Log in

 Brexit: avoiding the debate

000a Brexit-011 DCB.jpg

To his eternal credit, Witterings from Witney has been goading the erstwhile UKIP (now Tory) MEP David Campbell Bannerman (DCB) into publishing his entry for the IEA "Brexit" prize, which he is now done, with a copy posted online.

Alongside that, WfW has published a critique, concluding that David Campbell Bannerman may well be feeling a tad aggrieved that his submission did not make the final six – and rightly so, for it is no better or worse than those that did. Which means, like those, his too is irredeemably flawed.

WfW takes on the difficult task of showing how badly flawed DCB's work actually is – difficult because the work is so riddled with factual and legal errors that to do it justice would require an extremely long document – and it is simply not worth wasting that amount of time on it.

The fact that it is being criticised at all, though, raises an interesting conundrum for the eurosceptic "community". After all, DCB is "one of us", in the sense that he is committed to leaving the EU, subscribes to Better off out and has been an avid campaigner on leaving the EU.

On that basis alone, it can be (and is) argued, that DCB should not be attacked, and his work – if not entirely sound – is a step in the right direction, so we should not be dismissive of it.

On the other hand, though, we are in a no-holds-barred fight, and in order to win a referendum, the eurosceptic movement will not only have to be on top of its game, it will have to predict, and then pre-empt countermeasures from the opposition.

In terms of the general fight, we have consistently argued that the outers will need a well-thought-out and sound exit plan, as an essential part of the campaign. And in this, we argue that any plan is not good enough. It must be the best, collectively, that we can all devise.

If there are multiple plans on offer, what we can expect of the opposition is that they will seek out the weakest of them, and ignore the stronger submissions, then representing the plan(s) they choose as representing the best the eurosceptic community has to offer.

This is an extension of the classic "straw man" technique, misrepresenting your opponent's argument in order then to win it. And, for our enemies, the DCB plan presents an ideal opportunity, for it is a very bad plan, so easily demolished that it provides endless opportunities for showing how dangerous it would be to leave the EU. 

The essence of the problem we confront with DCB's "EEA-lite" is that he believes the UK can expect to rejoin EFTA, who will welcome the UK with open arms, while our negotiators move in to unpick the EEA agreement, dipping into it to take exactly what they want from it, without any reference to what the other EFTA members, much less the EU-27, might then expect. 

He then thinks we can adopt EU legislation for our export trade, in a "pick 'n' mix" fashion, while carving out changes to the "freedom of movement" provisions of the EEA agreement, that have already been declared by the EU to be non-negotiable. 

The "plan" is so much of a non-starter that we cannot afford to leave it, or the rest of the poorly formulated exit plans, on the table, unchallenged. Absence of criticism implies assent and if the likes of DCB produce their plans, and we don't point out their flaws, our enemies will use our silence (if it suits them) to imply that the plans have the general support of the eurosceptic community.

Where these plans would have some value would be if their authors offered them as contributions to the debate, and were then prepared to engage in debate, encouraging discussion of their works, arguing the point they make, and defending it against criticism, in an honest and open way.

And this is where the whole process falls down. So many of these people – of which DCB is a typical example – deliver their plans, ex cathedra, seeking to invest them with prestige and appeals to authority, while refusing to engage in debate, or defending their work.

As a result, we now have a number of poorly framed and wholly inadequate plans in existence, each with their own advocates and supporters, the net effect of their efforts being to give material support to our enemies.

Thus, if their authors are too grand to engage in a debate, we must do it for them, and clear out the rubbish. WfW has contributed to the process, and now The Boiling Frog has joined in. He observes that, if DCB's effort is the best the eurosceptic movement as a whole can accomplish, then we deserve to lose any referendum. We seriously need to up our game.

However, it is a measure of DCB style that he probably won't even deign to respond. Yet the WfW piece stands, to which I add my endorsement.


Richard North 11/09/2014

 EU regulation: more fatuous prattle

000a Express-008 toast.jpg

On an initiative by the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA), there is this, which reports: "An EU watchdog says toast should be eaten only when it is a light brown colour or it could increase the risk of cancer". Then there is this - see sections 8 and 9:
There is no need to understand differences between white or green papers, a report or a regulation or a directive. It is much easier to write about "crazy ideas of EU bureaucrats" … Use "EU bureaucrats" or "Brussels bureaucrats" as often as possible. A more experienced lazy journalist would simply refer to "Eurocrats".
What we are actually talking about is this, a 303-page, "Draft Scientific Opinion on Acrylamide in Food" which kicked off a public consultation process in July (one of many) and which concludes on 15 September 2014 – in one week's time. The final adoption of the opinion is set for June 2015.

Acrylamides are found in a wide range of manufactured foods, including coffee and coffee substitutes, followed by potato crisps and snacks and potato fried products, and have been associated with cancer in test animals. The EFSA is considering the risk to humans and, once finalised, its scientific advice, "will support European and national decision-makers to consider possible measures to further reduce consumer exposure to this substance in food".

As well as composition limits on manufactured foods, these measures "may include advice on eating habits and home-cooking, or controls on commercial food production". However, as EFSA is keen to point out, the Agency "plays no direct role in deciding such measures".

Here, you can take a view as to whether there should be a scientific agency working on food composition standards, and whether it should be involved in the contentious area of predicting risk of various ingredients, and then offering advice about acceptable levels.

Arguably, if there is to be an agency, then it should operate on a trans-national level, simply to widen the database, and to get access to a wider range of studies. And, if there are to be standards, we certainly don't want a plethora of different national standards – that would make international trading in certain foodstuffs a nightmare.

But whatever arguments that apply to the utility of European standards also apply to global standards, so this is an area where one might expect the WHO to be active, which indeed it is, having also produced a 156-page monograph on the issue.

Ideally, if there is then to be a standard – and I do stress if - it should come from Codex which already has a code of practice. However, it is often the case that Codex needs national or bloc standards, on which to piggyback, before it can produce its own.

Crucially though, nothing is going to happen there without the agreement of the United States, which had its own FDA produce a code of practice last year. That, like the EU code, is also out for consultation.

In the final analysis, we may or may not end up – after a huge and expensive amount of effort, carried out on a global scale – with a sensible measure to limit a possible carcinogen in our manufactured foods, and some sensible (or otherwise) dietary advice on the preparation and consumption of some foods.

But whatever the actual outcome, it is an absolute travesty for the Express to write a silly little story about "EU bureaucrats" telling us "we can't eat TOAST" (their capitals). Yet, while we expect this low drone from the Express, there is no excuse for Alan Murad, of Get Britain Out, from whom we get: "It is time the EU stopped meddling". And we get the usual silliness from UKIP MEPs, which is why we can't even begin to take these stupid people seriously. They are a positive embarrassment.

As always, for my part, I'm looking at Flexcit aspect. In the grown-up world we have to factor in such issues as how we handle food standards in a post-exit UK. Even if we wanted to, we can't walk away from their proper consideration. We have to acknowledge that they are of great importance to international trade, and that the EU is a player, as is Codex, as is the FDA and the WHO. Their views have to be taken seriously, and accommodated.

Thus, how we factor in these players, and how we work with the international community to formulate food standards (or block them if necessary), is going to determine (in part) whether we have a workable exit plan or not. It would be nice to think that we could have a grown-up newspaper to report in such issues, and grown up campaign groups, but - as always - we're out on our own.

That's where we end up being our own worst enemies. Any fool can have an opinion on whether the EU should "ban toast", but you have to do some reading and thinking in order to pronounce on acrylamides. Too many people take the easy option - and then wonder why "eurosceptics" are not taken seriously.


Richard North 08/09/2014

 UK politics: the tragedy of the Conservative Party

000a Times-007 Parris.jpg

On the comments section of this blog, I see occasional posters make points which disagree with my many assertions. With what time I have, I usually answer such points as carefully as I can.

With some of these people, though, you see them elsewhere, on other comment threads on different websites, making exactly the same points as they have previously made on my site – completely unchanged, even though they may by then be disputed territory.

You also find people on Twitter who make assertions. If one is so inclined, one can answer. Some respond and a discussion ensues. But not with this breed. If their points are contradicted, we see them wait a few hours – or even days - and re-post their original comments, without the encumbrance of the dissenting voices.

These are people who, quite evidently, are not interested in debate. They have points to make, and they are going to make them, come what may – whether right or wrong, whether corrected or not. You can't argue with them because they don't play by the rules. The best thing to do is ignore them.

One can, therefore, have a great deal of sympathy with Matthew Parris in his Saturday column in The Times, when he addressed the question of the Clacton by-election, which now looks set to go to UKIP's latest Westminster defector.

Perhaps unwisely, but with a degree of candour that one can only admire, he actually has the temerity to ask whether the Conservative party should bother to win the seat, venturing that the price of shaping the Conservative Party, so that it would appeal to the voters of Clacton, is not worth the gain.

Is it, he asks, where the Tories need to be if they're to gather momentum in this century, rather than slowly lose it? Or, he adds:
… do we need to be with the Britain that has its career prospects ahead and not behind, that can admire immigrants and want them with us, that doesn't want to spend its days buying scratchcards and its evenings smoking in pubs, that's amazed at all the fuss about whether gays should marry, that travels in Europe and would hesitate to let those links go?
From this build-up, he then delivers two immortal sentences which have the dovecotes a-flutter and which, I gather, are to adorn UKIP leaflets in the constituency. "I am not arguing that we should be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton", Parris says: "But I am arguing - if I am honest - that we should be careless of their opinions".

The point, as I see it, is that in politics, you are defined as much by your enemies as your friends. And there is little sense in cosying up to your enemies in the hope of converting some of them into allies, if the cost is losing most of your friends. This was the mistake Mr Cameron made, in courting the Lib-Dems and ignoring his core vote.

But Parris now makes the same point about UKIP. Perhaps he has realised how much the party has changed over the last few years – no longer a Conservative party in waiting, but a group dominated by malign, insolent, malcontents. They have no coherent political position and know only what they don't like, with not the first idea of what they would do for replacements.

"These people", Parris says, "we must have nothing to do with. No concessions to UKIP, no more rightward creep, no fluttering of eyelashes and no dogwhistled calls for anyone to come back. These people don't want a compromise - Mr Cameron has already thrown them too much meat - and the more you give them, the more they'll demand".

That is actually another good point: "the more you give them, the more they'll demand". There is no satisfying UKIP. This is no longer about leaving the EU. For a lot of members, leaving the EU doesn't even figure. Their politics has become a grudge match, where the objective is the destruction of the Conservative Party, no matter what the consequences.

Given the case he sets out, within his own framework of reference, what Parris says makes a lot of sense. But there is a flaw in his argument. If you are a political party, and you are intent on distancing yourselves from your enemies in order then to cement relations with your friends, it does help if you have actually some friends.

This is where Anne McElvoy, public policy editor of the Economist, comes in. In the Observer, she writes of that which we are all aware. Her headline reads: "The self-destructive discontent in a Tory party that has lost its way", with a sub-head that tells us: "With the election only months away, the Conservatives have lost their grip on the issues that matter to voters".

Not much more needs to be added to those bold statements. The party has nothing to offer its friends. Its policy on the EU is a mess, foreign policy over Ukraine and ISIS in Syria and Iraq is in tatters and the reshuffle that was supposed to energise domestic policy has crashed and burnt. Increasingly, those close to Cameron are observing that he is personally losing it – irritable with his own cabinet, his MPs and staff, he has become forgetful, and clumsy in his responses.

