Fair Play

With impending failure looming the referendum LEAVE camp seems to be stepping up the level of abuse and misrepresentation on social media. There’s a never mind the facts attitude. If people don’t agree we will just shout louder. Repeating endlessly statements already proven to be wrong. The problem with this approach to campaigning is it starts to become bullying and intimidation. Maybe that’s the intention but surely one of the British qualities that are so often promoted is that of fair play. Expression like; it’s just not cricket remind us that so many of the rules and regulations of sport originate from the UK. So, are the LEAVE campaigners undermining the very thing you might expect them to be defending?  I do care about the facts. I believe we should argue with dignity and humility. And if statements are in error or just plain wrong they should be withdrawn.  

Upbeat message

We have known of the US president’s visit to the UK for some time. It certainly wasn’t a surprise. Thus, it’s strange to hear how prominent Brexiters have responded to the event. Having time to prepare a confident campaign could have assembled a factual and grounded defence of the position for leaving the European Union. Instead what has been presented by the likes of Johnson and Farage is the worst of the worst pub gossip. Innuendo, misrepresentation and prejudice were all the leave campaign had to offer. Barack Obama shows no signs of being anti-British.  Contrast the Brexiters assertions with the warmth and upbeat messages in support of the UK’s position in Europe. It’s clear that the UK’s continuing global success is dependent upon playing a strong role in the EU. The momentum of the Remain campaign continues to grow as the days count down to the referendum. 

What do you think?

It’s time to ask for an opinion. Reading newspapers, listening to the radio and scanning the web there is still no substitute for a good old conversation. So, I asked a West Country farmer IN or OUT? Goodness me: “I’d like OUT but it’s safer IN”. Next I asked an his mother. Well, my mother too. The reply surprised me: Undecided but if I was younger I might vote OUT and take the risk. After a moments reflection: “It (the disruption) will take too long so stay IN”. With all the media noise in the air there’s still a huge don’t know factor when it comes to the final referendum vote. With this in mind and the fact that more noise doesn’t make it any easier, the “devil you know” will probably clinch the outcome. The reasons are simple. Asking people to make a massive leap into the complete unknown isn’t an attractive prospect. When looking at the people who are asking for that giant leap its evident that their credibility is mighty lacking. To top that, throwing away so much invested knowledge, experience and goodwill just doesn’t sound sensible.  
Personally I find the positive case for the UK to remain in the EU compelling. In my head, a basic cost / benefit analysis and a set of beliefs being me to that conclusion. Now, the race is on to communicate.  

Happy pigs

One of the delights of a journey down the A303 is the sight of Stonehenge. Traveling west towards the sun the traffic naturally slows past the stones. And that’s an understatement because it often just stops in a long slow que. Just past Stonehenge there is another delight – at least to me. There is a field of free range pigs to the left and stretching off into the distance. It’s mud, straw and huts. Wallowing around are what I would assume to be a great number of happy pigs.  My subject is the welfare of farm animals. This is a case where the UK has much to contribute to the EU. Generally standards are higher in the UK than the EU norm. Some argue that this puts the UK at an economic disadvantage. Recently the Government backed down from an attempt to dilute welfare standards.  

This is where leaving the EU could put in jeopardy a basic minimum set of standards that we have come to expect. I think we have a responsibility to keep our seat at the table in Europe and argue for continuing improvements across the board. There is a danger that the UK could give up its leadership role if Brexit becomes a reality. Just imagine the bonfire of standards the advocates of the leave campaign would ignite.  

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.