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Plus ça Change

I type this just after the UK has officially left the European Union.

Given that the Conservative (and Unionist) party has been in government in the UK for the majority of my lifetime (64% of it to be precise; a ratio of not quite two to one) a quote from The Who seems entirely apposite.

“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

Or maybe this-

Stevie Wonder: Heaven Help Us All

Same Planet?

Not for the first time Ruth Davidson has come to my attention. I have previously noted her resemblance to Benito Mussolini.

It struck me a while ago that she is largely responsible for the present mess that the UK Parliament has got itself into over Brexit. At the last general election – one in which the UK’s future relationship with the EU was the most important issue facing the country – her campaign consisted solely of insisting that the Scottish electorate reject any more unneccesary elections in the form of a second Scottish independence referendum. (The irony that that general election was itself totally unnecessary in that Theresa May had a perfectly workable majority and no need to bother the electorate seems to have been lost on Ms Davidson.)

The upshot, however, was that the number of Scottish Conservative MPs increased from its previous derisory level to 13. Given that Mrs May managed to lose Tory MPs in the rest of the UK this was something of a triumph for Ms Davidson. However its consequence was that rather than Theresa May losing power those 13 Tory MPs gave her an outside shot at a Parliamentary majority, with DUP help.

The outcome we all know. The Westminster Parliament has been unable to come to any agreement on what the future relations between the UK and the EU ought to be and all is chaos. Without those 13 Scottish Tory MPs there may well have been a different Government – under a different Prime Minister – and an orderly withdrawal from the EU might have been cobbled together. British politics would not then be in its present parlous state. And we have what is arguably another “unnecessary” election.

Yet, what lay in my post on my arrival back from holiday? (A holiday I might add in which my visits to Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland and Sweden showed a degree of civic engagement with the elections to the European Parliament sadly not in evidence in the UK in previous years to this – and given the lack of posters on lampposts round my area in this year too. A coincidental mayoral election in Rostock might have added to the interest there, though.)

Well there was a Scottish Tory European election leaflet barely mentioning Europe (if at all) but pleading for votes so as to forestall a further Scottish independence referendum. Ms Davidson it seems has only one tune. Her cupboard is bare. If it weren’t for the prospect of another independence referendum what on Earth would she campaign on? She has nothing to say on any other subject.

Since she has seemingly learned nothing and has forgotten nothing perhaps Ms Davidson is a Bourbon rather than a Mussolini.

End of Empire

One of the lessons of history is that all empires come to an end. The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire (“neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire,” as Voltaire once quipped,) the Mongol Empire of the Golden Horde, the muslim Caliphates, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empires (Napoleon’s and the later colonial empire,) the Empire of Brazil, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the later Soviet one, the British Empire – whose last vestige apart from dribs and drabs of territory around the world surfaced in the “Empress of India” proclamation at the funeral of the late Queen Mother – all gone to dust along with so many others.

This Wikipedia list gives only the largest empires.

US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. I wonder if part of the Brexit vote – not all, just part – was a reaction by older voters to that lack of a role as they can by and large remember when a political map of the world was liberally strewn with pink. I would venture that young people don’t have that feeling.

As for myself I long ago came to the conclusion that empire was a thing the UK was better off without, a delusion of grandeur no longer sustainable. After all, the British Isles constitute a relatively small mass of land off the northwest coast of Europe, not too significant in the grand scheme of things. That the British state should “punch above its weight” in international circles struck me as an increasing anachronism. And why should we be punching anybody anyway?

Membership of the European Union made perfect sense; a close collaboration with neighbours of a broadly similar outlook and goals.

But maybe this was actually a Scottish perspective as there seems to be a streak of belief in the southern parts of these islands – perhaps more prevalent the further south you go – in English exceptionalism coupled with a desire to have as little to do with foreigners as possible. As a newspaper headline supposedly once had it:- “Fog In Channel. Continent Cut Off.”

Scots do have the saying, “Wha’s like us?” (To which the answer is “Gey few and they’re a’ deid.”) But that was always more of a joke, a whistling in the wind, than an assertion of superiority.

