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Oct 312016

It is getting pretty boring listening to all the remain supporters whine about the result of the ‘recent’ (well to an old fart like me anyway) referendum. It’s done; time to move on – it may have been the dumbest decision the public have made since electing Thatcher, but it’s still done.

But that’s not the end of it; it’s just the beginning.

The first thing to say is that the politicians are lying (not difficult to ascertain; their lips were moving) when they say they have a clear mandate for Brexit. With a referendum result as close as the one we have just had – 51.9% in favour of leaving and 48.1% in favour of remaining – we have a clearly divided country with a not insignificant minority who want to remain within the EU.

Does that mean we should ignore the result? Of course not (written with gritted teeth), but neither should we ignore the fact that there is a significant minority of voters who want us to remain. This should have an effect on the negotiating position – having what is effectively a weak mandate for Brexit should be a reasonable excuse to aim for “Brexit light”. Something like the Norway model.

Is this going to keep the leavers happy? No, but neither is leaving the EU going to make the remain supporters happy. And the only sensible course is something that leaves everyone mildly discontent rather than seriously piss off one side or the other.

And it’s time for the remain supporters to start work on getting back into Europe; just as the leavers started campaigning after they lost the last referendum.

The New Defence

The New Defence

Aug 232016

There are moves afoot to scrap the UK’s Human Rights Act.

Think about that for a moment. There is a minister of justice who wants to take away your human rights.

Whether or not you like the ECHR, the fact that a British politician wants to scrap the Human Rights Act is somewhat worrying. They want to take away our human rights. It is all very well saying that the British authorities never behave in ways that would threaten our human rights, and we have both common law and traditions that protect our human rights. But scrapping the Human Rights Act sends a signal that we do not need human rights; a signal that may not be picked up and acted on for years or decades, but the signal is still there.

Now if they were merely going to modify the Human Rights Act, that would be fine. I am sure there are parts that go a bit too far and others that do not go far enough. The key thing is that changing the Human Rights Act; even improving it, sends a different signal no matter what those changes are. That signal is that we do believe in human rights.

And that is a good message to send.

The New Defence

The New Defence

Feb 292016

So the Euroskeptics want a divorce between us and the EU; or in other words they want to go back to a time when we would protect our interests in Europe by going to war every generation or so. Which is a far more expensive proposition than EU membership fees, and far riskier.

Because the continent has always been there. And throughout history we have had to keep an eye on what the rest of Europe is up to, and intervene whenever France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, or Germany has been involved in actions that interfere with our interests. Being part of a club that can discuss contentious issues and tell a member to stop behaving badly is far preferable than the old way of doing things. And yes that involves giving up a bit of sovereignty.

When you come down to it, that little loss of sovereignty hurts the politicians more than the rest of us, and the rest of us are more likely to be the ones killed off in European wars.

Does it seem a little far fetched that leaving the EU will cause the return of European wars? Perhaps, but one of the reasons it seems far-fetched is that we do have an EU where we can go and argue. Without that safeguard, there is not a great deal to stop the return of the old ways.


There is an assumption that leaving the EU will lead to fewer immigrants arriving in the UK.

Perhaps. At least in the long-term assuming we ignore the UN directives on refugees, but in the short-term there is a good chance that immigration will increase.

For a start, all those refugees and economic migrants from outside the EU won’t suddenly stop coming just because we leave the EU. Sure we’ll set up new border guards, but that will take time. And guards don’t stop everyone.

And what incentive does France have to co-operate over that migrant camp outside Calais? None of course; their interests would be best served by giving all the refugees a Eurostar ticket to move the refugee camp to Britain.

And what happens to all those Brits who have set up homes in the EU? Are they going to want to return to Britain? Is the EU going to force them? After all there is no natural right of residence for citizens of former members of the EU. Perhaps you would not count such returnees as “immigrants” but they would have all the same problems – needing a place to stay, and often needing income support.

And most of them would be rather annoyed.


The “outers” would have us believe that leaving the EU is an opportunity to make trade deals with the rest of the world to more than make up for the trade lost with Europe. Half our trade is with Europe, which in monetary terms is very roughly 230 billion a year.

In other words the “outers” want to put that 230 billion of income at risk in order to gain an unknown amount of trade through new trade agreements.

And what stops us making those trade agreements now anyway?

Regulation and Justice

Of course one of the big weapons the “outers” have is to claim that we would be freed from all that tedious European regulation. Well, perhaps but remember that 230 billion of trade with Europe? The EU isn’t going to let us export stuff to Europe if we don’t follow the EU regulation; it has always been the case that if you want to sell something in a market you have to meet the regulations of that market.

It is one of the reasons why the EU started regulation – to harmonise regulation across Europe so that you could meet one set of EU regulations rather than 28 different sets of national regulations.