The week before last, Parris was also writing his column - that one telling us that a Tory schism was "now all but inevitable". That has always been Farage's main objective, and he would happily see the Conservatives lose the general election in order for him to achieve that aim.

It is that prospect which, according to the Mail on Sunday, has Tory backbenchers "panicking". Rees-Mogg, in particular, is emulating his late father, by getting things spectacularly wrong.

Rees-Mogg's nostrum – amongst others – is to suggest that Mr Cameron keeps a place open in his next cabinet for Mr Farage as deputy prime minister and, as "a sign of good faith" even giving the post of Minister for Europe to a UKIP MP.

This, it rather seems to me, is a council of defeat: a Conservative Party aligned with UKIP would no longer be the Conservative Party. But since, even in the very early days of the Cameron regime, we were branding his creation "not-the-Conservative-Party", we have already lost that which Rees-Mogg seeks to regain. As long as Mr Cameron is at the helm, there is nothing to salvage.

But this does no mean that UKIP provides an answer. In that, I think Parris is right. Concessions to its nihilistic creed would be a cal-de-sac. But with Cameron so obviously failing, the Party needs a new leader, a reinvigorated programme and coherence on "Europe".  Specifically, a new leader could offer an Article 50 withdrawal and a credible exit plan.

The tragedy is that it really is that simple and that far away. Instead of seeking this out as an option, and succeeding, we have instead small-minded MPs thrashing away, like UKIP, without the vision to suggest what it right and what is really needed. The nation, and the Conservative Party, deserves better.


Richard North 08/09/2014

 Energy: the age of unreason

000a Express-003 Kettles.jpg

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a piece about the durability of kettles, lamenting that, while they were very cheap, they seemed to last no time at all. From that, we got three pages of comments on the forum – interesting, informative and mostly well-written and precisely the reason why such forums add value to a blog.

My particular focus at the time was the WEE directive, and a suggestion that we would be better served if the EU spent less effort on telling us how to dispose of broken domestic appliances, and more on ensuring that they lasted longer.

I even advanced the case that, while leaving the EU would not guarantee us sensible (or even better) regulation, at least it would enable us to try a different tack – such as statutory durability requirements.

Entirely separately, under the aegis of the Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC), we have seen Deloitte on 1 July 2014 produce a "preparatory study" to establish the Ecodesign Working Plan 2015-2017, in order to assist in further implementing the directive.

Publication was over two months ago, and largely unremarked, with the study working towards ranking electrical products according to their potential for energy saving.

As one might expect, electric kettles are on the list, and the interesting thing here is the main comments refer at some length to poor durability of the appliances. The report notes:
There are many discussions and complaints on the Internet about poor reliability, although very little rigorously researched data. The UK consumer organization has carried out surveys of its members and found that most consumers expect kettles to last at least seven years but only 9% of their members had kettles older than six years. ERA has surveyed its employees and found that kettles are the least durable kitchen appliance with many failing in less than two years.
However, there are no legislative proposals – that is not what this document is about, although if by whatever means a mandatory durability standard came into being, I would no object. I really do dislike having needlessly to throw away such appliances, and would gladly pay a little more to achieve better durability.

So far, though, we have a largely unexceptional document – and it remained so until the Express gots hold of it, shrieking about it being an "astonishing assault on our British way of life". We then see the similar foam-flecked charges in other newspapers and it is no surprise to find at UKIP at the bottom of this, sounding off with the ignorance to which we have become accustomed.

On the very, very specific point of kettles (and the other appliances so far mentioned), there are no proposals for banning high-power appliances – or any proposals at all. This is a study document, and a draft at that. Anyone who asserts that bans are being proposed simply hasn't read the document.

The hyperventilation, of course, owes much to the recent controversy on domestic vacuum cleaners, and ill-informed claims that all high-powered machines have been "banned".

But, as we have noted several times (almost to the point of tedium), there is no outright ban. Those who feel they need more powerful machines can always bypass the 1600W cap imposed on appliances sold for the domestic market and buy commercial or industrial machines.

This brings into focus the wider issue as to whether imposing controls on the sale of appliances, with the specific objective of improving energy efficiency, is a legitimate role for government – any government, whether the EU or national governments.

Personally, I regard efficient use of electricity as a desirable and necessary objective – a public "good". If voluntary action or the market cannot deliver, then there is a legitimate role for legislative intervention.

What took me aback somewhat is that I didn't think the case for energy efficiency needed to be made. No matter what your views are on the generation of electricity, it makes absolute sense – or so I thought – to minimise the demand for electricity, if that can be done without impacting on consumer choice.

This has been the case with electric fridges and freezers which collectively, account for 14 percent of total household electricity consumption and where legislative intervention is pursuit of energy efficiency has not compromised the consumer interest. As this US report attests, between 1987 and 2010, the real price of refrigerators decreased by 35 percent while energy usage was more than halved.

Where manufacture and marketing of domestic appliances is undertaken on a global scale, though, it makes absolute sense to have a multi-national standard. And while I would prefer that any European standards were addressed through organisations such as UNECE (as are vehicle and some agricultural standards), in the real world, it is inevitable that the lead organisation will be the EU – for the time being.

What we thus see is a constituency which objects to such initiatives for the sole reason that they are managed by the EU (even though member states willingly agree to them). And this does seem to me both irrational and harmful.

If we are ever going to develop a credible EU exit plan, we are going to have to recognise that there are some things that are best handled at a national level, and others at a regional or global level. In many cases, a regional solution becomes a precursor to a global agreement.

As I pointed out, in seeking energy efficiency standards for vacuum cleaners, we are not alone. The US is also going down this path and, in the fullness of time, we would hope to see a global standard, to facilitate global free trade in these and similar appliances. Possibly, that will involve an ISO standard, adopted by individual legislatures.

This process of creation and adoption of performance standards has been going on for generations, and is largely unnoticed and unexceptional. But for some reason, this basically benign process has become the touchstone for unthinking "euroscepticism".

Nevertheless, those who so easily link this issue with their opposition to the EU need to think very hard about what they are trying to achieve. Despite the media hype, there is doubtless a constituency who share with me a belief that energy efficiency controls on domestic appliances are, on balance, a good thing.

Some in that constituency may be persuadable that the EU is a bad thing, and cast an "out" vote in any referendum. But, if we oppose specifics which are linked with the EU, we are likely to lose their supporters, and therefore assist the Europhile cause.

Throughout its history, the EU has shown some skill in attaching itself to popular causes, thereby benefitting from what is often called the "halo effect". We need to be aware of this, and be cautious about what we oppose in the name of Euroscepticism.  In many respect, we need to decouple issues - if we oppose them, it should be because they are intrinsically wrong, not just because the EU is the originator. 

But what worries me is that so much opposition seems now to be entirely irrational, based on hatred rather than logic, to the extent that we are entering a new age of unreason. And that is not going to win us any battles.


Richard North 04/09/2014

 Blogging: everyone's a critic (not)

000a EURef-031 blog5.jpg

Journalism – and especially political journalism – is about criticism. The meat and drink of the oeuvre is taking people, governments or other institutions to task, either for not doing things, for doing things, or doing them badly.

If they do things well, they are largely ignored. A functioning system doesn't make headlines (although it might if we ever had a government IT system that worked). By its very nature, the media concentrates on "bad" news, and on criticism rather than plaudits.

Strangely though, those very journalists (and their employers) who so freely dish out their criticisms of all and sundry tend to be rather unenthusiastic about being on the receiving end.

In the old days, of course, there was no problem. Letters to the editor, attacking a story (or its author) has no chance of being published, while there was a "gentleman's agreement" between proprietors, that "dog shall not eat dog" – one that largely holds to this day. With the exception of Private Eye, the media did not attack other media.

What then brought the biggest change since newspapers graduated from their leafleting origins, was the internet. It had several effects, one of the most obvious being online commentary.

For the first time, readers were able to air their views on the material they were being offered, without the approval of the letters' editors. However, there were the dreaded moderators, who for a while held the line (and some still do), removing any content that attacked either the medium or the author.

While many posters have thus been banned, there has developed a sort of uneasy vade mecum, whereby you are permitted to attack the author in general terms – although not too often – but you are not allowed to attack the host, the specific media which carries the piece. Mostly, though, generalised attacks on the media are permitted.

As a result, within certain limits, commenters often get a free pass when attacking online authors, many of whom stand above the fray, choosing not to defend their work against what is sometimes a torrent of rather unpleasant abuse – on the very sensible basis that it is unwise to get into a fight with a chimney sweep.

Into this unholy mix comes the political blogger – of which there are three broad types: the media-hosted; the party affiliated; and the diminishing band of the non-aligned, such as EU Referendum, who neither have media backing nor support any particular party.

Sticking with the non-aligned, in common with the legacy media, we are able to take people, governments or other institutions to task, either for not doing things, for doing things, or doing them badly. Sometimes we can do it better. Most often, the media, with its greater resources and contacts, will take the lead.

But, non-aligned bloggers also enjoy the unique position of being able to criticise the media. The party affiliated blogs will not do this, and they are in bed with them, but we can and do take on the giants and point out their all too frequent failings – a process that is so easy at times that it is embarrassing.

To my certain knowledge, the newspapers know this, and hate the criticism. But they adopt the tactic of ignoring it – much the same tactic they used with UKIP in the early days. They don't link to us and, where others place our links on legacy media comments, they very often (but not always) disappear.

However, this means that, as bloggers, we are out on our own, and more so if we are attacking party-affiliated blogs and well as political parties. Some bloggers take great offence at being criticised, believing that – unlike the general media – they should be immune. This belief they often apply to their own comments, ruthlessly deleting those who disagree with them. 

This brings me to the main point of this post, which is to explore the relationship between bloggers and their readers, and with that sub-set who comment on their posts. Here, quite obviously, I can only speak for myself – although I am fully aware that some of my observations will apply elsewhere.

The reason why it becomes necessary to take time to do this is that there is a certain proportion of commenters who have a seriously distorted view as to the nature of blogging – and what bloggers may or may not owe to their readers – and vice versa. Basically, I need a post on the record, to which I can link when I have to confront certain commentators, without having to write a specific response each time.

Firstly, in order to set the scene, I need to explain why I blog, and why I am still blogging after more then ten years – one of the longest-serving non-aligned bloggers in the country. And, as with any complex enterprise, there is no single answer.

The first reason is that I am Christopher Booker's researcher- and have been for over 20 years. I don't work for the Sunday Telegraph (although I used to do so) but for him personally, on issues related to his column.

Before even blogs (and the internet) became established, I used to write every week for him a number of news briefings on specific subjects, that he could use in his column. Some were by request. Others were more speculative, others were markers to flag up developing issues which might become relevant later.

Initially, I was sending these to Booker by fax, and then when we both got internet (and the computers that went with it), I used to send him e-mails. Because some of the content was of use and interest to others, I would also send copies to an expanding mailing list. Eventually, several hundred people were getting my briefings each week.

For a lot of reasons, it then made absolute sense to migrate onto a blog, making it more accessible, and reducing the time it took to administer an e-mail list. And initially, it enabled me to include a co-author, Helen Szamuely, who has since moved to her own blog.

The second trigger which brought us into the blogosphere was the promise of a referendum on the then EU constitution by Tony Blair, back in 2004. We thought it would be a good idea to provide information for "no" campaigners which was not then (or now) being provided by the media or the political parties.

