subtitle

...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Day 5625: Messages from Cheadle #1 - the NHS

Thursday:

We are trying a new experiment in VIDEO BLOGGING.

Daddy Richard will be doing some news'n'views from his old home town, and for the start he has brought Daddy Alex along to go back to the very beginning, the place where he was born.

More to follow, you lucky people!




Richard: I’m Richard Flowers – and my husband Alex was born here, at Stepping Hill Hospital.

Alex: We both depend on the NHS. And we’re both grateful for all the things that they do.

Richard: We’re glad that the junior doctors have got their agreement – at last – but why do the Tories keep picking a fight with the NHS? Last time it was the nurses. This time it’s the junior doctors.
Why do they keep trying to rip up the NHS?

Alex: It’s the same with the schools, and even the BBC. I just don’t get why the Tories keep trying to break the British institutions that all the rest of us love.

Richard: The Liberal Democrats want to build a better future – invest in the NHS and work with professionals, not against them.
The big change that we want to make isn’t imposing bureaucracy or picking a fight.
We want the NHS to get better at delivering for mental health issues. And we’d put in the money to do it.

Alex: We all know people who suffer with mental health problems. But they’re not as easy to put into targets – or photo opportunities.

Richard: These are the priorities for the Liberal Democrats.
Not picking a fight with doctors.
But building a better future and a better deal for those who need it most.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Day 5588: EUROPE – JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM

Tuesday:


"We have had our lovely leaflet from HM Government about reasons to stay in the EU… but could I please have both sides of the argument given as facts so I can make an informed choice?"

People don't actually make up their minds based on facts.

So, if you are inclined, even slightly, to vote "remain" then the government's little pamphlet provides some comforting homilies to warm you to the idea you're making the right choice.

But, and this worries me, if you find yourself wanting "other facts" to justify your doubts maybe you're drifting into the "Leave" camp.


That doesn't make you a bad person.

The desire to protect your own, yourself and your family first, is one of the strongest human impulses.

I do however think that some very bad people are trying to use this to their advantage. Ask yourself, do you believe that Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson are acting in your interests or in their own?



Asking for the facts ought to be a good thing.

But the "Leave" campaign doesn't HAVE any facts. They have promises and guesses. Uncharitably, they have fiction.

It's not like they haven't had FORTY YEARS to work out what they would do instead.

So you have to ask yourself: WHY CAN THEY NOT TELL US WHAT BRITAIN OUT OF EUROPE LOOKS LIKE?

They deny every fact presented by the Remain campaign – every report is biased, every testimony is a conspiracy; every piece of friendly advice is an unwarranted interference (and in the interest of a foreign power!).

(Though when President Obama wants us to remain and President Putin wants Britain to exit, you have to ask: who exactly do our best interests coincide with?)

John Redwood on the Today Programme (18 April), a Tory deriding the Treasury report on the grounds that you cannot trust Tory Treasury figures (I kid you not), said in pretty much these words: "We will be better off if we leave. I cannot tell you why or how."

(Do you remember how the Scottish Nationalists promised, promised everyone in Scotland would be better of leaving, because Scotland was a proud, independent, oil-rich nation… and then the oil price collapsed.)

I'm pretty sure John Redwood will be better off. But will YOU?

Remember how the Tories said they were "held back" by the Liberal Democrats? And then, as soon as they could govern on their own, they cut benefits to the disabled to give a tax cut to dead millionaires.

That's why they want to get out of Europe. So that they don't have to give workers their rights, or paid holidays. So they can trouser more of your money.

Michael Gove, supposedly a "leading intellectual" in the "Leave" campaign was given free reign to present his "vision" to the nation on the Today Programme (19th April).

His so-called positive pitch can I think fairly be summarised as:

"Europe might go wrong! Immigrants! Deregulate the banks [seriously! After that went so well last time?!] We have no influence in Europe! But they'd give us a magic trade deal! Terrorism! Aren't Remain MEAN!"

If I might borrow from Raphael Behr, pressed to present what post-Brexit Britain would look like after leaving the EU, Gove answered:
"Like Canada, but not Canada. Better in indescribable ways. Imagine a good thing. That."
And Gove is supposed to be the BRAINS of the outfit!

Perhaps I can help him out.

These are the three basic arguments that the "Leave" campaign deploy:

  1. Britain should govern its own affairs.
  2. Britain would be better off out.
  3. Britain can never control immigration while we are members of the EU.

And these are all DEEPLY disingenuous positions.

I will try and approach these as three questions. I'll try to avoid using too many numbers because politicians have used "bullshit statistics" so often that now a lot of the time statistics obscure rather than enlighten. And I'm not going to pretend I'm not biased.

1. How much say in our own affairs do we have if we remain or if we leave?


This is what you might call the "philosophical" reason for the "Leave" campaign and plays strongly to people's sense of patriotism, and belief in "our way of life".

Many people who want to leave the EU do so because they have an honest belief that Britain is better governed and should only be governed by laws made by the British Parliament.

(They tend to do this by talking about a "European elite" or "democratic deficit" or about "Europe 'overruling' Westminster". Nationalists in Scotland and Wales say similar things about the Westminster government.)

If we remain in the EU then the Westminster government will not have as much freedom as it would if we were to leave.

  • There are some pieces of EU law, called "regulations" which immediately become UK Law. These are the most powerful – and most controversial – pieces of EU law. They cover areas of consumer protection, your rights at work, and the rules for companies (including the rules for banks and finance institutions).
  • There are other pieces of EU law, called "directives", which Westminster will have to pass as its own legislation to bring into British law.
  • There are some things that Westminster cannot do because they would be against the various treaties that the British government has signed up to – though of course we have treaties with lots of places, not just the EU. AND "Leave" say we would make new trade agreements, which would mean we would have to make many lots MORE treaties if we were outside the EU.
  • And there are some things which the Westminster government would not do because it would be diplomatically difficult.

Equally, if we remain in then the British Government gets an equal voice in the main governing body of the European Union, the Council of the EU* [that's one vote in twenty-eight], and can appoint one of the EU Commissioners [one of (again) twenty-eight; one for and from each member state].

[edit to add additional explanatory note:]

European Union Laws – regulations and directives – are proposed by the Commission, but only become law if they are agreed by both the Parliament and the Council.

(Except for decisions on the common external tariff and EU trade treaties, which require only agreement of the Council.)

Agreement of the Council of the EU requires what is known as qualified majority voting: a decision is only agreed if about [pardon the numbers here] THREE-QUARTERS of the votes are in favour AND those votes represent at least HALF the countries of the EU AND those votes represent at least TWO-THIRDS of the population of the EU.


[*note: originally I referred incorrectly to "the Council of Europe", which is a different body. I am grateful to Richard Allan for pointing out this correction.]


So by remaining in Europe, our Government has less power to govern itself, but more power to govern all of the other countries in the EU.

We, the British people, also get a direct say in running Europe because we get to elect Members of the European Parliament.

[We get 73 out of 751 or 9.7% of the parliament. Germany has 96 MEPs, France has 74, Italy, like the UK has 73. The next largest country is Spain with 53 and then Poland with 51 and Romania with 33. Other countries have 26 or fewer MEPs. No one country is able to dominate.]

How democratic is Europe?


The EU is MORE democratic that the Westminster Parliament in the UK.

ALL members of the EU Parliament are elected by a proportional voting system to represent all the viewpoints of the citizens of Europe; the House of Lords [MORE THAN HALF the members of the UK Parliament] are UNELECTED, and the remaining members are elected by a highly disproportional system that gives complete power to Parties that have support from a minority of the population.