And as soon as we get rid of EU regulation, we’re going to start getting British regulation instead. It won’t be a one-for-one replacement of course, but we won’t be losing as much regulation as we think.

There is a whole set of EU regulation that business universally loathes – the EU regulations that protect workers (such as the Working Time Directive). Well I for one think that European protection for workers is valuable; certainly our own government isn’t interested in protecting workers!

As to the European Court of Justice, the politicians are all up in arms about their power to overturn decisions made by parliament. Which must be very irritating for them, but ignore the whole “sovereignty” thing for a moment – don’t you secretly think it’s a good idea to have someone overseeing parliament? After all, it’s not as if politicians are trustworthy, so having some oversight is not a bad idea at all.

And people overlook just how useful the European Court of Justice has been to us – it wasn’t such a long time ago that France was blocking British beef imports on the grounds that British cows used to have this health issue. Of course what they were really doing was protecting French farmers. And the ECJ forced the French government to repeal laws that prevented British beef being imported.

And there are plenty of other examples where the ECJ has been helpful.

Unelected Bureaucrats & Democracy

You will often hear the phrase “unelected bureaucrats” (or even “eurocrats”) in association with the EU. You could almost imagine that politicians are volunteering to do some real work.

In reality government is run by unelected bureaucrats – when a farm inspector visited a farmer and told her that she needed to paint blue numbers on her cows and not red numbers, he would blame the bureaucrats; in the 1940s it was the civil servants in London; today it is the eurocrats in Brussels. It’s just a different flavour of bureaucrat.

And as for the EU being undemocratic, well the EU Parliament is trying it’s hardest to change that. And it’s the heads of national governments who are blocking such reforms. So when a national politician is complaining about undemocratic Europe, she is speaking with a forked tongue (how can you tell if a politician is speaking with a forked tongue? Their mouth is open).

The Edge


If you hadn’t already guessed by now, I’m in favour of staying within Europe. Sorry I meant staying within the EU. The EU is the future of Europe, and for better or worse we’re part of Europe, so if we want to have our say on the future of Europe, we had better stay within the EU.


May 192013

Probably not … this is hardly the first time that the Tories have had a spat over membership of Europe.

But when one of them grandly announces that they are all united over Europe, you know there’s trouble. You hardly need to announce that you’re united when there’s no trouble.

When you’ve got Lord Howe announcing that David Cameron is running scared over Europe, and rumours of someone close to the top using the phrase “swivel-eyed loons” in connection to grass-roots party activists, then you have a party with definite issues. In addition to the normal doubts over Europe, Tories have a streak of unrealistic traditionalists within their party – who could quite well qualify as “swivel-eyed loons”.

The loons want to hark back to a time when Britain had an empire, hung serious criminals, flogged less serious criminals, and a few other policies from the 19th century. And the thought of co-operating to any extent with the old enemies of France or Germany raises the hackles.

Well they are entitled to their views, and I’m entitled to borrow a phrase and call them “swivel-eyed loons”. And good luck to them; they will be the cause of the Tories becoming unelectable for another decade or so.

And of course there is the other half of the party – those with more than one brain cell – who realise that such archaic world views are really not helpful. Could the division cause the Tory party to splinter? Well there’s always wishful thinking.

But realistically there is already a place for disgruntled Tories to head off to: the UKIP party. You could almost say that the split has already occurred and that we’re watching the painfully slow death throws of the old Tories.


Feb 132013

One of the humorous coincidences arising from the ever increasing horse meat saga, is that this would happen during the Tories reign of mis-rule. You see we often get treated to the Tories bang on about excessive government regulation and red tape, and how business could be far more effective without it.

And of course with a special venomous attack on the European bureaucrats.

Which is all very well, but the biggest lesson that can be learnt from the whole sorry saga of how horse meat got passed off as meat of another kind, is that we need government regulation to protect us from crooks pretending to be businesscritters. And honest businesscritters need that protection even more than the rest of us.

We have learnt how crooks have infiltrated horse meat into the market for cheap processed meat because it is so much cheaper than beef. This has two effects :-

  1. The crooks make money … lots of money.
  2. Honest businesscritters lose out. If it goes on long enough there won’t be any honest ones left!

There are those who say “well horse isn’t too bad … it seems to taste pretty good”, which is missing the problem(s). Not only should we be able to see what is in a product by looking at the ingredients list, but if crooks get away with putting safe horse meat into burgers, will cheaper crooks get the idea to put unsafe horse meat in ? Or rat? Or worse?

It is worth remembering this current saga when the Tories start banging on about government regulation – regulation is usually there for a reason, and the reason far too often is due to an event like this where unscrupulous crooks abused the public in order to make a bit more cash.


Dec 112011

David Cameron has officially put the UK into the slow-lane of Europe with the other 26 countries all in the fast lane – including not just the 17 members of the Eurozone, but also those other countries that do not use the Euro. The excuse for doing so is to protect the banking industry – specifically the City of London from a transaction tax.

