Late evening, on my flight back to Stanstead, I was thinking this is how it should be; Irish registered Boeing aircraft, dispatched by a German, based at a UK airport with a Spanish and Italian crew working to European standards. Contrast this flight with the days when going from London to Cologne cost around £500 with a traditional flag carrier, if you could get a seat. Flying in Europe has gone from the preserve of an elite in the 1970s to an everyday experience available to everyone. I’d say the average age of the passengers on my flight was not much more than 30. Despite this reality there are those who have the numskull audacity to say that; “Europe has never done anything”. The blinkers that need to be worn to come to that point of view are thick, dark and dank. To top all this, these liberalising achievements were not done by accident but by the UK being one of the leading advocates for change in Europe. Thus making the depressing; “they never listen to us” mantra as big a lie as you will likely hear during the run up to the referendum on EU membership.
One of the most boring parts of travelling is standing and waiting. Yes, the different approaches to queuing will never be harmonised. There I was at a minimalist departure gate fishing for something of interest to hold my eye. Amongst the things I did see was a tiny EU flag and a sticker in both German and English. It was about Passenger Rights. There it is, yet another sign that Europe is at work improving the everyday experience available to everyone.
Surprisingly passport control at the Stanstead end of the journey was relatively simple. Not too many people around in the late evening. The electronic passport machine worked. I was quickly ahead of the crowd at getting to the bus station. National Express is the first sign that comes into sight. I wasn’t travelling with them but where had I seem their logo earlier in the day? It was on the German railways. National Express is an operator of trains in Cologne. Again, I was thinking this is how it should be in a working single market.
Frightening isn’t it. All of this good progress will be jeopardised in the event of Brexit. People would be crazy if they allow a noisy group of Europhobes to bully them into throwing away all the benefits of EU membership.
Since I left school we have been in Europe. Common Market to the European Union. Life as got progressively better. Fine we have had our gripes and there has been set backs but on average we are more prosperous, less likely to be wiped out in a nuclear war, crime has come down and the environment is much cleaner.
As a trading nation membership of the EU has helped us succeed and not hindered.
I’m traveling at the moment and so for amusement I looked for evidence in this room to back up my words. There’s a Korean TV in this American chain hotel room. I drove my Germany car to get here on time. My Swiss watch helped ensure that I did. My Chinese made smart phone helped too. My Next cotton jacket was made in China as was my Delsey back pack and my Marks and Spencer shirt and underpants. My Gap cotton khakis were made in Sri Lanka. Inside my back pack there’s my German made Braun shaver and toothpaste supplied by Unilever – who knows where that came from originally. The air conditioning in this room is made by Siemens. The MK plugs and sockets are British because it’s our electrical standard that requires the 3 square pins. However, my travel plug adapter claims to be Swiss designed. I know my Clarks shoes were not made in Somerset as they once were. At last, it’s nice to see that the two cups with the tea and coffee making gear have stamped on them “Made in England”. The tea is Ty-phoo from Merseyside. There’s one thing that I can say is wholly British and it’s the pound coins in my pocket. Maybe not wholly British because I expect that the metal was imported.
Surveying that lot I’d conclude that the single market is working well. As Europeans we have a great deal of choice. Now, I lament the passing of Britain being the workshop of the world as much as the next man. Wish as we might there isn’t going to be a return to the imperial days of the past. So what are the advocates of Brexit proposing? Are they going to make all of the above more expensive as we exit the single market? Are they proposing to eliminate all the German goods and replace them with cheaper ones from Asia? I have no idea. Here we are in Europe with a good deal, freedom to pick and choose and a huge diversity of products and services. I can’t see the sense in throwing all that business advantage away. The agreement on EU membership points all one way and that is to stay.
Europe is always changing. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. A Treaty on monetary union eventually became the “euro” and not the “ecu” as the French wanted. The European Union enlarged from 12 to 28 Member States much as the British wanted. 2008’s severe financial crisis and its challenges are still being worked on. Without a doubt, the winds of change are constantly blowing through our continent. In fact, they never let up for one moment.
