Bath & West


Thursday, I spent at the Royal Bath & West Show in Somerset. Remarkably, I’ve been going to agricultural shows for 50 years.  I was 5 years old when this show found a permanent home near Shepton Mallet.

My grandfather owned Yew Tree Farm which was next to the site. Yew Tree Farm House is on the left hand side of the road going up Prestleigh Hill on the A371.  Apparently they used to herd cows up Prestleigh Hill.  Now that’s steep.  However, in the 1950s-60s road traffic wasn’t anything like it is now.  Except maybe for one or two heavy quarry trucks.

Timekeeping for the farm was the sound of the steam trains echoing across the valley. That railway line was axed as so many were in 1965.

I have a childhood memories of the showground in the summer sun and in the pouring rain. As a boy I’d hop over the gate into the field used as a car park and into the show ground.  Then there were few permanent features.  The show was a sea of white tents.

What has changed? The long and the short of it is that it’s now not just an agricultural show.  In fact, farming is at the heart of what goes on but everything else is much bigger.  It’s a place where town and country meet.

Sharp Contrast

WP_20160121_16_05_01_ProHead to head on the European Union, the fate of Britain rests in the balance.  Days are flying by and 23 June is coming up rapidly.  Campaigning to maintain our membership is an Ace card that we hold whist the Joker in the pack are the quitters.  Sailing away in a ship of fools is not the British way. 

Sitting here writing at my desk, the computer screen in front of me has a set of adjustments.  A simple menu can be called up.  I can adjust the Brightness, Colour (Color because the screen is American), Contrast and Language and if all else fails press the Factory Reset.  My screen is quite democratic in giving me the choice bright or dim picture.  This thought came to my mind as the overwhelming impression of the EU referendum campaign so far – it’s one of great contrasts.  The contrasts couldn’t be sharper.  If it was a international boxing match it would look like this:

Those in the REMAIN corner are generous, open minded, optimistic and self-confident.  Those in the LEAVE corner are angry, insular, muddled and negative. 

If I next consider the range of Brightness and Colour presented to the British electorate: Arguments from the REMAIN campaign are attractive, bright, clear and vivid.  Arguments from the LEAVE campaign are dark, dim, dull and gloomy. 

The language selection button can be brought into this colour display analogy too.  For REMAIN supporters any one of 23 languages are on the menu in addition to English.  For LEAVE supporters it’s English or English or English.  In reality its thundering gibberish too. 

In my past, in the 1980s, I designed cockpit displays for aircraft so this subject has a deal of familiarity.  The last time this choice on Europe was put in front of the British people was in 1975.  As then, with this referendum vote there is no reset button.  There is only one chance to get it right. 

The fate of Britain rests in the balance at this pivotal moment in our long history.  Europe and the EU have achieved so much good in the world in the past 40 years it’s inconceivable to me that we would throw this away without a sound plan for what to do next.  Yet, here we are standing on the edge of an immense cliff.  Britain holds exceedingly good cards in its present position.  Ticking REMAIN in the EU is a sure bet for peace and prosperity.  Ticking LEAVE is a risky adventure where the younger generation will pick up the bill.  

Lead not leave

00222 days to save Britain. That’s right the issues are as big as they get.  If you are not registered to vote you still have time to do so.  Europe and the EU don’t just come up every 40 years.  What we decide on 23 June will be with us for a generation and more.  Only two choices are on the ballot paper.

The campaign to vote to REMAIN in the EU has picked up the most credible supporters. The economic case to stay in the EU is overwhelming.  On all the cross border issues like; crime, climate change and environmental protection the EU offers the best way forward.

Vote Leave have peppered Britain with mean minded, ill-conceived and confused referendum addresses. Their vision of isolation is the polar opposite of the internationalism of the REMAIN campaign.  The peculiar notion that building a wall or pulling up a drawbridge will change the fundamental facts about migration is comical if it wasn’t so tragic.  I know we have a natural instinct to be protective of our local community but we had best not think that we are doing good if we run away.  It’s just not patriotic.

Britain is about engagement. On the subject of climate change and financial regulation, it is Britain that has led the push for tough EU action.  When things don’t work the way we think they should then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work and fix it.  The EU is the most ambitious and successful example of cooperation between nations that has ever been built in our world.  If we were to quit the EU because it wasn’t perfect, we shut ourselves out of huge opportunities in the future.  Extending the European single market to areas like digital, energy and services will be greatly to Britain’s advantage.  We must lead in Europe, not leave.

