Friday, June 22, 2007

Today is Pet Hate Day

Or so it seems to me today. I should have seen it coming after being woken to the decidedly non-dulcet tones of Margaret Beckett spouting unconvincing drivel on the EU treaty negotiations. Usually I wake up feeling nauseous for completely different reasons. There were other irritations on the political front all day, but to avoid swamping the statistics I will count the whole of NuLab as pet hate number one.

Wheeled W**ker
Number two came along on the way to the station as I narrowly avoided a collision with a Day-Glo clad Cyclotosser careering down the pavement faster than the traffic was proceeding along the relatively empty, and perfectly safe to cycle on, high street. I went through every road safety initiative of the day at school but was never taught to look left, look right before leaving every shop doorway in case some pig-ignorant accountant on a mountain bike is claiming exclusive use of the pavement beyond. I've never been hit by a car, or hit anyone in a car; this would have been my third pavement traffic accident with a cyclist.

I was expecting the third; it was a time of day when the train was bound to be full of kids, teenagers and twenty-somethings all suffering from Lock-knee. I should not mock the afflicted whose terrible ailment forces them to sit in contorted uncomfortable positions so they can get their feet onto the seat opposite to compensate for their inability to flex their knee. Medical science seems to have no answer to this condition, which I would assume to be some relative of gout were it not for the fact that it appears either to be highly infectious amongst certain age groups. I guess an epidemiologist may be able to suggest an alternate aetiology; I do wonder about a link to Alcopop consumption, also common among Lock-Knee sufferers.

Hi-Fi, Kingston Style
It was also a racing certainty that amongst them there would be a Nokia DJ, my fourth pet hate of the day, or rather hour. I've listened to a few mobile phone MP3 players on headphones and while not quite up to the standard of a made-for-purpose player, they are not too bad at all. Played through the tinny little speaker at maximum volume it's so appalling that the urge to give the ignorant little fucker a flying head butt becomes almost unbearable. Even the fact that it stops being able to tell whether it's the usual music for the hard of thinking or not doesn't dim the primitive drive.

Changing trains at Raynes Park, almost worthy of being a pet hate in of itself, I ran straight into a row of Train Door Mannequins, who, liberated from rational thought think the quickest way for them to get on to the train is to stand dopily in front of the open door making impossible for anyone wanting to get off to get through. At least it's not as bad as at Waterloo where it can be a bit like getting through the All Black's defensive line.

That was five; the sixth took a little longer to arrive, about an hour in fact as the first connecting train was cancelled and the following one was running fifteen minutes late, which meant I had about an hour sat on the god forsaken platform. When the train finally arrived it soon became clear that South West Trains sensitivity to customer mood was up to its normal levels as they had picked this particular service to have a full ticket inspection. I always buy a ticket and don't object to the principle, however as with most such jobs the roles are filled by a collection of Brain Dead Jobsworths.

There were actually a lot of irritations at the office, but I'm far too sensible to mention them here. Let's just say the count went from six to ten. I won't mention specifics to protect the guilty, and my livelihood. Let me just throw in a few words and phrases like Change Control Officer, Accounts Payable, Marketing Having 'Good' Ideas, and People Who Stick the High Priority Flag on Every Fucking E-Mail.

Not all prejudice is irrational
The return trip followed much of the pattern of the outbound journey however this time it was a group of Pram pushing mothers trundling three abreast that pushed me off a different section of pavement that was to bring up number eleven. I suppose I should be grateful that the young people were still in the pram and had not yet developed into full blown Feral Toddlers running around, screaming and generally pissing everyone off to the active delight of their parents. I haven't run into any of these yet today, but the night is yet young and parents don't have the decency to get their offspring out of the way at a decent hour any more so that the grown-ups can have a bit of fun too.

The round dozen was self inflicted as I popped into Marks and Spencers for some food during a particular bad Supermarket Zombie infestation. I've never quite understood why I seem to be the only person in there who actually makes an effort not to walk blindly into everyone else or park my trolley in away to deny access to as many shelves as possible to everyone else. Perhaps on the former irritation it explains why I've never understood those statistics about how many relationships start in the supermarket aisles. Actually it does make some sort of sense, after all I did have one friend at school whose parents met when his father skateboarded into his mother and breaking her arm; maybe inconsiderate behaviour does have an up side after all.

Estate Agents
Estate Agencies
A waste of good bar space
Unlucky thirteen is a fine shop front that I have to walk past every day that has now become an Estate Agents. I hate them, not the people, the offices. The high street is crammed with them. Even those not online tend to grab one or more of the free property pages these days to browse through at their leisure rather than gazing into the windows of an oversized office. What is the point of them hogging so much of the high street after all? It's not exactly an impulse buy.
"Honey did you get the milk?"

"Yes, oh and I popped into that nice new estate agents next door and picked up a new house while I was at it."

"That's nice dear"

I suppose it could have been worse, it could have become a Coffee Shop. I don't like those either. Some of it is a rational dislike of the way they take up every other space on the high street, and the fact, while I love the smell of coffee, I've never understood why people toss themselves off over drinking ever more elaborate concoctions of the foul tasting brew. There is a bit of an irrational side to this dislike too I must admit, partly related to the long ago trauma of seeing a favoured pub close one day and reopen the following week as one of these god forsaken outlets and the rest connected to a former colleague who was not only an Accountant but could also so say 'Starbucks' in such a Boston screech it drove me up the wall.