Thirdly, I had by then developed a business as a political analyst and free-lance researcher, providing political and other clients with briefings on specific subjects. As with Booker, some were commissioned – some were general, background briefings. And once again, for a lot of very good reasons, it made sense to publish these on the blog – sometimes as the primary mechanism of communication.

Fourthly, the blog gave me (and Helen) a visible platform- a "shop window", so to speak. Determinedly independent and knowing that no one else could be relied upon to host our material, it gave us a mechanism to reach a larger number of people than we could by normal means. It also offered a small opportunity for soliciting donations to help keep the bailiffs from the doors and it strengthened our influence in certain political quarters.

Of the major reasons for blogging, though, there was one more: the comments system, which gravitated into a forum and then become a comments system as well. The opportunity to get feedback from a wide range of readers has always been one of my main motivations for blogging, as it is through these that one learns a very great deal. Thus, by and large, I welcome criticism, and even insults. In fact, as Winston Churchill might possibly have averred, there is no finer art than the well-crafted political insult.

It appears, though, that this brings me into conflict with a number of my commenters, those who – used to the legacy media way of doing things – believe they have a free pass to criticise me on my own blog, while remaining immune from any response. These are free with their insults (some not even realising they are being insulting) yet take grave exception when I respond in kind.

That brings me to the first point that I need to make. Simply, it is this: I do, most sincerely welcome feedback, and have no problems even with insults (as opposed to abuse). But my main (but not my only) criterion by which I judge comments is whether they add value.

Thus, a comment that tells me I am wrong, without telling me why (especially when I am not), is of no use to me. A comment which picks up any one of my numerous errors is welcome, and treasured – even if I do fight my corner sometimes, before accepting a disputed point.

But what I won't accept is gratuitous abuse, irrelevant dogma or those who complain when I respond in like manner to their own insults, whether deserved or not. This is a blog written by an adult, for adults. Expect as good as you give. 

The second point I need to make is in response to those readers – very often identified by their own statements to that effect – who seem to believe that, by reading my blog, they are doing me some kind of favour. We get a lot of these and not just on this blog. Other bloggers get the same.

Usually attached to that is some kind of condition – in my case, an assertion that if only I modified my writings in some way, they would read more of my posts, and more people would come flocking to the blog.

Of course, I am fully aware that if I wanted to maximise hits, I would need to research what my target audience wants to see and then tailor my output for them. That assumes, however, that I am in the business of maximising hits, which might have been the case once, but certainly is no longer.

In this, I have to introduce yet other reasons for blogging. Essentially, I do it for myself, in the first instance because I enjoy writing, secondly because writing about things focuses the mind and helps me make sense of them, and thirdly, because I am often able to make use of the material in writing books for publication.

That latter process started with The Ministry of Defeat, and carried over into The Many Not The Few, and is currently informing Flexcit, where I am able to try out and develop ideas, before committing using them in a publication. Thus, the blog becomes a test bed for new ideas. 

The point that emerges from this is that there is a hierarchy to my audience. Primarily, I write for myself. Then I write for Booker and a very small group of clients and influence-makers.  And there's the rub. If there was no-one else involved, and no-one else looked at the blog, my output would largely be the same. The blog would soldier on. 

Only then, therefore, is the blog available to the general reader. Make no mistake here – I welcome you to the blog, and enjoy having you follow my work. But you owe me nothing (although I'm incredibly grateful for the donations), and I owe you nothing – individually or collectively.

Essentially, I write what I write, and if you care to read it, I am very pleased to have provided something of value. But I will not accept any form of conditionality, changing my work (or style) just to soothe my critics. For those who tell me that they deliberately turn away from my work because it does not please them, that is their loss. Non-readers, and even regular ex-readers, are of absolutely no interest to me.

And despite the pundits chirping about blogging, as they do from time-to-time, I am one of the few non-aligned bloggers who - the aid of donations and sponsorship - actually make a living out of my craft. It's not brilliant, but it's something very few others have achieved - and that's without having to resort to advertising. In other words, unlike many of my critics, I am a successful blogger, and on my own terms.

Nevertheless, a lot of people do make the assumption that I am after volume (of hits). And if that was my original model, it led to the discovery of two things ...the volume has to be insanely high for a British blog (easier if you are American), and to get the volume you have to make too many compromises. So I've come up (more by accident than design) with a different economic model.

In this, I've managed to square the circle. I have a blog where successes is not dependent on reader volume, which means I don't have to pander to a general readership. I can go for quality rather than quantity. And quality blogging requires quality readers. The rest can go elsewhere.

To conclude, I come to a comment made to my son, who writes the blog, Complete Bastard. He is something of a chip off the old block, but he is his own master – I do not tell him what to write, and nor would I want to. But, to his work (and mine), he got this feline comment:
Must say that you and your dad's "no one understands the world except for us" schtik is getting a bit wearisome ... sorry, gotta be honest.
Peter responded in his own fashion to this "honesty", in some detail. By coincidence, I got something very similar on EURef comments the very next day. It declared of my Carswell piece:
This is the usual analysis. Richard North the sole person on the planet with true insight, any intelligence or honesty. Every other jourmo (except CB most of the time) politician, blog poster etc. is stupid, has no understanding, is corrupt etc … Sadly this is why Richard will always be on the outside looking in, instead of moving and shaking events himself.
I think my response more or less covers it, bringing us rather neatly back to where we started:
At least try some original thinking will you? I've seen this meme floating around for over a year, and it is about as weak now as it was when the first pathetic attempt was made to float it.It is, of course, the classic "straw man" argument. It does not stand up to analysis because the authors rely on sweeping generalisations rather than address individual issues. Mostly, that is because when they have tried, they fail.

Thus, they hide behind their generalisations knowing that, as long as they avoid any specific detail, they can never be challenged on it and be shown to be wrong. On reflection, though, if it keeps jealous inadequates in their comfort zones, who am I to argue? They need their little myths to console them.
The real point, though, is that, on the "outside", we cannot rely on "prestige", the appeal to authority, or the other stratagems the establishment relies upon to pursue their often flawed arguments. Instead, we have to do our research and get things right – otherwise, we have our readers who are only too keen to tell us that we've got it wrong (thank goodness).

Nor will you find me disputing that we do get it wrong occasionally, but I think on balance we get it right more often. That, I suspect, is one of the main reasons we attract so much hostility. And that's why, on balance, I'm not really concerned by criticism of this nature.


Richard North 01/09/2014

 Media: we can reveal …

000a Mirror-029 Paterson.jpg

The self-importance of the media knows no bounds. With the hacks determined to milk the Carswell story, they are trying to build it into a mass rebellion of Conservative MPs, naming other MPs who they think might also defect.

Hot on the trail is the Mirror which is targeting Owen Paterson – who lost his post as Environment Secretary in July. In a stunning "revelation", it tells us that he has dined with hedge fund boss Crispin Odey, and now UKIP donor, who later launched a savage attack on David Cameron.

This "revelation" has now been picked up by the Express and the Mail, the latter noting that Mr Paterson "was still Environment Secretary when the lunch is said to have taken place with Mr Odey, a former Tory donor".

In talking up their "revelations", though, what the papers fail to tell us is that the information they are giving us is nothing special at all. They are talking about an event which happened last September, nearly a year ago. Furthermore, details were published - as all such information is routinely published – on the DEFRA website on 17 January 2014.

What the papers are doing, therefore, is "revealing" the content of an official website that has been accessible for over six months, implying that the dinner was somehow a conspiratorial meeting.

As for the possibility that Mr Paterson might be joining his former colleague, the erstwhile Environment Secretary is saying that "the only way of securing an EU referendum is to vote Conservative". The media would be unwise to read anything into the fact that this is what Mr Carswell was saying four months ago.


Richard North 30/08/2014

  Carswell: an odiferous rat

000a Carswell-029 twit.jpg

While the Mail is celebrating Douglas Carswell's defection as "brilliantly stage-managed political theatre", an alternative scenario is beginning to do the rounds.

Far from his "defection" being a principled stand of a eurosceptic MP, frustrated by David Cameron's lack of commitment to his cause, Conservative sources are claiming that he resigned in a fit of pique after being slighted by Conservative Central Office over hotel accommodation during the annual conference.

If this sounds all too trivial, those close to Carswell acknowledge that he is something of a drama queen, prone to storming out of meetings when he feels he is not getting his way. For him to decide to resign on the spur of the moment is entirely in character.

This would also explain the unlikely success of the publicity coup, in keeping it secret right up to the moment his defection was announced. So spur-of-the moment was his resignation, that not even Carswell himself knew of it shortly before the hastily arranged press conference. There had been no time for leakage.

Why this has slightly more plausibilty than anything we have be told so far, is that Carswell's reasons for defecting still doesn't stack up. As we see from his Twitter account, on 12 March (above), he was telling us: "Only the Conservatives will guarantee and deliver an In /Out referendum. It will only happen if Cameron is Prime Minister".

And for those who might have missed this happy thought, on 15 April Mr Carswell was articulating the same idea, writing in his Telegraph blog: "In order to exit the EU, we need David Cameron to be Prime Minister in 2017 – the year when we will get the In/Out referendum, our chance to vote to leave the EU".

The point is that, four months later, nothing has changed. Mr Cameron's commitment to a referendum is exactly the same now as it was then. If Mr Carswell believed back in March and then April that we need Mr Cameron in 2017 as prime minister in order to get a referendum then, at this particular juncture, he has no reason to believe otherwise.

At least, Carswell is no longer an MP. Today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed him to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, one of the formal mechanisms by which MPs are removed from office.

Traditionally, a by-election is held within three months of a seat becoming vacant, although there is nothing in the rules that requires this to be the case. The seat could be left vacant until the general election. Senior Conservatives, however, believe that Mr Cameron would be unwise to duck a contest, for fear of being accused of running scared.

With a short, sharp but costly election campaign in prospect, Carswell is expecting his expenses to be defrayed by former Tory donor, Stuart Wheeler, which makes a change from the taxpayer having to pick up the tab, although the cost of a by-election is variously estimated to cost between £80,000-200,000.

Meanwhile, there has been speculation in the Mail and the Mirror as to whether other Conservative MPs will follow Carswell. Named suspects (mostly) have denied any intention to defect.

Former political colleague, Daniel Hannan, has his own "take", writing an enigmatic blogpost. He predicts that the constituency will be Carswell's "for as long as he wants it", asserting that "his brand of optimistic, localist, forward-looking euroscepticism is hugely popular".

Says Hannan: "It could sweep the country at a general election, and propel Britain to global prosperity – if only the Conservatives and UKIP could overcome their animosities", to which he adds "No further comment". He might instead have written: "no chance".

In his reference to overcoming animosities, there is a hint of a possible rapprochement, but one which is entirely unrealistic. Carswell is not likely to become a bridge between the two parties, nor any sort of ambassador. In fact, he has set his bridges ablaze.


Richard North 30/08/2014

 Brexit: with friends like these …

000a Civitas-014 Conway.jpg

In setting the scene in his new book telling us how to get out of the EU - published by Civitas today - Dr David Conway is at pains to recall "what West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer reportedly told the French Prime Minister Guy Mollet at the height of the Suez crisis".

The background is to the joint incursion of France and Britain into Suez, at the point at which the United States "had forced them to abandon their military operation". Conway thus offers a verbatim quote, the source of which he references to Keith Kyle's book Suez: Britain's End of Empire in the Middle East, originally published in 1991, which is probably its first appearance in English translation.

