Our Concern

Leading the charge for leaving the EU UK Minister Gove mocked those wishing to remain in the EU. Including fellow Ministers. Scaremongering he said. Within the space of a couple of minutes this was turned on its head as scaremongering became the heart of the leavers argument. With a little verbal dexterity chalk can become cheese just don’t you dare bring any facts into the discussion. So the uncivil war within the Conservative party continues to get headline news.  You may have thought that the EU referendum was a serious question put to the British people and that they might expect a serious debate. However, it’s hard to see how the position of those wishing to leave the EU is anything more than emotional outbursts and a love of isolation. The idea being that difficult problems become easier if you lock yourself away and repeat the mantra – it’s all the fault of the others.  

In fact, the reverse is true. There was never a worse policy than to say – the troubles of others are not of our concern. Every time in history this has been the popular view then it hasn’t been long before the troubles of others have come visiting.  

The EU is not perfect but we do have a seat at the table. We have a vote. We have a unique perspective to add. What’s more, and its a critical point, a lot of the problems we have, we all have in common. The environment, immigration, unfair trading practices, safety and security need a common approach.  

Wish for better

I’ve a vivid memory of tracks from Wish You Were Here playing in 1984 whilst eating a toasted sandwich. It was a late breakfast and it was in Greece. That music was first released in 1975. So, yet again there’s a reason to celebrate 1975. Not only was it the year that the UK voted to stay in the EEC but it was the year great songs hit the streets. Last night I saw the Australian Pink Floyd show. Strange to be in Germany listening to an Australian band playing British progressive rock more than 40 years after it was first performed. That’s our fantastically diverse world for you. The show had the audience on their feet and that doesn’t always happen in such a large arena.  So, what am I to make of this in relation to the referendum debate? For a start, let’s just say that British music has done well in Europe. Follow that by saying that there is a common cultural cord that runs through the experiences of the last 40 years. Top that by saying Pink Floyd take a bash at the music industry in WYWH but there remains a thread of idealism in the music. I guess that’s where we are with the EU. Lots of people want to put the boot in but from time to time we need to revisit the idealism that got the project off the ground. Idealism gets bad press but in my mind it’s absolutely essential if we want to secure a better Europe and a better world.  

Dam those lawyers

Isn’t strange how British right-wing politicians feel so constrained by the EU? I’m in Germany at the moment and it strikes me that the UK has more rules on some issue than on the continent. Since we are in the same EU then it must be because we constrain ourselves by choice. From time to time that’s fine. Take for example the subject of cigarette advertising. Seeing billboards with people smoking just seems so 1970s. Yet, that is how it is in Germany. The pesky EU doesn’t seem to be cracking down. There are other example of health and safety which seem way over the top in the UK but nonexistent in Germany. Could it be that people are blaming the EU for the wrong things? Could it be that our litigious culture in the UK is the source of the constraints? Naturally this is more complex because there are just as many lawyers making a good living in Germany as there are in the UK. Perhaps they are focused on different issues. That’s a good sign because it means that diversity thrives in the EU.  

Our family

Having been on a platform with a history professor made me reflect on the question of culture and what it means in the current European Union referendum debate. I remember a long time ago when I was debating local government reform in Surrey. The subject of “natural communities” came into the discussion. This term has a lot to do with a shared culture, shared experience and shared interests.
Do people feel “European”? Some do and some don’t. For the sake of categorising the News, the BBC list the World as being Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and US & Canada. Unless people have a specific family connection, out of that list the vast majority of Brits would surely choose Europe as their place in the world. So, how come some people reject the idea of a European identity? It’s strange.
In England we have even imported our patron Saint. The story of Saint George and the dragon is a European story. DNA maps showing where our ancestors came from make it clear we Brits are European. Perhaps it’s the Cornish, Welsh and Scots who have the real claim to be the intrinsic culture of these islands. I can relate to that being a West Countryman.
The EU is a family of nation states. In my mind it’s a family that we clearly belong too. Now families can be complex, turbulent and troublesome but it’s not good to deny our heritage. Today, EU Member States have a host of collective achievements. We have distinctive experiences and a shared common culture. Remaining as a vibrant member of the EU we can all gain. It’s as the saying that; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Egham debate

