This is democracy folks, I’m sorry you don’t like it

Thursday was a great day for Britain and a great day for democracy. Over 17 million people (a clear majority of those who voted) defied the warnings of the entire British establishment, foreign governments and international institutions like the IMF, to vote out of the failing EU.

The response to this fantastic exercise in democracy has been an unprecedented wave of tears and tantrums from large numbers of those who voted the other way. At the time of writing, over 2.5 million people have signed a petition calling for a second referendum (so we can vote correctly this time presumably). My Facebook timelines has been quite a toxic place since Friday. I’ve seen a number of arguments put forward by friends and others I respect, that I found particularly insulting. There was the one that said older people had secured the leave victory at the expense of the younger generation. Implication – old people shouldn’t be allowed to vote as they’ll be dead soon. There was another that said Brexit was down to uneducated, poor voters being taken in by the lies of the leave campaign. Implication  –  only people with good degrees should be allowed a vote.

“Shame on you” for voting leave has been a very common comment I’ve seen, but, no it’s you who should be ashamed of yourselves. You lost a democratic vote and now you need to come to terms with the decision and help us achieve Brexit in the best way we can. Owen Jones gets it:

Sadly, some MPs and some Oxford professors, don’t.

Making sure you can vote at the EU Referendum

This is my first post in a while. The referendum campaign has been dismal on both sides, and you could be forgiven for being totally put off politics for life. I was surprised to learn recently that pollsters are predicting a turnout lower than last year’s General Election, which is rather depressing to me as there’s much more at stake now than last year. Everyone should vote on the 23rd June, whichever side you are on. Personally, I applied for a postal vote a long time ago, so cast my vote last week. If you didn’t do that though, here are some key dates to make sure you are able to cast your vote.

7th June @ Midnight

This is the deadline to register to vote. You should already be on the electoral roll, but if not, you need to register now. It’s pretty easy and can be done online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You are eligible to vote in the referendum if you are a UK, commonwealth, or Irish citizen living in the UK, or a UK citizen living overseas, but registered at a UK address within the last 15 years. If you are a student living at a university address, you may be back at home on 23rd June, so make sure you are also registered at your parent’s address if you return there for any lenth of time.

8th June @ 5pm

If you can’t get to your polling station on 23rd June for any reason (or are just lazy), you have until this date and time to apply for a postal vote. While you can register to vote online, to get a postal vote, you actually need to fill in a paper form. That’s because a copy of your signature is required to verify your vote when you return it in the post. You can download a postal vote application form from here. Once completed, you can scan and email your form directly to your  local council. Find their email address here. Bear in mind though that if you apply for a postal vote now, you probably won’t receive it until around a week before the referendum day, so if you are going on holiday before then, you may need to apply for a proxy vote. Which brings us to…

15th June @ 5pm

Again, if you can’t get to the polling station on the 23rd and a postal vote isn’t suitable for you, or you miss the 8th June deadline, the 15th is the deadline to apply for a proxy vote. A proxy vote is where you appoint a friend or family member to vote on your behalf. Again, like with a postal vote, you need t0 fill in  paper form, and you can get one from here. The person you appoint as proxy will need to go along to your polling station and then vote as normal for you.

23rd June @ 5pm

If, after 5pm on the 15th June, you have a medical emergency, or a suddenly called away for work reasons which would cause you to miss the poll on 23rd June, you can apply for an emergency proxy vote. This is much like a normal proxy vote, but you have to jump through a couple more hoops to get one. More information on that is here.

Some other key pieces of info

If you applied for a postal vote, but didn’t receive it or you lost it, you can get a replacement from 17th June until 5pm on polling day. You normally have to go down to your local council with ID to get one though. If you forget to post it back, you can hand it in at any polling station until polls close at 10pm. Voting starts at 7am on 23rd (unless you live in Barnet, then who knows what time it will be 🙂 )

That’s about it, so now you have no excuses for not voting. If you are not yet registered, get your skates on because you only have 2 more days to sort it out.