The "Cabinet" of the EU is made up of elected heads of government of all the member states; the Cabinet of the UK is appointed on the whim of the Prime Minister and can even include people who have not been elected at all (usually by granting them an instant peerage).

In the EU, the top civil servants, the Commissioners, are appointed by democratically elected governments and are accountable to the elected Parliament; in the UK, top civil servants, the ones known as mandarins or Sir Humphreys, are unaccountable and appoint themselves.

The board of the European Central Bank are appointed by the Heads of Government of the member states, after consultation from the European Parliament. The Governor of the Bank of England is appointed "by the Prime Minister" though as this is on recommendation from the Bank, effectively the bank selects its own governors.

And so on.

So how "democratic" are they, these people who seek to steal your right to vote in Europe?

John Redwood, since I mentioned him, holds a seat that has never (and I mean NEVER, since it was first created 131 years ago) elected anyone other than a Tory. Essentially, he has a job for life, gifted to him by a tiny unelected, unaccountable selection committee of the Tory Party. So does Michael Gove. So does Boris Johnson, another leading figure of the "Leave" campaign. Or there's the Lords Lawson and Lamont, who take unelected seats in our Parliament and lecture us on how we should get out of Europe (Lawson while living comfortably in France!). And the list goes on. You can NEVER get rid of them.

We saw, during the expenses scandal, that the safer an MPs seat the more likely they were to abuse their expenses. So this isn't just unfair, it's fundamentally CORRUPTING.

And many of the "Leave" campaigners are the same people who campaigned to keep Britain's unfair, corrupting voting system, and keep themselves in a job for life.

These people have done everything in their power to retain power unaccountably and for ever. Why should you believe that they want out of Europe in your interest, and not their own?


For YOU as an individual, your say in your government amounts to: if we remain – one vote every five years for your Member of Parliament and one vote every four years for your Member of the European Parliament. If we leave, you will get only the one vote every five years for your MP.

If you think that the government having less power to do exactly as it pleases is bad, then you might well think that it is better to leave the EU.

However, if you think government should not have more power over you, or if you think that having two competing centres of power competing for your vote gives you, as an individual, more say, as you get two vote and have several different representatives to approach if you need, then you might prefer to stay in.

But doesn't the EU make 75% of our laws?


Bluntly: no.

EVERY Law that affects the UK has to be passed by Parliament. Our MPs cannot be forced to pass European Laws.

Research by the House of Commons Library in 2010, found that few of our laws were influenced by Europe.

[I'm going to have to use some numbers here: just under 7% of Primary Legislation (Acts of Parliament) and just over 14% of secondary legislation (regulations being adjusted by ministers under previously agreed laws).

Even assuming that there's no double counting if you add those figures together (and there certainly is) then that is no more than one fifth of our laws coming from Europe before they are agreed by MPs.]


Other research by the BBC's "More or Less" has tried to trace where that "75%" figure comes from. The earliest reference they could find was a speech by… Nigel Farage. It appears that he just made it up!

(See also: Boris Johnson, who; got fired by the Times for making up stuff when he was Europe correspondent.)

How much power can Britain wield?


Campaigners for "Leave" (those who got to vote in the 1975 referendum) often say something like: "we voted for the Common Market; we didn't sign up for this super-state".

But the biggest single change to the EU (the change from EEC to EU, in fact, but that also formally abandoned the ideas of a country called Europe in favour of "ever closer Union") was when Mrs Thatcher used Britain's influence to champion the Single European Act.

The EU is now a much more "British" free trade area than it was when it was the EEC.

What may change that in the future is a side-effect of adopting the Euro on the single currency area. Although primarily a way of making trade even easier, the economic fallout has driven calls for stronger and faster POLITICAL union. (Because a European government that would be able to distribute money to poorer areas is seen as the answer to the pull of money to areas that are already successful.)

So long as we remain in, though, we would have an absolute block on that because we could, in the end veto it. The only way it could happen is if Britain (and all the other members) agreed that it was more in their national interest to let it happen.

So the thing to learn here is that when Britain gets involved in Europe, we get a more British Europe; when we haver on the sidelines, we lose influence and Europe goes another way.

2. Will we be better off if we remain or if we leave?

You might call this the "practical" question of the referendum, and it is the one that will be the decider for most people who are not committed believers in Europe of Brexit.

Britain is a trading nation. We sell a lot of things to Europe. We buy an awful lot more things from Europe.

The "Leave" campaign like to claim that this gives us the upper hand in negotiations – "they need to sell to us more than we need to buy from them", they say.

I buy more from Asda than Asda buy from me. Brexit logic says this puts me in a stronger position than Asda. Do you think that's true?


A very large percentage of our nation's income comes from the financial sector.

[More numberwang: The City of London contributes more than 11% of all the tax raised by the government.]

A large part of that income is because the City is allowed to trade in Euros and on the European exchanges. They are allowed to do that because we are part of the EU. If we leave, that business will go to Frankfurt. It's probably worth more to Germany than all their car sales put together.


Some of the people saying we should leave, claim we could easily negotiate new free trade agreements with other countries. They suggest Canada as an example. It took Canada seven years to negotiate her free trade agreement with the EU. That is "Leave's" definition of "easy".



But yes, of course we could negotiate new deals. But why start again when we are already in the biggest free trade agreement in the World? If it's about trade, we've already got the best deal going.

As part of the EU we have no tariffs between us and other EU countries. Also, as part of the EU we have automatic tariffs between us and every other country in the World. If we leave the EU, we will have the common tariff between us and our neighbours. Imports from Europe will be more expensive. Exports to Europe will be harder. That means for consumers in the UK prices will go up; and for anyone selling anything to Europe either their prices will go up and their product become less attractive, or they will have to make cuts to stay competitive.

This is not to say that Britain could not survive outside the EU. But that the "Leave" campaign appear to be saying that the first thing they would do is struggle all out to get back to where we are now. Does this not seem like it will be a great big waste of time, money and life?

If we leave – it is said – we would be free to negotiate with countries outside the EU. Except we are free to do that now. The EU in no way hindered the recent trade deals with, say, China (that one to among other things build a nuclear power station). We have negotiated deals with India and Brazil too. Leaving does not make these deals any better. It could make them worse, if we can no longer offer a gateway to the European market.

They say we could negotiate a new deal with America. The Americans have said they have no interest in negotiating with a UK outside of the EU.

Meanwhile, others of the "Leave" campaign are saying we should leave precisely because the EU is foisting a free trade deal with America upon us.

Which is frankly incoherent. But it is why it is so difficult to counter the "Leave" campaign "arguments", when they can just switch to the exact opposite of what they've just been arguing.

TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, is mainly a deal to recognise each other's regulations and standards, and so make it easier for small and medium sized companies to trade across the Atlantic. It is not a threat to the NHS or any other state service, as these are explicitly outside the negotiations. And it is not a "secret deal". In fact it is one of the most openly talked about trade deals ever. We know much more about TTIP than, for example, that deal with China I just mentioned.


If we leave Europe, we will no longer have to obey all the EU's regulations. Unless we want to trade with the EU (which "Leave" say they do), in which case we will have to obey all the EU's regulations (just as Norway and Switzerland do). Except we will no longer have any say in how those regulations are decided.

And if we want to trade with America… we will have to agree to obey America's regulations. Unless we can negotiate a deal to recognise each other's regulations and standards… ah, like the one we are negotiating right now with the backing of the entire EU.

In summary: if we leave the EU then we will be able to do all of the things that we can do now… except for the ones that we can't. And some of the ones we can will be harder.

THERE REALLY IS NO PRACTICAL BENEFIT TO LEAVING.

What are the downsides to remaining in?


