The question is: which way would John Steed vote on the EU?  That’s Patrick Macnee in the Avengers TV series.  Always in a smart suit, the bowler hat and umbrella that was once so typically British.  Which way would this fictional character, much loved from my childhood, vote in the forthcoming referendum?

The cold war spy stories of the 1960s were full of conspiracies and plots. The Avengers was like a sophisticated Scooby Doo for adults.  Except these were imaginary British secret agents working for an mysterious part of the Intelligence services.  The plots followed the lines of uncovering intrigue so that the baddies were outwitted and exposed.  The closing sequence often had a trade mark opening of a bottle of expensive Champagne.

Visions of future technologies popped up in the stories from time to time. Cybernauts (robots), computers and even walky-talkies produced a blend of 1960s high-tech with soberer tradition.

I think Steed would approve that 13 former dictatorships have been transformed into democratic EU Member States. That we have had peace and stability in Europe for 60 years and that the cold war is now taught in history books.

With the Vote Leave campaign arguments being so “dishonest” and “verging on the squalid” they would certainly be cast in the role of the shifty baddies.

Given that John Steed was highly rational and as cool as a cucumber under pressure, I’d say that Steed would vote to REMAIN in the EU. He would support a confident, positive and patriotic case for Britain in Europe. So do all you “Steedophiles” across the Country agree?


Last hours

Register, register, register – that’s the best that can be said at this moment.  When the midnight hour comes voter registrations close.  That’s it.  That’s your opportunity to vote in the EU referendum being held on Thursday, 23 June to decide whether Britain should remain in the EU.

I’ve been painting and decorating in an empty house. There are not many tips to remember when painting walls and ceilings but a few are worth a mention.  One: apply more paint to the wall or ceiling than to oneself – hair included.  Two: it will look better once the paint has had time to dry.  Three: now I’ve started I’m going to finish this job – whatever happens.  Four: expect the colour to look different from the patch on the tin or the grand vision in your head.

As I was splashing paint around I noticed the more I used the lower the level of paint got. Perfectly normal that you might think.  It’s perfectly normal in a perfectly normal world.  But then, I though in a Brexit world the paint would not get used up and would just stay at the same level in the tin.

Why do I say this? Well, it’s simply because if you add up all the spending commitments from the Vote Leave campaign you find they have invented an unusual phenomenon.  It’s the case that you can use money more than once and yet still have plenty left over.  How I wish I could apply that strange phenomenon to my household painting task.  It would be great to get something for nothing.

Truth is, I recognise this not as an unusual phenomenon but just a downright con.


The next 80 years

WP_20160604_15_09_46_ProSo what does the future look like? In 18 May 1952, at age 80, Bertrand Russell wrote an article called “The next eighty years”.  Now that’s 64 years ago.  For me bringing to mind the song – will you still love me when I’m 64.  I came into the world later than that; in 1960.  My early youth was passed at a time when the Beatles were at their peak.  When hippies and free pop festivals came and went.  A time when astronauts went to the Moon whilst on Earth a nuclear arms race was engulfing the nations.  Television was starting to become a powerful medium.

In my teenager years the UK was a troubled place but an exciting one too. A three-day week, homework done by candlelight and rampant inflation.  Failing industries and misplaced protectionism with slogans like “Buy British”.  There was a sense of rebellion with an establishment continuing to look on bemused.  That’s the time when the UK applied for and got membership of the EEC.  It the time when the first national referendum on membership took place.

That’s for me but what of Russell’s imagining of the future? Gloomily Russell pictured a third world war that reduced Europe to rubble (again).  More cheerfully another outcome was possible where Russia and America came to an accord.  He imagined a United Nations capable of maintaining peace.  He foresaw science being use for our benefit rather than our destruction.

Here we are making a momentous decision in 2016. So, what might Britain and the world look like in 2096?  My young nieces and nephews may still be around in that year.  What we decide this month will surely echo through the years and affect the world they live and work in.

It’s a long shot to try and see that far ahead in time but Russell, in his wisdom, did get a couple of optimistic predictions right. Thank God the man was wrong on the gloomy visions.

If we leave the European Union, my conjecture is that there will be growing fragmentation. We will be going backwards to the days of destructive rivalry between neighbouring nations.  I hear this when some advocates of Vote Leave tell me; the French and the Germans have never really liked us.  It’s the call of the neo-fascist.  Today, one young lad passed me in the street with his fist clenched saying: stronger OUT.  I’m not saying WWIII is coming but that the nations of Europe waste the next 40 years competing with each other whilst the rest of the world gets on with determining the future.  Then in say, 40 years more we rediscover the benefits of cooperation and start rebuilding institutions and structure and pull together again.