The only thing that matters on the EU question

Michael Gove announced this weekend that he would campaign to leave the EU. To accompany this announcement, he wrote a 1,500 word article giving his reasons for his decisions. Whatever you think of Michael Gove, his piece is very well written. In two paragraphs he distills the key reason why I think most people should vote to leave. Gove writes:

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time. 

But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling.

This is the key reason why I will be voting to leave, and I think whatever the other arguments bandied about are – for or against – the whole referendum should boil down to this key issue. Do you want to be able to change the way our country is run through democratic means, or are you happy to continue to give up those means because they are outweighed by the benefits of remaining in the EU?

 

Is “reforming the EU from within” realistic?

Today David Cameron announced – to the surprise of no one – that the EU Referendum will be held on 23rd June. He further stunned the world by announcing he would be campaigning to remain in the EU. This followed months of painstaking negotiations over some trifling ‘reforms’ he had cobbled together. This was concluded last night after a two day summit of EU leaders. The result seems to have been that Cameron can go away and say he has secured a ‘special status’ for the UK, while all the other EU leaders laugh behind his back and go home to tell their voters that nothing of import has changed.

So that’s where we are now. No one who is campaigning to remain – including Labour, the Green Party and the Lib Dems – actually say they are happy with the current set-up of the EU. ‘Reform from within’ seems to be the mantra. But given the tortuous mess that were David Cameron’s attempts to achieve his “thin gruel” reforms (as Jacob Rees-Mogg called them), what possible hope do the likes of Labour have for achieving a single reform they want going forward? They don’t have a cat in hell’s chance.

If we vote to remain on 23rd June, the EU will consider the matter settled and push on in the same direction they have been travelling for the last 40 years – towards greater and greater integration. I don’t know how anyone could vote for that.

EU referendum purely about internal Conservative Party politics

A poll published by Comres today had 58% of respondants answering ‘yes’ to the EU referendum question. This is before Cameron has ‘renegotiated’ anything. The result already looks like a foregone conclusion.

Cameron’s strategy has been clear from the start. Step 1. Pretend you are ‘fed up with the EU’ and want change or you’ll back a ‘no’ vote. Step 2. Come up with some piffling ‘reforms’ that will do nothing to address the concerns people have, but strenuously argue they do. Step 3. Get some politicians from other EU nations to pretend the negotiations have been tough and they are grudgingly accepting Cameron’s changes. Step 4. Pretend you have secured everything you wanted and begin the yes campaign. It’s simple, but it will probably work. (This is a firm prediction from me. My general election predictions were dreadful, so hopefully I’ll be wrong again.)

This is not Cameron’s problem though, and it’s not what the referendum is really about. It’s really about internal politics within Cameron’s own party. His problem at the moment is all his Eurosceptic colleagues are perfectly aware of his fake negotiations and they are probably not going to stand for it. Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan calls out Cameron today in a column in the Telegraph, and up to 50 Tory MPs have already formed a ‘Conservatives for Britain’ campaign group to argue for nothing less than full sovereignty for Britain, something Cameron has no intention of trying to achieve (and almost certainly couldn’t even if he wanted to).

There are alos a number of avowed Eurosceptics in Cameron’s cabinet like Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove. Cameron at first tried to enforce discipline on his Cabinet by saying they would need to campaign for a yes vote or resign, but this tactic lasted less than a day, and he now seems to have u-turned. In the 1975 referendum, cabinet members like Tony Benn were allowed to camapign to leave the common market without resigning, but Cameron has made this such a personal mission with his hyping up of his renegotiation strategy, I can’t see how cabinet members could play active roles in any no campaign without resigning.

Cameron decided to push through with this referendum over two years ago to shut up his backbenchers. Now he actually has to deliver it though, but his aims are a million miles away from those of a lot of his Parliamentary colleagues. Cameron seems to me to be as pro-EU are anyone in the last Labour Government. The referendum is supposed to settle the question of Britain in the EU. No chance! If the yes campaign is fought dishonestly (as it will be), I would think a lot of Conservative will not forget it.

I’m a bit young to remember the Tory Party tearing itself apart over Maastrict in the early 90s, but hopefully the second time around will be just as fun to watch!