That loss of empire (and of the sense that superiority can no longer be assumed) may well have been a factor in the Brexit vote. Clearly, for some in the southern portions of Britain at least, being part of a larger association in which you are neither the top nor the most numerous dog and therefore cannot condescendingly lord it over others (as they historically have done abroad and do still within the UK) is not a role in which they feel comfortable. Some of them still seem to think the UK can be (or even still is) a force on the world stage. Former (is there any other kind?) Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said sonorously on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, “This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” in the context of what he called “bullying” by the EU as if that assertion still carried a degree of clout. (I note Marr made no attempt to disabuse him of his belief in innate worth. The fact that Raab had been made Brexit Secretary in the first place – and Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – is an indicator of how impoverished the British political system has become in terms of elected representatives.) Sometimes I could wish that they would get over themselves.

Maybe a period of irrelevance as a North Atlantic offshoot of a more powerful trading block – a truer reflection of the UK’s standing – is just what they need in order to wake up to their reduced capacity to influence world affairs (consider: does anyone in Spain still hanker for the empire they once had?) – but perhaps even that would not jolt their certainties. Indeed, it may even inflame their resentments.

It may be that some of that losing a role sentiment, a sense of imminent decline, is an explanation of why US voters turned to T Ronald Dump two years ago. Decline has not come yet but will eventually – all empires fall in the end – but for now the US is still a preeminent superpower (though facing economic challenge from China in particular.) Quite how a real fall from that state will affect a polity which is used to strutting its stuff on the world stage is now being rehearsed in a compelling but worrying way, as a farce presaging a tragedy.

The Threat to the British Constitution

Britrain doesn’t have a constitution.

Not a written one anyway.

The unwritten one contains the single provision that Parliament is sovereign.

Yet a former holder of high office in the UK government has pronounced that a “suicide vest” has been placed around it.

The language in which he articulated this – of a piece with a previous outburst about “letterboxes” – is clearly intended to speak to a certain kind of inhabitant of the UK – those who have been primed to believe that the British way of life is under attack by people with “un-British” belief systems.

If that way of life is indeed under attack it is not by people from foreign shores (or even by those from Britain who have been brainwashed by terrorists into believing their faith is persecuted here and worldwide) or with alternative belief systems. There is at present no direct threat to the fabric of Britain, either from foreign powers or from agents of inhumane ideologies inimical to independent thinking.

Possible threats to individual citizens from individual terrorist outrages (but that was also true of the IRA without them being demonised in the way we see of “Muslims” now) or actions tacitly approved by foreign governments, yes; systematic undermining, and takeover, of the institutions of the UK, no. Anyone who says there is is guilty of hyperbole and their motives for making such a claim ought to be questioned.

But if anyone did put a suicide vest around the British constitution it was not the present, but the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron – Mr Irresponsible striking again!

He it was who undermined Parliamentary sovereignty by calling a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU without the certainty of winning it.

That vest was detonated – along with his accomplices – by none other than the same man who makes the “suicide vest” claim against the present PM.

The EU referendum result implicitly placed the populace at large – or at least that minority of it whose votes prevailed – as being more sovereign than Parliament. There is nowhere to go after that.

Parliament – despite the present one being elected since the referendum and so technically, under the (admittedly non-existent) constitution, more sovereign than the referendum result as it is subsequent to it – cannot act in any way that ameliorates the consequences of that result. Too much anger would be stoked thereby – and there’s enough about as it is.

In the seventeenth century the English – and Scots and Irish – fought a war (several wars actually) over principals like this. The least we must demand of actors in the present constitutional crisis – becaue that’s what it is – is that they use language that does not stoke any fires.

What is Occurring, Terence?

The title of this post is, of course, taken from the TV series Minder, George Cole‘s signature role.

It is however the only appropriate phrase with which to greet the latest news from the soap opera that British politics has become. Yea, verily; Angela Leadsom – it seems only two seconds after anyone first came to hear of her – has abandoned her attempt to become Prime Minister.

So, not only is the architect of the catastrophe, Mr Irreponsible, quitting, his main nemesis been shown up for the buffoon he is and betrayed, his assassin defeated, and one of the last two standing has weaselled out (which is entirely in keeping with the way she weaselled in.)

Who leaned on her? Is Angela Leadsom really so thin-skinned that she cannot take criticism of a statement she made – on tape – to a journalist? Why has she suddenly decided she is no longer the person most suited to run the country? She seemed confident enough about her abilities a week or so ago.