This has Adenauer saying to Mollet:
France and England will never be powers comparable to the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor Germany either. There remains only one way of playing a decisive role in the world; that is to unite to make Europe. England is not ripe for it but the affair of Suez will help to prepare her spirits for it … Europe will be your revenge.
In fact, the original source is French Foreign Minister, Christian Pineau, who wrote it in his book 1956/Suez (Le temps des révélations) published in French on 1 Jan 1976 by Robert Laffon in Paris (p.191), twenty years after the event – of which there is no official record.

Initially, in the original version of this review, I misread the source attribution that Conway gave – a mistake easily made by the author's use of endnotes rather then footnotes, and my own eyesight problems (since addressed with a hospital visit - see also my Disqus comment), ending up in my accusing him of fabricating the source. For that I apologise.

However, I then went on to accuse him of "sloppy, dishonest … scholarship", which I do not withdraw. Conway uses a secondary source (which we all do occasionally, as a short cut – we use a secondary , but different source in The Great Deception for the same quote), but in this event he bases a major part of his argument on that single source. Given the pivotal nature of the quote, a reputable scholar would have gone to the primary source, and then triangulated with corroborative evidence.

As written, he uses this single quote as the foundation of an argument that the EU is a German-dominated construct, established with malevolent intent by Adenauer and thence developed with a view to constructing a Europe "free of British influence over foreign and defence policy irrespective of its membership status". Yet, even in the context of the Kyle book, the quote suggests that Adenauer was more anti-American than anti-British.

The immediate source from which the quote is lifted should have warned Conway to take care. Kyle explicitly notes that Pineau is working from memory twenty years after the event, on issues for which there is no independent corroborative record. Pineau's memory is sometimes demonstrably fallible, says Kyle.

Despite that, we see Conway towards the end of his modest book (of 157 pages), argue that Britain's best "negotiating tactic" is to adopt what he calls the "Adenauer gambit". With Adenauer established as the man in the black hat – primarily on the basis of the Pineau quote - it becomes legitimate to turn the tables on him (as a proxy for Germany), by leveraging the desire of the EU member states to secure agreement on one deal by linking it with another – in the manner that Adenauer secured early post-war recognition of West German sovereignty.

Conway actually needs to learn what a "gambit" is but, in terms of specifics, he is advocating a particularly inadequate idea by ex-UKIP and now Tory MEP, Campbell-Bannerman, as his preferred mechanism for leaving the EU, trading agreement on this in return for our agreeing to a treaty on the euro.

Bannerman's idea is called "EEA-lite", which he suggests can be introduced as a cut-down form of the EEA Agreement, oblivious to the fact that, once you start breaking into the original agreement, the negotiations are thrown wide open and they could end up taking years - or even decades - with unpredictable results.   

When we get to the meat, though, we find Conway destroying his own case. He acknowledges that, outside the "context of negotiations needed to resolve the euro-crisis", "the prospect remains very small that Britain might be able to obtain some such new settlement as EEA lite".

This, of course, is what we have been trying to tell Campbell Bannerman, but that man is on "transmit mode" only. He simply isn't listening. However, Conway comes to his rescue with a tale that Britain is "about to acquire a rare window of opportunity". And since the EU is poised to launch a new treaty, that gives him the leverage that is so necessary.

But in his second example of shoddy scholarship, it is evident that Conway relies (once again) entirely on secondary sources, specifically, articles from The Daily Telegraph and Der Spiegel, to inform him on whether there might be negotiations on a new treaty.

And while indeed there were distinct signs of a treaty in the offing last year, a closer look at primary sources from this year strongly indicate that the idea of a treaty is firmly on hold. The "window of opportunity" no longer exists. Even if EEA-lite was a viable option, therefore – which it isn't – its prospects now are non-existent.

Here then, Dr Conway betrays a further lack of scholarship.  In his book, he has taken us laboriously through four options – the Norway, Swiss, Turkish and WTO options – only to dismiss each in turn as coming with "very substantial drawbacks". This is how he comes to recommend Mr Campbell Bannerman's EEA-lite. It is his fifth option.

But if there is no window of opportunity, Conway has nowhere to go. He does not have a fallback, which means that his entire endeavour of telling us how we should leave the EU is wasted. He doesn't have a way out.

His biggest mistake, though, is to have me as a "vociferous" champion of the Norway option (while Hannan is more gently a "fervent advocate" of the Swiss option). He thus completely fails to realise that I am not actually championing the Norway option as my exit plan. I am actually advocating an option that he hasn't even considered, despite it being readily accessible here.

What I have done, and what Conway should have done, is recognise that all options have "very substantial drawbacks", so we need an interim solution to get us out of the EU with minimal difficulty, thus opening the way to define a longer-term solution.

It is this concept of a two-stage solution which defines Flexcit, of which Conway seems completely unaware, and which "transmit mode" Bannerman chooses to ignore. Thus, Conway ends up producing a sterile, useless book, over which Bannerman then preens on Twitter, both of them driving hand-in-hand up a blind alley.

Probably, the only good thing about Conway's book, therefore, is the first part of the title – alluding to the lack of value of the production. With friends like Civitas sponsoring such low-grade material, we have another waste of time. It takes us no further forward in agreeing an exit plan and simply panders to a shallow ego on the back of flawed scholarship.

Fortunately, the europhiles – for the moment – seem just as crass, but we really cannot afford to waste time and effort on such flawed work.

Richard North 13/08/2014

 UK politics: Tories on the back foot

000a Guardian-012 poll.jpg

We haven't done much on UK politics for a while, but the latest Guardian/ICM poll is worth a quick look.It tells us that Labour has overturned a narrow Tory advantage to take a commanding seven point lead "after a bruising week for David Cameron in the wake of the resignation of Baroness Warsi over the Gaza crisis".

Labour has seen its support increase by five points over the last month to 38 percent, a level it has not seen since March. The Conservatives, on the other hands, have seen their support fall by three points to 31 percent – last recorded in June. This gives Labour a seven-point lead, compared with last month when the Tories had a one-point lead over Labour: 34-33 percent.

The Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 12 percent, while UKIP sees a one-point increase in its support to 10 percent.

The poll was carried out between Friday and Sunday, but whether there was time for the Warsi factor to register is moot. I suspect that events take a little time to register on the electoral horizon, as people like to mull them over. People tend not to be as volatile as the polls seem to indicate. By way of a reference point, YouGov on Sunday put Labour on 37 percent, the Conservatives on 33 percent, UKIP on 12 percent and the Lib-Dems on eight percent.

In that context, the Guardian poll may be showing some of the the aftermath of Mr Cameron's reshuffle, in which case the prime minister is in a little trouble. On the other hand, this may be another of those outliers, with the gap closing in the next poll.

On thing is for certain though. None of the polls show the Conservatives forging ahead, which makes this poll of some greater interest as is also looks at the Tory leadership stakes. With Mr Johnson potentially in the running, he is given pole position. Some 29 percent of respondents believe he should be the next party leader.

Theresa May, the current frontrunner, gets just 14 percent, George Osborne pulls in a mere six percent and Jeremy Hunt – on the same level as Michael Gove – crawls in with two percent. Owen Paterson is not mentioned.

Confusing the issue somewhat, the poll finds that Labour's seven-point lead would fall to three points if Mr Johnson led the Tories, with their support rising by three points to 34 percent. Labour see its support fall by one point to 37 percent. Even if Mr Cameron is unattractive as a leader, it is a tad concerning to think that people would be prepared to give Johnson a punt.

Interestingly, support for UKIP also falls with Johnson as Tory leader. The party loses two points to bring it to eight percent, suggesting that there might be people still confused by the London Mayor's claims to being a eurosceptic.

This notwithstanding – and with all the usual caveats – the overall poll cannot be brilliant news for Mr Cameron. After last month, when his party could conceivably be thought to be making some headway, this result sets him back again.

It is still too early to make predictions for the general election, but the pundits could be right in saying that Johnson throwing his hat into the ring is a sign that he doesn't believe the Tories can win the next election. If the tradition holds, Mr Cameron will resign if he fails to become prime minister, leaving the field open for leadership contenders.

Miliband as prime minister, and Mr Johnson as leader of the opposition, though, is more than anyone should be asked to bear. None of us deserve our politics to be degraded so much. One wonders whether there is an alternative reality one could join and why it is, in a nation of 60 million, we are unable to produce better leaders.


Richard North 12/08/2014

 Booker: Alex Salmond's green dream

000a Booker-010 Salmond.jpg

Booker is back in business this week, his column online split into two parts, one here covering Salmond and Wikipedia, and the other here on Ukraine.

I have put the whole column up on the pic above (click to enlarge to readable size), but – as per a sort of developing tradition – I will only reproduce the lead story (although I suspect I might have a go at the Ukraine story later).

As to the lead, this is about Salmond and his wind farms, which has Booker telling us of the real reason why Alex Salmond's case for Scottish independence unravelled so badly in the face of dogged prodding by Alistair Darling during Tuesday's TV debate.

Writes Booker, that "real reason" was that it again exposed just how far the Great Bullfrog of Scottish politics has always been from producing a properly worked-out plan for how Scotland could disengage from the United Kingdom. It is, he says, as far away, alas, as UKIP has been from coming up with a practical plan for how the UK could leave the EU (let alone the ill-informed twaddle talked on that subject last week by Boris Johnson).

Indeed, on the point on which Mr Salmond was made to look so uncomfortable – his insistence that an independent Scotland could continue using the pound – his wishful thinking is even more adrift from reality than Tuesday's debate exposed.

Not only would an independent Scotland have to apply for separate membership of the EU (which, because of the precedent this would set for Spain and a potentially breakaway Catalonia, Brussels would not be keen to accept) but, like any other new applicant to join the EU, it would have to commit to joining the euro.

The truth is that almost every detail of Mr Salmond's fantasy construct raises practical problems that he has never really faced up to. Another which has scarcely been addressed – except in this column two years ago – is the implication of his reckless pledge that, within a decade or so, his country will be 100 per cent reliant on electricity generated from "renewables".

Scotland already contributes two thirds of all the UK's wind energy, thanks in large part to the First Minister’s drive to cover hundreds of square miles of that beautiful country with wind farms. On paper, their "capacity" of 4.6 gigawatts (GW) precisely matches Scotland’s average energy demand.

But, as we know, wind is so unreliable that the actual output of those 2,000-odd wind turbines is very much less – so embarrassingly small, in fact, that official websites seem to do their best to conceal the actual figure. In a page on the Scottish Renewables site entitled "Scotland's Renewable Sector in Numbers", the one thing not shown is the relevant numbers.

However, thanks to guidance from Dr John Constable and the website of his Renewable Energy Foundation, we can establish the actual output of Scotland’s turbines for the latest month for which figures are available: December 2013. The total of just over 1GW was only 24 percent of their "capacity".

Not only does this meet less than a quarter of Scotland's needs, it is also well under half of the 2.4GW that can be supplied at any time by Scotland's sole remaining large coal-fired power station – which Mr Salmond, lost in his green dreams, would like to see closed.

In his obsession with making Scotland 100 per cent reliant on grotesquely subsidised renewables, Mr Salmond may manage to cover even more of his country with wind farms.

But this will only mean that, to keep Scotland's lights on when the wind is not blowing, he will have to import ever more electricity from England. Already, we have all paid more than £2 billion for two giant interconnector cables running down the east and west coasts, to allow electricity to flow both ways between Scotland and England.