I reckon so far I've encountered nearly half of my pet bugbears already today, and I've still got a few hours in the Village to go tonight. The way it's going I'm have expecting to bump in to someone like Zorba, one of the last people I know that will stick to bitter all night, knocking back the Bacardi Breezers at the Mother Ship, that HQ will be hosting a Lib Dem MEP convention, and Patricia Hewitt and Caroline Flint will be promoting the upcoming smoking ban at Base Camp. I blame Blair, or rather the Blair Witch; I'm sure this run of bad luck started soon after I ended up sitting next to her in a pub I used to like until a few weeks ago.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Live from the Village

Senator Reefer
Pa Doob on the campaign
trail back in Canberra
Sorry to be parochial, but for those who know the code to the various pseudonyms on this blog there has been double good news from Base Camp this week, so a brief update on news from
the Village.

Firstly, Doktor Doob has resolved his little local difficulty with the immigration authorities and so will not be deserting us for the sunnier climes of Queensland just yet. His troubles stemmed from straying on the wrong side of the wrong side of the law once too often in crimes of what could kindly be called 'youthful exuberance' whilst sticking strictly to the law on such matters as paying taxes, leading to a threat of a one-way ticket home. The Doktor was clearly foolish. Any idiot knows that if you are going to come to work in the UK and ignore the latter class of responsibility you get virtual carte blanche on the latter. After all, why should the immigration authorities waste time tracking down wholly illegal workers when there are easier, and as they are often as not, white commonwealth citizens, less politically sensitive targets to aim at.

Doktor Doob isn't the first such case that has crossed my path, far from it. The previous one was on a flight out of Heathrow, where I ended up sat next to a South African web designer who received his passport back from the Home Office, via the stewardess, once we were back in international airspace. Ok, he had overstayed his visa by five years or so, but it was clearly an oversight - he'd found the time to get married here, set up a home and been promoted to an important position within a successful company. It would take him a few weeks to sort out the paperwork but I'm sure he's back with his family in Kent now.

Let me say I have not the slightest problem with immigration, asylum, or even economic migration. What does concern me is that yes, people should play the rules, but also the authorities should be even handed in the tolerance they show to those who fall foul of them. We hear many stories we hear of the Home Office's difficulties in deporting those who never had a legitimate claim to stay, as various lobby groups weigh in their behalf. I do wonder if some of the bald figures for improvements in the number of deportations that are quoted enthusiastically quoted by Ministers are underpinned by going for the low-hanging fruit, whose basically productive, lawful lifestyle makes them easy to track down.

Only last week a story appeared on a couple of major American news sites about an 80 year old Detroit-born 'American' woman who returned to Scotland with her Scottish mother at the age of two, and later married and settled down without completing some of the paperwork. 78 years later, some po-faced bureaucrat out of the goodness of his heart has kindly decided to charge her the best part of £1000 for a temporary visa, rather than see her returned to a country where never had any roots and which for her wasn't even a distant memory, while her claim to remain in the UK was considered. It didn't cause a ripple here, after all as an 'American' (boo hiss) she could hardly expect the various immigrants' rights lobbies to wade in on her behalf.

I'm not really accusing the Home Office, or anyone else, of some kind of reverse discrimination. I do wonder though if they are falling into the 'speed camera trap' where the fact that something pops up effortlessly out of a computer and is easily prosecutable places it unnaturally high up the priority list, regardless of the real importance of action on the case in hand. Not all bad driving is related to speeding, and wartime brides and antipodeans overstretching the bounds of their young persons visas are a pretty minor issue in the immigration issue.

Oh, and the second bit of good news. Base Camp has extended Thursday night opening until midnight. The Village has generally seen good and responsible use made of the new licensing arrangements. Ok, there was a major ruck** here a week ago, but it was all over well before eleven and it was a real exception in what is a well run pub especially considering the very mixed clientele, usually self policing is the order of the day or you're out. The extra hour places brings it on a par with the Mother Ship*, which means there is another day of the week where I can avoid its ever diminishing charms and the very variable ones of its manager in favour of somewhere with a bit more life and less of a Toxic Dwarf infestation.

Ten minutes down there to use their free Wi-Fi there to attach a couple of images to, and post this while necking off a half of Guinness is the best they will get out of me tonight. For now it's off to HQ which suffers from none of the defects of the Mother Ship or Base Camp, but unfortunately serves nothing I like to drink to a lot of people I like to drink with.

Update, just after posting:

*I should be fair to the Mother Ship, there is always World of Pikeys, Junior Pikeyland, the Holiday Inn Lobby Bar and the Tappas-free Tappas Emporium, but I have the sense not go to these places, so it does still sit at the bottom of my personal pub ratings at the moment.

**Doktor Doob, the tales of your heroism during this battle are developing a bit of a fisherman's tale smell to them.

Taking Liberties

Predictably enough I'm pretty keen to see Taking Liberties as soon as I get a free evening, which takes a look at some of NuLab's more nefarious legislation over the last few years. There's a fairly hard hitting trailer below:

I hear the film does overdo a few aspects of NuLab behaviour, but so what? Maybe that will be a lesson to them the next time they are fawning over Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, or the more hard core POLs among them get over excited over Michael Moore's latest over hyped bullshit just because they've managed to find the one person outside the UK who think the NHS is a good way to run a health system.

Be Careful What You Wish For - Postscript

No voting por favor, we're EUropean
I forgot to mention in my previous post on the subject that there are even those within the nest of vipers, the Commission, that are some voices of reason. Even Margot Wallström, on her blog at certain times suggested an EU wide referendum on whatever settlement is reached. She seems vague on the details other than that it should take place on the same day across the EU, and I suspect she envisages a simple 50% plus one across the continent as representing approval, regardless of the probable strong negative numbers in some member states. Despite that it did seem that at least she had an appreciation that the absence of the informed consent of the people could only damage the EU in the long term.