How are your sandwich-making skills?

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This Daily Mail’s front page caused a bit of a stir today with its implcation that Brits lack the skills or attitude to make sandwiches! The story is that an Irish firm who make a large proportion of pre-packed sandwiches sold in the UK have struggled to hire British workers and have instead looked to Hungary for staff . The Daily Mail decided to spin this as a ‘lazy Brits’ story, that people don’t want to work any more as they can live off benefits. The rather ridiculous headline was quite well lampooned by Twitter users and some of the best responses were collated in this article.

The real story here of course is not one about lazy Brits but rather shitty employer struggles to fill shitty jobs. This article gives some more background on the employer in question. If this firm was not able to import workers from Hungary, it would be forced to either improve the pay and conditions it offered, or go out of business (or ring up Iain Duncan Smith and ask for some ‘work experience’ victims). Because we have free movement though, and many of the countries in the EU are much poorer than the UK, firms like this are able to keep wages low and working conditions poor and still find people willing to take the jobs. The government could legislate to increase the minimum wage, forcing companies like this to pay more, but that would only make those jobs more attractive to EU workers, meaning many Brits will still lose out.

As much as we have seen studies recently showing a positive impact to free movement, the problem is, the benefits are not being felt by those at the bottom.

EU 1 Cameron/Osborne 0

George Osborne went to Brussels today to try to negotiate a ‘better deal for Britain’ with regards to the £1.7bn the EU has said the UK owes due to statistical revisions over the last 20 years. Osborne came out of his meeting triumphant, saying he had negotiated a reduction of 50% which would be interest free, with payments staggered over 2 years.

It took about half  an hour for Osborne’s claims to unravel after a number of his counterparts in other EU countries revealed that the £1.7bn bill was in fact unchanged, but that the UK’s ‘rebate’ had also been revised, and would total £850m, and that this was always the case. Originally then, the UK would have paid £1.7bn, and then receive a rebate of £850m. Now, after George Osborne’s shrewd negotiating, we will pay £850m and forego the rebate. Still sound like a good deal?

I had wondered whether this latest EU controversy had been engineered by Cameron and Osborne to make the look like they could stand up to Europe and win concessions to appease the right of the party and try to win back some of the UKIP vote. If so it has rather spectacularly backfired.

Osborne makes clear in his announcement today that he thinks we are all idiots and won’t be able to see through an obvious ruse. It doesn’t bode very well for Cameron’s hopes to renegotiate Britain’s role in the EU in advance of a possible referendum in 2017. It seems pretty clear the other nations of the EU have no intention of giving Cameron what he wants, and now view him as a bit of a joke (if they didn’t already). Far from bringing back his detractors into the fold, this latest stunt is more likely to drive people further away.

Party Games

The news over the last few days seems to have been dominated by the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the new president of the European Commission, and David Cameron’s unsuccessful attempt to thwart his appointment. Putting aside the issue of whether Juncker is a suitable person for the role or not, Cameron’s naked politicking brought to mind the Yes Minister Christmas special “Party Games”. Though not exactly the same, there are enough similarities to provide the excuse I need to share some clips.

The episode is set up by Hacker discussing European plans to standardise the sausage:

After convincing the EEC to allow Britain to keep the name “British sausage”, Hacker decides to boost his popularity by first pretending the sausage issue is still live and then giving an impassioned speech railing against European regulations:

What’s this got to do with Cameron? Not a lot, but I do question his sincerity in opposing Juncker. ISTM he was looking for a fight to pick with the EU and decided this was his moment. He could have entered this fight 6 months ago when the process for choosing the next Commission president was being decided, but it seems to have been agreed without much fuss. It looks like he just did it to appeal to his party and a certain section of the electorate. Some polls taken over the weekend seem to show his opposition to Juncker may indeed have been popular with the public, but given he failed in his bid to stop his appointment, I’m not sure he’ll get much lasting credit, and it’s pissed off a lot of people in Europe which might impact on his stated desire to secure important reforms to the way the EU is run.

