Monday, 12 December 2011

Very well; alone!

Well, well, well, well, well! Who knew old Call-Me-Dave had it in him? Before Cameron headed off to Euroland last week he was being castigated by his backbenchers and the right-wing press as the love-child of Ted Heath and Neville Chamberlain. Now he's been adorned with Winnie's cigar and Maggie's handbag, along with other congratulatory baubles of Little England. (Full credit to Ana the Imp for her 'David and Goliath' allusion. The best comparison I can come up with is with a fictional British Prime Minister - also called David - who also stands up for his country, as portrayed in a light-hearted rom-com from several years ago).

Do I join those Brits whose sense of national self-regard was swelled at the sight of the PM, coolly and calmly explaining his decision on Friday morning? You bet.

The idea of entering a giant fiscal union (or FU as its been brilliantly labelled by Daniel Hannan) in which control over our economy would be restricted is an abhortion. I have not yet looked into a cost/benefit analysis of a financial transaction/Robin Hood/Tobin tax just yet (though I'd be inclined to be sceptical of such measures), but if we were to have one, let it come from Westminster, not from Brussels, Paris or Berlin.

This view is rooted in an aversion to seeing the world's longest continually-running representative Parliament - that is, the first to establish the principle of its own supremacy over monarchical power - told what to do by bodies that don't seem very democratic at all. A formative issue for me personally was the row back in January/February over votes for prisoners. Whatever the merits of extending the franchise to frauds, murderers, thieves, rapists etc. may be (and again, I'd be... sceptical), the decision should be down to those that have a democratic mandate i.e. the politicians at Westminster, so they can take into account the views of their constituents before taking it. The decision should not rest in the hands of an unelected overseas court.

So as I was proud of our Parliament when MPs across the board - led by a cross-party alliance between Jack Straw and David Davis - voted down that arrogant demand from the European Court of Justice, I am now proud of our Prime Minister for having the courage to use a certain two-letter word.

The other point it is important to consider about the EU Treaty's proposed financial transaction tax is that it would have had a disproportionate effect on Britain. The City of London may be a son of a bitch, to coin a phrase, but it's our son of a bitch. Of course, it caused us *ahem* certain difficulties back in 2008, but - whether the figures stick in your throat or not - Britain's financial services industry makes up around 10 per cent of our GDP, and around 17.5 per cent of national tax revenue. Why should we risk turning off the vast numbers of investors who come to London for the sake of the 'Save the Euro' campaign? Yes, the bloody, bloody Euro: surely the world's first currency to be founded solely on stupid utopian "hope 'n change" idealism, and most certainly a strong contender for the Ozymandias of our era (and that's up against some pretty stiff competition in these soulless times...Dubai's a good one, and that comes with its own sand.)

France and Germany have their economic sacred cows - agriculture and the car industry respectively - so why should it be the British, who wisely stayed away from the Euro, that have to cough up the most? The suggestions that it was all part of Nicolas Sarkozy's neo-Gaullist plot to deflect attention onto the evils of Anglo-Saxon capitalism thereby a) convincing everybody that the Eurozone crisis has nothing to do with the Euro and b) winning an upcoming general election are all very interesting. In the absence of any less conspiratorial explanations, and having as I do a little knowledge of historic French resentment of the English-speaking world (do read up! Often hilarious; sometimes not, especially for Rwandan Tutsis), I'm inclined to go with them.

Should you think my position slightly skewed to the Right (you'd be right by the way), let me also point out that there is nothing for the left in this Treaty deal. The following article on the Communist Party of Britain's website notes that the 'fiscal rules' proposed "effectively outlaw any reflationary, Keynesian policies and certainly ban any socialist solutions to the growing crisis". This is because the new rules are supposed to forbid any annual structural deficit in any signatory economy that exceeds 0.5% of its GDP.

As it should be needless to say by now, I don't want any socialist solutions to the growing crisis. But the democrat in me will always support the right of national governments to pursue that course, provided they have an electoral mandate for it (and they usually don't. See Spain, November 2011).

Now is it not telling about the state of the modern British Left that its left to barely- reconstructed Stalinists to point this out? Where is the relevant Left on the matter? Most left-wingers I know personally are following the Euro-integrationist austerity line, apparently unaware of the discrepancy between that position and their ever more inventive 'ConDemnations' of our own government. If you read the CPB/Morning Star article above, you'll see that the comrades picked up on the disgracefully inflammatory remarks made by Belgian 'Liberal' MEP Guy Verhofstadt about Britain being "on the menu". If you type in the name 'Guy Verhofstadt' into the Guardian Comment is Free search box you get just 13 results all dating from before remarks in question.