Unfortunately, of late, her blog is mute on the issue. Commentary on the subject is now conspicuous by its absence, in the same way as after initial critical comments on the policy, it is now too on the CAP. In the case of CAP it was a guest blogging by the Agriculture Commissioner that reasserted the official bullshit line, and brought debate to an end. On the fate of democratic input to constitutional reform the message is being delivered by more conventional media by her boss, former Maoist turned President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso.

Today he is increasingly angrily demanding ratification by Parliament alone, on the BBC he takes a breather to try mixing a little soft soap with his contempt at the people:
"Sometimes I hear people saying that for Parliament to approve it would be by the back door.

"Britain is the country that exported Parliamentary democracy to the world. Do the British people consider Parliament the backdoor?

"Do the British people who killed their king to protect the rights of Parliament consider it the back door?

"Is that the respect some people show their Parliament , maybe the greatest Parliament in the world? I don't consider Parliament the back door."

Source: BBC News

It's the same old argument for representative democracy. It is true that this is the tradition in this country, but for it to function we need to know what our representatives represent. One of the main ways we try to ascertain this is the manifesto that they put forward when they seek election. Often the commitments made are fairly general and merely offer a framework within which a party pledges to represent our interests if it should come into government. There are some though that are highly specific and, regardless of what political theorists may think, I believe on these matters we do expect our MPs to act as our delegates rather than representatives. The EU referendum is one such commitment. If they had wanted the latter role they could have made a less specific pledge and taken the electoral risk. To renege on the commitment on the flimsiest of technical pretexts brings the whole process into disrepute.

Barroso, with all due lack of respect, you can take your type of democracy and vai chupar merda seu filho da puta.

On another issue, a couple of people who I know who read the previous postings in the series alleged I had a bit of a Maastricht obsession. This treaty featured heavily I suppose mainly because ultimately it was the turning point in my attitude to the EU. In their own ways Amsterdam and Nice were just as significant in the development of the EU, however on the face of it, with the UK opt-outs secured I also felt that there was nothing especially objectionable in them. Under my thesis I would have preferred referenda in these cases too, but had one been won on Maastricht I feel these later developments would have passed relatively. Goodwill towards the EU would be immeasurably higher, and, pruned of the material that the UK opted out of, they would have been much closer to the simple 'tidying up exercise' that we are being mislead to believe is being discussed today.

The campaign banner, courtesy of a Roger Helmer flyer goes up shortly.

THE END (For now)

Bugsy Blair

On the lookout for amusing 'anti-tributes' to celebrate Blair's departure, I knew someone would be able to better the Blair/Bush love song, and Tim Ireland has done.

The first couple of minutes are the best after which it goes a bit weird, but it's worth it for those couple of minutes alone.

I'm even prepared to forgive the 'puppet' motif which is the thinking man's 'poodle'. I must say though, not quite sure why Jack Straw takes a place in the chorus line over more worthy candidates like Chas Clarke, who only makes a cameo appearance. Straw may be associated with some of the more sordid acts of NuLab but I do often feel that in Straw I am seeing a man who at least has the grace to have a troubled conscience about it, and in the past he has had a good track record on the sensible wing of the rights and liberties lobby.

Perhaps Clarke's chins were too much of a challenge to animate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For – Part II

Constitutional Treaty
ConstitutionalAmending Treaty
Name change, a chance missed?
Conveniently enough towards the end of drafting the first part of this miniseries the Prime Minister appeared before the commons liaison committee and outlined his so called 'red lines' in negotiating any replacement for the EU Constitutional Treaty. These days when it comes to Blair negotiating EU arrangements I don't have the slightest faith that these will be stuck to, but of course the purpose of this posting and the previous instalment was to try and remember the days when I was a moderately pro-EU individual to understand why I would, even with that mindset, have been very uncomfortable with the way things are going in terms with our relationship with Brussels. That being the case I guess I can suspend my disbelief a little further and widen the scope of my hypothetical naivety to encompass believing Blair will be able to secure each and every one of them.

The result of a successful agreement from the PM's perspective would still, when I look at my list of issues with the original Constitutional Treaty, been a deeply unsatisfactory document, that I would still, given the chance, vote against. At least he's had the sense to realise, as I'd hope anyone with the interests of the EU at heart would, that ending the criminal justice veto would be a recipe for disaster. Blair at least has heeded the warning from very recent history that the proposed Swastika ban contained, that we have the national state's national traditions in these matters remain far too varied to risk the folly of centralised diktat would represent, with the inevitable increased contempt towards the EU in many states.

As for the remainder of the issues, well, I guess I'd never have really imagined that they would have been addressed, so I'd have been disappointed with the outcome were such arrangements adopted, but probably still not yet in the anti-EU camp, still hoping for a more enlightened approach the next time around. I'd also very rightly fear the additional negative reaction from what would, and will, inevitably be a strengthened anti-EU movement.

Even the historical pro-EU me would have some sympathy with the antis. I may, in times past, have been prepared to stand up and defend much of the intent of what was being proposed even if I struggled to justify the detail and the mechanisms of the legal arrangements. I know for certain though, that I would have had complete sympathy, even from a pro-EU perspective with the means by which the political elites are attempting to bring the mechanisms into force. I can be so certain of this because I had the same misgivings over the same points with Maastricht, a treaty which though I was unhappy with some aspects of, I felt generally supportive of in its early days. In both cases, even when I was within the camp, the broader pro-EU movement has appeared at its very worst, and have wittingly or otherwise caused immense damage to the organisation they claim to champion.

