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Posts Tagged ‘Lisbon’

Hazel Blears gave a speech to the Hansard Society last Wednesday in which she lambasted political bloggers for breeding contempt and cynicism about the political process. These remarks attracted a lot of comment. However, far more interesting were her remarks about the increasing gulf between politicians and the rest of us. She said, “There is a trend towards politics being seen as a career move rather than call to public service … Increasingly we have seen a ‘transmission belt’ from university activist, MPs’ researcher, think-tank staffer, special adviser, to Member of Parliament and ultimately to the front bench.”
It is strange that Blears doesn’t connect these two threads. She doesn’t recognise the possibility that  the cause of our cynicism about politicians’ motives and ambitions is the  sense that the country is being run by the strange careerist species she mentions whose loyalties are to self and to party rather than to us. She complains that politics is a career move rather than a call to public service. Well, let’s credit the population at large with the acumen to have grasped that.

The problem with our political culture is not bloggers, it’s accountability. The political geeks have taken over Parliament because we haven’t been given a say in the matter. In our system the parties choose their candidates for seats and only then the electorate chooses between what the parties offer. Local party members choose their candidates, in many cases for a seat which is as good as won already. A third of seats are won with more than fifty per cent of votes cast. The tiny number of Labour Party members in a safe Labour seat get to choose their MP. They know there is no chance of their opponents getting in, as even if Labour voters don’t like their candidate, they’ll still turn out to block the Tories. So all Tories, Lib Dems and Greens are effectively disenfranchised in safe Labour seats, and the average Labour voter is stuck with whoever the local party select.

The solution to this problem has been presented from both sides of the house, and it is time for it to be debated. In a pamphlet written earlier this year for Policy Exchange, Frank Field proposes we adopt a system of open primaries. In this system all registered voters in the constituency would be able to vote for who was to contest the election for any party standing. This would instantly enfranchise the frustrated socialist in the Shires, or the conservative living on a council estate in Liverpool. Rather than having to convince those few, strange individuals among us who join political parties that they were a good candidate, the prospective parliamentary candidate would have to try to appeal to all voters in the area to be nominated. If Blears wants to see fewer political geeks in Parliament, I can assure her she will get her wishes under this system. They don’t appeal to ordinary people, and given a choice, ordinary people will turf them out.

Earlier this month Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan published a book with the same policy recommendation. They make the further point that MPs in safe seats would instantly lose their security. Any New Labour politician representing an old Labour constituency would face losing his seat if he followed a government policy that was objectionable to the voters in his area.  Power would be devolved from the political insiders, and the party whips to the people of the country, of whom politicians are the servants.

Under such a system, Sir Nicholas Winterton MP and his wife Ann Winterton MP, who were judged in February to have broken Commons’ rules on expenses, would have to face all their constituents at the next election, and not merely a few Tory party members in their constituencies. In July they both voted to keep the John Lewis list of  allowances for MPs, despite public disquiet over the privileges. They were among the twenty-one Tory MPs who voted against their party leader to preserve their Parliamentary swag. In anticipation of an open primary race to come, is there any chance they would have been so dismissive of public opinion? Instead of a few angry calls from party members on blogs for the local party to deselect them, the Wintertons would be compelled to face the judgement of all their constituents, regardless of the wishes of the Tory party hierarchy, or the local party members.

The first objection to these plans is that people would try to wreck the opposing party’s candidacy by voting for a loon. But if you were in a Lab-Con marginal would you risk voting for a nutter as Tory candidate if you knew there was a real chance he’d get elected? Most objections to these proposals are merely fear of what ordinary people would do if they had power.

Blears’ suggestion that political parties should select people with experience of ‘real’ life as they do women and ethnic minority candidates entirely misses the point. It is the loss of power to change things that is at the root of our cynicism. A bus driver, selected and trained by a party hierarchy, dressed in a well-cut suit and a nice shiny rosette and presented to the people with the claim ‘Look, one of you people!’ isn’t going to overcome our disengagement with politics. Politics isn’t the X-factor, and the government isn’t Simon Cowell. X-factor winners only sing the songs Cowell wants to hear. It’s time to do away with the safe seats, which are barely more democratic than the old rotten boroughs.

If we did, there’d be a lot of MPs who voted through Lisbon feeling mighty nervous right now.

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“The EU that thought that it had to lecture the Czech Republic on them not having the strength or the dignity to take over the presidency. Yes some even said that it would be best if they would just leave the presidency to the French for another term. They even threatened that it was just this kind of problems from a small country that could lead to the abolishing of the rotating presidency and the introduction of a permanent presidency, consisting of the six largest countries. I think it was a German who said it.”

Open Europe

“We’re very scared,” said Siobhan Tobin, 23, a public kindergarten teacher in the town of Naas, 20 miles south of Dublin, and one of hundreds of teachers across Ireland who may lose her job in the coming months. The budget cuts would have the newest teachers — like Tobin — ousted first.

I think there is a concern that Ireland is a small country that could be bullied by Europe, but I also think we are looking at ourselves and our society,” Tobin said. “Was the Irish miracle for real? What will the future be like? We don’t know anymore.”

Washington Post

Before the First World War our foreign policy was summed up in the phrase ‘splendid isolation’. We kept our distance from the continent, fearing entrapment in continental wars. Those fears were realised when we mobilised to protect Belgium from the bullying of Germany, and later Poland. We took a stand against the bullying of smaller nations by larger ones. It is shameful that we are now complicit in the bullying of the Czech Republic and of Ireland.

The Czechs are understandably wary of ceding more sovereignty, given their recent history of dominance by foreign powers. So how does it make us feel to hear a German MEP threatening the country with consequences if they don’t hand over power? Not good. Not good at all.