Growth in the European Union, post 2008 banking crisis, has been slower than elsewhere in the World. Though mainly that is because developing economies like India and China have grown while developed economies outside of America have stood still. And American growth is an exception literally being powered by shale gas extraction (fracking).

There is an ongoing problem for the Eurozone countries that is causing money to be sucked into Germany and away from Southern Europe. (Actually, the same thing happens in the UK because London sucks money in away from all the rest of the country, except the government pushes it back out again by spending.)

As a productive manufacturing economy (we are more like Germany than Greece) this would be more likely to work in Britain's favour, drawing more inward investment and purchases here.


What if we need to bail out the Euro? Even though we have obtained explicit exemptions from anything to do with the Euro AND David Cameron managed to get the – actually significant – agreement that the EU would act in the interest of all members not just the Eurozone members, it is not impossible we might find ourselves in a situation where it is necessary to help out our neighbours. We did, for example, help to bail out the Irish Banks. And we did this because it's right to help your neighbours when they need it. But also because having our neighbours go bankrupt would be really really bad for us too.

So if Europe does go bust on our doorstep… do you think we would be able to ignore that and suffer no consequences? Or do you think that we would be obliged – by self-interest, if no better human instinct – to help out even if we'd left, because the alternative would be to wreck all those trade deals with Europe we are promised would happen easily once we exit.

In which case, being in or out of Europe wouldn't make any difference.

THE BEST DEAL FROM EUROPE IS THE ONE WE HAVE GOT; WE ARE TOO CLOSE TO EUROPE TO AVOID ANY PITFALLS EVEN IF WE LEAVE.

But it costs us money to be in the European Union


Yes it does. Just like it costs to be a member at Costco so you can get the better deals on prices.

Britain pays money in to the EU and gets money back. We pay more money in than we get back, so there is an effective cost to remaining in.

That's because we are the second richest country in the EU (after Germany and in recent times ahead of France).

If you believe that the richest should pay more in tax than they get back in benefits in order that the poorest should be supported, then you should have no problem with that at all.

And if you believe that the rich should not have to pay to support the poor, then ask yourself how much of the health service, schools roads and other services you would be willing to do without if the City of London thought the same way about the rest of the UK.

On that basis alone, and sticking purely to the facts, the "Leave" claim that we could save money is morally reprehensible.

[Numberwang: The "Leave" claim that the EU costs £350 million a week is also a lie. That's a strong term, but they have been repeatedly given proof that it is not true and there is simply no excuse any more for repeating that claim. Because of Mrs Thatcher's rebate, we actually pay in £250 million a week. And we get about half of that back in support for farmers and fishermen and other grants – which "Leave" usually promise they would continue to support, so cannot be counted as a "saving" – meaning our net contribution is £120 million a week. A little more ONE THIRD of what "Leave" continue to claim. What do you think that says about all their other numbers? Oh, wait, there aren't any.]



I'll add more here: it's not just moral. It's a multiplier. By getting access to trade, without tariff barriers, we make much more money.

And "we" means ALL OF US: workers and businesses and everyone who trades with the EU, and all of us consumers who get things cheaper from the EU.

The government gets back in higher tax returns the money it invests in paying the membership fee for all of us, but then all of us ordinary people get lion share of the benefit.

When they talk about cosuing "us" however much a week, the "Leave" are counting the money as if only the Westminster Government that counts. Ordinary people's cash doesn't matter.

Usually those Tories who back "Leave" claim to be in favour of giving you more of your own money. But for some reason when it comes to Europe they want the Westminster Government to keep more of your cash and you to get much less of it.


[Some more Numberwang: UK GDP is about TWO TRILLION POUNDS. That's £2,000,000,000,000. Leading economists estimate that the free market gives us a head start worth 1-3% a year on our growth figures. But even suppose membership of the EU adds just a TENTH of that, JUST 0.1% to growth, that means we add two billion pounds a year to our GDP, EACH year, EVERY year – so we would be TWO billion quid better off next year, FOUR billion the year after, SIX billion the year after that and so on. It quickly dwarfs any cost of taking part.]


3. Will there be more or less immigration if we remain or if we leave?

This is the dark side of the referendum.

UKIP (and others, often but not exclusively on the political right) will often say "it's not racist to talk about immigration". Well, it IS the way UKIP talks about it. They claim "we're not allowed to talk about immigration." We've talked about almost nothing BUT immigration for the last ten years at least (remember Michael Howard asking: "are you thinking what we’re thinking" – no, we weren't, fortunately).

Immigration means change, and that can be frightening. We like stability, because it means safety and (as before) protecting our own.

Failure to manage change – to make sure that homes are available and services remain able to cope with numbers – leads to tension. And in a time when services are being cut back, it's easy – and wrong – to put the blame on "the others".

(And just by raising the subject of racism, they are giving the nod and wink, the "dog whistle" to people who ARE racist.)

The (not very) coded message in the words used by UKIP (and the "Leave" campaign) is that immigration would be a LOT lower if they were in charge.

Mr Farage like to say that the EU is prejudiced against non-EU citizens and that he wants to treat everyone equally. What he really means is that he wants to be equally prejudiced towards everyone.


Firstly, this begs the question: "is immigration actually a bad thing?"

Economies with net immigration always do better than ones with negligible immigration or net emigration. Always. Britain in the Nineteenth century, America in the Twentieth, potentially Germany in the Twenty-First.

In simple terms, more people do more work.

"Ah," comes the reply. "That all very well for the middle classes with their plumbers and restaurant staff, but it not good for everyone because immigrants take low paying jobs and so keep wages down for working people." This seems so self-evident that people don't challenge it, but there is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL that this is true.

And you know that if there WERE evidence, the "usual suspects" would be shouting about it very loudly.

It turns out immigrants do not just "take jobs". They also create opportunities: they need food, homes, schools, services. This leads to further economic growth and MORE jobs.

Areas of high unemployment are caused by economic decline, or because local people do not have the training or experience to apply for new jobs that are created. But that's not caused by immigration. That is a failure of government, a failure to manage change and to deliver education (or re-education) and opportunity. And Government could and should intervene to help.

Very often, immigrants are both highly motivated and better educated, which can see them being placed in jobs that locals are not able to get. That is not caused by immigration; those jobs could not have been filled without immigration.

Will we be at greater risk of terrorism if we remain or if we leave?


This is the even-more-highly-charged version of the immigration question: the old "stranger danger" the red under the bed, the yellow peril, the black man in pursuit of the white woman, the witch in the woods. It's old and it’s ugly.

The speed and glee with which some of the "Leave" campaign jumped on the terrorist atrocity in Belgium to try to scare people into their camp was very nearly as sick and evil as the terrorist perpetrators themselves. I do not say that lightly. Both groups were trying to use a horrible act of murder for political ends. And both with the SAME political ends: to weaken and divide Europe.

The rolling news cycle and the immediacy of the internet (not to mention politicians and police promoting their own little empires) makes it seem that the threat is greater than ever. Yet we used to suffer two or three terrorist outrages every YEAR. Now, we've had two incidents in the last DECADE.

But we should not be linking terrorism to the Europe debate AT ALL. The roots of terrorism are complex, taking in a long history of Imperialism, fallout from the Cold War and the World Wars, global poverty, abuse of religious ideals, disenfranchised youth, criminal cartels, oil, corruption, Western failure to support Russia that has led to renewed guarded hostility, the miscalculation of European approaches to Ukraine, all those terrible choices that led to Iraq, Libya and Syria and some people who, given the chance, are just pure evil.