There are a hundred and one flaws that could be pointed to dating right back to the farcical convention which drafted the original Constitutional Treaty, or rather the convention which was ignored by Giscard and the British civil servant whose name I forget as they drafted the constitution; even the most passionate UK Europhile must have drawn breath when both the Conservative and the Labour delegates to the convention effectively associated themselves with a minority opinion on the document.

These flaws continued all the way through the supercilious attitudes of the elites that played a part, I am sure at least in the case of the Netherlands, of electorates fed up of being taken for granted rejecting the demands of their elders and betters. Some of the arrogant reaction from the treaty's midwives I'm sure beggared the belief of today's moderate EU supporters, as much as it did me regardless of which mindset I choose to consider. Then there was the Margot Wallström inspired DDD, where Democracy, Dialogue and Debate were quickly replaced by Deceit, Demagoguery and Disdain. The same vested interests had been consulted on the original document were re-questioned with a view to finding a way round the objections of the electorate with no serious suggestion of actually addressing the objections themselves, meanwhile the provisions of the treaty began to be acted on without any legal basis. A few new faces, usually with existing deep attachment to the EU project to represent 'the people' in a facile attempt to understand the objections of those that disagreed with them. The real people had, by and large to settle for a web discussion forum that the Commission, who ran it, could safely ignore, overrun as it quickly became by the ranting of freaks at both extremes of view on the EU as well an anti-Semitic conspiracy and a number of militant Esperantists who were rightly loathed by both sides of the debate and the extremely tiny centre.

From a UK perspective much of this was pretty small beer though. I suspect the fears for the image of the EU when I supported its aims would simply have been a mirror of the increased distain for the organisation I actually did feel. The pro-EU me would probably still have arrived where we were a week or two ago still supporting the organisation. From the standpoint of the UK only one question really matters that of the referendum, or rather the two questions of the referendum. Should one have been offered in the first place, and should, the commitment having been made, should that it be honoured in light of the changed circumstances? Once again I don't think the pro-EU me of the nineties would have disagreed that strongly with the anti-EU me of this decade.

Let's take the latter question first. The sequence events is completely clear:

  • Constitutional Treaty agreed

  • Blair says there shall be Parliamentary approval only

  • The outcry causes Blair to fear revolts both in Parliament, and at the forthcoming general election, and so agrees to a referendum

  • France and the Netherlands reject the treaty, but Blair commits to the referendum in his manifesto to neutralise it as an electoral issue

  • Blair is re-elected on this platform

  • An attempt is made to resurrect the treaty in, so far as is possible, such away to bring into force the provisions of the original simply through different mechanisms

  • Blair decides on criteria of his own choosing that the commitment to the referendum is not binding, and subject to a few negotiating points being agreed to, will not take place

Barroso: Back to Maoist Roots
"I care what you think less than this"
The time for debating the merits or otherwise of referenda vis-à-vis representative democracy, is in answer to the first question posed, but we are past that point and these arguments are utterly irrelevant. The decision to remove approval of the treaty from the scope of normal representative democracy and subject to it to direct approval by the people had already been taken, a mandate had been sought from and given by the people with this decision part of the package. In years gone by I would still have felt that the behaviour of the Prime Minster was utterly unforgivable in this, and moreover the enthusiastic support for the approach from the likes of Barroso would have sickened me to the stomach to see the attitude of the Commission to the will of the people expressed so clearly. I feel less rage now from an anti-EU standpoint, it's up there with the religious orientation of the Pope and defecatory behaviour of bears; actually it's a real godsend. Behind every EUrealist commentary on the matter I can sense a delight at the self-inflicted damage the nation's EU supporters are about to inflict on themselves once again because I feel it so well myself now, and I know I would have felt those cuts myself a decade ago.

But should have Blair have ever given into the demands for a plebiscite in the first case? This is where the pro-EU me would have come into conflict with the mainstream of EU supporting opinion, however I wouldn't have been completely alone.

I do understand some people's issues with referenda in general. It is true that there is a tradition of representative democracy in this country, that sometimes referenda become a popularity poll on the government of the day or a vehicle to express an opinion on something other than that which is on the ballot paper through lack of education. When my instincts were more favourable to the EU I still though wanted a referendum to be held on both the Maastricht treaty, and I know I would have also wanted one to be held over the Constitutional Treaty or whatever successor document emerges over the next few months.

As to the general arguments against referenda in principle, it has been fairly clear that there is a substantial body of opinion in this country strongly at odds with the range of options on the EU offered by parties with a cat in hell's chance of getting seats at Westminster so we are already in a situation where representative democracy is creating tensions and fault lines. If held on schedule the argument about the referendum becoming an opportunity to kick the government would have been null and void, as it would have been sufficiently proximate to a general election that would have acted as a lightning rod for those instincts. As for informing the people, what could have been a better opportunity to debate with the people on the merits, as I then saw them, of the EU.

More than that though I felt that over Maastricht, and would hypothetically felt over the Constitutional Treaty or successor document, that a referendum was one of the few ways to turn round the seemingly unstoppable tide of hostility to the EU project. It would be a risky strategy of course, but there would be such potential to kill at a stroke the feeling that the EU is something 'done to' this country, rather than something we were a willing part of.