Britain is a natural ally of the Czechs and the Poles. Poles in particular fought valiantly for us during WW2. In fact, the most successful fighter squadron during the Battle of Britain, the battle that saved us from invasion, was a Polish squadron. Both countries value their independence, and both hold Baroness Thatcher in particular, as well as this country, in high esteem for her and our firm opposition to the Soviet Union which helped bring about their liberation. One hopes that the constitution is finally killed off and a new government in the UK can refashion our relationship with the EU. I’m sure we would find allies in the Czechs and the Poles for a Europe based on cooperation, not coercion, and on alliances between nation states, not the diktats of an unelected Commission.

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Ring of Fire

According to the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Lisbon Treaty isn’t substantially different from the European Constitution that was rejected by the French and the Dutch. “The good thing is…that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core – is left.” Now we learn that those symbolic elements, the anthem and the motto, will be retained anyway. According to the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, “contrary to what some people appear to believe, the fact that they are not included in the Treaty in no way, either politically or legally, prevents the institutions from continuing to use them as they have done up to now, or indeed intensifying their use.” In other words, the four per cent of the Constitution that was changed will be introduced anyway.

It is indeed true that compared to the ceding of powers to the EU on energy, immigration, policing and justice, the imposition of the symbols of the Union is of small significance. Although we are now occasionally treated to disingenuous claims by some fanatics that they feel European, Britain is not going to be eventually overcome with pride in a new identity due to frequent exposure to a nice tune written by a German, a vapid wonk-speak motto and a flag that looks like a gold-studded anus.

What is significant is the manner of these symbols’ introduction. The bureaucrats of Brussels continue to act in a manner that is contemptuous of the people for whom they claim to be governing. In January, the European Parliament gave its President the right to prevent MEPs calling for points of order, giving speeches explaining their votes, or calling for a roll-call vote – the only kind of vote that allows which MEPs vote for or against a piece of legislation to be recorded. In March, the Parliament increased the numbers of members a grouping in the EU parliament needs to get funding, in a deliberate attempt to make it harder for Eurosceptic voters, those represented by the Ind/Dem group including the UK Independence Party, to have their vote heard. UKIP were the second-placed party in our last EU elections. The EU, aided by Richard Corbett MEP (New Labour), conspired to make it harder for their voters to be heard.

All these measures are defensive, and they need to be. For the European Union is spectacularly unpopular. Not only was the Constitution rejected by the Dutch, who were previously believed to be europhiles, by a whopping 62% to 38%, but the French also rejected the treaty. Although their result was closer, only Paris and ten Departements out of one hundred voted for the treaty. In ninety per cent of French Departements, the treaty was rejected. Public opinion in Britain is in favour of a loose, free trade agreement with our European neighbours rather than political union. In Denmark, when offered a referendum on the Euro, the public voted against, as they did in Sweden.

Who wants a political and economic union? The answer is, of course, the politicians of Europe. Despite that conclusive vote in Sweden, all the main Swedish parties want to adopt the Euro. Despite its negative vote on the Euro and on the Maastricht treaty of 1992, the Danish PM wants to force his people to vote again. In the UK, all three major political parties have failed to reflect the views of the people. In YouGov’s survey taken at the time of the ratification of Lisbon, only 29% of respondents wanted to stay in the EU; this means less than a third of the British people feel that EU membership was worthwhile. Thirty-eight per cent favoured membership of a single market, whereas twenty-four per cent just wanted to leave. Ignoring the ‘don’t knows’, sixty two per cent of people don’t want to remain in the EU.

These attitudes aren’t simply a response to the duplicity of the government’s actions over the Constitution. We can see this from examining the history of Yougov polls on the subject. In June 2007, 59% of people said the EU had too much power. As long ago as October 2006, 77% of people favoured a referendum on returning powers on fishing, farming, and borders, whereas only 11% were against it. In 2005, only 21% of people said they would vote for the Constitution. There is no appetite amongst the general public for a federal state of Europe in this country.

It comes as no surprise to see that the Yougov survey from August this year shows that 65% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that the EU is out of touch with ordinary people. This is an impression which is only strengthened by the EU’s adoption of the symbols of nationhood. We now have a bizarre situation, in which the cadres of the unpopular bureaucracy are developing their own sense of identity that is at odds with the British people they purport to serve. Of course, the Ring of Fire is no competitor to the Union Jack for our affections. It is however, the visible symbol of the allegiance of our politicians to a power that has no democratic legitimacy in our nation. At a time of public distrust of politicians, it would be very unwise of any political party in the UK to publicly declare their support for these measures.

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A few months ago, when the Lisbon constitution was being contemptuously bunged through Parliament, Iain Martin wrote a piece entitled ‘Britain’s eurosceptic future‘. The general theme of the article was that the vehemence of our response to the treaty indicated that we were likely to get more eurosceptic, not less.

It struck me that there is one very good reason why this might be so, and why Cameron may find himself pushed into a more confrontational attitude to the EU than he would like. Rupert Murdoch is well known to be on the side of the eurosceptics. According to this article, he even arranged some sort of informal veto over new Labour’s EU policy.

Murdoch presumably took a friendly line towards ZanuLab in the worry that they might have been tempted to mess around with his media holdings, as he is one of the bugbears of the left. Not only will Cameron be coming into power with his core support extremely antipathetic to the BBC, which is good news for Sky; but Murdoch will be free to print his anti-EU line in his papers without worrying about the government viewing him with disfavour. If Murdoch’s newspapers do take an anti-EU line, it will be a lot easier for Cameron to do so.

That’s a little bit of optimism for a rainy Friday morning.

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