Often quoted and misquoted is the response of British PM Harold Macmillan to a journalist’s question. The question being: “what is most likely to blow governments off course” to which the response was: “events, dear boy, events”. This is so true, not just of Britain but the whole of Europe.
The notion put around by those favouring BREXIT is that there’s a preassigned destination namely; a federal Europe. There’s a disposition that some people have that loves conspiracy theories. There’s a vivid imagination at work over coup’s or plots, designed to hurt Britain that are being fixed up in darkened rooms. There’s a sour mood that sees all good as having come from a romantic bygone era that there may never have been. Spending just a short time reading BREXIT content on social media quickly brings about this conclusion in my mind.
The reality is different. Europe and the European Union are a work-in-progress. Britain is one of the leading Member States when it comes to setting the direction for the future. However, as per the quotation of Macmillan more time is spent reacting to events than it is planning the future. I think European, including British citizens want a competent and dynamic European Union that has the capacity to deal with major events that cross national boundaries. Yes, it should plan too.
There’s a long list of live subjects like climate change, energy security, migration and international travel for which there must be an agreed regional approach if we wish to succeed. In today’s world the European Union represents the most advanced regional arrangements between States anywhere on the globe. Whilst Britain is considering if it should leave or remain, others would rather see us exert our knowledge, power and influence to shape the EU to assure future peace and stability. Remaining in the EU means we have a plan to deal with the winds of change.
Oh brother! “You don’t need a trade deal to trade”. “Just look at all the goods in the UK shops that say: Made in China”. This simple nonsense is coming from the LEAVE campaign. Its’ deception. What seems harmless enough isn’t. There are several reasons why this proposition is wrong.
To start, if you buy goods at any standard the seller offers then sooner or later you’re going to have problems. But if you don’t want say; lead paint on children’s toys then you have to insist on specific safety standards being met. The exporting Country accepts the deal and meets your standards. So, the – Made in China – goods we see in the shops in the UK have to meet European standards. The opposite is true. European exporters have to meet Chinese standards if they are to accept our exports. When a formal trade deal is finally done one aim is to harmonise standards as much as possible to make more future trade possible.
If we didn’t have common standards in the European Union, then even in the European market you could have 27 different arrangements for each Country. The combinations and permutations get complex, expensive to implement and keep track of as they change over time. The results are of little benefit except to those who profit from processing the piles of paperwork. Ask anyone who has worked as an export clerk before we joined the Common Market.
Next, if you have common standards that work well then inward investors line-up to make products in the UK so as to access a large European market. If those investors were only offered access to the domestic market, then they are more likely to go elsewhere.
Next, if you are sitting at the table and voting on the European standards to be used then its advantageous for you and your exporters. Standing back and letting others do that work leaves a Country in a vulnerable position. Modifications to standards can wipe out an industry overnight.
Next, in reality parts, components and supplies come from everywhere. So, even if you don’t care about anything other than the UK domestic market for your products then trade deals still make a difference. For example; you might be making an artisan cheese that sells to a few retailers in a small area but the machinery in the creamery comes from Europe.
On this subject the REMAIN campaign is about holding on to these advantages, maintaining influence and increasing prosperity.
Let’s be absolutely clear and factual. On 24 June, Europe will be exactly where it was the day before. Unless an Icelandic volcano erupts and moves the North Atlantic. Even then a couple of centimetres isn’t going to make all that much difference. Yes, I’m talking about the physical geography of the land we stand on. It’s true too that plus or minus some births and deaths the population of Europe will not have changed much either. Even though we are all aging. Add to that the fact that the net worth of Europe as a whole, baring a financial meltdown will not have climbed or fallen a great deal.
My point is that whatever supporters of Brexit think, the reality of our world isn’t going to move just because they believe that they are not part of Europe. Every single issue we deal with now will be sitting there on the table to be addressed on the 24 June. King Arthur will not rise from Cadbury Hill to rally the country in its time of need. Boadicea’s ghostly chariot will not repel any European coming to these shores. John Bull’s dog will not frighten all our enemies into submission.
As the UK ponders where to belong so the world continues to turn. If we give up our seat at the table in Europe so big decisions will still get made in Brussels. The ups and downs of the economics of European States will still continue to impact us. We will still be bound and obligated by Treaties even if they are not specifically European ones.