I've always wondered about the differences in attitude between the UK and Eire to the EU. Even now I'm not cynical enough to believe that the healthy case flows into the Republic are the sole, or even the major factors in the differences in outlook. There seems little prospect of the Irish turning EUrealist the moment the tide of public cash ebbs the other way according to most poll evidence, and even now I actually don't find the amount of money we pay into Brussels all that big a factor in my hostility today.

I suspect a bigger factor is the instinct of a relatively small country to immerse itself within a larger organisation where it can, and does, punch above its weight on the international stage play a bigger part, especially if this arrangement dilutes the influence of a larger neighbour, with which it has had a fractious relationship.

I think there is another easily overlooked factor though. Due to provisions of the Irish Constitution the consent of the people has been sought at every stage, and the people always had the confidence that it would be. Sure they knocked Nice back, but after some pretty minor revisions that caused nobody any real plan they endorsed the treaty at the second attempt with little difficulty. If anything this probably in the longer term will prove to have strengthened support for the organisation.

Ballot Box
An opportunity for the EU's diehard fans
Could it have been the same in the UK? I actually think it could. What would have happened in years past? I genuinely believe that if, going into the Maastricht negotiations, we had known up front there were going to be substantial implications in terms of Sovereignty, but that the benefits were going to be explained, and we would have a chance to have our say, the hostility would never have reached the same heights. When the final deal was presented to the people I think we would have, erm, rejected it. I think though, with a few clarifications and a little broadening and more concrete wording of some of the opt-outs and so forth, just like Eire after Nice, we would have felt a degree of ownership of the project and I think a second vote could well have been a 'Yes'. It would have become 'our' project too, not just one of the political elite. The Constitutional Treaty would in all probability have been a comparatively easy sell tackled in the same way.

Yes there would have been, and now would be political risk over this approach. Regardless of which side of the fence I try to look at it from though it’s a damn site better than the casual acceptance of the fact that our enthusiasm for, and trust in, the EU bumbles along the bottom of EU league tables. This fact doesn't seem to register with some of the more extreme proponents of 'the project', they believe it's an acceptable price for having the type of EU they want and that the situation can last for ever; these people are imbeciles who seem to have learned not a single lesson from history. They prefer to spout forth 'inevitability' rather than make their case and ask for the people to back them; if they are not careful their dream will go the same way of many other 'inevitabilities'.

There is, I am glad to say, some awakening to this fact among some EU supporters. I could be cynical and say they are only prepared to advance the argument now that a referendum looks unlikely, but I won't…their arguments are not that dissimilar to the pro-EU me, so I'd be arguing against myself.

A blog I found via Iain Dale, Norfolk Blogger advances a somewhat similar argument from a LibDem perspective, while on Dan Hannan's blog, Chris Sherwood, a well known EU attack dog, has a similar ethos his comments. I've seen Mr Sherwood comment in many forums and there is an unproven allegation that he authors some of the more intelligent pro-EU comments under a pseudonym on Margot Wallström's blog. He writes well, even if I disagree with him strongly these days, and nobody who reads him thoroughly should doubt the sincerity of his considered enthusiasm for the project. It is encouraging that some people like him do have thoughts on these lines.

My cynicism is not strong enough to see this as the possible emergence a positive line of thought amongst EU advocates as a bad thing. It's not universal, with usual suspects like LibDem MEPs still trying to dictate that the people must continue to be scorned, but it's a hopeful sign nonetheless.

To be honest, now for someone who has come to believe that, for some rather complex reasons that the EU is not good for this country, those with my outlook would be somewhat weakened by such a positive step by EU supporters. For all that though from the standpoint of openness, engagement, and the general health of politics in this country I would welcome the debate, even if there is a chance that I would be on the loosing side. EU supporters should realise that this chance diminishes with every new treaty; every power taken without consultation and every year nobody cares whether or not the people as a whole want this transformation.

The Wall
The Berlin Wall
A monument to the impermenence of "inevitability"
It really should be they, not I who are demanding a referendum. Let them make their positive case for Europe, let the people choose. Until they do so the so-called supporters of the project will continue to be the greatest asset of the cause against the EU. At the moment too many seem blind to the damage they make to their own cause by their attitude to public opinion. The current situation cannot continue for ever; if they try I suspect the outcome can only be cataclysmic one day, from their perspective. Look to the fall of the Berlin Wall all EU acolytes, and not as some success that you have a very dubious claim to have a part in. I'm not making one of those facile comparisons between the EU and the former communist systems of Eastern Europe, because I don't believe in that crap. Look to it though in 1989, as an example of how a system can seem 'inevitable' one day despite public disapprobation and can be gone the next.

If it happens to the UK's relationship with the EU, don't blame UKIP, the print media, even The Sun 'wot won it'; it will be you 'wot lost it'.

Update 21/6: It appears I misunderstood the meaning of a reference to NorfolkBlogger's position on the EU, which I read elsewhere. Apologies to all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Just Another Love Song

Grand master of self deception, but no poodle
I'm no fan of Blair. Or to be more precise I'm not a fan of much Blair has done. Ulster aside, for me, he has been a disaster from start to finish in terms of his domestic policies. Despite this I can't help liking something about the bloke, even if I was too sensible to vote for any of his Muppets in any poll. When you look at the stature he has on the world stage, even after involving us in the Iraq debacle, he certainly has a certain class, even if he wouldn't know a decent policy if it hit him between the eyes.

At the end of the day though, it is his team of assorted misfits who have spent ten years messing up just about everything they can get their hands on, and he carries the can for this. I don't get the feeling he was fully signed up to some of the more interfering, nitpicking legislation that his government introduced, but he let it slide in anyway as he jetted round the world focused on bigger pictures.

