April 2017

Brexit, Frexit......Why staying in the EU would end democracy

Many of the people I work with, who I follow on Twitter, still consider Brexit to be an insane decision, as do the many politicians who continue to fight the referendum decision. They focus on trying to maintain the status quo of being in the single market with all that implies, instead of rationally looking at the opportunities.

Now we have the situation in France where the two sides of this debate are being put in front of the French people very starkly.

I therefore think it is time to lay out my reasons for voting for the UK to leave the EU and why I believe this to be the rational and right choice, though it will be harder than the status quo of remain.

My decision to vote to leave the EU was not based on ANY of the promises or threats produced by both sides in the debate leading up to the referendum. I have seen too many elections to be able to trust politicians to keep promises and it was extremely clear that the future was not predictable, in the sense of being able to state what the futures of remaining in or leaving the EU would bring.

The only solid information on which to make the decision on which way to vote was (and is) the track record of the EU, EC and the associated institutions. Politicians come and go but the institutions and the structures remain. Indeed the EU and the EC were designed to be bureaucratic institutions that would retain stability through political upsets. That the EU and EC will continue to operate as they now do is entirely predictable – and virtually impossible to change.

There are two things that have gone wrong as the European Common Market has morphed into the EU and the EU has grown. And most depressingly I see absolutely no prospect of the EU being able to remedy these problems. Cameron tried to get some movement on both of these and was consistently rebuffed in the years before the referendum, reinforcing my view that the EU is unable now to make substantive change.

Problem 1 – with 28 nations now in the EU, instead of the original 6 then 9 when UK, Denmark and Ireland joined, it is now unable to make timely and sensible political decisions. The EU failed to take effective decisions and action when the Bosnian war erupted, when the economic migration from Africa started, when Russia became aggressive, when the Middle Eastern wars erupted, when the banking crisis happened and when Greece and the other Mediterranean countries started to get into financial trouble. Combined with this virtual paralysis on the European Council, the EC institutions have become in large part the law-making bodies of the EU, often through regulations and case law. And this whole structure has no effective national democratic control. A country's prime minister is just outvoted on the European Council and the European Parliament is a confirming chamber that largely follows where the EC wishes to take law and regulation. The EU is virtually politically paralysed on the big issues. And national concerns, no matter how pressing, are ignored in favour of keeping the big EU project and the Euro on the road. Stay, and all our national democracy will become increasingly irrelevant.

Problem 2 – having originated as the European Common Market, the interests of industry and finance have become the controlling rationale for how the EU is being developed. Lip-service is paid to communities through regional funding but it is the big companies and their friends in finance who call the shots. And right at the centre of the EU there is the Luxembourg tax haven, with the Luxembourg Prime Minister who set the tax-dodging systems up now as President of the EC. Free movement of labour and finance, set up to stimulate economic growth after WW II, has morphed into 'freedom of movement' which basically gives companies the ability to ignore supporting the countries and communities in which they are based. They know they can pull in trained workers from elsewhere and can move their business easily around the EU to where it is financially in their best interests to operate. Had there not been a huge popular campaign the TTIP trade deal, negotiated in secret, would have even given companies the ability to sue national governments.

All the other problems flow from these two big problems with the EU. Stay in the EU and the UK will not be able to act effectively to resolve any of these other serious problems.

If there had been any prospect of being able to fix these problems from inside the EU then I might have voted to remain. But it was clear there was no chance of this.

It will be very interesting to see how the debate plays out in France. I have not yet had a chance to look closely at Macron's policies but from first reports it appears he is strongly in favour of the EU, globalisation and hence presumably the interests of the big companies and big money, whereas Le Pen is putting the interests of communities, social cohesion and democratic control first.

There will be a big battle this next decade. The balance between companies/financiers and community/social cohesion has gone wrong. With more robots it will go even further wrong. And without democratic control the people of the UK, and other countries, will not be able to fight the rich and powerful and stop them pursuing their self-interest, at the expense of society at large.

The problem with Corbyn

Having just watched Corbyn being interviewed on the Andrew Marr show, I think I am beginning to get to the bottom of my problems with him as leader of the Labour Party.

It's not that I don't have respect for him. I have a lot of respect for the fact that he has over many years managed to remain principled and to put forward those principles. The problem, and where I lose respect for him, is that he doesn't appear to have the grit and statesmanship to progress those principles to real policies in action, against the inevitable forces that will be against them.

His answers to Andrew Marr's questions about nuclear war, NATO, Brexit, health service problems, education - in fact everything - was to state his approach in principle and to say "We need to get everyone round the table and talk about it to find a solution." Despite much pushing and prompting by Marr, he refused to say how he would react if push came to shove and agreement on new ways forward was not forthcoming. I recalled Rimmer in Red Dwarf proposing a really aggressive leaflet campaign to counter some threat that was about to destroy them all. Talk around a table may be good but it has to be focused on the critical issues.

Corbyn appears to have almost no 'red lines' and without red lines what you get is no change. In negotiations he will get pushed further and further towards the status quo, because there is nothing definite that the other parties in the negotiation will have to respond to. And as said above, people don't like change and won't change unless forced to in some way - even if rationally it can be argued that a change will be beneficial to all. About the only red-line Corbyn does seem to have, though he won't of course admit it, is that he cannot envisage any circumstances at all when he would sanction bombing or killing anyone. I am afraid that is not a red line that any leader of a nation in this world can afford to have, which is of course why he won't admit it outright.