There are of course the Euro-sceptics whose mindset is stuck in the 19th century who are celebrating and suggesting that we should go further and have a referendum on leaving the EU and ‘going it alone’. Fortunately even the majority of Tories (whose instincts lie in that direction) realise this is a step too far and realise that whatever minor annoyances there are, the membership of Europe is a good thing for us.

To exaggerate the scale of things somewhat, Britain is a country playing in the playground of 900-kilo behemoths – China, the USA, and right next door to us (and we’re effectively part of it … sometimes) the giant of Europe. And it is a giant, although people often underestimate the power of Europe – all those funny Europeans, surely they can’t add up to much can they ? Actually they do – the GDP of the European Union as a whole is larger than any country in the world including the USA and China; admittedly only marginally larger than the GDP of the USA (a trifling 2 trillion dollars larger). This is because we usually rank countries in order of GDP, but miss larger blocks.

It is essentially an “accident” of history that Europe has remained a grouping of 26 independent countries whereas China became a huge land empire, and the USA became a federal union of “nation states”. The accident is of course a complex series of events throughout European history that is beyond the scope of this blog entry!

This could all be an example of short-term thinking – whilst staying out may protect the financial industry (although it is interesting to note that the Financial Times wasn’t entirely positive about this), it may well harm Britain’s prospects in the longer term. And increased regulation and taxation of the banking industry may be what the leaders of banking oppose, but it could well be that people in the UK actually would quite agree with it.

By staying out, we will have less influence over the core of Europe with less say on how Europe progresses. Whilst some people may welcome this, it does seem unwise to risk losing any amount of influence over what is our largest trading partner. And losing any influence with an organisation to which we belong seems unwise.

For some strange reason – perhaps because we seem to like bad news better than good news – the news about the European Union always seems to be bad rather than good. Some of this is merely down to how it is presented – we always hear about draconian regulation of business from Europe, but rarely stop to think that perhaps the regulation was called for by consumers because of abuses by businesses (such as international roaming charges by mobile phone operators), or that the European regulation merely harmonises regulation across Europe – would that business rather have 26 sets of regulations to work with, or 1 ?

There is also a bizarre myth that the European Union is less democratic than the national governments. That all EU power is controlled by unelected European Commissioners. That is a myth put about by politicians who are in danger of losing their cushy jobs if the people eventually device that with the EU parliament in place, there is no more need for expensive national parliaments. In fact, it is entirely possible that the EU is more democratic than national governments.

We often take the earlier accomplishments of the EU for granted – the ability to travel across Europe without visas at every turn. Who has not sailed through the fast lane at airports pitying those from outside the EU who are stuck in the slow lane ? And what about peace across Europe ?

Jul 172011

Given the current situation in Eastern Africa, it is about time to come up with a few words about foreign aid … specifically the amount that each country contributes towards foreign aid. There is plenty of suspicion that some countries are not contributing their fair share – indeed some countries have promised aid and then failed to deliver.

There are those who criticise the uses to which foreign aid is put – and there may be valid criticisms there, but whilst your country is being stingy, you don’t really have the right to criticise. Stump up the money to at least the average, and then you may criticise away. Indeed some of the criticisms are in the end due to a lack of money – for example paying for emergency aid to keep starving people alive doesn’t solve any long term problems, but solving the long term problems takes money beyond that for emergency aid.

I’ll be using percentage of GDP as a metric of how stingy countries are when it comes to foreign aid. Some may criticise this metric, but it is the only sensible metric to use … and indeed someone has already looked at the percentage of GDP question and more or less come down on the side of saying that it’s probably the best metric available. See here.

When looking at the figures, it is worth bearing in mind that the UN has a target of getting the rich to contribute 0.7% of their GDP towards foreign aid. This is a target that was agreed by the rich countries way back in 1970, and has rarely been met. Stealing an image from another web page :-

Graph of foreign AID by GDP

I would rather have included just the second graph which is the important one, but the first allows me to make a point about absolute aid monetary values. It allows the US to hide it’s stinginess behind it’s absolute value of donations – it looks generous, but the true story is hidden behind the size of the US. For instance, you could more accurately compare (in absolute terms) the donations by the US with Europe as a whole – if you add up the value donated by the next three largest contributors (all in Europe), you get a value of approximately $39 billion – way more than the US, and the contributions from less wealthy European countries would make the US even more stingy.

I’m picking on the US here simply because it is one of the stingiest rich countries around, but very few countries reach or exceed the UN target of 0.7% of GDP. Only 5 out of 23 countries (22%) meet or exceed the UN target. Or in other words, 78% of the listed countries have not met a target they are obligated to have met by the mid-1970s!

