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.

Constant Change

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.

Big picture

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.

Work to do

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.

Back to the past

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.

EU cuts waste

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.

Don’t bore

I’ve been wanting to say: “it’s a little known fact” for a while. A phrase that reminds me of a sketch with the great Peter Cook. It was a show called the Secret Policeman’s Ball with a sketch called “Interesting Facts”. Cook sits on a park bench and talks to a well-dressed John Cleese as he is trying to read a tabloid newspaper. A succession of nonsense is streamed at the disinterested Cleese. Most of the comedy comes from the slow build-up of Cleese’s annoyance.
The parallel I have in mind is the mimicry that LEAVE campaigners are perfecting. Persistently revealing quirky and just plain wrong information to a general public who they think is interested. Having the effect of uniting the park bench bores but annoying the pants off of the rest of us.
The down side of this behaviour is that it could have the impact of turning people off. For those of us who are campaigning, the UK vote in June will be the most important vote for a generation. However, getting back to the normal life where a sizable proportion of people don’t vote at all, this annoyance factor presents a real problem.
Fortunately, the STAY (in the EU) side of the argument has a more positive message. Facts revealed need to be true and relevant to everyday life. The challenge remains to encourage as many people to vote as possible and not to annoy the pants off of the electorate.

Heritage matters

Wandering around sunny Harrow on Sunday lunchtime I was struck by the way suburban high streets look much the same. Generations of planners have allowed the erection of carbon copy shopping centres and trashed the remains of local heritage. Small specialist shops and traditional pubs struggle to maintain a foothold. This is one phenomenon that can’t be blamed on Europe. It’s what short-sighted English councils have done. Market forces have played their part but lack of imagination has played a bigger part.
This week, two high street names are under threat, namely British Home Stores and Austin Reed. Except for concern for those employed and the poor behaviour of their owners I can’t say that I will miss either one. In my opinion, BHS is C&A with electric light fittings and Reed’s shirts are fine but too expensive.
If I am to bring Continental Europe into this article, then it’s on the basis that a modest attempt to protect a town’s heritage does make business sense. It’s not just for places where tourists go but more broadly to improve the everyday experiences of working towns. A cleaner, safer and less homogenised environment would be good for us all. On-line shopping will kill the British high street if it’s not an attractive place to be. It would do no harm to look at Continental Europe and copy good ways of keeping traditional retailers and eateries afloat. There’s positive case for specific tax breaks and protections to keep local heritage and prosperity alive.

It’s good to talk

This morning, sitting in a local coffee shop using the Wi-Fi, I caught a glance of the iPad of the guy in front of me. It triggered a thought about migration. Strange that an image of a screen can set such thoughts in motion. I was thinking; what an interconnected world. How did we manage before talking to people half way across the world was just as easy as talking to someone across the street? Now there’s a multitude life styles possible because communication is so easy.
Anyway I apologise for catching a glimpse of that iPad. A video conversation was on going and it was night where the other person was staying. It reminded me of the conversations I’ve had with people whilst travelling across the globe. It’s always better to keep in touch with loved ones.
Migration is the biggest issue for some people when it comes to the EU referendum vote. It struck me that a key enabler to migration was not just transport but the INTERNET. The ability to connect with family and friends whilst hundreds of miles away is so important and so liberating.
Those who want to keep people away from migrating to the UK will have to shut down the INTERNET as well as building walls and pilling on layers of bureaucracy. All the arguments that can be made for a threat from the movement of people can be made for global communications too. A vision of the UK as a huge gated community with ridged government controls on movement and communication is scary. It’s what communist countries did and still do. It looks like the LEAVE campaigners want to go down that same road. Its clear, the lives of ordinary Britons will not be pleasant if they win the vote.

Long term thinking

I remember one summer visiting Cleveland, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. This is a city with more than its fair share of problems as heavy industry hit the skids in the US. Wondering around there was reminders of a mighty prosperous society forged from steel and railways. Today, there are attractions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a some turn of the century buildings open to the public. When I was there the centre of the city was taken over by the US Marines on a recruiting drive. The central square looked like a film set for a super hero movie.
Getting to the point, one of the buildings I visited was the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. A glorious fortified building of style and elegance from 1923. Closing my eyes, I could imagine gangsters with violin cases standing just across the street. Today, in the building are museum exhibits that take visitors through the history of the US Federal Reserve. Until that point I had no idea that attempts to unify the currency in the US had failed and been restarted so many times. The birth of the US currency was a roller-coaster ride of mammoth proportions. In fact, the US currency area was plagued with financial crises until the New Deal came along.
Why am I telling you this story? Its because I’m fed-up with the constant assertion coming from doomsday merchants of fear saying that the Euro is a failure. British media rarely if ever challenge this bland assertion. Sure there has been immense challenges and almost disastrous moments. True that some smaller Euro countries had to be rescued when a world recession hit but that’s the role of a central bank.
Now, having read the history of the US experience I’d say we are well on the road to success in Europe – in the long term. Europeans did not copy the US. European learned from what has gone before. Building for the long-term does secure the best future.