This is the sound of the Tory party closing ranks, partly to presume upon Labour’s disarray, partly because it is just what Tories do. They can be ruthless in cleaving to what they see as their advantage. Its members may feel cheated of their chance to give their input but I suspect the Tory grandees have never been too keen on democracy – even democracy within the party – and may always have been looking for a way to engineer the result they wanted.

But…. To look at it another way it is actually a coup d’état. The Government has been removed and will be replaced with another, another that is liable to propel the UK even further rightwards, make it even more divided, even less fair, even more prepared to kowtow to the barons of the Press and their agenda, even less likely to address the concerns of those whose votes were suborned in order to enable it, even more likely to eviscerate – and even dismantle – the NHS and the BBC.

She may possibly have been the lesser of two evils but if the answer is Theresa May what the hell was the question?

And note, the wider electorate has been totally excluded from all this. I very much doubt there will be a General Election to sanction the change of government and due to the Fixed Parliament Act our new Prime Minister will have four years to do more or less as she wills. Her government’s majority of 12 in the House of Commons will not see serious inroads, unless there are by-elections. Tories, without the bee of the EU in their bonnets, won’t want to upset the apple cart.

On a happier note, congratulations to Andy Murray on winning Wimbledon for a second time. A thoroughly professional, accomplished performance.

Exit. (England 1-2 Iceland)

Euro 2016, Round of 16, Stade de Nice, 27/6/16.

It’s hard not to think that there’s some sort of karma about this result. After England voting to leave the EU (loosely referred to as Europe) its football team has just departed Europe unwillingly.

The commentator on ITV called it a humiliation and also used the word embarrassment. The unspoken assumption (though it was all but articulated) was that England should always be beating Iceland.

Well; to anyone who had watched Iceland’s group games this was no surprise. Iceland are supremely well organised, the players know what they’re supposed to be doing and play for the team and each other. They drew with Portugal and group winners Hungary and then beat Austria, well fancied before the tournament began. If that wasn’t sufficient warning as to what to expect what would be? Using words such as embarrassment and humiliation is extremely disrespectful to a group of players who work their socks off and have no little ability. I expect France will also find it hard to break them down in the next round.

Iceland know their limitations and strengths, and play to them; as a team. The same was true of Italy earlier in what was a magnificent team performance against Spain.

In this respect it is also hard to resist the temptation to remark that English football commentators have an inflated idea of the worth of their country’s footballers based on club performances. Just reflect, not one of those players is good enough to play for an overseas team. They appear effective at club level only because they are surrounded by foreign players who make them look good. And the clubs of the league they play in have not made too much of a splash in the so-called Champions League of late. (OK, Liverpool made the final of the Europa League this season but that was mostly due to foreigners, manager included.)

England’s most penetrative player tonight was an 18 year old who was only brought on to the pitch when it was far too late and has in any case not yet had the enthusiasm and any latent talent knocked out of him by unwarranted expectation.

Three Days On

When I got downstairs on Friday morning still trying to digest the result of the UK’s referendum on EU membership and the intention to resign of Mr Irresponsible aka Call me Dave aka David Cameron – who may now forever be known as the man who wrecked Britain – the sun was shining (briefly,) the birds were chirping, the bees were humming, so in one sense the vote didn’t matter. The sun will shine (at times) the birds will chirp and the bees hum (well we can hope) under any political circumstances.

But of course it does matter. The UK has been thrown into political turmoil, a rudderless chunk of driftwood at the mercies of whatever vicissitudes the markets and the attitudes of our spurned EU neighbours may put in our way and with both its major political parties internally at odds now that the Parliamentary Labour Party is attempting a putsch.

(I must say it takes a particular political genius, Dave, not only to trash your own personal political future, your place in history and the country’s fortunes with one act of folly but also with the outcome of that same act to throw into sharp relief the divisions between your political opponents such that it is they who make the headlines.)

The only stable political entities within the UK for the foreseeable future are the devolved ones in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and the likelihood of the last one remaining stable is dubious at best.

But it seems that these devolved assemblies have to agree on EU withdrawal and to consent to the required changes in the Acts which set them up (see articles 70 and 71 of this House of Lords document.) Given that a substantial majority of Scots who voted in the referendum expressed a wish to remain in the EU the Scottish Parliament is unlikely to do this. What a mess.