This will create an absurd situation under which, when Mr Salmond's wind turbines are all operating at full blast, the English will have to pay double or treble the price for the surplus they have subsidised to be exported south of the border – but when the wind in Scotland drops, the Scots will import the much cheaper current they need from fossil-fuel power stations in England.

Already, the subsidies we pay for Scotland's wind energy amount to £431 million a year. If Mr Salmond manages to build all those additional wind farms he dreams of, this could, before long, rise to billions a year.

Thanks to the interdependence of the grid, the English will still be paying for that – whether or not, as seems likely, the Great Bullfrog's make-believe dream of an independent Scotland finally crashes to earth next month.


Richard North 10/08/2014

 Brexit: trivia and the death of politics

000a Express-008 Reneg.jpg

Last night I picked up a report in the Evening Standard which had our moronic London mayor declaring that EU renegotiation could "easily" be delivered in time for a referendum in 2017. "There is no reason why an IGC (intergovernmental conference) to settle all those points shouldn't be done in that space of time", he told us, adding: "I think it could be done".

Little did I think that there was a national newspaper with an editorial staff dense enough to print the story on its front page, but then I reckoned without the Express. Any which way you look at what Mr Johnson is saying, it is idiotic. We've been here before. Even if the prime minister could get a majority on the European Council to force a renegotiation (which is unlikely), it could not be until Spring (at the very earliest) that the procedure could be invoked.

Then, the sort of things Mr Johnson has in mind would require a treaty convention, before there could be an IGC, with at least 30 months elapsing before a new treaty could be agreed. There simply isn't time for that. His claim is absurd.

But to give a measure of quite what an imbecile he is, Johnson tells us that there is a need to be tough in talks. "If you don't go in hard to the tackle you are never going to come out well. You've got to go in hard and low", he declares.

This is going in to negotiate with 27 other member states – all of which have a veto - with a fundamental reform of the CAP on the table, amongst other things.

If Johnson thinks that going in "hard and low" is going to convince the French to abandon the CAP, and waive their veto, then he is barking mad. More likely, we have a stupid man who believes his own propaganda. For once, Max Hastings has got it partially right. The man is totally unfit for high office. He's not even fit to be an MP - and that's setting the bar pretty low.

Yet such is the nature of our media that such stupidity is not treated with the disdain it deserves by rewarded with front-page splashes and even, in this case, an editorial.

"There is a bustling air of can-do about Boris Johnson", says the paper. "This is why the public likes him for he seems a man who will cut to the chase, has no use for time-wasting bureaucracy and regards all problems as challenges to be overcome rather than insurmountable obstacles".

On it drones to tell us that he might just as well borrow Barack Obama's stirring slogan "Yes we can". After all, the paper says, the American president will not be needing it again. If anyone can chivy (sic) the Government into pressing for reforms in Brussels it is Boris Johnson.

This, of course, is from a newspaper that has championed UKIP and has campaigned for leaving the EU. Just as easily though, it switches tack and pushes the "reform" button, perpetrating a wicked myth that it is not only possible but "simple".

Standing back from this, one also has to consider the effects of such facile, venal sentiment on the political process. There are still a few serious politician left, who have ambitions of presenting the public with carefully thought-out arguments on the EU.

But then there is the torrent of publicity given to posturing fools such as Mr Johnson, against which serious politicians with serious messages cannot compete. If, in order to get your message heard in the media, it must be trivialised and distorted, that in turn sends a message that no ambitious politician can afford to ignore.

And in that lies the death of politics.


Richard North 08/08/2014

 Brexit: me, me, and not me

Complaining about Mr Johnson's exit plan, and its lack of reference to other work, the Civitas think tank declares that: "Proper blueprints for exit do exist". They should, it says, "be given more prominence if Eurosceptics are to do more than preach to the choir".

It then goes on to promote two "upcoming Civitas papers (13 August and September 2014)" which examine Brexit differently. The first, With Friends Like These has a full discussion of possible exit mechanisms and strategies for achieving Britain's goals.

The second is called Softening the Blow and asks key industries what a "worst case scenario" would look like, so policymakers know what to avoid, and then constructs a "best case" goals list.

Needless to say, there is absolutely no reference to Flexcit, even though the eighteenth version is now online, constituting the most comprehensive exit plan ever attempted, with ideas invited from all quarters. Never has Civitas ever acknowledged its existence, much less commented on the ideas we are circulating. 

Like the rest of them, therefore, when Civitas wants exit plans to be given "more prominence", it means give it more prominence, event to the extent of applauding its two plans that have not even been published.

Whether these plans will be any good, remains to be seen – we can't know until they are published, but if the same closed minds are at work, it is unlikely that anything of value to emerge. Typically of the London-centric breed of Tory boy think tanks, all Civitas seems to be interested in is me, me, me.

This is the trouble with the entire eurosceptic movement. With the prospect of a referendum firmer than it ever has been, many of the different components are all rushing around to produce their own individual "plans", without the least attempt at discussion and debate.

Recently, former UKIP secretary Anthony Scholefield - now running his own Futurus think tank - wrote:
We are trying to win a referendum and win a referendum in such a way that a pro-EU executive must carry out the result. We are fighting the referendum with a plan with an instruction to the Executive. We are not in a competition for establishing the very best theoretical basis for Britain in a post-EU world, we are establishing a clear, tested, business-friendly plan which should take on the aura of "inevitability", such as preceded the establishment of American and Indian Independence.
We can see why buffoons such as Mr Johnson should seek to hijack "Brexit" to further their own personal ambitions, but the rest of the movement should be able to rise above this, and engage in an open debate.

On the other hand, there is the dog that didn't bark. The one organisation from which we hear absolutely nothing about exit plans is UKIP. This is an organisation dedicated to leaving the EU – or so we are told – yet it has no published exit plan. It does not even have a fixed view on how we should secure our exit, to which all of its members subscribe.

Nevertheless, when Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson can spend £100,000 of taxpayers' money on his vainglorious attempt at an exit plan, one might have thought that Mr Farage could do likewise. But more money has passed from his own expenses account to his wife than has been spent on researching the UK's exit. And still the party is silent.

As opposed to Civitas, therefore, when it comes to UKIP, it changes the rules. Exit plan? "Not me", says UKIP, "nothing to do with us, guv".


Richard North 08/08/2014

 Brexit: the illiteracy of Lyons

000a Lyons-007 brexit.jpg

Gerard Lyons is chief economic advisor to the GLA and Alexander Johnson (aka Boris), and also an Open Europe board member. And this is the man who has just issued a "win-win" report on London's relationships with the EU, upon which Mr Johnson based his speech yesterday.

The report is 108 pages (linked to unlocked version), with appendices running to 130 pages, which can be accessed from the GLA website.

London taxpayers have funded this production, and they should demand their money back. It is a disgustingly superficial piece of work, technically illiterate, flying in the face of treaty provisions, written under the hand of a man who is as ignorant of the EU as his master.

It should not be the case that we should have to waste time dealing with this sort of rubbish. Amongst his many other failings, the man so completely misunderstands Article 50 that he suggests that, if it comes to leaving the EU, we should negotiate an exit without it. In an argument worthy of the UKIP kamikaze tendency, he suggests we keep it in "reserve", as a threat, or some such.

You really would have thought that if the GLA was going to produce such a work, it would have at least run it past a competent international lawyer, one who could have told these facile children something of the basics of treaty law, and in particular the meaning of lex specialis.

It is at this most basic, fundamental level that the report fails, an arrogant, time-wasting production where its authors assume they are in any way qualified to write of things about which they so obviously know nothing.

Lyons may be an adequate economic forecaster – his stock in trade. About that, I neither know nor care. But he is outside his sphere of competence when he pronounces on leaving the EU. He has nothing useful to say. His report is valueless.

Irritatingly, these people have blocked the copy and paste facility on the .pdf version of the report – despite lifting short extracts for review purposes being perfectly legal. This necessitates laboriously typing out excerpts, another example of the time-wasting arrogance of these people who cannot even assist a necessary review process.

Nevertheless, of the section where Lyons discusses the exit options for the UK, I have typed out sections on the "future relationship between Britain and the EU" (p.103 et seq), and append below sections of the text:
Comparisons are often made with the trade deals that Switzerland, Norway or Iceland have and the pros and cons of each. This is relevant as a benchmark for the UK, but the reality is that we are far bigger and more important economy than each of these countries, and so it is feasible the UK could negotiate a more suitable deal for both the UK and EU. The latter is particularly so given that the UK is such an important trading pater (sic) for them. This is not something the UK would have viewed positively in the past, but in the event of an exit it might work in the UK's favour, as a trade deal that penalised the UK would likely hit EU exporters to the UK, too. The UK trade deficit with the EU was £65 billion in 2013 and perhaps as many as four million jobs on the Continent may be dependent upon both British trade and investment.

The Norwegian option

This is not an option for the UK. The Norway Option is widely seen in the UK as not being a suitable future option for the UK, and rightly so. When this option is often discussed in the UK it is often overlooked that the terms of the Norwegian Option were negotiated in anticipation of joining in the EU, but its people subsequently decided not to join. Norway is not a member of the EU, but is a member of the European Economic Area. The one benefit is that Norway is not part of the common agricultural policy, but in most other respects this option would not be appropriate for the UK. As an EEA member Norway has access to the Single Market (which the UK would want) but it is subject to a rules of origin constraint to limit goods from the rest of the world accessing the EU via Norway and avoiding any necessary customs duties (that would not be appropriate for an open economy like the EU). Norway has to abide by EU rules, without getting to vote on them. Some call it diplomacy by fax.

The Swiss option:

The fact that Switzerland is neither a member of the EU or of the EEA and yet was able to negotiate a bilateral trade should suggest that the UK would be able to agree a far better deal if it chose. The Swiss Option is not suitable for the UK as it does not have full access to the services component of the Single Market. Switzerland earlier this year rejected the free movement of people element of the four freedoms and there has since been a focus on whether the Swiss deal will be negotiated.
Unlike the ex cathedra assertions made here, the contrary case is argued in full in my Flexcit report, in far more detail than Lyons could ever manage. I'm not going to take you all through it again. It's there for anyone to read, if they are so inclined.

If Lyons ever read it, he would doubtless disagree with it – in the unlikely event that he managed to understand it. But these people don't read anything outside their own bubble. They isolate themselves in their squalid little bunkers, feeding off their own collective ignorance, bolstering their confidence and authority by rigorously excluding anything which might challenge them. They don't engage in debate – they simply ignore anything they don't want to hear and assert that theirs is the only truth. 

Lyons thus goes on to build his facile, stupid little document with the offering of a "UK Option", in which he tells us:
There is no reason why the UK needs to be constrained by the deals other countries have with the EU. As the sixth biggest economy in the world, a country with whom the EU will wish to trade, and also as an economy that has the potential to the biggest in Western Europe, even larger than Germany within a generation, the UK should have the ability to forge a favourable deal. As President Barroso acknowledged in April 2014, the UK is different. Some provision for either full service sector access or with limited barriers is critical.

The UK negotiation should be framed with one possible intention being little EU influence in the realm of anything other than specific goods and services regulation to allow exports into the EU market. As far as possible, the conduct of the British government, people or business should be removed from EU control or influence. Otherwise the benefits of leaving are undermined over time and it would be a case of short term gain dragged back over time by a regulatory heavy model.

Single Market membership via the EEA means that many negative aspects of European membership remain. This means the relationship with the Single Market needs to be reframed in a bespoke negotiation.