If we stay in and reform the European Union I believe that we can reverse the trend to centralise decision-making and increase the power of democracies. The EU secures peace, prosperity and the rule of law.  The inventiveness and creativity of the British combined with the qualities of other nations will help us master technology rather than let it master us.  We are at the foothills of mountainous changes that hand-held devices like the smart phone are just the baby step.  Artificial intelligence, Automation, Biotechnologies, Hyper-networking, Nanotechnologies all require strong regulation to be safely used. The EU is the best means to provide that regulation so that it is effective and usable on a global scale.

Exploration of the deep ocean or space or the sub atomic world can’t be done by nations alone. Combining efforts and a stable economic environment will mean we can forge the future rather than be mere bystanders.  We need to lead in the EU.

During this time the British will continue to drive on the left hand side of the road and drink pints of beer.  The jingoism and intellectual dishonesty of the Vote Leave campaign is a step backwards. People who haven’t made their minds up which way to vote in the EU referendum should take a long-term view.  For the genuine “don’t knows” Voting REMAIN is on balance a far better future for Britain.

Sleight of hand

WP_20160602_07_38_13_ProWith only a few days left to register to vote for the EU referendum, it’s sad to see doorsteps hit by glossy misleading propaganda. The leave campaigners are telling massive whoppers at every turn.  Here are a few examples from a newspaper that came through my letter box this week.

They say: “Britain will retake its empty seat at the World Trade Organisation.” However, the 28 Member States of the EU are WTO members in their own right.  Yes, they speak as one but no seats are empty!  This is a gross distortion of the facts.

They say: “Britain is one of the biggest exporters in the world.” Truth is Britain is 9th in ranking, only just above Canada.  EU Member States Italy, Netherlands, France and Germany are bigger exporters.  Leaving the European single market will not take Britain up the ranking!

They say: “It is estimated that leaving the EU will boost our manufacturing by £45bn a year.” That’s more than a 25% increase!  UK is currently the 11th largest manufacturing nation in the world.  EU Member States Italy, France and Germany are bigger manufacturers.  The prediction is nonsense when compared with the best done by the fastest growing countries in the world.  Better to work with our European partners rather than spurn our successes.

They say: “UK science is not reliant on EU funding”. Just about every scientist you may talk to will disagree with these words.  A great deal of collaborative research work will be lost as the advantageous terms and conditions we have currently will be lost if we leave.  Just at a time when the EU is shifting spending towards innovation and research.

They say: “Agricultural subsidies will be kept.” That’s a huge percentage of existing monies coming from the EU.  So, where’s the bonus that will end fuel poverty and mend the NHS and fund a shortfall in research spending?  The leave campaign are promising the NHS £100 million a week but are they talking about printing money that doesn’t exit?

None of the predictions given by the outers are believable unless you believe in magic. Either that or we have a pack of jokers who are not at all concerned about the facts.  I trust that the British people will not be hoodwinked by such sleight of hand.

The way to grow our trade is negotiating as a powerful European bloc at the WTO.

The way to export more is grow the single market of 500 million that’s on our doorstep.

The way support manufacturing and research is to work with our partners in Europe.  As the expression goes: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Britain will only be better off by remaining in the EU. Proudly I say; we are not quitters.

The Golden Rule

IMG_0696It’s so basic.  It’s there in just about every religion.  It’s there in the modern secular world too. It’s written in just about every ancient writing about human behaviour. 

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  This simple rule can be worded in different ways.  I remember it, maybe from long ago at Sunday school in Horsington church as: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Equally it could be put as: Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

People are scratching around for statements that are undeniably true or guaranteed concerning the EU referendum on 23 June.  Well here’s one; after the referendum no matter what the result this simple rule will continue to apply.  In the world of international trade it can be called; Reciprocity.  A definition of reciprocity looks like this: “a relationship between people involving the exchange of goods, services, favours, or obligations, especially a mutual exchange of privileges between trading nations.”

So, if I’m sitting in a Government office in Westminster and decided to increase a trade tariff on say; steel coming into Britain I would reasonably expect the reciprocal to happen.  That is that; the Countries impacted by our decision would take an action to rebalance or redress the situation.  

Equally, if I’m sitting in a Government office in Westminster and decide to increase or change immigration policy and restrict the movement of people I would reasonably expect the reciprocal to happen.  That is that; the Countries and/or the trading blocs impacted by our decision would change their policy towards British citizens. 

One way of looking at this is to consider the highly interconnected nature of the world and rightly conclude that; “no man is an island”.  Something will be done in return to my actions – that’s a certainty.  I’ve see the British Press describe this as a “threat”.  By pointing out that in the real world reciprocity happens we see the two sides of the coin.  In other words; I do something bad then you do something bad or just the same; I do something good then you do something good.  Personally, growing up with three brothers we all learned this at a young age. 

We have to ask ourselves, with all modesty, was Jesus issuing a threat in the Sermon on the Mount?  I don’t think that was the intention.  The simple command or law just sums up something everyone knew at the time but occasionally choose to forget. 

Today, Vote Leave is choosing to ignore this rule big time.  Vote REMAIN understand the this golden rule very well.  You should too.  Let it guild you in the way you vote. 

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.