BTW, the whole episode of Party Games is also on Youtube. If you haven’t seen it before, watch it here. It’s a joy:

Euro Elections Yorkshire & Humber – The Runners and Riders

My postal vote turned up yesterday and I still have no idea who to vote for. Here in Yorkshire & Humber region, there are 10(!) parties bidding to win one or more of the 6 seats up for grabs. All but one of the 10 have 6 candidates each (despite the odds of winning more than 2/3 seats being vanishingly small. Here are party political broadcasts for the runners and riders in the order they appear on the ballot paper.

An Independence From Europe (The poor man’s UKIP who have stuck ‘an’ on the front of their name so they are top of the ballot paper)

British National Party (For knuckle-draggers in England, Scotland and Wales)

Conservative Party (For hardworking people who want to work hard and get on)

English Democrats (For knuckle-draggers in England only)

Green Party (Who Jesus would vote for)

Labour Party (“Let’s hope people will vote for us because we’re not the Tories”)

Liberal Democrats (“Did we mention we’re the Party of In? What’s that? You’re not listening? But we’re the Party of In”)

NO2EU (Eurosceptic trade unionists)

Can’t find a PPB for them, here is their website: http://www.no2eu.com/

UKIP (The People’s Army *snigger*)

Yorkshire First (Int Yorkshire Great?) Not sure if this is an official vid, it’s not really a PPB. Here’s their website.

Options for Britain in Europe

I’ve written a series of posts on the EU in recent weeks, where I’ve tried to show the confidence of the pro-Europe argument is not backed by good evidence. There are downsides to Britain’s membership of the EU, free movement of labour is not necessarily a good thing, and the EU is not very democratic. Many people struggle to see an alternative to EU membership, but there are actually a number of alternatives to the current status quo that Britain could adopt. In their book “Moored to the Continent“, Baimbridge et al, discuss some of the following options that could be considered:

1. Renegotiation of EU membership obligations. This is the Conservative Party’s stated position, although it is not currently known what they want to renegotiate. Baimbridge et al suggest possible areas could be the reconstitution of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, Britain’s contribution to the EU budget and it’s involvement in EU foreign and defence policy. There is some skepticism as to what could be achieved through renegotiation, as each nation would probably desire to change different aspects of the rules, but such is the importance of Britain’s market for EU exports, the could be some scope for renegotiation if the alternative was full withdrawal.

2. Creation of an Associated European Area (AEA). This arrangement would create a kind of two-tier Europe, with one group of countries continuing the path towards further integration, and a second group continuing to cooperate on areas like trade and the environment, while keeping control of other areas like economic policy, currency and social and labour market policies. This option could be facilitated by an amendment to the Amsterdam Treaty, and would allow those countries who wish to integrate further to do so, while  allowing others favourable terms while maintaining a looser association. Win win?

3. Membership of the single market through EFTA and the EEA. This option would mean the UK would formally leave the EU and rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), that it was a founding member of over 40 years ago. That would make the UK eligible to join the European Economic Area (EEA). This would give the UK some of the benefits of full EU membership (but also some of the downsides), while allowing it autonomy over areas like agriculture and fisheries, and allowing it to trade frrely with nations outside the EU. As an EEA member, they could also veto EU law if they think it goes against their national interest. This is a similar situation to that of Norway.

4. Bilateral free-trade agreement between the UK and EU. This one means full UK withdrawal followed by a negotiation of a bilateral trade deal. The UK would retain greater freedom than under option 3 and create a relationship similar to that between the EU and Switzerland. The UK is such an important market for other EU states, it is highly likely that such an agreement could be negotiated without the EU engaging in discriminatory practises – they would have more to lose.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all these options, but all involve the UK maintaining some kind of relationship with the EU, while regaining certain powers it has given away. I favour option 4, but can see some advantages of option 2. There is scope for cooperation on areas like environmental protection and scientific research that could cross national boundaries. Most people agree the EU will need to change, but while some feel this change should be closer integration, others are less enthused. We already have something of a two-tier Europe with those within the Eurozone and those without. Something more formal could be an option worthy of consideration.