Yesterday Strode’s College in Egham held an EU referendum debate. About 300 students filled their sports hall on what was a rainy afternoon. I’d participated in an excellent election debate in the same hall last year. It was good to be back.
I shared the platform with Royal Holloway History Professor Justin Champion, Diane James UKIP MEP for the South East and Kwasi Kwarteng MP for Spelthorne. Also, two student representative put the case on either side of the argument. Questions came thick and fast from the students and included the topics of: Democracy, Scotland, Tourism, Taxation, Currencies, Free Movement, Trade, Culture and Voting at 16. Everyone understood that this was a once in a generation opportunity to voice an opinion on EU membership.
On the leave side; UKIP painted a picture of “them” and “us”. Always hostile to the EU. Viewing the UK as always being ganged up on by others who are intent on creating a super state.
Spelthorne’s Tory MP emphasised that we were a trading nation long before the EU came along. For him trade within the EU was not vital to the UK when compared with the rest of the world.
On the remain side: Justin Champion reminded us all our European cultural roots. He did not wish to see the UK become a big gated community. The debate is not just about economics.
I took 3 points to make in my 3-minute introduction: For Europe to be a force for good in the world – promoting peace and stability. To grow the single market to prosper and to have a global impact as we forge ahead in science and technology.
Just as for the Strode’s students this is a first for me too. I was too young to get a vote in 1975. The decision we make in a few weeks will shape our world for the next 40 years.
At the end of the debate, the students were asked to vote on whether they think the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. The result is awaited.

Play the ball

There’s less than ten weeks to go to the UK’s referendum. The more time elapses the more ridiculous the position of the LEAVE campaigners becomes. There are enemies within, there are enemies without and there are enemies all about. The IMF is an outpost of the EU, US president should keep out of our affairs, German Chancellor rules Europe, the CBI has a “conflict of interest”, the Farmers are scaremongering, the BBC is bias and everyone is wrong except you know who. You name it, 101 paranoid statements have been thrown at random to the media. It seems that Project Paranoia is in full flow.
What this proves to me is that the REMAIN campaigners have won the rational arguments to stay in the EU. Opponents instead of presenting a better plan have only stones to throw at the prospect of a reformed EU. Instead of “playing the ball” they try to repeatedly foul the opposition.
Twisted thinking is evident when considering that outside EU membership there would be an even greater need for the UK to be a reliable partner, maintain good relationships and trust. Going around telling people to – butt out – is not a good basis for future trading or working together. This approach is not a successful strategy for a mature democracy in the 21st century.
Was I surprised about any of the above? No not really. Parties like UKIP, some Tories and Tabloids have been rousing angry supporters with the intention of throwing them into this fight. In this situation it’s going to be absolutely vital that everyone who supports the campaign to REMAIN in the EU puts a cross in the box on the ballot paper.

’75 and all that

The last time this happened I was 15. The digital age hadn’t quite kicked off. Vinyl records and cassette tapes were hip. Monty Python made us laugh and the film Jaws was released. In 1975 the Conservative Party selected its first female leader; Margaret Thatcher. North Sea Oil started to flow but on the down side Dutch elm disease killed over 3 million Elm trees.
I remember the following year with more affection but there is no doubt that the consequences of 1975 shaped my working life. UK voters said “yes” in the referendum on staying in the European Community on 6th June 1975. Living in the countryside, where farming was the main stay, I was never far from a debate on the Common Market. The two opposing camps were just as vigorous then as they are now.
Taking a lesson from that time, it’s perfectly clear to me that young people have the most to gain by remaining in Europe and the most to lose by leaving. For me, Europe has provided challenges, opportunities and rewards. I dread to think what the UK would look like now if that referendum had turned out differently.
It’s also perfectly clear to me that predicting the future is mighty difficult. Going back to the start of the digital age there was predictions that we would work less and have more leisure to fill our time. At least one prediction came true the common market became a much bigger single market. Working together, removing trade barriers and free movement has created a brighter future.
This time I will have a vote. In this crucial referendum I will vote to REMAIN in the EU.