Surely it’s better to have a vote and a degree of control in our own neighbourhood? Surely there is advantage working with Europeans to solve common problems? Surely the political and social landscape of Europe will always be important to us? The practical reality of power politics is that if we are alone in the world, China, India, Russia or the US will pay only lip-service to the UK. Having 27 long-term working partners to face the big global problems together means we count. There is strength in numbers. And that’s not a myth.
The year that has gone by has been a tough one for the Lib Dems. Now, with the results in, just as I can see spring’s green shots in my garden so the Party is growing again. These elections have provided the evidence that the right direction is set. Granted progress is measured but progress it nevertheless is up and down the UK. It’s just the boost that hard working local activist needed. It shows that community politics remains a sound foundation on which to build.
Great to see the Lib Dems take majority and Conservatives wither in Watford. I was so pleased to see that the Lib Dems have retained control of Cheltenham Council with 5 gains! Also, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan it’s good to see a pro-European London Mayor.
Now, our attention re-focuses on the referendum will take place on 23 June. It’s time to redouble efforts to get a positive message across on the real benefits of EU membership. We need to speak to many more people about all that’s at stake in June. It would be shameful if the UK sleep walked into Brexit. This is a simple choice without the opportunity to do a re-run next year if it all goes badly wrong. If ever we needed calm reflection and a national reality check it is now. Having been a senior manager, I know that it’s nice to see the world as you would like it to be but there is no substitute for seeing it as it really is. Comforting self-deception is a nightmare.
The best future for the UK is as a leading power in the EU.
The polls closed at 10 pm on Thursday. I’ve been wearing my yellow Lib Dem rosette and people have been waving enthusiastically. Must be a good sign. This has been a complicated mix of elections. Being in Surrey, just outside of London then the mayoral elections didn’t have an impact. The only vote I had was for the election of a police and crime commissioner. However, we had campaigned in a by-election for the Staines South and Ashford West Division of Surrey County Council.
Although an increasing number of people vote by post there is nothing quite like turning up and putting a mark on a ballot paper. This being a by-election the turn-out of voters was not expected to be high. That’s a euphemism for saying; large numbers of people don’t vote in local elections. In my mind, not voting is an act of submission. There’s no rebellion in sitting on ones hands.
I spent the evening meeting local people as they went to vote at Buckland School. Yes, school buildings are often used as polling stations in the UK. There was a steady flow of people returning home from work and then popping out to vote. It’s a very civilised affair. Even the local Party banter is generally civilised. At least it was on that sunny spring evening. There was only myself, as a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative activist standing outside the school collecting polling numbers.
An evening with the voters can provide some interesting moments. There are those who shun any kind of contact as if a conversation might invalidate the secret ballot. There are others who keenly want to chat about a local problem or bring up a subject like the coming referendum.
Talking to one guy we found we were on different sides of the argument about continued European Union membership. What we did both agree is that the best result for the UK would be a clear decisive result. If in June this year, the final outcome of the referendum is say; 51% to 49% either way, no one is going to be happy. A decisive vote to REMAIN would be good for stability. It would mean that we will get back to acting on the issues that matter to people like; education, health and the environment rather than endlessly talking about institutions, regulations and structures.
As it got dark so it got chilly standing outside the polling station in Staines. That’s how it will be if people who support Europe don’t come out to vote in June. A chill wind will blow over our country. So, step up and don’t let a noisy bunch of merchants of doom dictate our future.
Sun shining whilst clearing out my wife’s parents house yesterday. One dusty red book from the year I was born; 1960 caught my eye. It’s a selection of “Vicky” cartoons from the Evening Standard. Political satire of its day. The characters on the scene at that time have long since left the stage but I recognised the names of the prominent ones. What’s fascinating is the subjects.
Tory PM “Supermac” was being ridiculed. Russia was boasting of economic growth. British unemployment reaches a new peak in 1958. British humble pie was being eaten over Suez. There was rioting in Notting Hill. The Labour Party was fighting itself over nuclear disarmament. Nothing new on that one. City scandals were hitting the headlines. How times have changed! December 1959 the Home Secretary was answering questions on “telephone tapping”. Now that’s original. May 1960: with an eye on the US presidential election, Mr Nixon says he knows how to talk to the Russians. Gosh that sounds just like Mr Trump.