Today the sun isn’t shining, I can hear no birds chirp nor bees hum. Tomorrow doesn’t belong to me.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Under normal circumstances I would be welcoming the intention of David Cameron (known to this blog as Mr Irresponsible) to resign as Prime Minister of the UK as in my opinion he has been the worst incumbent of that office in its entire history (and there has been severe competition for that title.)

However; these are not normal circumstances. The prospect of either of the leading lights of the Vote Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, succceeding him as PM is beyond nightmare. The direction in which the UK would travel under their auspices is not one I would find at all congenial. That Scotland may be given the chance of another vote on independence from the UK as a result of the EU referendum does not alter that conviction. I would not wish what would then be our nearest neighbour to be under their leadership. It is to be hoped the Conservative Party turns away from them and chooses someone else but quite who is actually up to the job is not evident.

I was going to call David Cameron’s decision to cave in to the bullies’ demands for a referendum a catastrophic misjudgement, but I don’t think he made a judgement at all. Everything in his political life so far has gone his way and he thought that situation would continue. But he is a weak man and has reaped his reward. The verdict of history will be harsh.

And what will happen to that southern neighbour when the promised £350 million a week for the NHS doesn’t appear, when immigration stubbornly refuses to fall, when visas are required to travel to the EU, when jobs fail to be created and employment conditions worsen further, when the anger and resentment which Vote Leave has stoked but whose underlying causes they will neither address nor ameliorate, bursts out? Against whom will that anger be directed and in what form? Anyone who looks different? Who sounds different?

What happens to the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland?

How encouraging will this be to right wingers across Europe? What if the Front National wins power in France and starts to discriminate against Muslims – which they surely will, or worse – enraging those with a grudge against “Europe” even more. You can be sure the likes of ISIS/Da’esh will not make a distinction between French Crusaders and British ones.

The immediate future is going to be immensely troubling. This has no simple outcome. The EU cannot afford to be easy-going on the negotiations which have to take place for a UK withdrawal. If they were it would only provide encouragement to any other country which might think of leaving. In any case what incentive would it have to be lenient to a country which has just slapped it in the face. Divorce proceeding are notorious for their acrimony.

As for the main advocate of the UK leaving the EU these past twenty odd years, Nigel Farage. There is now no reason for his party to exist or for him to appear on television ever again – a consummation devoutly to be wished. There is only one phrase fit for him. Il faut cultiver son jardin.

MH 17 and Russia 2018

The shooting down of airliner MH17 over Ukrainian airspace was a tragedy – but more likely arising from the cock-up rather than the conspiracy wing of history. Surely no-one seriously thinks that the powers behind either side in the Ukraine fighting intended their minions to shoot down a passenger aircraft? It was clearly done by a trigger-happy clown not subject to much in the way of discipline or command and control as in a regular army. Unfortunately this sort of thing happens in civil conflicts.

The consensus that it was “Russian” rebels who did it is probably correct. That they ought not to have had the weapons to allow them to do it is also a given. But I suspect that Vladimir Putin is raging that it has put him – as the overwhelmingly likely ultimate source of the arms involved – in the wrong. One more reason for the US and EU to portray him as a villain and to increase sanctions.

Yet, unless it blows up into something bigger – in the hundredth anniversary year of the devastating fall-out of an assassination in the Balkans that prospect cannot be overlooked – in four year’s time will most people, apart from the families of the deceased for whom it will linger forever, remember it? Very few gave a toss about the contretemps Russia had had with Georgia in 2008 during the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Yet we have our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling for the World Cup due to be hosted by Russia in 2018 to be stripped from that country. I wish him luck with that. The site of World Cups is in the purview of FIFA and that organisation doesn’t take kindly to outside interference.

What makes his remarks even more counter-productive in terms of his stated objective is that Clegg has said that England might host the tournament instead. Anyone who had any knowledge of FIFA at all would know that is a non-starter.

Twonk.

Eton Trifles

This week, talking about the EU budget, our Prime Minister, David Cameron, (aka Mr Irresponsible) used the phrase, “times it by.”

In today’s Guardian, on page 43, in the puzzle section (there doesn’t seem to be a webpage with this content) it claims he said on Newsnight that the Stafford hospital scandal was caused by “a serious failure on behalf of the trust board.”

He’s supposed to have been educated – expensively educated – at one of the best schools in the country. It would claim to be the best, I’m sure.

Yet it has unaccountably failed to teach him to speak English.

So much for Eton as a beacon of excellence.

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