And before anyone mentions that this is because of the current economic climate, bear in mind that foreign aid budgets have increased since the banking crisis – over time, the rich countries have accumulated a “debt” of some $4.1 trillion dollars representing the shortfall between what they have promised and what they actually give.

Or in other words it’s not “enough already”, but we have fallen a long way short of what we promised to do – except for a tiny minority (that 22% who exceed the target are all quite small countries). It may well be that some foreign aid is wasted, but that is a topic for another time – a time after the UK has reached the 0.7% target (it is currently 0.56% of GDP).

Jul 152011

In a classic example of a deceptive news story, the BBC announced today in their TV news bulletin that 8 European banks failed the stress test – meaning they might not survive a financial crisis.

But later listening to Euronews (and in fact in the online article by the BBC), I hear a slightly different slant to the story – 8 our of 90 banks tested failed. Or 9%. Or to put it another way, 91% of European banks passed the stress test.

Merely announcing that 8 failed the test does not give an indication of the scale of the problem – was it 8 out of 8 ? 8 out of 80 ? Or 8 out of 800? Given the current climate in the wake of the recent banking crisis it is not unreasonable to assume that 8 failing the test is a much more serious problem than it really is.

Is it so much to ask that the media actually spend some time thinking about statistics and giving a proper slant to the news they announce ? Saying 9% failed the test is just as quick as saying 8 banks failed, and gives us more information, and the objection that some people may not understand percentages is pretty bogus – those who do not understand them are unlikely to be bothered by the “8 banks failed test” statement anyway.

A case of over simplification leading to unintended (or was it intentional?) deception.

Dec 212008

So apparently the EU parliament has said that the UK opt-out on the EU working time directive has got to go, meaning no more than a 48 hour working week (averaged out over 17 weeks I believe). Of course this has UK business representatives whinging that this is unacceptable interference with business and it should be the choice of workers whether they work longer or not.

Yeah right. Tough!

Businesses all too often get things their own way, and I suspect (backed by some inside knowledge) that many workers do not in fact have much of a choice in the matter. After all we still have a higher average working week than most other European countries. In fact many British workers are in fact unaware of the EU Working Time directive.

Why is there a demand for long working hours? It is just is not very effective; tired workers are unlikely to be as productive as well rested ones, and in some jobs are more likely to have accidents. Entrepreneurs usually think their workers should work as hard as they do …

But often their workers are in fact working harder even if they are not working as long. And why should the workers work as hard as the entrepreneur ? They certainly will not get as greater reward; it is a rare worker who gets rich when his or her boss does.

And to those who say they cannot afford to live on what they would earn in a 48-hour week, well you need to get another job as you’re being ripped off. And to the apprentice mechanic who was interviewed on the BBC News, the right word for a “girlfriend” who needs money to stay interested is “prostitute”.

Strictly speaking it is not a final decision as the EU Parliament decision needs to go through various stages to be finally decided upon by the European Council. So much for democracy! But here’s hoping that the politicians finally have the courage to stick a finger up at businesses … going without all those expensive meals bought for you by business owners will be good for you and your waistline 🙂

Nov 112008

Of course speaking strictly they should be called “public holidays” or in the case of Easter, “common law holidays”, but whatever they are called, where are they ? The UK as a whole has just 8 days of public holidays which is decidedly stingy when compared to the European average of 10.8. What is especially irritating is that the part of the UK that has been the least well behaved over the last hundred years gets 10 days public holiday (NI).

But why limit ourselves to raising it to the European average ? That is somewhat unambitious, and we should think of actually increasing the average somewhat. Lets go for 12 days.

First of all we should add each country’s national day – St. George’s Day (in England), and St. David’s day (in Wales). Both Scotland and Northern Ireland already celebrate their national days, and Scotland needs the day it “swapped” to celebrate St. Andrew’s day restored. Frankly a country that cannot celebrate its own national day does not deserve to be called a country!

Secondly (and with good timing), we should be commemorating Remembrance Day as a bank holiday. Frankly not having this day as a national holiday is a complete disgrace and an insult to those who died in WWI. It could also serve a dual purpose as a sort of “Britain” day.

That leaves two left to distribute, and I would suggest having both in the summer – perhaps one on midsummer’s day and another in July.

Next all public holidays need to be properly protected. Many do not realise that there is no statutory duty for an employer to recognise “bank holidays”; we simply rely on them behaving properly. Employees need to be protected by being given the day off, or if it is necessary to work to be given double-time pay. And public holidays should not count against the yealy leave entitlement – as implemented in most of Europe.

Undoubtedly businesses will complain about the cost to business of all this extra loafing around. Well tough. You guys get it your own way far too much. Besides you might be surprised. Not only is there the surge of productivity that an employee gets when he or she has had a good break, but many also feel the need to “clear the desk” before a day or two off. It is possible that more work would get done with more public holidays than the current state.

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