One lovely cartoon showed two shopkeepers eyeing each other up whilst standing in their doorways saying: “and a prosperous New Year to you, too!”. One was called “Free Trade Stores” and the other called the “Common Market Shop”. Thus, as it ever was, the arguments that were raging in late 1958 are similar argument to those we are having over this year’s referendum.
This was the world before Britain joined the Common Market. Britain’s place in the world was being challenged on all fronts. It was slowly getting accustomed to the post-war world order. The British economy was performing poorly. The “Free Trade Stores” were breaking-up. To reinvigorate British military-industrial efforts there was even a space programme, with the Blue Streak rocket but it got too costly and was dropped. In this era, it became clear that European collaboration as the only way forward. What proved too expensive for one to do alone became possible as Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands worked together.
It took a decade for Britain to join the “Common Market Shop”. There was no realistic way back to the imperial pre-war era. I do not want to see a Britain who has made a success of European Union membership then abandoned it for an uncertain future. As if there was a way back to the past.
How can I not talk about recycling? This morning my green bin has been emptied by the Council. It was almost full of newspapers, cardboard, bottles and plastic. That’s just for one small household.
Having been a local Councillor 20 years ago, I know the UK came to this subject with great reluctance. Resistance amongst conservative views, that’s with a big C and a small c, was strong. A decade ago, and more, a wide assortment of bazaar and strange arguments were made to try and halt the introduction of separate waste collections. From people falling into bins, which has happened, to wildlife eating the plastic or setting up home in the bins.
A low starting point ensured that UK recycling rates grew faster in the first decade of the millennium than in any other country in Europe. Pressure from the EU has helped immensely to progress waste recycling. Regulations haven’t been too oppressive either. Just looking at the diversity of approaches by different UK Councils shows that a much has been left to local decision-making. Some might even say too much inconsistency has even created difficulties getting the economies of scale needed to keep costs down and recycling rates up.
There are European countries, such as Germany who already recycle more than 50% of their waste. We need the European Environment Agency to keep an eye on these performance statistics. I’m not calling for new regulations but rather the peer pressure that come from comparing the results achieved in different EU Member States. Public awareness campaigns can do a lot to shape attitudes and what we do with our waste.
I remember a line from David Penhaligon: “If you’ve got something to say, put it on a piece of paper and post it through people’s letterboxes”. That’s what I’ve been doing. Even in the age mobile phones and social media the piece of paper still has a major role to play in elections. In amongst the pizza delivery services, window replacement companies and local car mechanics flyers, an election leaflet has a hard time. But it’s a game of numbers where a small percentage of people who pick it up can make all the difference. Going from doorstep to doorstep gives a quick snapshot of an area. Overgrown once cared for gardens or concrete drives with neatly kept shrubs. Fencing for growling dogs or sentinel cats eyeing up all comers. Prized possessions like a 70s American muscle car or a pile of scrap timber propped against a wall. The good, the bad and the ugly are all to be found on a quiet suburban street in a small English town.
Why do I do it? To get a good candidate elected – yes. The spin-off is the steps my watch clocks up which surely must keep me fitter or so I hope. There the natural curiosity to get to know a place too.
Bank Holiday Monday lunchtime we handed out leaflets in the High Street. This time our colourful material was in support of remaining in the European Union. Its surprising how many people still have to make up their minds which way to vote in June. Couples are often divided on the issue. The most argumentative guy I met was Polish. He has no vote in this referendum. Of those who said; no thank you or I want out, there was more 50 plus men. “What have they ever done for us?” was one remark. Even trying to answer this was met with blank disinterest.
Why do I do it? To get a positive outcome – yes. On top of that there is the satisfaction of action, even if it’s a small drop in the ocean. Human reactions are fascinating too. From the brisk rush past ignoring contact to the bright smile from a supporter.
Democracy will not crumble if the humble printed leaflet fades into history. However, today, this simplest form of communication is still one of the mainstays of political campaigning.