; apparently we abide by the laws we agree with and ignore the ones we don’t. But ironically it becomes a demand that says we wish to remain members – because if we left abiding by EU rules would no longer be a problem.

One can see this a la carte phenomenon by today’s Daily Mail article on immigration which made its front page:

 

This from the same paper that has continually argued for membership of the same club i.e. the EU:

Let the Mail lay all its cards on the table. This paper has no desire for Britain to pull out of Europe [EU]…

Richard North rightly takes apart its report on the detail of immigration – immigration is a fiendishly complex issue, yet what also is disturbing is the Daily Mail (who supports EU membership) implying very heavily that the Government should break the law as the paper cannot bring itself to argue that we should leave the club:

But the threat of big fines from the European Court of Justice was brushed off by almost two thirds of the public.

They said that – even if it meant legal sanctions – the Prime Minister should keep the restrictions in place to ‘serve the national interest’. And 80 per cent of voters say Westminster should retain the final say over who enters the country. 

And even Tory MPs agree:

But, under EU rules, the arrangements must be lifted on January 1. Any failure to do so would be considered a breach of the free movement directive – a founding principle of the EU.

Britain would most likely face heavy fines, but the European Court of Justice – the EU’s enforcement arm – is notoriously slow moving.

Tory MPs believe the 2015 general election may even have passed before a verdict is handed down.

I most definitely don’t want to encourage the government to break the law – it should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us – otherwise therein lies a very slippery slope indeed. Instead what such position highlights is sovereignty or more accurately the lack of.

Such sentiments are also expressed in the view, often in newspaper comments, that other countries ignore EU laws so why don’t we? Such sentiments are not true – we are not the most compliant state and nor is it correct that other EU nations flagrantly ignore EU law. We can see this by the latest report by the EU Commission on application of EU law (click to enlarge):

As becomes apparent the UK has more infringements than France, yet is still 9th on the list. And also regarding infringment procedures the UK comes 9th (again click to enlarge):

The implementation of EU law is actually rather good across all member states and so it should be, we chose to join we can choose to leave. But while we remain members we have a duty to abide by the law – EU law or otherwise – so any demands to ignore EU law while we choose to remain members carries with it no moral weight.

We simply just have to leave…