Eh, maybe they'll see the light one day. Their silence for now means David Cameron is the man who stood up for - in the words of Orwell - My Country, Right or Left.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Rebellion in the ranks!

After such a long absence, I've been thinking for a while it's time I got back into blogging again. You may have thought the most significant political changes in the Arab world's history might've stirred me from my unproductive sloth. So would I have. I suppose, because the Arab Spring is a long, ongoing process - and as Xhou Enlai said wittily of the French Revolution it is rather too early to tell of its full significance - there will be plenty of opportunities for posts on that momentous issue. And, inshallah, there will be many.

The event that has succeeded in providing the necessary firework-up-arse is an uprising of a different kind, the parliamentary kind! (Yummy!) On Monday, as those of you that relish this sort of thing will know, David Cameron endured not only the biggest rebellion from his party in his time as leader, but the biggest in his party's history, at least on the issue in question. The issue in question? Why, that Tory favourite of course: Europe. Until Monday, the biggest rebellion over Europe had been that over the Maastricht Treaty when 41 Conservative MPs defied John Major's party whips. This time around the numbers have as good as doubled to 81!

However, this should not be regarded as a purely Tory affair, a point stubbornly missed by the likes of New Statesman blog's Steven Baxter for whom serious debates about the state of our nation's sovereignty and democracy are simply "a bit of a spectator sport for everyone who isn't in the Conservative Party". somehow a further 19 rebels were found to belong to the Labour Party. We even have a solitary Lib Dem (Adrian Sanders, never heard of him but kudos) who felt the need to honour his leader's previous pledge to a referendum. How soppily liberal and democratic of him... Plus several Unionists and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, altogether making up the wonderfully symmetrical figure of 111 (against 483).

Why is that left-wing commentators like Baxter seem to want us to forget the Left's own Euroscepticism which looms from a not so distant past? It was Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell who condemned Britain's the idea of Britain's entry to the Common Market as promising "the end of Britain as an independent nation ... the end of a thousand years of history". As recently as 1983 it was part of Michael Foot's manifesto to withdraw from the EEC. Talk about parties tearing themselves apart, as the anti-anti-EU crowd often describe the squabbles of today's Tories. That manifesto was not called "the longest suicide note in history" for nothing. It seems to be that only after 1988 did Labour become pro-Europe overall. Yet now some of that old Eurospecticism has bubbled back up again, even on the Labour front benches with Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander being particular exemplars of this. Peter Oborne charts that story pretty well here:

There is no logical reason why the Left should be more pro-EU than the Right. At least not the Left that isn't prepared to pursue vaguely defined internationalist utopias at the expense of demcratic rights and sound economics, that is...Perhaps in the sphere of debate on Europe we are seeing the return of that Left. Not a moment too soon.

My own conscience on the prospect of an EU referendum - not that, in seriousness, one is on the cards for the foreseeable future - is, like the Conservative Party itself, wracked by internal division. I think that, deep down, I have always been a Eurospectic of a sort; even in the 2009 European elections, aged 19, I seriously considered voting for the front organisation cobbled together by Bob Crow, the Communist Party of Britain and assorted other far leftists 'No 2 EU, Yes 2 Democracy' (I voted Green in the end).

That was not down to any lingering sympathy for radical left-wing politics; by then that was dead in me. It was down to a) finding an organisation that had to ask the Irish people a second time in a Treaty referendum after receiving the answer it didn't want the first time strange at best, contemptible at worst; and b) well...I was hardly at a point in my life where I was going to vote UKIP was I? I do think there is something strange - contemptible - about much in the way the EU behaves. There is a very strong yearning in me to see some kind of democratic slap in the face of the EU's unelected 'President' Herman van Rompuy and 'Foreign Minister' Baroness Ashton. Or should that be 'Presidents'; let's not forget Jose Manuel Barroso. That slap may just come from a popular mandate from Britain saying "we've had enough". Poll after poll suggests such a result would not be beyond the realms of imagination.

And yet, and yet, I can't help but fear the consequences of that course of action. It is true - as the 'lets get out' Eurosceptics continually point out - that countries have done perfectly well outside the EU, (Switzerland and Norway seem to be the favourites) but the only country to have left the EU having previously been a part of it is Greenland, and that only by default when it left Denmark. Admittedly they too seem to be doing alright ( but, for me, a nation with a population of around 56,000 is hardly a reassuring model for a nation of 60 million.

So while I salute the principle of the 'glorious 111', especially Adam Holloway and Stewart Jackson who have laid down their careers over the issue, I have yet to be convinced that the logical ends of their case - in what after all is a very Eurosceptic country - should be similarly applauded.