Two Boxes

WP_20160530_20_42_15_ProBritain is in a good position. We have the best of both worlds.  At the same time as having a seat at the table in Europe, Britain continues to be one of the major players at a global level.  This comes from our unique history and an ability to lead in significant areas.

The choice for Britain is a stark one. It’s either to be a fully active member of the EU, as it has been or to stand apart protecting its own limited interests whilst at the same time being greatly affected by the EU.  If Britain is no longer a member it will not be in a position to influence the development of the EU.  At the same time, globalisation is going to require more collaboration and not less.

Today, Britain benefits from the level playing field created by the European single market. This is a bulwark against the destructive effects of national protectionism.  Britain has moved the EU towards a more open and flexible approach to business.  It has been a leading light in ensuring that necessary regulation is not a burden but an asset.  Britain has also encouraged overseas investors to see it as a preferred route into Europe.

None of these things happened overnight. Decades of work at the heart of the EU have maximised the opportunities for British industry and services.  This is particularly true for the pharmaceutical sector and financial services.  It’s also true in the inherently international aviation sector.

No matter how you read it all the economic arguments stack up in favour of remaining in the EU. That’s not to say that the EU is perfect but neither is the alternative.  In fact, leaving the EU carries an order of magnitude greater risk than remaining in.

That said, Britain will stay in the EU only if REMAIN supporters put their cross in the REMAIN box on the ballot paper. There are a great number of powerful distractions during the run up to the EU referendum vote.  There are numerous red herrings all tempting voters to jump one way or another.

Putting to one side the political personalities pushing for your attention the basic choice is IN or OUT. It gets no more complex than the two sides of a coin.  I believe the only way forward is to stay IN the EU and I hope you do too.

Not Alien

053Living as an Ausländer has its ups and downs. I know what it’s like to be an alien having spent eleven good years living in the city of Cologne.  That’s alien as in belonging to another place rather than the bug eyed monster variety.  When you move you are undeniably an outsider, a foreigner, at least that’s the way its starts.  Fortunately, the community where I settled was welcoming, tolerant and open.  Certainly tolerant of my amateurish use of the German language.  In time what started off as unfamiliar became familiar.  Even the eccentricities of Carnival in Cologne eventually seeped into the blood.  What was initially a crazy spectacle that was best avoided became, at least to me, an annual must see event even in the rain.

Mobility in Europe is a wonderful achievement. It’s a freedom we should cherish.  This is why I find the current British debate about immigration so lop-sided and depressing.  If anything Britain should be celebrating immigration given that it has fuelled the economic success of the country time and time again.

The White Cliffs of Dover are no greater barrier than the mighty river Rhine or the Alps. What is different is the social attitude we have towards those physical barriers.

With the referendum on whether Britain stays in the EU due to take place on 23 June it’s important to get the facts out on this issue. Let’s begin with the economics.  Boring as it sounds if you add up the costs of EU citizens in Britain and compare that with the contribution in taxes you come up with a positive benefit.  Moving on to the jobs that people do, and it’s not just the stereotype Polish plumber our NHS and social services are dependent upon staff drawn from far and wide.  To a great extent Britain is lucky in that there are so many people with English as a second language.  This gives the country an enormous pool of talent to call upon.

There are people who claim that quitting the EU has a benefit. How can this be?  Most of the issues that concern the movement of people are cross-border issues.  If there is one subject that we need European institutions for it is exactly that – cross-border issues.  A lone nation isn’t going to have an impact on global migration but working together there is a chance that problems can be managed.

Let’s have Britain playing a leading role in shaping the future of the EU. Erecting a barbed wire fence on the White Cliffs of Dover is like the story of the little Dutch boy who pocked his finger into a hole in a dyke to stem the flow of water.  Sooner or later help is needed.