Thus the most likely UK option has to be a comprehensive free trade agreement, with its negotiation improved by the threat of Article 50 – clearly the UK would push for full market access. It is unlikely that this will be granted. Whilst it is not optimal to lose full services market access, the UK competitive advantage in services means that Europe may impose some barriers to market entry.

On the flip side, a bespoke negating (sic) relationship will give the UK the broadest possible operating environment from which to pursue its post exit future. UK business would decide to mirror EU regulations on products and services to allow ease of selling into the market – but these would be business decisions, not something imposed by a centralised bureaucracy. Existing social and employment legislation would need to evolve to suit the UK's domestic needs.
Thus, this man would have us going to Brussels, outwith Article 50, "negating" (sic) a bespoke agreement, without even attempting to suggest a timetable. He does not explore the political environment in which an agreement must be forged, and he obviously has no idea what might be achievable. There is not the slightest recognition that these will be difficult negotiations, in which the other parties will have their own expectations.

On the basis of a superficial, almost trivial appraisal of the state of the art, however, he concludes:
In conclusion, this section looked at the consequences of a UK exit from the EU. Leaving the EU would lead to considerable near-term uncertainty, but as we have outlined here for the UK economy to be successful it would also lead to the need for a clear framework of policy planning, in order to both create a future enabling environment for business and a clear strategic vision for the economy. As our earlier economic scenarios demonstrated, the future performance of the UK economy will not be determined solely by whether it is in the EU, or outside. If the UK were to leave the EU, our economic scenarios suggest that the path ahead would differ considerably if the UK adopted the inward looking path in contrast to the far more desirable, outward looking scenario that we have called One Regime, Two Systems. Outside the EU, the UK can no longer look to blame Brussels and Europe for any economic problems. The UK would need to realize its potential standing on its own two feet and seeking to position itself well in a growing global economy. London, as an open, dynamic capital city, would have much to gain in this scenario. Overall, if the UK can take a lead role in reforming the EU, or if it pursues an open and business friendly approach outside the EU, then it can succeed. It is a win-win situation.
What screams out from the likes of Lyons, therefore, is the arrogance. He with Mr Johnson, his master, is intellectually idle. They are complacent, in that they expect their substandard work to be accepted without demurral, but above all they are arrogant. They believe they can set the terms of the debate without even taking the trouble to learn the subject, not in the least attempting to show respect to their audiences by arguing their cases honestly and thoroughly. We deserve better than the low grade rubbish they are offering, but they feel it is quite good enough for the lowly plebs - criticism from whom they will ignore.

The believe that, despite their shallow, narrow perspective and their ignorance of the wider debate, they have the god-given right to decide our futures. Implicitly, they expect us to trust them to handle our most vital affairs, without them even taking the trouble to offer credible explanations of the options open to us .

In time, through diligent, patient work, we will show these people to be the charlatans that they are – and reciprocate the contempt they show us, in giving us shoddy, poorly researched and valueless arguments. But at least the likes of Lyons have done us one small service. They have shown us with absolute clarity that the establishment is not the place to look for a workable EU exit plan.

But then, I suspect, we knew that already.


Richard North 07/08/2014

 Immigration: Clegg offers his views

000a Clegg-005 immig.jpg

It can't be a coincidence that the Fabian Society produces a pamphlet on immigration the day before deputy prime minister Clegg gives a speech on the same subject. At the very least, the issue has become very topical, so all the politicians are lining up to talk about it.

With the habit of the media trailing the speech, days before it happens – and then scarcely reporting it on the day, it is a little difficult to work out when he actually spoke – and even where, and the detail on offer is very thin.

Fortunately, the Lib-Dems have published a full transcript, which runs to over 3,500 words, presenting a choice between reviewing the press reports of the speech, or the real thing. And I've decided to review the actual speech transcript, even if sticking knitting needles in my eyes is probably a happier experience.

Actually, taken as cold, hard text – and ignoring for a moment the political baggage that goes with the speaker, there is some sense in what the man is saying.

"I am never going to advocate pulling up the drawbridge because I think it's what people want to hear", says Clegg. He refuses to mimic the likes of UKIP and others: "the scaremongering, the immigrant-bashing, the seductive promise that all our problems will disappear if only we shut up shop and stick a 'closed' sign on the door".

From there, though, it takes another three hundred words and a reminder that his wife is Spanish before he then tells us that he does not accept that we are a closed society. He does not accept that we are condemned to the same trajectory we are witnessing across parts of Europe, where chauvinism and xenophobia are on the march.

Then, in a statement of the "bleedin' obvious", we are told that: "Successful immigration systems have to be managed". People, Clegg says, "need to see that they are good for society as a whole. Otherwise all you do is create fear and resentment – you give populists an open goal".

With that, we are told that for years our immigration system hasn't been properly managed, so it's no wonder so many people still worry about immigration.

By now, we're over 600 words into the speech, and we're none the wiser about what should be done. We are told what the answer isn't though – it is "not tough talk". Creating his very own straw man, Mr Clegg believes it: "isn't pretending that we can or should boot out every foreigner".

By now we are a fifth of the way into the speech, and only now does Clegg turn his attention to how to deal with immigration. And the answer is ... "... getting down to the nitty-gritty of reforming the system so that it works properly".

For Mr Clegg, it seems, "reform" is quite a favourite strategy, even if it is like turning round the proverbial oil tanker – not helped, he says, by the Conservatives fixation on the net migration target. This is "unrealistic" because it's based on a fallacy. "If a million Brits leave and a million migrants come you get net migration of zero – does that mean you’ve done the job?" Clegg asks.

OK. So far, so good. But what about these reforms? Well, it was right for Theresa May to split the Border Agency two, separate services: visas and enforcement – one to administer legal immigration, the other to prevent illegal immigration – and bring it all back under Ministers' control.

And the Coalition has been very effective on some of the worst loopholes – notably the fake student route. On the last count it had closed down around 750 bogus colleges.

Furthermore, people will no longer be able to play the appeals system so easily – previously you could appeal on 17 different grounds, moving from one to the next each time you were refused. Now there are only four, helping clear the path for genuine appeals too.

The government is also toughening up on people who exploit migrants as cheap labour. Fines for employers paying below the minimum wage have quadrupled to up to £20,000 per employee.

And this is the first government to get a handle on the access migrants from other parts of Europe have to our benefits system. It's a hugely complicated area, says Clegg, and not without controversy, but we're doing it. The period for which you can claim unemployment benefit will be reduced to 3 months unless you have a realistic prospect of finding a job.

Additionally, it has been made impossible for newly arrived migrants to leapfrog local people patiently queuing for social housing. Migrants have to live in an area for two years before they can be added to the list.

All this, of course, has recently been claimed by David Cameron, but we do need to hear what Mr Clegg wants for the future. And here it comes: more needs to be done to bear down on illegal immigration.

In addition to withdrawing thousands of driving licenses from illegal immigrants, we've announced new rules to prevent illegal immigrants from opening bank accounts and we are clamping down on sham marriages too, says the deputy prime minister. The Government is also upping the number of inspectors tasked, specifically, with identifying businesses hiring people, including migrants, for less than the minimum wage.

Mr Clegg then wants proper border checks in place to identify overstayers, restricting the access they then have to benefits and services, finding them, deporting them. Britain used to have exit checks but they were phased out, and Clegg has insisted on reintroducing them. Before the election around 57 percent of entry and exit points were covered by proper checks. They are now at 80 percent.

The second area where more needs to be done is European migration. Freedom of movement between EU member states is a good thing but the way it works should change as Europe changes. It is a right to work. It was never intended as an automatic right to claim benefits, but over time the distinction has been blurred.

The transition controls for new member states had a hidden carve out for the self-employed, which was meant to allow in entrepreneurs who wouldn't fill positions that could otherwise be taken by British nationals and who would actually create jobs instead.

The reality was that Romanians and Bulgarians were taking low-paid jobs but registering as self-employed. Any transition controls for any new member state joining in the future needs the removal of the special exemption for the self-employed.

We also need to be prepared to go beyond the seven-year maximum for transition controls, depending on the size and economy of the country joining the EU – and the extent to which we expect its nationals to look for work here. Clegg also believes we'll need to agree a period of time in which existing member states including Britain retain the right to put on the brakes if people begin arriving in numbers too big for our society to absorb successfully.

Third area of action: everyone who wants to settle in Britain should speak English. There is now a big consensus around this. A common language is the glue that binds a society. The ability to communicate is essential in allowing communities to integrate and in making sure every person living here has a voice.

Now, English language tests are part of all visa applications. The level of English required from skilled workers has been raised, as well as from the husbands and wives of people coming to live and work in the UK. Jobcentre advisers have the power to put people looking for work onto English language courses. If they don't go, they lose benefits.

Clegg now wants to pull every lever we have, or so he says. To that effect, he has told the Passport Office and the DVLA to stop subsidising translation services for people applying for passports and driving licences.

With us still waiting for something of greater substance, though, we suddenly find that Clegg has run out of levers. Without warning, he switches tack to tell us that Britain must remain a magnet for the brightest and the best. Despite a population of 60 million, our businesses need people now, so Mr Clegg wants to bring still more people into the country.

We have to fight for the best people, we are informed. We want the world's best students in our universities – and we should be encouraging them to find high value jobs here afterwards which, in turn, create jobs and growth in our economy.

Mr Clegg, therefore, happily tells us that it is now easier to come to Britain as a young entrepreneur, through the new visa scheme for exceptional graduates with promising business ideas. And he wants a "more intelligent approach" to visas for high value investors.

At the moment they are asked to invest £1m in either a low-risk government bond or shares in a FTSE company, but the thought is that £2m will not put off the kind of people applying for these visas.

And that, my friends, is it. I've been as fair as I can be in my précis, leaving out nothing of any significance. Effectively, all we get is a few tweaks and some tightening up of "pull" factors. What little sense Clegg has to offer is very little indeed. There is nothing in terms of tightening up the treaties – not that there is much hope there – or of dealing with Council of Europe provisions, nor of any need to renegotiate the UN refugee convention.

Right at the beginning of his speech, though, Clegg tells us he leads, in his view, Britain's only real internationalist party. For the Liberal Democrats, he says, "this nation is always at its best when we are open and outward-facing".

Yet Clegg is determinedly inward looking. Not only does he not address the very real problems of international law, some of which are amenable to discussion if not change – but there is not even the slightest attempt to look at "push factors".

Clegg could have talked about trade, about aid, about fisheries, even, about foreign policy aimed at minimising conflict, and even – because he believes in such things – climate change mitigation, aimed at reducing the numbers of "climate refugees".

Sadly, though, Clegg is not on his own. We saw recently Mr Cameron's attempts to cobble together an immigration policy, and Mark Leonard should detain us only briefly.

Disregarding UKIP, which has never had anything sensible to offer, it seems to me that our masters really don't have the first idea of how to deal with our immigration issues. We are getting nothing which could qualify as joined up policy - nothing very much of substance at all.

Lengthy some of the components of this exercise have been, we can now see what we're up against. There are tools, and ideas out there, but the big problem, it seems, is a lack of imagination. We have a policy vacuum, and none of our "leaders" big enough to fill it.


Richard North 06/08/2014

 EU politics: Fabians fight back?

000a Leonard-004 Fabian.jpg

Labour is getting so worried about immigration that it has reincarnated Mark Leonard to write a booklet for the Fabian Society, offering suggestions about how to deal with the issue, all within the framework of the EU.

