Category Archives: European Union

Sipping tea, but not talking turkey

It’s over three months since a slim majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union.

Yet nothing has happened.

Instead, we sit at the edge of the ice pool, sipping tea while the representatives of some 30 countries mill around, debating with each other, sometimes shouting and all looking for a theme to unite them.

If we’re not careful, the ice will break, we shall all sink, and that will be the end of the European project.

It’s a frightening thought, even sitting on the edge.

We really ought to get on to dry land. But, at the moment, we don’t know what that land is like and how we will fare in it. We could easily be a forgotten people who made their way onto the land by accident.

We have to know what kind of country Britain wants to be, post European Union membership, before we can offer anything useful to those who are already on dry land.

It’s time, therefore, to make our minds up; for those who would be in charge to take responsibility for being in charge.

 

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Will someone please tell us what’s going on?

It’s a few weeks since Britain was asked to vote IN or OUT of the European Union, and we were given to expect swift action following the result.

Yet nothing has happened. We are as we were before: stuck in a land of uncertainty.

All that has changed is the leadership of the Conservative Party, and thus the Prime Minister. Where once we had an Old Etonian in charge, who rolled up his sleeves and wanted to be one of the blokes, we now have a well-dressed, state-educated woman in the post, who seems to  want to be a lady.

All that has happened is that the government seems to have lurched to the right. The Prime Minister has voiced her support for grammar schools and her concern about the Chinese investment in our nuclear future, and the Transport Secretary has described as ‘militant’ those who would try to get a better deal for their members.

It seems that, if all that we see comes to pass, we shall be living in a land where the elite get all the top jobs (because they’ve been to a better school) and the rest are believed to be militant. Or, at least, malcontent.

Cameron has disappeared. Some say that June’s referendum on IN or OUT of Europe was called by him to placate the right wing of his party, and that he was convinced he and his beliefs would win. Now, it looks as if he left the job in an hurry because he didn’t want to have to clear up the mess he left behind, or be called on to deal with the big beasts of the right who would probably savage him. May was what the backbenchers would call “a safe pair of hands”, although she is best remembered for being a smart pair of shoes.Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 17.06.54

It also looks as if we don’t know where we’re going. Or with whom.

Isn’t it time someone – I don’t much mind who – told us a few truths about the future.

At present, we seem to be drifting, with a weakened currency and no political direction.

 

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Which game next?

In the weeks since Britons were asked to vote whether they’d like to stay in or leave the European Union, we have been in a state of limbo. And that’s no place to be.

Almost as soon as the referendum result was known, David Cameron resigned. Some would say that was cowardice; others that it was the sign of a shrewd mind that knew chaos would follow a national vote called to placate his right-wing enemies.

In the meantime, the Labour Party has been going through a leadership argument, with some two or three people wanting to assume Jeremy Corbyn’s mantle as spokesman for the government’s opposition – a job he hasn’t done terribly well by anybody’s judgement.

Being in or out of the European Union will come at a price.

To stay in means having to pay our dues. But then, anyone who plays golf knows that it is better if one pays a membership fee.

Being out means that we shall have to face up to being a bit like Portugal before it joined the EU.

The best option is to tee off, if you know how to.

Being in limbo is no place to be, unless you are a dancer.

 

 

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Vote, don’t shout

It’s been a while now since those of us who count ourselves as UK citizens first heard we were going to get a vote on staying in or leaving the European Union.

Since then and more recently, there has been a lot of shouting.

But not a lot of speaking unto truth. Even now, with less than two weeks to go, no one is telling us how things will be. They’re all willing to say – or, rather, shout – “If we stay it will be so and so”, or “If we leave it will be so and so”, but no one is prepared to tell us how it will really be after June 23.

I tend to agree with one young person who, it was reported a few days ago, said that it sounded like a lot of old men shouting at each other.

For that’s what it has been: a lot of middle-aged, if not older, people shouting at each other, here and elsewhere, in the press and on the television as well as on the radio.

People shout at each other, instead of having a rational, even quiet debate about the issues. Someone said the other day that Hillary Clinton won’t get elected because she doesn’t shout enough, and because she’s not good-looking enough.

Was Mrs Thatcher good-looking? She was glamorous, for sure, but I’m not sure if she shouted. She did, at least, sound strident.

Was Golda Meir good-looking? That depends on your point of view, but I don’t recall her shouting.

Angel Merkel is neither a hot-looking woman, nor given to shouting.

Hillary Clinton is good-looking enough for me.

But doo we have to have a good-looking person in charge of the leading nation in the Western World?

And do we have to have a voice in what’s being said, despite being “the fifth most prosperous nation in the world”, as one shouty middle-aged man put it?

Of course, we want to be taking part in the world. Who doesn’t, or wouldn’t?

But, do we have to shout about it? Can’t we just vote?

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Defiance and deaf ears

Watching the news last night and hearing again this morning that upwards of one-and-a-half million people were on the streets of Paris yesterday reminds me that, in 2003, a similar number of outraged folk marched through London to protest their rejection of the war on Iraq.
Back then we carried placards declaring “Not in my name”, yet no one listened and the perpetrators of that invasion, who remained in office for some time yet still didn’t listen, have since been branded war criminals.
Yesterday, in a similar expression of solidarity, the placards declared “Je suis Charlie”.
Now I wonder if those who have already been described as criminals, and those they’re associated with, will listen.
My hope is they will. My expectation is they won’t.
Does this mean I despair of ever seeing peace and tolerance being accepted as two of the basic planks in the structure of any civilised society?
No, it doesn’t.
What I fervently hope for is a world in which open minds – and wide-open ears – are generally accepted as virtues and signs of strength rather than vacillation and signs of weakness.
Until then, like millions of other, I remain defiant and wholly on the side of liberty, freedom of expression and the truth.