Street Stall

Uxbridge May 2016The Westminster constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip is currently represented in the House of Commons by the infamous Boris Johnson. It’s currently considered to be a safe Conservative seat. In the past that meant that you could put a donkey with a blue rosette on the ballot and it would get elected. Much like Reigate in Surrey. In fact, in the election battle of 1997 Eurosceptic Sir George Gardiner paraded a donkey along the High Street in Reigate. That donkey was named “Crispin”. A name shared with the current Reigate MP who ironically is backing Vote Leave. How times change.
Yesterday, Saturday I joined the Stronger in Europe Campaign stall in the centre of Uxbridge. The weather was great and there was a lot of people in the town just before lunchtime. So how did it go – I know you are asking. The answer is surprisingly well and I’m not just saying that for effect. People were freely coming up to the stall to ask questions and take leaflets.
Amongst the “outers” that I spoke to none were of the shouty variety that populate social media. One woman cited immigration as her concern but her reasoning was not typical. She was hoping there would be fewer immigrants so that would get lazy Brits off of their backsides and working.
The smiles and nods you get from supporters really boosted our spirts. That glance and “I’m IN too” as they passed by was a good indication that there is much more support for remaining in the EU than is indicated in the polls or in the media.
One young guy, self-employed, said his business was doing well but he hadn’t made his mind up. He put it like this: my head tells me to REMAIN in the EU but my heart doesn’t always agree. After we had a short chat I’d be happy to bet that he goes into the polling station and votes to REMAIN.
One middle-aged couple were mildly animated, saying that there was no need for this referendum vote at all – why was it happening? One Western Canadian woman I spoke to was bemused by the whole event. Again, she couldn’t understand why we were having this referendum.
I exchanged stories about living in Germany with one older woman. Although we agreed on many issues, unfortunately I didn’t persuader her to come across to REMAIN.
Much as we are seeing in the national media the two biggest issues that came up in conversation were the economy and immigration. In my mind you can’t separate these two issues. Free movement has been a huge boost to the British economy. Also it’s a complete myth that quitting the EU will change immigration to Britain.
After this referendum has passed I do intend to walk the Colne Valley all the way from Staines to Uxbridge. On the edge of the City it’s surprisingly rural except for one or two places like the end of the Heathrow runways. That should be a nice wind down.


018I don’t like to be disrespectful so what I say does not refer to all Vote Leave campaigners. In fact, I’ve had a perfectly rational, sane and sensible debate with a few. However, I’ve met enough of them to say that it’s true that a number of them have the characteristics of those people who write letters to Councillors in green ink. That is EVERYTHING (in Bold) is accentuated! Nothing is left to the chance that you might not fully hear, echoing through the pages every point they are making. Even in a noisy room with a jet flying overhead and constant interruptions. What does a conversation with the other side sound like? Standing in a High Street meeting passers-by and offering a positive REMAIN message this can go several ways.
One way is the normal gentile route. For example: They smile and say: “I don’t agree with this leaflet but I take my hat off to you for standing in such a cold alleyway. I know what it’s like”.
Another way is the combative route: They comment: “You know you lot are going to lose – don’t you? I don’t know how you can believe this stuff?”
Finally, and all too often the aggressive route: They shout: “No democracy. Nazi super state. Can’t control our borders. Traitor – I want my Country back”.
In the first case I can shake their hand. In the second case I have a bit of banter. In the final case they get offensive, nasty and unpleasant. Any engagement is just time wasting. Whatever the rights or wrongs of it, some people have lost their marbles over this referendum. All the wows of the world are sharply focused on an instinctive urge to kick something. Logic goes right out of the window. Fallacies become the fashion. The Leave campaign can be summed up as; make as much noise as possible don’t bother about the detail.
I choose to believe that the latter case is a minority. The vast majority of people are calmly considering which way to vote. The positive REMAIN message is hitting home. To quote G. K. Chesterton: “But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet”.


A to B

001People want to be in a successful place. Britain’s economic success is attracting workers from across the EU Member States as new migration figures show. The majority of EU citizens come to work or to find work. These workers are making a large contribution to the wealth of the nation. Leaving the EU could cause a shortage of workers and the closure of businesses.
Most EU workers coming to Britain are young, fit and hardworking. Britain’s health and social care sector is highly dependent on EU staff. With an ageing population its vital that posts are filled.
There are indicators that when these migrants return to their countries of origin they take with them an entrepreneurial spirit and the English language which makes then excellent future business partners. The single market works as it should only when people can move from A to B.
Britain already has the tightest borders in Europe. However, Brexit campaigners say rise in net migration means border controls should be tightened even further. Quitting the Union isn’t going to make that easier. Controlling borders requires a great deal of cooperation with neighbouring Countries. This is particularly true of the ferry routes across the channel.
I was a frequent user of the DFDS ferries from Dover to Dunkirk. This is a busy route for both trucks and car drivers. The Port of Dover is the busiest international 24/7 roll-on roll-off ferry port in Europe. Huge improvements are being made to the port. These improvements are being part funded by the EU as part of its Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) project. Projects across the EU will help the economy to grow, with a budget of over €24 billion up to 2020.
To continue this success, we need to REMAIN part of the EU. If we leave the EU, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Certainly we will lose the advantages we already have that are delivering British economic success.