The good thing about this ploy is that Leonard is so much of a bubble-dweller these days that he only talks to other bubble-dwellers, ending up with thought processes so constrained that he believes Open Europe to be "eurosceptic".

This is a man also who consistently refers to those who oppose the European Union as "europhobes", which means we have someone who is also trapped by his own rhetoric and has long ago ceased to think clearly. And since he is one of the more lucid thinkers amongst the Europhiles, we can get a sense of what a mess they are in.

With that in mind, we learn that Mr Leonard asserts that, "Europe was the future once – and it could be once again". But what troubles him, in his own words, is that: "The signature achievement of the Eurosceptics – merging the EU issue with migration – has allowed them to modernise their arguments and broaden their coalition". Meanwhile, he says, "the pro-Europeans have been living in the past, appealing to an ever-narrower section of society".

This is actually quite interesting as, from outside the bubble, we see the linkage between immigration and the EU – in the clumsy way that it has been done by UKIP - as a tactical error. It has aided UKIP politically, but damaged the eurosceptic cause.

Perhaps if Mr Leonard read his own booklet, he might come to the same conclusion. Having referred in his text to polling by the think tank British Future, he asks whether it is possible for Labour to "decouple the European issue from migration", only for him to provide his own answer.

Calling in aid the polling results, he tells us that the public can be segmented into roughly three groups. The first is 23 percent of the electorate, the young, affluent, metropolitan, hyper-diverse  who comprise the "liberal minority". They think immigration "makes a very positive contribution to Britain".

Then there is the "sceptical middle" who see a mixed picture on the benefits of immigration. At 54 percent, they are cross-class, cross generational and ethnically mixed. Finally, there is the "hardline minority", another 23 percent, but one which sees immigration as entirely negative. They tend to be old, working class and white.

This, would that he knew it, is rather like Spinelli's three categories: the innovators and the immobilisers, with the "swamp" in the middle. And, as with Spinelli, it is the middle ground over which the battle will be fought.

It is in the context that we have the "Farage paradox", which Leonard mentions but does not understand, the phenomenon where the more support UKIP gets, the less support there is for its core idea of leaving the EU.

What is happening here is that, as Farage has assumed the mantle of BNP-lite, support from the "hardline minority" has firmed up, but at the cost of alienating the "sceptic middle". These are the people who are intuitively opposed to the EU, but not want to be associated with a quasi-BNP agenda.

In effect, Farage's linkage between the anti-EU movement and immigration has strengthened his party but weakened the anti-EU movement as a whole.

On the basis of this, Leonard might work on the assumption that the stronger Farage manages to link himself, the EU and immigration, thereby creating an unholy trinity, the more likely it is that that the "out" proposition will be defeated in a referendum.

Perversely therefore, in trying to decouple the EU from immigration, Leonard might be working to the eurosceptic agenda rather than his own. But whether it achieves his desired effect remains to be seen.

According to Leonard, there must be a strategy to manage and mitigate migration costs, with "progressive politicians" needing to show that they are "as serious about mitigating against the negative side-effects of migration as they are about opening EU borders to citizens from other nations".

Labour, he says, should push for EU governments to issue European social insurance cards to citizens moving from other member states. Once this was done, the UK should push for the creation of a European migration adjustment fund in the EU budget.

With this in place, Leonard argues that local authorities could apply for help in increasing the capacity of schools, hospitals and public services, so that the indigenous population would benefit from an upgrading of local provision in areas with large levels of intra-EU migration.

Before we go any further, and explore some of his other ideas, we should look at this. Firstly, we note, this "European migration adjustment fund" is uncosted. Secondly, it has to be the case that all other member states taking a net inflow of EU immigrants will be able to draw down from the fund.

If the latter is true, which it must be, there are eighteen member states with net migrant inflows. The UK would have to join the queue for funds, the total costs of which would surely amount to billions – much of which the UK, as a gross contributor, would have to find.

Like as not, the fund that Mr Leonard proposes would actually cost the UK more than it got out of it. The effect, therefore, would be the UK paying into an EU fund in order then to draw from it lesser amounts of its own money to compensate public authorities for the effects of EU migration. Has he really thought this through?

Then we come to Mr Leonard's next brilliant idea: we should, he says, "explore a mechanism for restricting EU migrants' claims for benefits like child benefit and job seeker's allowance for at least a year. And after that he wants to, "further the cohesion agenda to lessen the salience of migration – a long-winded way of saying that we should seek to reduce the "pull" factors.

In this latter category, the "big idea" is the requirement for all migrants to take language lesions, a requirement which would no doubt apply to the two million or so British migrants resident in other member states. One can foresee a huge upsurge in demand for Spanish lessons.

Other ideas include looking at ways of turning George's Day into inclusive local celebrations of Englishness on the model of the Jubilee. Leonard suggests offering a tax breaks on the price of a pint of beer for landlords who hold events on the day, encouraging English cricket to hold its own equivalent of football's Charity Shield on St George's Day or making 23 April a bank holiday.

We are told that there have also been innovative experiments by local Labour parties such as Southampton to organise St George's celebrations across the constituency.

Standing back from this we have to wonder whether Leonard hasn't completely lost it. Does he really think that subsidised pints on St George's Day is going to turn UKIP supporters into rabid Europhiles?

Skipping from his turgid prose, we seek help from the Guardian, which isn't really much better. It tells us somewhat more succinctly that other of Leonard's suggestions include "sunset clauses" in future European legislation, stipulating that it must be returned to national parliaments after 15 years if national governments do not wish to see the law renewed, and a new digital bill of rights so that privacy is protected from intelligence agencies and large companies, including Google and Facebook.

Then, believe it or not, Leonard suggests that Ed Miliband should embark on a "European masochism strategy", by spending a week talking about a radical EU reform agenda that would be pursued by Labour.

The Fabian Society suggests this could feature a "four ports tour", travelling to docks in Thurrock, Dover, Southampton and Grimsby, linking the "plight of blue collar workers who have been at the sharp end of globalisation and migration but whose future is linked to trade".

And this seems to be the best they can offer. It really is. But if Mr Leonard thinks this is going to turn round public sentiment and bring us all to love the EU, he is perhaps being a tad optimistic. Given the "Farage paradox", he might be better off doing nothing at all and letting the UKIP leader make the running.

That brings us another paradox – what we have is both sides effectively queering the pitch, each attempting to pursue their own agendas. If Mr Leonard is as successful and Mr Farage, and I can't see him doing any better in his own cause, we could have the two sides cancelling each other out.

However, there may be help at hand. Labour, says Leonard, also needs to build a new kind of pro-European organisation that goes beyond elites.

For much of the last two generations, Europe was an issue that did not attract much interest from the public, he says. The issues were abstract, so voters were willing to defer to experts and follow the politicians and business leaders they respected the most. Now, he says, this theory of change now needs to be updated for an era defined by distrust of elites and the death of deference.

The search for narrative and policy must also be linked with a revolution in campaigning, drawing on American models of community organising pioneered in the Labour party by Arnie Graf, he says.

The "challenge" is "to work out a retail offer on Europe and migration that local Labour parties could implement". The right way to frame this is "to come at the future of Europe through a debate about the future of Britain – looking at how we cope with a changing world".

This could draw on some of the examples of innovative campaigning such as the "Hope, not Hate" campaign against the BNP and the rewriting of the Icelandic Constitution, which was done by a panel of citizens.

On second thoughts, Mr Leonard should give up and leave it to Farage. Otherwise, under his guidance, "Europe" will remain where it belongs, rooted in the past.


Richard North 05/08/2014

 Cabinet reshuffle: an act of sabotage?

000a Telegraph-017.jpg

For the last few days, I've been intensifying the effort on "Flexcit" trying to knock it into better shape as I creep past 100,000 words and the book begins to look something near to what might be its finished form.

As if it has not been hard enough already, it gets harder from hereon as we refine the text and impose more rigour on the content, all to ensure that the message is delivered with utmost clarity and consistency.

Meanwhile, the shockwaves from the event which brought about my own burst of energy continue to reverberate around the fringes of the "bubble", even motivating Peter Oborne to come out to play, with a cry of outrage as he suggests that Mr Cameron's reshuffle "almost looks like an act of sabotage".

And for once, Oborne's political analysis is probably close to the mark. He sees in the reshuffle "the logic of the Downing Street modernising clique", led by George Osborne. "Mr Paterson, public-school-educated and in his late fifties, is an obvious barrier to change. His undoubted integrity is a nuisance rather than an asset. Replacing him with a young, state-educated woman sends out the right signals".

Those looking for a deeper, more profound reason for Mr Paterson's sacking, and the ethos behind the reshuffle in general, are going to be disappointed. Sometimes, as Freud once said, "a pipe is just a pipe". Sometimes, when a reshuffle looks like a shallow exercise in window dressing, it is because that is just what it is.

Oborne later goes on to remark that reshuffles "excite Westminster insiders to an unhealthy extent", but leave the majority of voters untouched. But before he gets there, he tries to look at Paterson's sacking from the point of view of the voters.

He tells us that Mr Paterson, who was raised in Shropshire and ran the family leather business for 20 years, is one of a tiny number of genuine countrymen in modern politics. When he was political columnist of the Spectator 13 years ago, and Mr Paterson had just been elected to Parliament, he reported that he could occasionally be spotted in the Members' Lobby removing a straw from his hair.

Mr Paterson, Oborne continues, has a profound love and understanding of the country and talks the same language that farmers do. As a result, he has been the most interesting and original environment secretary in three decades, rescuing his department from a morass of town-based pressure groups. He thus tells us:
Showing considerable moral courage, he [Paterson] has challenged the intellectual consensus that there is a contradiction between economic growth and conservation. Stone walls don't get built, Mr Paterson likes to point out, unless someone has the money to pay for them. His departure has been welcomed by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Badger Trust, the Wildlife Trust, the RSPB: that large class of do-gooders who articulate an essentially suburban and sentimental understanding of the countryside. It is unlikely to go down so well in farmers' markets this weekend.
Gainsaying his own point about lack of voter interest, Oborne thus recognises that agriculture ministers are different. The rural communities tend to know who their ministers are. They see them, and many meet them – and certainly come to listen to them in the flesh – at agricultural shows and game fairs.

Owen Paterson was a reassuring Conservative presence at such events, but Oborne guesses "the Downing Street modernisers calculate that Britain's farmers don't matter because they are Conservative voters anyway". Perhaps, he says, "they reckon it was worth selling out the farming community in order to obtain slightly better coverage on the leader pages of the Guardian".

It was said to me earlier that this is in fact typical Cameron, dumping the voters he has, in order to chase after voters he will never get – exactly the mistake he made with the 2010 election strategy and one he is set to make yet again.

And this comes at a time when even Oborne has noted that UKIP is starting to reverse the "spectacular gains" it made earlier this year. It is now down to less than 10 per cent, with the Conservatives recovering as a consequence.

This is a trend, Oborne says, that could see Cameron back in Downing Street after the election, although he then acknowledges that "this week's fiasco of a reshuffle" will fuel the damaging UKIP criticism that the Tory party "has been captured by a tiny, metropolitan, centralising elite".

A reshuffle, therefore, that was supposed to set Mr Cameron up for the election, therefore, is more likely to have damaged him. " It has also sowed the seeds for future divisions", concludes Oborne.


Richard North 17/07/2014

 Michael Fallon: and how is he a eurosceptic?