We cannot walk away from that mess, even if we quit the EU. No man is an island. These days, even no island is an island. Even the most paranoid of "Leave" campaigners are not suggesting we seal the borders entirely. Mostly, in fact, "Leave" say they want us to be an "open trading nation". Terrorists would still reach these shores.

Blaming the Schengen Area is a complete red herring.

Firstly, without an awful lot of barbed wire, passport controls will not make for secure borders between the countries of mainland Europe who do not have the advantage of a small sea between them and their neighbours; they are just too long, too open and too easy to cross.

The greatest terrorist threat to this country was the IRA and they never had any difficulty slipping back and forward across the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Second, Schengen also means a common ID papers area, and allows police in any of the states within it to challenge people for their ID – that's actually MORE draconian security than in Britain, more actually, than Britain is willing to put up with (given our huge scepticism about "stop and search" and "sus laws" and "ID cards").

Tackling terrorism requires international co-operation. Isolation can only make us MORE VULNERABLE.

But what about our "culture"?


In the last 500 years, we British have been all over this World and brought back cultures from everywhere on the globe. America, Asia, Africa and of course all of Europe, have influenced us, from our language to our cuisine. Our tea comes from China, our curry from India, our coffee and chocolate(!) from the Americas. Our algebra and astronomy come from Islam.

Multi-culturalism hasn't failed. Quite the reverse, it thrives in the way we all (almost all) manage to rub along together in our silly busy ways, making accommodations with each other. That's life.


The global meltdown of 2008, and the austerity afterwards, plus the behaviour of certain of the super-rich, has shaken people's faith in the liberal economy, in spite of literally decades of proven success (not to mention protectionism directly causing the Great Depression and a World War!).

Our leaders have demonstrated their failings over and over. Some have been greedy – but fewer that you think – some have been stupid.

Add to that, the long-running Tory civil war over Europe – between those who see our place in the World as taking part in the common endeavour and those who yearn for a dead Empire – has combined with half a decade of the Labour Party indulging its worst tantrums to scream "traitors" at any and all outside the Party faithful and between them they've managed to create a truly toxic atmosphere of resentment, grievance and hostility.

And grievance is all that "Leave" has to offer. Why can't things be like they used to be?

Why? Because they are BETTER now.

When I look at the world, I see war and famine in Africa, I see religious conflict and terrorism in the Middle East, I see human rights abuses and billions in poverty choking on the very air in China…

Europe used to be just like that. Hundreds and hundreds of years of war, and famine, and plague and death.

And I see what we have achieved in Europe. Together

Millions of refugees are risking death to get here. Why? Because every single person living on the face of this planet (apart, it seems, from Britons) knows one true fact:

If you want to protect your children: BE PART OF EUROPE.

The EU question isn't quite the same as Climate Change or Evolution where "balance" means there's a debate between the people with science, research, evidence and peer-reviewed data… and dangerously deluded idiots who are actively harmful to the survival of humans as a species.

But broadly speaking, and there are nebulous areas of gut feeling about this, but the risks and rewards of liberal economies, free trade and international cooperation are worth more than isolationism and protectionism.

That is a fact.

Really that's the only fact that matters.

Peace, human rights, scientific exchange, free travel, retiring to the Costa del Sol (even if you're not a Great Train Robber), cheaper roaming tariffs… they all follow from that one fact.

IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AFTER YOUR OWN, YOU HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER.





You still want the facts? Here are the facts:


Here is the IMF's (International Monetary Fund's) World Economic Outlook report for 2016 listing United Kingdom exit from the European Union as one of seven main risks to the outlook for the world economy.[pdf];

...and here is the report by a globally recognised authority on the risks of us staying in… oh, wait there isn't one.


This is the UK Treasury study (in great depth) showing we would be worse off for leaving the EU;

...and here is the study showing how we will be better off if we leave… no, hang on, there isn't one of those either.



Here is the case from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) for Remain;

...and here is the… oh, no, you guessed it, no reputable business group for out either.


Here are the Scientist for IN;

...nope, no scientists against.


And here are the Featured Artists Coalition (from Pink Floyd to Radiohead) who want us to Remain;

...I think you're getting the picture by now.


So finally here are the In Facts from In Facts.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 5554: Zombie Economics Rising

Wednesday:


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

In Gideon's Reheated Black-Hole Budget nothing actually adds up. It's almost like he's not got the Lib Dems there to do the maths for him!

Tax on sugar, that was his (sugar-free) Easter Bunny – money he immediately spent again, so does nothing to bridge the gap between taxing and spending, and a balanced budget slips further beyond his reach.

The growth forecasts are down, the borrowing forecasts are up… and then, like an underpants gnome, with one bound* he leaps to surplus by 2020.

But how?

The economy is slowing, the deficit is growing… so let's cut taxes.
  • Tax cuts for big corporates – welcome, "Google", to tax haven Britain;
  • tax cuts for the oil & gas industry – the effective end of the carbon subsidy, and so much for greenest government ever;
  • tax cuts for landlords – paid for by local councils who will have to find the £6 billion quid he'd promised to hand back to them and now just evaporated;
  • and tax cuts for those hedge fund dealers and stock market speculators with a return of the Capital Gains Tax rate to the giveaway levels that saw bankers pay less tax than their cleaners under old New Labour.
I do understand that if you are, shall we say, at the DRIER end of the economic paddling pool, tax cuts are the cure for all ills. But if you admit things are going pear-shaped and you want to stimulate the economy, for goodness sake, do as the Coalition did and target them on the people who will SPEND!

So even though Gideon is putting up the personal allowance too, like the good ol' days, UNLIKE the Liberal Democrats' policy he's raising not tightening the threshold of the 40% band, so that the lion's share of the benefit goes to the higher rate taxpayers.

It's unaffordable when there's still a deficit; it's unconscionable when you're snatching £30 a week from the hands of the disabled; and it's unmistakable for anything other than a blatant sweetener ahead of the EU referendum (and subsequent Tory leadership bloodbath). Has a BRIBE ever been so naked?

Seven billion quid on a middle-class give-away. And, as the saying goes, that's not all.

George's idea of "doing something for the young folks": if you're young and rich and can afford to put £4000 into an ISA, he will make you even richer. Who can afford that? He might as well call it the "Trust Fund ISA" and be done with it. Hard luck if you're a struggling young person, though, or disabled, or expecting your Universal Credit. Or have had your maintenance grant turned into a loan.

This is a budget for young people the way the BLACK DEATH was an "opportunity" for serfs in the Middle Ages – one they were UNLIKELY to SURVIVE!

It's almost like Master Gideon is on a mission to undo all of the progressive tax changes under the Coalition that led to a more equal Britain.

Even that sugar tax, so beloved of Jamie Oliver, disproportionately hits the poor.

And the giveaways to chums continued into the capital budget too.

Billions to be spent on infrastructure… so long as it's Crossrail 2. Or is it the Elizabeth II line now? And to places that vote Tory. He even admitted as much: "When the south west votes blue we listen." Has a BRIBE ever been so naked? Again?!

Promises to fix the flood defences for Yorkshire and Cumbria amount to un-cancelling things he previously cancelled. And then re-announcing the un-cancellation as new money.

And as Labour's Andy Burnham tweeted: the Northern Powerhouse turns out to be an extra lane on the M62. Hooray! Something else for Labour to abstain on, then.

It's EIGHT years since the crash and the terrible depression (aka Mr Frown). And that's about as long as economic cycles last. Or to put it another way, that's about as long as the Chancellor's luck can hold. Gideon's warnings of "storm clouds on the horizon" show that he knows it. He's getting his excuses in early. But if as seems likely we go into another downturn in the next couple of years, if it turns out that these WERE the "good years", it's going to be apparent how very NOT FIXED the roof was when the sun was shining. How the long-term economic plan was neither long-term nor economic. Nor a plan.