You have until 7th June to register to vote in the EU referendum. Now the countdown is really underway. Yes, its 26 May. Where did the first 5 months of the year go?
Let’s not forget this referendum isn’t about sending a message about the bad behaviour of our Westminster politicians. Rather, it’s a once in a lifetime national vote to determine the direction that the whole Country takes. No one can escape the vibrant, lively and sometimes heated debate about Britain’s place in the EU.
I think we should look less at the media personalities. After all they will come and go much as previous generations of British politicians have come and gone. It’s far more important to look at the real issues, like: health, education, the economy and immigration. That said it’s the last 2 issues in that list that are most impacted by Europe.
Over recent days those campaigning to leave the EU once again returned to scaremongering. Using Turkey as an example, they say that Britain is powerless to stop new countries joining the EU. This is NOT true.
• What they failed to mention is that; Turkey has been trying to join the EU for 30 years.
• What they failed to mention is that; any EU decision must be based on a unanimous approval – that means that every EU Member State can veto Turkey’s accession.
• What they failed to mention is that; at this time only 1 of 35 chapters in the approval process has been concluded by Turkey and the EU.
Turkey has been a member of NATO since the 1952. Along with Britain, it is a member of many other intergovernmental bodies. There will always be a need for the EU and its Member States to be in discussions and negotiations with Turkey. Also the tensions caused by the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus have not gone away. Seeking a solution to that situation is a problem that the EU continues to focus on.
Vote Leave’s shameless scaremongering sadly reveals a couple of things. First, this episode shows worrying lack of depth of knowledge of how the EU works and what it is doing. Secondly, as many in the Vote Leave campaign are experienced politicians and will understand the issues, the alternative conclusion is that the anti-Europeans are happily and knowingly misleading the public.
Those of us campaigning to remain in the EU are concentrating on reality and not pedalling myths. The case for REMAIN is a strong one. If we really want to maintain control over our economy and immigration, we need to REMAIN a Member of the largest trading block in the world – the EU.

Lone State

Are you a reliable partner? Most of us would like to think that we act with integrity. It’s quintessentially British to hold someone to play by the rules. Naturally that’s as long as the rules are properly applied, safe and fair to everyone.
I’ve seen some arguments that say we don’t need the EU because Britain can make ad-hoc deals with whom it likes, where and when it serves our its interests to do so. Britain can form a coalition with Tom, Dick and Harry and if that doesn’t work out then take-off with Sid, Hancock and Kenneth. Sorry, I’ve only used male names.
Whether its bananas, aviation or international banking trade deals can be made up anytime, anywhere for any reason. This way forward sounds superficially attractive but in reality the relationships between the 195 independent sovereign states in the world doesn’t quite work that way. For a basic start there’s a hell of a lot of history that gets in the way of totally free, open and unrestricted exchange.
A lone State may have to jump in and out of bed with others to keep its trade afloat. It may not look too closely at its partner’s human rights record. It may accept terms and conditions that others would shun. To counter this, forming a regional coalition or alliance is often an effective means of increasing their bargaining power. However, these regional coalitions or alliances often struggle to counter the competition between neighbouring States. That’s certainly true in the Middle East or Asia. In the Americas the issue is the dominance of one of the partners.
Europe has the EU. It was born out of the most devastating conflicts. The EU is a model that others look at with envy. It has a key advantage and that is the rule of law. So if say; Tom, Dick and Harry don’t play by the rules there is a means of redress. There’s more than peer pressure that ensures that Tom, Dick and Harry remain reliable partners.
I believe, Britain would be foolish to throw that away this advantage. A vote to REMAIN in the EU is a confident assertion in a volatile world. A vote to REMAIN in the EU is to be a trustworthy and reliable partner across the globe. A vote to REMAIN in the EU enhances Britain’s sovereignty.