On the Brexit issue he is in denial about the fundamental conflict between being in the single market and accepting free movement of EU citizens, and between ability to make our own trade arrangements and acceptance of the rules of the single market. He resorts to a fuzzy discussion about the desire to get tariff-free trade and a statement that his highest priority is protecting jobs, without acknowledging the huge number of jobs being taken by people from other EU countries and the impact this has on youth unemployment, increased use of zero-hours contracts, training for UK citizens and impact on communities.

Similarly in the field I know best, education, he has no red-lines about grammar schools. His response was to say that long-term be believes grammar schools should not exist but that changes to existing grammar schools would need to be decided locally.

So I guess I had better challenge myself. What would I have liked him to say on education that would have convinced me that he has the capability to be Prime Minister and an effective leader of his party? Or indeed the LibDems to say - the Tories are a lost cause on education as long as May is in charge.

- Increasing selection and the number of grammar school places is fundamentally wrong, as all the evidence is that this reduces the overall achievement of young people in an area. The slight gains for a few are far outweighed by the impact on the 75% of pupils that would end up in schools that would be effectively secondary modern schools. The current policies to allow grammar schools to grow and new ones to open would stop instantly if Labour became the next government.

- That other bastion of selection, by money and the common entrance exam of independent schools that is taken by highly tutored pupils, will immediately have their VAT exemption withdrawn. They are businesses selling privilege. However there should also be an investigation into what it is that independent schools enable their pupils to gain that appears to equip them so well to gain high-power positions in life, so that all schools can be encouraged to make this part of their broader curriculum.

- Labour will then need to show areas of the country that still cling to grammar schools why this policy needs to change and how it is possible for all comprehensive schools to provide really effective and good education, academic, vocational and for life, for all pupils. We will do this by properly investigating the approaches used by the schools that do succeed in narrowing the achievement gap between poor children and those more privileged. And promote these approaches widely to all schools. If some schools can do this there can be no reason why all cannot.

- And as to funding for education, Labour will combine ensuring that education receives its fair share of government funding, matched to pupil numbers, with a radical re-think of where that funding goes. It is clear from evidence that the early years in education are most critical in ensuring all achieve their potential, and it is wrong that a secondary or sixth form pupil is funded significantly higher than early years and primary pupils. With the Internet and technology there are many ways that secondary and college education could be done differently and at lower cost, so as to properly fund the adult to pupil ratios necessary for younger pupils. And in the context of this change we will also sort out the inequalities between schools funding in different areas of England. Sorry London, but other areas also have deprivation and being in London gives you many advantages not available to schools elsewhere.

Now that is the kind of radical Labour agenda I could support. But what radical announcement do we get from Corby today? Four new bank holidays, so that everyone can celebrate three saints days that mean nothing to them, and Spring when we already have Easter, May-Day and Whit in quick succession, will become even more full of holidays. And the idea that these might be a benefit to the economy because there would be more spending on these holiday days completely ignores the fact that most families haven't got any spare money to spend, additional to what they already spend in a year. I despair!

Time to stop being a-political

I was brought up to believe that it is desirable in professional life to keep my political opinions to myself. This probably came from my father who was an accountant, who knew that if he was to get and keep business he needed to remain on good terms with those who contracted his services, no matter what their political views were. It was then further reinforced by my time as a teacher, believing that the teacher's job is to help young people understand there is more than one side to an argument and that they should learn to think through arguments from the other party's viewpoint as well as their own.

There is also the issue of resisting propagating opinions from a position of ignorance. To have proper insight into many political issues it is necessary to have some in-depth knowledge, which is why I worry about all those young political advisers who seem to pontificate and influence policy from a position of very poor knowledge and very little experience. Knowledge does come with age, when you have lived through the swings and roundabouts of different approaches, so at 69 I think I can now seriously claim some pretty deep knowledge on the major political issues. And I no longer have to worry too much about upsetting people I don't know as I am no longer trying to sell my services to them.

So here goes. Blogs on political issues start here.

The main trigger is the seriousness of the issues we face as a world and the paucity of good debate on them. It seems as though the world has got so complicated and everyone is having to pedal so fast to earn a living, and to keep up with the developments in life that buffet us all, that many have lost the capacity for deep thought and reasoning. Too many people are looking for easy solutions and instant gratifications. But it is these that keep swinging us from left to right politically and which allow the underlying trends to go un-noticed as they build up the problems. Those pushing those trends do so for their own often selfish reasons while the rest of us fail to notice the elephants in the room which are growing.

I much admire Peter Schwarz. Try this presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiLHfyX3u9w . His book Inevitable Surprises introduced me to the need to see the underlying trends that are building up to cause us problems. It is interesting in the presentation to hear him talk about this as being a deficit of leadership, and that probably the key reason most leaders are in denial about the really important issues is that if they recognise them they will have to start changing what they do in fundamental ways. A favourite Einstein quote is his definition of madness as continuing to do things in the same way while expecting a different outcome. The politicians claim they can give us different outcomes, but they are all behaving in fundamentally the same ways because they are using the same - in many cases broken - approaches. You can see this in how they approach finance, foreign policy, domestic policies such as housing and transport, education and probably most strongly in the UK at the moment - health policy.

I think that's why all politicians look pretty much the same and people can't choose between them. And why people are fed up with the promises because nothing seems to change in way except at the margins.

So expect a series of blogs on these kind of issues. I have no doubt that our UK general election will over the next seven weeks provide me with plenty of stimuli to take to the keyboard.