In the play Timon of Athens, Mr Timon is bountiful with his generosity to all his friends until his cash runs out, and then discovers that none of them will help him. That's you, Gideon, that is.

The albatrosses are coming home to roost. They're like chickens, only bigger and nastier and they bury you in guano.

Though at least it will be sugar free.



*It appears that the surplus in 2020 is down to changes to Corporation Tax that bring forward receipts; in short, he gets two years tax in one. Obviously that's a one-off gain – so a one-off surplus. Another of Gideon's tricks.

PS

Clearly Voodoo Economics is the new black as, over in Americaland, John Kasich seeks to paint himself the new Ronald Reagan. Governor Kasich is of course a fruity wingnut, but STILL not as outright berserk as Senator Cruz or as completely unhinged as Mr Drumpf. Unfortunately, he needs to win 109% of the remaining delegates in order to secure the Replutocrats' nomination. Unless it goes to the first contested convention (outside of the West Wing) in living memory…

Friday, February 26, 2016

Day 5535: Show A Little ReSPECTRE

Friday:

So, Spectre. Not SpECTRE, apparently. Which is a shame. Love a good acronym, we do.



Released on the daddies' wedding anniversary, we saw it in the cinema, in IMAX in fact as a special indulgence. Yet this review's haunted us until the DVD release. There might be a clue there*…

The opening extended tracking shot following a Faction Paradox-attired Bond through Mexico City's Day of the Dead has been rightly praised. Not just an extraordinary visual achievement, it sets up the film's themes of Bond as a living dead man, haunted by his ghosts: Vesper, M, and ultimately… spoilers – Blofeld.

(Yes, I'm going to use the name. We all knew who Christoph Waltz was playing; and it's liberally sprayed over the end titles. So we might as well get used to it.)

In fact the whole pre-title sequence is amazing. Bond's shooting the terrorists' explosive – is it deliberately? – and bringing the house down on himself reminds us of the Venice conclusion of Casino Royale even as it introduces the plot point of using terrorism not the old fashioned way to threaten and bully, but more subtly to panic governments into jumping the wrong way, into bed with "C" and his (i.e. Blofeld's) global intelligence network.

The fight in the helicopter is a particularly visceral stunt that outshines the helicopter stunt in "For Your Eyes Only" that it is clearly referencing (for obvious cat-lover related reasons). It's especially bold that the death of the assassin Sciarra (and of his pilot) is essentially off-screen as Bond just unceremoniously boots them out of the chopper and they are gone, as forgotten by the film as they are by our emotionally closed-down hero.

After the deliciously skull-topus-y title sequence, we cut to a grey London and the corpse of Bond-world's MI5 headquarters at Vauxhall. And thence to a funeral in Rome, that has the eternal city looking like one vast marble tomb – and of all the churches in Rome, they pick the one that looks most… Stalinist. With Monica Bellucci's glamourous widow, who does not expect her life-after-death to last long; along with the ghoulishly almost-undead appearance of Mr White, clinging to life through his thallium poisoning; and above all a message from M from beyond the grave this serves to reinforce the motif of the dead being with us.
That the person pulling the strings is the ghost of Judi Dench's M, drawing the threads of Daniel Craig's previous Bond films together in order to uncover the Spectre, makes for a satisfying answer to the questions left open that had made "Quantum of Solace" and even "Skyfall" feel like they were only an opening chapter, almost unfinished.

But we are also setting ourselves up for where the film starts to go wrong.

Before that, Bond's encounter with Mr White leads him to Madeleine Swann, White's estranged daughter who is currently working at a suspiciously Piz Gloria-a-like clinic on top of a mountain. There follows a kidnapping and a gloriously retro car versus plane chase sequence, as magnificent as something out of the Roger Moore era, with the added bonus of seeing Ben Wishaw's Q get to do "in the field" the way dear Desmond Llewellyn used to. And smartly hiding in a cupboard to escape the baddies shows his brains can be as good as Bond's brawn.

Mind you, I'm pretty sure that DNA on the Spectre ring really doesn't work like that. Somehow connecting everyone in the plot and revealing that Oberhauser is still alive. I mean it's Sciarra's ring, not Blofeld's, so you can't even make it a kiss-the-papal-ring pass your DNA along that way thing.

And now of course we arrive at the fatal flaw. The film itself insists that all the clues lead us here.

And the problem is this. The head of the organisation and apparently ultimate author of all that has happened to Craggles over the course of four movies turns out to be someone from his childhood who he thought was dead.

And is also Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

So why all the coy messing with the name? In context of the Bond films, of course we in the audience all know what Blofeld means. But it means nothing to this Bond.

The "(adopted) brother we never knew he had" is such a daytime TV cliché, but it is the real thrust of this film, that knife to the heart of Bond from the moment in Rome when he recognises the erstwhile Franz Oberhauser.

Blofeld? It means nothing here. It's just a throwaway about being "my mother's line", and Bond makes a half-hearted witticism (he doesn't even manage a "What, your mum was called Ernst Stavro?").

The name Blofeld ought to have been haunting at least this if not all four recent Bond films. The reveal that Oberhauser is Blofeld ought to come as the conclusion.

Blofeld brings up the very unpleasant and not-very-Bond-toned eye-gouging scene from the earlier Rome meeting. Yet, when he talks about Mr Guerra (the victim) as "not being there any more"… well, that moment just wasn’t there in the first place. Plus Blofeld was about half a mile away at the other end of that really long table. And that indeed is the problem with this movie – it needs to make references to moments that aren't there.

(Or maybe Blofeld just routinely gets Hinx to gouge people's eyes out; after all he does have his own skull-drilling suite in his own secret base.)

So we get to the secret base in the middle of the desert. Possibly the crater is supposed to remind us of the spectacular hollow volcano of "You Only Live Twice", but how does it fit with our themes of the dead alive? The meteor is sort of impressive, maybe, but doesn't appear to mean or connect to anything.

And we get to the political crux of the movie: information is power. And Blofeld has a lot of it (somehow) so he's very powerful. Here's a video of Mr White shooting himself to show I can see and know everything.

The problem with "knowledge is power is bad" is that we really don't see the application of that power. "Extortion is my business" said Donald Pleasance's incarnation of Blofeld. The "E" in Spectre might no longer stand for "Extortion" but we really do need to see that the ability to pry into people's privacy can be monstrously abused – we need to see those government officials being blackmailed into allowing arms sales and people smuggling. "C" for example could have been being forced to work for Spectre, rather than just Andrew Scott doing his Moriarty thing. Again. We need to see identities being stolen and lives being broken. The invisible tentacles are all too invisible, here. As in "Quantum of Solace", the threat becomes so large and nebulous it ceases to be dramatic.

The one instance of Spectre using this power to know it all – at least we presume this is how they know where Bond is – is that they must, as Ralph Fiennes' M guesses, use MI6's own knowledge of where Bond is (by way of the "smart blood" with which Q has injected him). And yet, that's left as an exercise for the viewer to work out. Mr Hinx just turns up on the train… and that's the sort of thing that Bond villains just do. It's too easy to miss that it's a clue to Spectre's power, because the baddies don't usually need to show how they find Bond when it's time for the next attempt to kill him.

Also, did Spectre buy their HQ from the same people who supplied Quantum with the exploding hotel two movies ago?

What's missing, ultimately, is the twist.

Alex pointed out to me how the film is full of the noir trope of mirroring: Bond and Madeline on the train mirroring Bond and Vesper on the train; Mr White's hidden room at l'Americaine mirroring his (literally behind the mirror) room in Austria; the helicopter stunt at the start mirroring the helicopter at the end.