Holidays in the sun

We Brits love our week in the sun. Pile them high and sell them cheap. Holiday companies fight tooth and nail for our hard earned cash. Prices are highly competitive. Choice is plentiful. New deals are always springing up. All that in a European Union where countries are happy to see us.
What’s that got to do with the EU? – I hear you say. Well there are several critical points to explore on the subject of travel. Today, we take a lot for granted but you only have to look back at the TV of the 1960s to see enormous change. Foreign travel was for the glamourous wealthy few as often depicted by the likes of Simon Templar (The Saint). Yes, I am a fan of Roger Moore.
Europe has taken down barriers and made it easier for us to go where we wish. In the last 20 years low-cost flying has grown to offer flights to all corners of Europe. Competition has brought real customer benefits. The EU single market and its lowering of regulatory barriers has made this possible. Even when you want to call home the EU helps by forcing down mobile phone roaming charges.
Not only is the EU good for the traveller but it’s good for the environment. EU funding of projects like the Single European Sky make more efficient use of our airspace.
Eurosceptics are calling for an uncertain leap into the dark. One thing is certain; outside the EU it will not be so easy to get from A to B on the continent. Why go back to the 1960s?

That leaflet

It’s the size of a medium sized envelope. Its’ a combination of pictures and words. Its’ a got some Conservative MPs in a tizzy. The subject is a leaflet that puts the Government’s case for remaining in the EU. One arrived on my doorstep yesterday morning.
First reaction I had was; what’s all the fuss about this is rather modest. I expected something in dayglow pink, with loud headlines and grandiose claims. What I got was clear, concise and straightforward. The Government has every right to state its point of view. The Government believes the UK should remain in the EU. It would be irresponsible for them not to tell us, the voters, its reasoning.
Any kind of professional public communication costs money. The alternative is to be a secretive Government with no regard for accountability, openness and transparency. Yes, this current administration can be criticised on the issue of communication but not in this case. Starting a lengthy debate on the cost of the leaflet is a pure distraction.
If the campaigners to leave the EU are so concerned why is there no alternative text? It may be because there is no single policy position that can written down and agree between all the bickering Eurosceptic groups. For example; one group would want to whack-up tariffs and start a trade war with China and another group would run a mile before suggesting such action.
Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe. The messages are worth repeating. There are many reasons to REMAIN in the EU and this leaflet provides one selection.

Take with one hand

Headlines are chasing one story: Tax. Who pays it and who should pay it? The old saying about nothing is more enduring than death and taxes is being played out in public. It’s quite appropriately so. This is the real meat of political debate. Along with security, it’s probably the most important debate that takes place in parliaments and councils. Without public funds we can’t have the public services that we demand and expect. However, if Governments take too much out of people’s pockets they stifle the creativity and dynamism that drives improvements in life.
Inheritance Tax is generally disliked because it takes a slice out of money passed from one generation to another. In the UK, Inheritance Tax receipts were around £3.8 billion in 2014-15 and have been rising.
The way this tax is levied is a sovereign matter and wholly the responsibility of the politicians in Westminster. Whereas LEAVE campaigners are wrongly arguing that the majority of our laws come from the EU; this is clearly shown to be nonsense. Here we have the most important act a government can take and it has nothing whatsoever to do with Europe.
On the positive side, the EU has been investigating the way in which large multinational corporations shift their money around to avoid National taxes. In fact, the EU offers the best way of calling large international companies, with a wealth bigger than some countries, to account. Its only by looking at the big picture can measures be designed to stop large scale tax avoidance. Another good reason to REMAIN in the EU.