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The hard choice in May

A week is a long time in politics, so they say.
Well, if a week is a long time, the four months between now and the next UK general election already seems like an age.
And, at my age, I wonder if I can bear it.
Argument and counter-argument
With Christmas over and the New Year well underway, the various political leaders have already started sharing their thoughts with us.
The state of the economy and the National Health Service, our membership of the European Union, the changes needed in our education system, the condition of the country’s roads and general infrastructure; all these and many more weighty matters will be the subject of endless debate. There’s no doubting that some issues will be the subject of fierce argument.
Now, what troubles me is this.
Have any of us got the stomach for a continuous diet of bilious rhetoric, half-baked ideas and sour grapes?
And will four months of that be enough to satisfy our appetite for certainty in an uncertain world?
Of course, it’s too early to be worrying about who to vote for.
None of the contenders – and there are many more than usual vying for our vote – have so far laid out their policies in a clear and unambiguous way.
So choice is hard to determine.
The alternative vote
I’ve talked about this before (see my blog of October 16 2014) and I make no bones about mentioning it again now.
The sheer breadth of choice likely to be on offer at this election cries out for a space on the ballot paper where we can vote “No Confidence”.
I believe that, with so many parties to choose from, and so little prospect of any of them offering clear-cut policies that look as if they will bring certainty to our future, we deserve the right to register our dismay in an accountable way.
If I had this option, the next four months would be bearable.
Even the daily diet might be palatable.
Because I could choose to listen to the debates – or not – to get sick of them – or not – knowing that, come election day, I could register my true feelings in a responsible way.
Compromised choice
As it is, the system will probably force me to make a compromised choice, either voting to thumb my nose at the incumbent MP or to keep some other unsavoury candidate from winning the seat.
Of course, I hope to be offered something positive to vote for.
But, while I still doubt that I will, I would like the chance to register my dismay in a meaningful way.
The alternative is unappetising to the point of being totally indigestible.

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Jazzin’ (and votin’) with Ken

Yes, he does wear suede shoes. And yes, he is overweight. And, to judge by the way he shambled onto the stage at London’s King’s Place last night, he’s not so much a big beast of British politics, but a wounded beast showing his age.
Ken Clarke, Britain’s former Secretary of State for Almost Everything, was in conversation with Michael White, the Guardian’s former political editor.
Although, to be more accurate, Michael White tried to have a conversation with Ken Clarke.
As ever, Clarke bulldozed his way through the interview, giving White few chances to intervene or guide the flow of words and ideas. He was like a small rock standing in the way of Clarke’s progress.
A ramble through a life
The evening had begun – prior to the appearance of the man who loves a pint, a cigar and good music – with a half-hour session from a jazz trio.
It moved on from there to a brief excursion through Clarke’s upbringing in Nottinghamshire, to his grammar school education and time at Cambridge (where he studied law) and to his years as an MP, government minister and member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. “A bloody good government to have been in”, he said.
“People go into politics because they want to change things. That’s what Margaret wanted to do. When she left office, Britain was a different place. Not many Prime Ministers can claim to have done that.”
Few would argue with this view. Only, perhaps, with the manner of achieving the change.
The European question
Clarke is an avowed supporter of the European Union.
“Almost all the progress we have made in the last 40 years has been due to our position in Europe”, he said. “I believe that, if we were to leave the EU, we would be lost and diminished as a nation. No leading politician would bother to call the British Prime Minister for their view.”
He also believes that UKIP’s Nigel Farage has done Europe a great disservice by, as he put it, “conflating the immigration issue with Brussels and European Union reform”.
According to Clarke, anyone who suggests that the Conservative Party is “running scared” of UKIP is playing into Farage’s hands and, effectively, adding to UKIP’s dubious credibility.
“That’s a dangerous game to pay”, he says.
Overcoming voter apathy
As a Europhile, Clarke believes that, in order to overcome voter apathy, someone has to make the case for Europe.
“Instead of all the negativity, particularly from Farage, we need a positive message about Europe. Anyone who’s pro-Europe should be getting people enthused about the benefits of Europe, promoting the message of progress and giving them something to aspire to.”
But unlike me, Clarke doesn’t believe in compulsory voting.
“You’d get all sorts of riff-raff voting. Winos and reprobates. People who wanted to avoid the £25 fine, or whatever it might be. I’m against it, just as I’m against giving prisoners the vote.”
Instead, he firmly believes that politicians should give the voters something robust to vote for, a kind of take it or leave it approach.
In his day, he contends, politicians didn’t pay so much attention to their PR advisers.
“Margaret never read the papers or listened to opinion polls. She had her agenda and she stuck to it. Nowadays, our politicians worry too much about upsetting people and losing their vote. She didn’t care how many people she upset!”
Clarke doesn’t seem to, either.
As he left the stage, the jazz trio were reappearing, ready to serenade the man who who doesn’t care.
Or does he?
Asked if he’d have liked to have been Prime Minister, he almost roared “Yes!”
I don’t think that’s a man who doesn’t care!
I’d like to have jazzed with him.
Heck, I might even have voted for him!

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