Madeline is coded as a noir femme fatale… but without ever achieving fatale status. Not that Lea Seydoux is bad, but you've got Monica bleedin' Bellucci in the film (wasted in what amounts to an extended cameo).

(Just as Fiennes' M has all the coding of being the double-agent, too good to be true and perfectly placed to take over as M after "good" M is killed in "Skyfall". But no, there's no twist; he too is just another goody.)

So, I would have made one tiny, tiny change. The end of the movie. Bond has been diverted from the mission to prevent "C" from turning on Spectre's private panopticon into the ruin of the MI5 headquarters – I love the spiderweb of bomb fuses, though it is a switch of metaphor from octopodes to arachnids – and Chuckles has given him three minutes to escape and/or rescue the dame. He ends up in the shell of M's office.

Way Out?


Here's the change: instead of Christoph Waltz watching in a helicopter… it's Madeline. And she is finally revealed as Blofeld. A black Swann not a white one. The real cause of her split with her father.

Then Franz Oberhauser is just Franz Oberhauser. Instead of a coincidence too far, actually it was an ingenious double bluff. His jealous obsession with Bond another tool that the real Blofeld has used as a blind and a cover. And she gets clean away. Leaving her catspaw to face the music and whether or not Bond decides to shoot him.

(Even that – Alex used the term "peremptory" – exploding secret base becomes redressed as another bluff.)

And a movie that was running out of adrenaline after the Austria chase gets a much needed final surprise, a shock ending to leave you leaving the cinema with a surge, not a slow coming off the boil.

Watching it again I think it's not a bad flick. The good bits are really good: the opening Day of the Dead; the sinister menace – de trop eye-gouging aside – of the Spectre meeting; the chase through Rome, particularly the way Q has gaffer-tapped his improvements to the dash of the three-million pound DB10; the old-fashioned-and-revelling-in-it mountain-top chase. Craig continues to be excellent. And he gets to be funny, in moments, in his quiet understated way; often unexpected physical comedy, as when he manages to survive a building collapsing by landing on a convenient sofa. Naomie Harris is terrific as Moneypenny, even though she has less to do than in "Skyfall" and deserves more (at least she gets to mirror the "partner in bed" gag that "Casino Royal" did with M back in the day). Whishaw is, of course, wonderful in everything he does. Fiennes brings gravitas and, appropriately, ennui to M, and is clearly channelling his inner Bernard Lee. Though you do slightly wish he could have dropped "C" off his tower with an, "Avada ke-bloody-davra".

But still the ending is disappointing. Loaded with expectations that just don't deliver. In a way, I think, they are hamstrung by the possibility that this is Daniel Craig's last Bond outing, and the need to give him an ending that is both resolution and upbeat, meaning he gets the girl, and throws away the gun.

I think, perhaps, we'll have a better feel for this film when we can see what happens when it's not the end.

James Bond, after all, will return.



[*sinister chords by Thomas Newman, shadow of tentacles at the end of the mirrored paragraph]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Day 5533: 1% - A Decade of Millennium

Wednesday:


T'was ten years ago, I first opened my VERY FLUFFY DIARY and shared my GENIUS with the World.

How many things have changed in that time!

There have been three* James Bond films; four** Doctor Whos; and for five years the Liberals ran the country. A bit.

And I used to think that IMPORTANT things needed to be EMPAHASISED and so I used a lot of ALL-CAPS!

Nowadays I realise that in the Internets this is considered VERY FUNNY and should be ENCOURAGED!

So if you think YOU feel old remember… next year THE FLUFFY ELEPHANT GETS THE VOTE!

Daddy's Little Spectre


*also "Quantum of Sausage".

**Dr Dave, Dr Mat, Dr Hurt and Dr PeterC (Dr Chris just missed).


We've see the Rise and Fall of Prime Monster, Mr Frown...


From the resignation of phoney Tony... and the Government of All the Goats... to the election that never was.

From Stalin to Mr Bean. From economic crisis to 10p tax debacle to the Expenses Scandal.

Through the plottings of Milipede Snr to the Coup that Collapsed.

To I Agree With Nick.


We've lived through The Coalition...


From the decision to go into government

to the first 100 days that no commentator would have predicted the government would survive…

…through the difficult middle years

…to the last Coalition budget (where I spot that Milipede Jnr has spotted his forthcoming defeat).


We've discovered it really IS the economy, stupid


And I've told you all about MONEY and WEALTH, the ECONOMIC CYCLE and the CREDIT CRUNCH and QUANTITATIVE EASING.

We've seen what happened to Northern Rock and the fall of Bear Sterns (who even remembers them!).

We've seen why Ed Miliband was wrong about the "myth" of Labour overspending …and fisked of a Labour Troll who tried baiting me!

And recently we've asked what does a Cobynite Labour economic policy actually MEAN?

and what should a Liberal Economic Policy Look like?


We've watched a LOT of movies…


Some old favourites GLORIOUSLY reinvented...

...and some that would have been better left alone!

Some Harry Potter and some Pirates and some More Pirates

Superman and Batman (good) and Batman (not so much)

Star Wars (cartoon version) and Star Trek (likewise)

Narnia and His Dark Materials




And VERY OCCASIONALLY some JAMES BOND. And some JAMES BOND. And some JAMES BOND!


…and we've watched some REALLY bad television


Bottomkickers...

Robbing Hoodie...

and, Crotchwoot


With special mention for The Amazingly Awful Mrs Pritchard (hang on, that's Daddy Alex's!)


We've had a few Christmases...


Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells

Fluffy All the Way

Oh What Fun

It Is to Ride

On a One ELEPHANT

Open Aston Martin...


And we may even have touched upon religion


When I may have occasionally disagreed with The Beardy-Weirdy of Canterbury. Once or twice.

Not to mention the Cardinal arch-bigot of Westminster

or Ruth Kelly and the Elder God Delusion!


But here are my absolute top ten favourite things about my diary for the first ten years…


#10 Mr Balloon Cartoon

OK, the silly names.

Over the years, I've had my little, er, misunderstandings about people's names, whether it was calling the leaders of my own Party Captain Clegg (as in the notorious Pirate Clegg) or Sir Mr the Merciless (as in the notorious Emperor Ming) or those of the (Hard) Labour Party Lord Blarimort, Mr Frown or Mr Milipede.

…or there are the ever changing adjectives to describe the perma-tanned pestilence that is Mr Peter Vain, er Hain. He been:

An Orange-hued apostate

A Tangerine-toned Turncoat

A Satsuma-skinned surrender monkey

A Clementine-Coloured Catspaw

A Peach-painted preener

A Sepia-stained stool-pigeon

A Fuchsia-finished old fraud

A Beige-Basted Bumbler

A Ridiculous russet rogue

A Terracotta-tinted twit

and a Heliotrope-hued hole in the head not to mention firebrick-brushed fraud!

…but from very early on – okay, in fact from my VERY FIRST diary – I have called the then leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and now (as absurd as it may seem, and with whatever culpability for it that the Liberal Democrats may have) Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Rt Hon David William Donald Cameron… Mr Balloon.

He just LOOKS like a Balloon. An empty pink bladder with a smile painted on it.

So OBVIOUSLY I was delighted when a national newspaper cartoonist came to the same conclusion!

see also my favourite "interview" with the Rt Hon Dave Balloon.


#9 Coining the term "Unpology"

The era of New Labour came and went like a bout of gastric flu, but it left behind a legacy of political spin doctoring – ironically usually reduced to just "spin", when the whole point of Labour's news management strategy as run by Mr Alistair Henchman was to counter the "spin" that the (mostly right-wing) press were already putting on their stories about the non-Tory Party.