There are other things he has done that I think, though wrong, do come from deep personal beliefs, and for these I will accept his plea for forgiveness in his resignation speech. I will even go so far as to attack any sloppy thinking POL who uses lazily uses the term 'poodle' to explain Iraq. Anyone who thinks, useless as he is in many ways, that he is the type of person who would commit a country to war simply to please a US president is the whole sandwich box short of a picnic, and should be treated with complete scorn. Fine, disagree with Iraq, there are many good reasons to do so, but a million repetitions of the words 'poodle' and/or 'illegal' will not make them relevant to an intelligent debate on the matter. Has he lied at times? probably, but I'm not sure he isn't better of convincing himself than the public at large when he does, and he really is a Saint when compared to the honesty of some of his Ministers.

I couldn't help liking this though, it's a bit better than most of the 'lipsync' offerings...


What a Difference a Fortnight Makes

Liam Byrne MP
Liam Byrne - Stripped of his Medal
It was just over two weeks ago that I, in a spirit of fairness awarded my first ever medal for common sense to a member of the current government. The recipient was Home Office Minister Liam Byrne for his relatively prompt action over the case of Tul Bahadur Pun VC. My little on line medals are not though a real medal like Tul Bahadur Pun's Victoria Cross, one that, by the decree of a King, can never be withdrawn even if a recipient was convicted of a high crime and found himself on the gallows. I had of course forgotten that Mr Byrne has responsibility for the introduction of ID cards; had I remembered I wouldn't have wasted the time adding the initial award.

Mr Byrne has, according to the BBC, gone on what he doubtlessly sees as being a 'charm offensive' over this offensive innovation in government interference in our lives, along with it's real raison d'être, the National Identity Register (NIR).

According to Byrne:
The identity card scheme will become a "great British institution" on a par with the railways in the 19th Century.

The National Identity Scheme "will soon become part of the fabric of British life"

Source: BBC News

What planet is this man from? I can only assume he's been on a tour of the evidence storage facility at some police station and decided to sample the contents of the narcotics locker. Please, please let Euripides be right:
"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad."

Euripides (484BC - 406BC)

If so Byrne can expect a lightning bolt to be on its way very soon. What does he have in mind? That compulsoryhappy family trip down to the registration centre where mum, dad and granny can all enjoy the thrill of being fingerprinted like common criminals, while the kids sob that they can only be on their school's database for now? The belly laughs at the bank when the you can't get any money out because something has gone wrong with their fingerprint scanner? The glee at opening that special envelope to find out you've been fined because you forgot to add 'better tell the ID card people' to the thousand and one things you need to do when you move house? Don't be ridiculous.

Look at every 'Have your say' type message board on the issue, Mr Byrne. The tide has turned. People are becoming aware of the disaster the scheme will become, even if you're bogus cost estimates had been closer to the mark. Other than the a tiny, dwindling band of 'nothing to hiders' most of the remaining supporters seem to be people with an immigration obsession. I suspect many of your limited number of fans are not people you would like to associate with. It's probably not fair in this case I suspect, but by your friends I'm afraid, you will be known. Unlike you, most of them are too daft to realise that in the absence of exit controls there will be damn little impact on illegal immigration.

I suppose at least he concedes that Parliamentary scrutiny will be required of some of the plans to "multiply the uses" of ID cards. It doesn't really sound like the simple hassle-free scheme that they tried to sell though, and he doesn't mention the vast number of uses already anticipated in the act that presumably he considers to have been adequately scrutinised.

NO2ID - Stop ID cards and the database state
No2ID Fighting On
I'm not going to rehearse all the arguments against ID cards as No2ID does it so well. If you are daft enough to believe any of the reasons the Government has churned out as its immediate predecessor was debunked, go and take a look. Let's be honest, some of the comparisons with the Third Reich's ID systems is a bit over the top, but there can be all sorts of hidden dangers in this type of system, even if it's primary purpose is, as I suspect, convenience for bureaucrats at the expense of the people.

Take for example the fact that the police will have the power to trawl the database in the case of serious crime, eventually containing the majority of adults in the UK, for a match against crime scene prints. Sounds reasonable? Think about DNA evidence. There was a time when this was only used in serious cases, and limited samples taken, those of the innocent being destroyed afterwards. Then the power to take DNA samples from anyone arrested became used to the full, and in time the goverment made almost every offence arrestable while the innocent lost their rights to have their samples and DNA profiles deleted. We now have a DNA database half as big again as the rest of the world combined and it is searched in cases involving ever more petty crimes.

DNA evidence use exploding
Some will be happy with our fingerprints being trawled too as they have 'nothing to hide'. I tried to find out how long a fingerprint you have leave, say down at the local shopping centre would remain usable. The concensus was that if it happened to be in a spot that wasn't cleaned too often, the answer was in effect 'indefinatly' with little chance of determining when the print had been left as is sometimes possible with DNA evidence. What happens when there happens to be an serious assault near this fingerprint, you were alone at home at the time of the assault, and maybe had some vague casual connection with the victim? Work? School? The pubs you drink in? That's right, you go well up the suspect list all because you touched something on a shopping trip a few months before. I've got a lot of time for the police, but that doesn't mean that there have not been a couple where we've mutually got up each other's noses.

The burden of proof will mean that you probably won't get wrongly convicted, but you'll won't have a great time while you try to prove your innocense. Perhaps all those people who have 'nothing to hide' are so public spirited that they will either wipe down every surface they touch to avoid the inconvenience or log the contact in a little notebook and ask a passer-by to witness the fact.