000a Telegraph-016 Fallon.jpg

We are being told by Michael Fallon, the new Defence Secretary, that Mr Cameron has created a "Eurosceptic Cabinet" to prove to UKIP voters they can change the EU.

This is from a man who, according to Wikipedia, was active in the European Movement as a student and the "yes" youth campaign in the 1975 referendum and has never since given any serious indication that he is opposed to UK membership of the EU.

More recently, writing for Conservative Home on UK membership of the EU, he stepped away from both the status quo and the idea of leaving, backing David Cameron who had "rejected the defeatism of both approaches, and has set out a path for a reformed Europe".

In other words, Fallon – although counted as on the "right" of the party - is just another woolly Tory Europlastic, supporting the standard "reform" fudge, with absolutely no intention of seeing us leave the EU. Only in the debased sense of the word can he be considered "Eurosceptic" but, by any rational measure, the man is a dyed-in-the-wool Europhile.

If Mr Fallon is an example of this "Eurosceptic Cabinet", that he thinks it is going to woo UKIP voters back to the Tories, then he is not just mistaken – he is seriously deluded.


Richard North 16/07/2014

 EU politics: a new player in town

000a Guardian-016 plummet.jpg

Charles Moore gets into the Spectator with a brief commentary on the reshuffle just past, labelling it as the worst we've seen in 25 years. The Mail then has Max Hastings tell us that the reshuffle is: "A shabby day's work which Cameron will live to regret".

I will go with Hastings, but don't think it's actually worth arguing the Moore point. Nor do I completely endorse his view that David Cameron "had established a surprisingly strong position as the leader whose unpopular but necessary policies were starting to work".

However, Moore also thinks that Cameron and his team "seemed steadier and more able than their opponents. Now he has thrown that away with changes so large that he looks as if he disrespects what he has achieved".

With that view, I have a certain amount of sympathy, in fact taking a harder line than mere "disrespect". On greater reflection, I see the reshuffle as an insult, appointing inexperienced ministers, who have not served their "apprenticeship" and who are thus quite unfit to be Secretaries of important departments of state.

Some of the changes are simply capricious, done for presentational reasons, demonstrating Mr Cameron's own unfitness for office. We're back to the "A-list" mentality", the "women's list", and the "Notting Hill set", with a dilettante prime minister using the Cabinet as his own personal plaything, rather than as an instrument of government.

On balance, I thus think that Cameron has done his own electoral chances more harm than good. Just as he was beginning to look vaguely electable, with an ICM poll showing a mere one percent gap between the Labour and Tories, he has done something extremely ill-advised.

What was as interesting in this poll though was that UKIP had dropped to nine percent – back to single figures. YouGov gave them ten percent over the weekend, so this doesn't immediately strike as an outlier.

With little sensible on offer, it is unsurprising that UKIP is fading back into obscurity, but now it seems that Mr Cameron is determined to give them another chance. No doubt, they will blow it, as they always do, but no one can say that they are not being given plenty of opportunities to make their mark.

But there is now another player ready to emerge. By Mr Cameron getting rid of Owen Paterson, says Charles Moore, has turned his strongest cabinet bulwark against UKIP into a powerful enemy.

But the real target will be the ever-popular Mr Juncker - who was enthroned by the European Parliament yesterday - and the rest of the "colleagues". Mr Paterson may well emerge now as the leader of the "Eurosceptic" wing of the Conservative party and, by default, a new national leader, ready to take on the referendum campaign, should the Conservatives win the election.

If UKIP wrests the crown from Cameron, however, there will undoubtedly be a leadership challenge, and we're back to the original "plan B" where we get a referendum after the 2020 election, under a new Tory leader. Perhaps, with his fatuous reshuffle, Mr Cameron has moved one step closer to defining who that will be.


Richard North 16/07/2014

 Immigration: playing political football with refugees

000a UNHCR-014 Iraq.jpg

December last was when UNHCR pressed the panic button about the growing tide of refugees. In its mid-year trends report for 2013, it warned that since the start of 2012, millions of people had become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs), and already the first half of 2013 had been one of the worst periods for forced displacement in decades.

By the middle of the year, the size of UNHCR's population of concern had reached an all-time high. With figures continuing to rise during the second half of the year, notably in the Syrian Arab Republic, refugee and IDP year-end numbers are likewise expected to be at record highs.

By mid-2013, the total population of concern to UNHCR stood at 38.7 million. This was the highest level on record and almost three million more than just six months earlier. With no end in sight to the crisis in Syria, the total population of concern to UNHCR was expected to surpass the 40 million mark by then end of 2013.

The figure of 38.7 million was made up of 11.1 million refugees, 987,500 asylum seekers, 189,300 refugees who repatriated during the first half of 2013, 20.8 million IDPs protected/assisted by UNHCR, 688,200 IDPs who returned to their place of origin during the first half of 2013, 3.5 million stateless persons and 1.4 million others.

The report itself used for its illustration a remarkable event, a group of 5,000 to 7,000 Syrian refugees crossing over the pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour on the Tigris River, into Iraq.

After a further report on asylum for 2013, UNHCR this week issued a press release calling for "Europe" to shoulder more of refugee challenge presented by the Syrian crisis, with a new report setting out: "What Europe Can Do to Ensure Protection and Solidarity".

Picking up the press release is Left Foot Forward, with Jill Rutter lambasting our government for having "only admitted 50 Syrian refugees", which seems particularly parsimonious and a break with past tradition. This compares with Germany, which has agreed to take 25,000 people, while the United States has pledged to take an open-ended number. 

000a LFF-013 Syria.jpg

Over 80 percent of the world refugees live in poor countries, Rutter writes, and one of the founding principles of United Nations is that its member states should share responsibility for humanitarian problems. A desperate UNHCR, she adds, has appealed for EU countries to take in 30,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Next week, we are then informed, Parliament will again debate the UK's response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Concludes Rutter: "Those who consider that sharing responsibility for supporting refugees is an important and progressive principle can ask their MPs to attend the debate and push for greater generosity".

And there lies a fascinating divergence between the "progressive left" and the "right" as represented by UKIP. From Gerard Batten in 2009 we have his booklet "Immigration: action overdue" which could not present a more extreme contrast, including a recommendation that Britain should withdraw from the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

As far as it goes, this is as close to policy as UKIP gets, but it undoubtedly represents the sentiments of a large number of the party members. And that, reinforces the issue of asylum seekers as a political football, putting "left" and "right" at opposite ends of the spectrum.

What is interesting to see in the latest UNHCR report, though, is its own "wish list" for European action, which encompasses sixteen separate points. First on the list of the refugee agency is a guarantee of protection from refoulement, the principle that a state may not oblige a person to return to a territory where he may be exposed to persecution.

UNHCR then wants a "global moratorium" on returns to Syria and to countries neighboring Syria and Egypt, which host the vast majority of refugees from Syria, it wants states should provide access to their territories and an immediate stop to "pushbacks".

The agency also asks for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to be strengthened while, for all those who manage to present themselves as asylum seekers, it wants "swift access to fair and effective asylum procedures".

Given the situation in Syria though, it believes the majority of people fleeing the country fall within the refugee criteria in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and should thus be recognized as refugees. If, exceptionally, they are found not to meet the criteria for refugee status, complementary forms of protection criteria are likely to be met, so they should be allowed in anyway.

UNHCR also calls for the proper application of all the "Dublin" criteria, including those designed to unite families within the EU, and it wants "adequate reception conditions for people seeking international protection in Europe, with particular attention to those with specific needs".

Few people probably realise that there is EU law on this, in the shape of the Reception Conditions Directive, with its own website. UNHCR wants Member States to ensure reception conditions are in accordance with their legal obligations.

The refugee agency also asks that detention of asylum-seekers should be avoided and only used as a last resort. Where used, states should establish strict limits and safeguards on the use of detention and explore alternatives to detention.

UNHCR is urging states to consider an array of solutions that can be mobilised to secure urgent and effective protection, including resettlement, humanitarian admission, private sponsored admission schemes, and the use of other legal programmes (student or employment visas).

It is calling upon states to make multi-annual commitments towards a goal of providing resettlement and other forms of admission for 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016, and urges states to facilitate family reunification "in a pro-active manner", including for extended family members of Syrians who have been granted some form of protection.

This, if nothing else, signals the extent of the gap between expectations and delivery, with the issue being almost entirely ignored by the legacy media. Nevertheless, The Times has picked up a statement from Rolland Schilling, who represents the UNHCR in Britain, urging the Government to consider taking more refugees from Syria.

Schilling acknowledges that there is public concern about migration, but he also believes there is a deeply held belief that the persecuted should be protected. "I think that is a majority view. They go in parallel", he says.

Despite the UK being one of the most generous providers of aid money to Syria, Schilling warns that there is enormous pressure on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. They have accepted the majority of 2.8 million people who have flooded out of Syria since the start of the conflict three years ago, he says.

Here, there is another stark contrast. Lebanon has taken 1,117,095 refugees, Turkey 789,678, Jordan 602,182, Iraq 225, 475 and Egypt 138,101. Europe as a whole, on the other hand, has taken a mere 123,600. 

It remains to be seen whether the humanitarian ethos will prevail over concerns about migration, but as the scale of the refugee crisis builds, it is not inconceivable that we see a backlash against the UKIP insistence that we raise the drawbridge.

In anticipation of this possibility, a sensible political party might seek to modify its own policy stance - or at least start debating the issues in a different way. It could argue that the refugee agency "wish list" is unrealistic to the point of being naïve, and come up with its own proposals for dealing with the crisis.

Maintaining a hard line stance may play well with members but, in the scheme of things, risks alienating mainstream voters to an even greater extent than it has already. 

From the broader view of the anti-EU movement, it seems to me that we must start offering some sensible ideas for the resolution of as problem that isn't going to go away, or we end up tarred with the same isolationist brush that will eventually drag UKIP into electoral obscurity. 


Richard North 14/07/2014

 UKIP: the embarrassing stupidity of O'Flynn

000a UKIP-011 veto.jpg

Following the example of TGL in falsely accusing Greenpeace of taking Brussels money, UKIP's Patrick O'Flynn is now vying for the top slot in getting things completely wrong.

Falling for the meme that has been floating around on diverse websites, including this one, we see the myth perpetrated that: "On the 1st November 2014 the right of Parliament to legislate over us in 43 areas … will be removed and be made subject to … QMV".

Included in a magical mystery list is Article 50 of the TEU – that which relates to the procedures for leaving the EU – the supposed removal of the veto translated as making the withdrawal of a member state conditional on QMV. Needless to say, there are no original sources cited for the assertions, but that doesn't stop O'Flynn swallowing the myth, hook, line and sinker.

In fact, there is no loss of veto coming into force on 1 November. The change over from unanimous voting to QMV in about 40 areas has already taken place. It came with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, so these changes have already been in place for nearly five years, without O'Flynn apparently noticing.

What does change on 1 November 2014 is that a there is a new system of QMV. A new "double majority" will apply when, according to Article 16 of the consolidated treaty, "a qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union".

Despite the sterling attempts of Denis Cooper, Autonomous Mind and this post by Boiling Frog, followed by this one to put the record straight, this has not stopped Patrick O'Flynn urging party members to support a new petition that calls for the Government to begin moves to leave the EU "before the wholesale loss of national vetoes occurs".

Sadly, there is no stopping this rather stupid man, even if his members deserve better. It is bad enough having these silly memes thrashing around the internet, but senior members of UKIP should not be leading people astray.


Richard North 12/07/2014