Terms like "remaining on message", sticking to "the grid" and "burying bad news" have all added to the public feeling that politicians – ALL politicians – are manipulative, deceptive even downright deceitful.

But the apogee (or nadir) of this technique comes with the dark art of appearing to deliver an apology while actually not doing so, and often managing to blame the person to whom you should be apologising for their misinterpretation of your perfectly acceptable behaviour being the only reason for taking offence.

Mr Frown's Hope Secretary Jacqui Smith delivered a particularly fine (by which I mean un-fine) example.


#8 Millennium on the Moon

Labour under Lord Blairimort quite quickly gave up any pretense of Civil Libertiies and started playing the SECURITY card left, right, and centre… tell more like right and far-right and even further right.

Quite early on, I had to go ON THE RUN from the Stormtroopers of the Labour Government after they mistook my SINCERE ADMIRATION for JAMES BOND for GLORIFICATION of TERRORISM. Fortunately, I was able to apply for political asylum on the Moon. Here's the full saga…

In hiding!

In Space!

I was NOT driving!

Monster!

In the Soup!

Nose Trouble!

Escape… to Danger!

(In tribute to our dear friend Dr Nick, every title ends in a !)

#7 Defeating Mr Frank Luntz

Another early victory was the time we had a run-in with Republican Push-Poller and semi-resident "expert" on Newsnight, Mr Frank Luntz.

He had presented what he called a focus group on the telly. Clearly a sensitive soul, he posted comments on a lot of Lib Dem blogs… but obviously it was MY piece, suggesting how a STAGE MAGICIAN could have arrived at a VERY SIMILAR outcome that most troubled him.

Here's how he might have done it

and here's me replying to him replying to me!

He tried his hand at "predicting" again, with the thankless task of suggesting someone other than Mr Frown might succeed Lord Blairimort (and how did THAT work out, again?)…

…then made an appearance on the Comic Relief Apprentice

…before buttering up our own Capitan Clegg.

Pleasingly, Newsnight stopped billing him as "pollster" and started crediting him as a Republican. Full disclosure is good.

#6 Defeating the "Liberal" Conspiracy

I never REALLY took to the project launched by Mr Sunny Hundal and dubbed (not JUST by me) as "Labour Conspiracy", seeing it as at best a well-meaning BLACK HOLE that would suck in and swallow up non-Labour blogs into supporting that tired old Party, and at worst a front organisation.

But then Mr Sunny Delight's munchkin Aaron Murin-Heath went a little bit, er, over-defensive in response to this little piece putting a sore Green loser in his place

For once read the comments, and Mr God Bless the Liberal Blogosphere for riding to the rescue of a soft toy under fire!

Of course, once Hard Labour went back into opposition, it was safe for Mr Sunny to have his moral high ground cake and eat it, so he slunk back into the party and his fabulous media career™ was quietly wound up.

Meaning my Diary has outlived his PROJECT. So yay!


#5 Defeating the Mr Master

Then there was that time when Doctor Who's the Master would have taken over the Fluffy Diary (and the World) but for one elementary error

#4 Nick Clegg, his hand on my bottom

It remains a source of GREAT PRIDE in this LIBERAL Liberal Democrat Party that no matter how silly or bizarre it might have seemed to have a soft toy in their midst passing satirical comment on their goings on, at every level up and down the Party from grassroots to grandees they have been so willing to talk and listen and take part in bloggers' conversations.

And no one moreso than the Party Leader, Nick Clegg, who really took to the bloggers interviewers and talked to us on many occasions.

Here are two of my favourite, first from early on when he'd just been elected leader and made time for us and our doughnuts between the "serious" press

and second just a few years later from inside the Cabinet Office as Deputy Prime Minister.

I'm particularly grateful to Ming Cambell who, when HE was leader, was the first to talk to the bloggers, and to Chris Huhne who, during that leadership contest, was so easy to persuade to talk, perhaps because he as the insurgent was as much the outsider as we were. They got us going, and thanks to them Nick saw how important it was to open up a channel to talk to friends inside the Party. And Danny and Vice and Ed and others all followed.


#3 The Day of Meeting the Doctor (and all his chums)

But it's not ALL been about the politics. In fact there's been quite a bit of Doctor Who over the years, what with the telly series actually coming back to the telly pretty much in sync with my Diary. Obviously.

The highpoint for many a fan was the fiftieth anniversary and the Day of the Doctor, which we celebrated – of course – but by remembering ALL the eras of Dr Woo and all the many starts big and small who have given us so much to enjoy and think about over the first fifty years.

Some of whom even got the pleasure of meeting ME!

#2 I am Blogger of the Year. Oh yeah!

And so, obviously, the first thing the Liberal Democrats did on getting into government for the first time in EIGHTY years was to give a prize to a stuffed elephant. I was, I have to say, taken somewhat by surprise.

Of course, it didn't QUITE work out first time around… or second… or third or fourth… but, as the saying goes, if at first you don't succeed… throw a TANTRUM!

So this is ME winning Blogger of the Year in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, (FINALLY!) 2010!


#1 Daddies Get Married

Because THIS is why I write my Very Fluffy Diary. This is why I keep telling you all this Liberal stuff.

Big Gay Wedding


Because The Liberal Democrats changed the World. For the better.

Remember that. Always.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 5531: Brexit is for the Faeries

Monday:


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Once Upon A Time…

"I assume also that no great power would shrink from its responsibilities ... if that country from a perverse interpretation of its insular geographical position, turns an indifferent ear to the feelings and fortunes of continental Europe, such a course would, I believe, only end in it becoming an object of general plunder.

"So long as the power and advice of England are felt in the Councils of Europe, peace I believe will be maintained, and maintained for a long period."

Margaret Thatcher, quoting Disraeli, last time we had a referendum on Britain in Europe.

Britain + Europe

The Brexit Brigade LURVE their FAERY Stories.

They are already pushing three MYTHS about what this referendum is about.

MYTH #1: "Who runs Britain"

(And I am already sick to the top of my trunk of Conservatory MPs who voted AGAINST fairer votes and voted AGAINST reforming the unelected House of Lords sitting pretty in their SAFE SEATS and having the GALL to tell us that the problem with Europe is "we cannot kick them out"!)

MYTH #2: "We would have freedom to trade"

(The leave campaign say that they want Britain to be free to make trade treaties with whoever we like… and they want to begin by pulling out of the largest free-trade area on the planet. Does this make ANY sense WHATSOEVER?)

MYTH #3: "Remain are SCAREMONGERING (nudge nudge, fear the immigrants)"

(Mr Farrago cannot open his mouth without scaremongering about Turkey, or about "500 million people with the right to come to live in Britain" – clue: 70 million of them are ALREADY HERE: they're called "the British"; Michael Gove – Mr Balloon's Smeagol – raises the spectre of razor wire across Europe as though that's a product of working together and not a symptom of the very nationalism with which he's flirting; and how many times do we hear the pitiful excuse from a country that is 92% undeveloped country "we're too crowded, we can't take any more"? Scare, scare and more scare.)

Pied Parper


So since they are all so KEEN on FABLES and PARABLES, let me tell you a story too. Spoilers: it has a HAPPY ENDING.

Long ago, but not that long, there was a WAR and EVERYONE LOST. And in the ruins that remained, friends and enemies alike came together and decided to try something, a very – I might say – British idea of making it easier to trade together.

Because, quite a lot of the time, people who trade with each other don't fight with each other. Trade brings prosperity to both sides and with prosperity comes peace. Business is good for peace and peace is good for business.