Even if you could accept the inconvenience, would it improve society? Do people drive better because of speed cameras? The evidence suggests not and it even seems that the switch to an apparantly miraculous technology may have contributed to a decline in driving standards as resources are withdrawn from traditional patrolling in favour of easier to process McCrimes. I've only been interviewed, as a witness, once by the police in my life. I have an awful feeling that for everyone on the NIR it will become a much more regular experience within a few years, as simplistic trawling for suspects takes the place of more difficult police work.

No2ID stick very much to hard headed facts on the issues, but I'm going to admit that part of it is, for me, the image of ID cards too. They will never become a great British institution, for me they are a symbol of everything wrong with one other British institution, HM Government.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For – Part I

Constitutional Treaty
ConstitutionalAmending Treaty
Name change, job done?
There's been predictable howl's of outrage in the Conservative blogosphere over Downing Street's announcement that there will indeed be no referendum over any EU treaty changes. There seemed until today to be no hard definition of what diminution of the scope of such changes is required to allow the Government to feel free to abandon their manifesto commitment to such a referendum. Now we know that the handful of 'red lines' that Blair (but possibly not Brown) will insist on, but we know from his Blair's track record on 'red lines' that these commitments are meaningless. We have to assume the simple deletion of the word 'Constitution' will, in the end, suffice for our discredited Prime Minister and that for all the more encouraging sounds from the Brown camp it hardly seems likely that he would want to activly jump back in to the same mire as his predecessor ended up to his neck in.

It wouldn't be very interesting simply to parrot the standard, and in my opinion very convincing arguments of other Eurorealists, so I thought I'd take a slightly different tack. I actually used to be relatively pro-EU, even beyond the immediate aftermath of the Maastricht treaty. It has only been the ensuing years that have changed my view as the Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice of this insidious organisation have bullied and blackmailed as they twist, misuse and over interpret their powers to allow ever more functions to be exercised with ever less competence and common sense. I can still remember my pro-EU instincts but something tells me that, even if I had slept through the last 15 or so years, I would be one of those increasingly common Europhiles who would have the very gravest of misgivings right now, both over the nature of the constitutional arrangements proposed and the way in which the whole process of trying to implement them has been conducted. I thought I'd cast my mind back in time, forget about the intervening years, even as a mind experiment to pretend to have positively federalist instincts, and examine why this is.

There are very many reasons behind the hostility of this 'hypothetical me' to what we may soon be asked to hostility so I'm going to tackle it in two posts. Here I'll look at the Constitution itself and later the discreditable process that continues today to implement its provisions. It is all, I will admit predicated on the assumption, which history tends to show to be a fairly valid one, that the analysis of what the meaning of the changes by Germany's Chancellor of the day tends to be more accurate and honest than that of the serving British Prime Minister. I don't mean to take a cheap shot in saying that; I understand the reasons why British governments feel the need to present things the way they do, even if I do deplore them. In other words I do tend to believe Ms Merkel when in her assertions that it will be the Constitution in all but name, and as such I will frequently refer to 'the Constitution' as shorthand for whatever convoluted mechanisms are employed to enact its original aims.

So firstly, to rehearse some of the objections a proponent the EU may legitimately have to the Constitution itself, or the relabelled version there of. There seem to be facing has a number of elements that I could never accept regardless of the institution, or institutions, to which it applied. These have all been argued aplenty in recent years but the following would have been my Pro-EU self's main objections.

US Constitution
US Constitution - Just 17 amendments in 215 years
How many each year for a EU equivalent?
Process of Amendment: Most constitutions set a very high bar for amendment of their provisions, usually little short of the process by which the original constitution is adopted, if at all. This gives people confidence in the rule book that their legislatures must work within. The proposed EU arrangements allow for the bar to be very substantially lowered, removing the need, for those nations with a requirement or a tradition of allowing their people a say in changes to the structures within which they are government, to consult their citizens.

It's easy to understand why such provisions would be so highly prized in Brussels but they are still profoundly wrong, the equivalent of Westminster's Regulatory Reform Bill, which it is interesting to note that the most Europhile segment of MPs were bitterly opposed to, despite one of its roles being to aid the transposition of EU law in to our statute books without the tedious process of parliamentary scrutiny. It's no good to say that there was already the 'passarelle' provision. That was more limited in scope and equally objectionable.

Permissive Drafting: I think one of the reasons Americans still respect their constitutions, above and beyond its simple and rather inspiring language is the frequent use of phrases akin to 'Congress shall not…' It inspires hope and belief that there are limits to their government's ability to interfere in their everyday lives, no matter what government they may one day elect and what that government may wish to do. It is a contract between the state and its citizens, the terms of which are to this day is frequently enforced by an arbiter which, though perhaps not being fully impartial, is far less politicised than the ECJ; all US administrations know that any attempt to vary the terms of the contract in it's favour are almost certainly doomed to failure.

EU treaties take an opposite approach, in explicitly suggesting lists of areas in which governments, both national and EU may wish to act and providing few if in any no-go areas for interference by the state. Even those that are implicit in the charter of human rights can be overridden 'In the general interests of the union', not just the times of national emergency that most other constitutions accept as a minimum for the suppression of basic rights. If the ethos of the Constitutional Treaty and all previous treaties is maintained in any new arrangements the suggested areas for EU action will clearly carry with them a sense of being 'just for starters'. EU citizens will continue, unlike their American counterparts, to feel no confidence that they are governed ultimately by their own consent.