I say that's a very British idea because Free Trade was sort of at the heart of the dispute between the Liberals and the Conservatories i.e. between Mr Gladstone and Disraeli over the Corn Laws; and was sort of at the heart of the conflict between the British Empire and Napoleon (grossly to oversimplify four-hundred years of history).

And because protectionism and nationalism and the MYTH of "destiny" had done so EXTREMELY very badly in the years of the Great Depression that led to the War.

So the idea was actually a very simple one. It started with COAL and STEEL and the idea was that customers for coal and for steel should be able to pay the same price for the same stuff wherever they were.

That meant getting rid of trade barriers between countries.

But also, making sure that people on both sides played by the same rules, rules like how long it was safe for people to work so you couldn't undercut your competitors by paying slave wages or working dangerously long hours; or rules saying what the measurements should be measured in, so you couldn't short change the customer by having a slightly shorter "inch" or a slightly lighter "pound".

There have been "weights and measures" rules since the time of Bad King John. In fact, one of the reasons he got CALLED "Bad" King John by the barons is that the barons didn't like him going about the place stopping the business of putting a thumb on the weighing scales and shaving the gold off the coins.

So Europe's rules are about FAIRNESS to CUSTOMERS.

Now, it's a bureaucracy and bureaucracies grow rules like topsey, and not all of them always make sense, even more so when you take them out of context.

And sometimes – quite a LOT of times in fact – a "rule" from Europe is more of a GUIDELINE in Brussels but becomes gold-plated, copper-bottomed, red-taped LEGISLATION as it passes through the British Civil Service and the Houses of Parliament, but they still blame all the finicketty details because "Europe".

And sometimes people just MAKE THINGS UP (like the infamous MYTH of the STRAIGHT BANANA – but there ARE rules to protect banana buyers from ROTTEN bananas, but that sounds too much like GOOD news).

We PERPLEX our friends in Europe with our attitude to the rules. We make them EXTRA HARD, and then COMPLAIN about them. But STICK to them like glue. We need to RELAX, UNCLENCH a bit. Be a bit more, well, EUROPEAN.

Missing Out


Let us take an example: the Tampon Tax. It is said that we cannot remove the VAT from ladies' tampons because "Europe".

Well, the short answer is of course we can. No other country would be so RIGID.

Things get redesignated all the time. If Marks & Spencer can get a teacake redesignated as a cake, it is not beyond the wit of a Minister of the Crown to redesignate a tampon as an essential. And obviously we should do so.

But more broadly, it comes back to that business of FAIRNESS for the CUSTOMER. You want your customers to be able to compare prices wherever they go in Europe. So you want (roughly) the price of things that are basically the same to BE basically the same. So if there's a sales tax that is part of the price, you want that to be basically the same too.

Now good old Blighty didn't HAVE a general sales tax when we joined the (then) EEC (although there was a purchase tax on certain "luxury" goods). So a part of our negotiated conditions for entry was that we would introduce the broad-based Value Added Tax or VAT.

BUT, we negotiated a GOOD deal – VAT rates across Europe tend towards the 20%-25% rate, and Britain was allowed not only a LOWER rate (10% when we started, but of course it's gotten up to 20% now) but also some substantial exemptions, in particular for FOOD. Other countries have LOWER rates of sales tax on food, but no other European country has ZERO tax on food.

The Quid Pro Quo for this deal was that we would only ever move our VAT rates TOWARDS the European average. So the VAT rate only goes UP and not down (except in emergencies like when the economy went through the floor at the end of the last Labour government's time).

So we could not GENERALLY lower the VAT rate, or create broad new exemptions, but ONLY because we AGREED (and signed a TREATY to say so) that it was FAIRER to CUSTOMERS if the sales tax rates across all of Europe generally converged to the same level, so that everyone knew they were getting the same deal.

Gove takes the VAT rule out of context to make out it's some matter of HIGH PRINCIPLE that we have lost POWER over our taxes. When in truth we made a CHOICE that more fairness to customers was worth a bit less power over taxes. In other words we USED that tax power, rather than HOARDED and WASTED it, the way Smeagol horded and wasted the precious ring.

Let's take another example: Google's Tax Bill. Everyone seems to think that Google's tax bill is not terribly fair. But the REASON that they are able to shuffle their taxes around – do the so-called "Double Irish" – is because the Republic of Ireland chooses (and is able) to set it's Corporation Tax rate at 3%, so large companies are tempted to relocate their European offices and (theoretically) the profits they make to Dublin.

That unfairness is a consequence of NOT setting an agreement among the members of Europe that we will keep Corporation Taxes (broadly) in line. That is the sort of UNFAIRNESS that Brexit will ENCOURAGE. It is the "race to the fluffy bottom". And the only winners are the BIG COMPANIES, not individuals, not small or even middle-sized companies, but only the giants that can easily move countries. And of course the sorts of people who end up on the BOARDS of those companies. (Not looking at ex-ministers. No wait, that's EXACTLY who we should be looking at.)

Now we COULD pull out of Europe and try to compete with Ireland on Corporation Tax… so long as you don't mind cutting a further THIRTY-THREE BILLION out of the budget, pretty much the ENTIRE spend on EDUCATION, say, or two-thirds of the DEFENCE BUDGET. The sort of cuts that would make even Master Gideon wince. A little.

Or we could stay IN Europe and work together to make corporates like Google pay their taxes more fairly, and get Ireland to play nice too.


Is Europe UNDEMOCRATIC? Yes, but less so than BRITAIN – the Commission are appointed by elected governments (unlike the British secret Civil Service); the Council of Ministers are the representatives of those elected governments (unlike the British Cabinet, who are mostly old Etonian chums of the Prime Monster); the Parliament of Europe is elected by a proportional system (unlike the British Parliament at Westminster where the Conservatories have an illegitimate majority of 12 with 37% of the vote and Mr Farrago has no representation at all – given that his one MP cannot hardly bear to even talk to him, let alone be in the same leave campaign.)

Could Europe be MORE democratic? Yes, we could have more powers for the Parliament to approve commissioners and initiate legislation but only if the Kippers and Conservatories stop BLOCKING it. But equally, our MEDIA could stop being so PAROCHIAL and give the European Parliament the SAME coverage as the Westminster one – that's the KEY way to make people feel more informed and involved. Mr Farrago only gets away with NOT DOING HIS DAY JOB because no one sees that he's NEVER THERE!

We need to be IN to fight for MORE democracy. OUT just leaves us at the mercy of an UNDEMOCRATIC Westminster controlled by the Conservatories and the SPECIAL INTERESTS that back them.

Who are the unelected "elite"? The council and parliament of all of Europe or the Conservatory party with a tiny majority trying to shore up a system that gives them, a minority, absolute power, while they are using (abusing) that power to cut off the Opposition and the charities and the Lords who try to stand up to them?

So who rules Britain? The people who vote? Or the rigged system that gives all power to a Westminster controlled by a Conservatory elite and their secret big-money backers?


GREAT FLUFFY GRIEF there are four months of this to go!

Here's the HAPPY ENDING: on June 23rd we CAN vote to stay part of something Greater than just Little England; we CAN break the hold of the Conservatory elite. This DOESN'T just have to be about Boris's career plan; it can be about hope and a better future.


Fairytale Ending


Good luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Day 5530: Happy National Sticky Bun Day

Sunday:


A correspondent informs us that today is National Sticky Bun Day.

This is OBVIOUSLY nonsense. EVERY Day is sticky bun day! 

However... who am I to stand in the way of newly invented marketing opportunities, er, traditions...


...and so, in honour of all things EUROPEAN, today's buns are Belgian Buns. Yum yum.