Vagueness: This is really just a variation on the theme above in many ways. One of the things that actually had me leave the moderately pro-EU camp was the successive interpretations by Commission and ECJ alike to interpret each and every provision in the most self aggrandising way possible. There was a clear need to much more prescriptive instruction to these organisations, but the original Constitutional constitution opened existing loopholes even wider.

As an example, there was nothing too offensive to me, at the time, about the idea of an adjunct 'European Citizenship' as it was presented at the time of Maastricht. This changed as evidence rolled in that both these bodies saw that this should eventually become our primary identity. This was a concept not foreshadowed in the treaty which was mute on the matter and I don't think that our leaders, on this matter at least, deliberately misled us. Any new arrangements should have either provided more specific directions to EU institutions, or in the alternative contained a directive that all provisions should carry an interpretation that is the most limited in terms of transfer of authority to Brussels. If EU bodies feel they need more powers they should always have to ask specifically for them rather than seeking mechanisms by which the scrutiny that provokes can be sidestepped. In many cases it was not the goals sought by the EU that caused offence but the underhand means by which it sought to achieve them. Even as a Europhile I was able to understand that, but it’s a concept that seems incomprehensible to more avid supporters of the project.

Competencies: To be honest I wasn't entirely happy with any of the proposed extensions of EU competencies, be they new areas of EU action entirely, or the migration of existing ones controlled under unanimity to QMV. Even with a generally positive outlook on the EU I felt most were a step too far that even if I felt I could live with, were doomed to cause nothing but discontent with, and disdain for, the EU.

The two headline areas that always crop up are foreign policy, and criminal justice. At a pinch I felt that subject to getting rid of the hopeless Javier Solana, a man who has made the wrong call on nearly every major decision throughout his life, and no change of UN Security Council representation, I could just about live with the former. Criminal Justice was, and is, a big no-no. It's unnecessary, as the disparate legal systems between England and Scotland for centuries of much closer union proves beyond doubt. The reasons quoted for it have also always been thoroughly dishonest. Who is vetoing vital anti-Terrorism measures other than for good reasons perhaps of civil liberties anyway? Too often the veil slipped and it was clear from day one it was more about smoothing the passage of more controversial measures such as a nebulous concept of xenophobia (the EU version, which excludes the US from nations you are not allowed to hate), a peculiar Italian view of counterfeiting (which targets the perhaps unwitting buyer of fake goods rather than the manufacturer) and foolishness like the swastika ban where individual nation states clearly have different issues to confront and different ways of tacking them.

Did anyone even pause to wonder what would happen when a case came before an English jury with, if statistics are to be believed, at least three people hostile to the EU project, and they heard that the law the defendant was being prosecuted under was not desired by Westminster but was an outcome of EU fiat? It's not impermissible to argue a jury nullification line in the English courts as I understand it. It is not usually a good strategy as most people are driven by a respect of the law, but when you force people to live under a system of law they may not accept the moral legitimacy of this would change.

I don't care now if the EU wants to make an arse of itself. I did then. Even NuLab have pushed this too far themselves, and look what happens – you end up with Nick Griffin celebrating his acquittal outside the courtroom. I always felt this would be the fate of most EU inspired prosecutions.

Ballot Box
A sight to strike fear into any commissioner
Malapportionment in the Parliament: The Constitution did try to tidy the old formula for the size of each countries delegation, which was largely decided through horse trading, but the overrepresentation of smaller countries is still excessive. Ok, I can understand why Luxembourg deserves one whole MEP to itself which its size does not warrant, maybe two for reasons of practicality, as is the case for US congressional representation, but six?

I don't hear Wyoming demanding the type of overrepresentation that Luxembourg would continue to have in the reformed parliament, with each of their voters carrying the weight of roughly twelve German ones. One man one vote and, with all the great respect I have for Poland, square roots of people have no place in democracy either for all their mathematical uses.

Immunities: The Constitutional Treaty retained and extended the scope of immunity from prosecution for all manner of people working for EU institutions. If there's one thing I thing the EU could learn from Westminster's model of governance is the very limited scope of such immunities as Parliamentary Privilege. Equal treatment is an essential component of any good system of law; the fact that our representatives can and do fall foul of the laws they create and end up in court is, in the longer term a strength and not a weakness of the system.

Language: Let's be honest, and I think nearly all sides of the debate agree, the whole thing is a turgid dog's breakfast of a document. Even the attempts at sounding inspirational, confined mainly to the preamble, sounded hackneyed and unconvincing. This was even before the opening references to 'We the people of Europe…' became ludicrous as the evidence rolled in that this was anything but a project of the people of Europe.

I've actually read the whole damn original Constitutional treaty, and there were many other things I disliked, but on the other hand I could either live with, or in the alternative see not surviving the passage of time as national interests, common sense and practicality all intervened. These other issues, I counted roughly forty of the splodges of pink highlighter pen I used mark them with on my hard copy, would not have stopped me voting for such a Constitution in my Eurofanatic youth. I cannot though, imagine, no matter how I try, how much more pro-EU I would have to be to accept any settlement with the issues above, other than perhaps the last, still standing.

So that's why I don't like what was on the table, and what may be being reheated right now, but since I'm doing thought experiments, in the next instalment I will pretend these objections don't exist and that the whole document was entirely to my liking. Part II will look the folly of anyone who claims to have interests of Europe, or even the EU, at heart in accepting the way things have progressed since the French and Dutch rejections of the original Constitutional Treaty even leaving aside any question of it's democratic legitimacy.