Friday, November 21, 2014

DDOS attack

No sooner has one issue been resolved than other attack in under way. Thus EUReferendum.com is down again and it's a big attack. Somebody REALLY doesn't like us. Our host can't do anything about it so we are in the process of moving to another provider (again).

In the meantime, I will post here, and then transfer the posts back to the main site when we can get it up and running.

UKIP: Rochester ruminations


I think the political quote of the week comes from the anonymous pundit who reported of Rochester and Strood: "Labour suffer crushing defeat by losing safe Conservative seat to Ukip". But he only just caps Mr Eugenides, who tweets: "Stupid woman tweets photo of white van and flags, resigns. Stupid man calls for compulsory repatriation of legal EU residents, is elected".

Turnout is reported at 50.67 percent, against 51.13 percent at Clacton. Reckless thus came in with 16,867 votes, representing 22.5 percent of the electorate - one in five of the voting public. This is significantly down on Clacton where Carswell took 30.5 percent of the popular vote. We are seeing  yet another failure of the Angry Party to set the election on fire.

That Ukip was going to win, though, has not been in doubt for some time, which means "death camp" Reckless the Repatriater is briefly returned as MP - albeit the indications are that the margin will not be as great as some expect. 

His tenure will perhaps last only until the general election. But his move to Ukip will bring no tears from Peter Oborne. He describes the Repatriater as "a brutish and low-grade specimen who ought not have been permitted to stand in the Conservative interest". His defection to Ukip nearly two months ago, Oborne adds, "reflected well on David Cameron's Conservative Party, making it a better place".

Interestingly, Reckless will be addressing the Bruges Group annual conference in London on Saturday. He was invited while he was still a Conservative MP and, if he turns up, will be able to put his views on his change of heart to a discerning audience. 

By coincidence, this will be followed on the Monday by Owen Paterson, who is planning a major speech on the EU. Oborne expects Mr Paterson "to develop the argument that Britain's future lies outside Europe", and that may well be the case. 

If Mr Paterson goes further and outlines details of how we should go about leaving the EU, he will be ramping up the pressure on UKIP which, after 20 years of existence, is still unable to deliver a coherent (or any) EU exit plan. 

And, trailing in the wake of the Guardian, which led the fray in noting the great UKIP policy vacuum, we now see the Telegraph picking up the same thread. "The party can no longer get away with simply behaving like the outsiders of British politics", the paper says, "free to dish out criticism but outraged when it is directed towards them". It adds: "Over the next few months, their policies on every issue should be subjected to the closest possible scrutiny".

This is an interesting observation. We have been known to remark the Ukip supporters, uniquely, seem to believe that their party should be immune from criticism. Now, the Telegraph lends its way to a counter view. 

Meanwhile, we are being regaled with rumours of additional Conservative MPs deserting to the policy-free UKIP, maybe attracted by the relief of not having to remember what your party's policies actually are. 

However, we are now past the six month cut-off, which means there will be no more by-elections this side of the general. Any MPs who do jump ship and follow the Carswell-Reckless model in resigning their seats are likely to be out in the cold until May – or even longer – reduced to burning their rosettes. 

At least, now, we are spared the sight of prancing politicians and prattling pundits giving us the benefit of their ignorance. Instead, we can revel in Mr Kelner's claim that other parties haven't a clue how to beat Ukip – until Monday, that is, when we may get an illustration of how policy trumps vacuum.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

UKIP: more foot-in-mouth from Reckless


The fun started when ITV's Meridian asked Mark Reckless what would happen to EU migrants already living and working in Britain if the UK chose to leave the EU in a future referendum. His answers made it to the front page of the Telegraph and most of the other legacy media, after his comments were interpreted as an intention to deport EU migrants once we had left the EU.

Complete Bastard rightly posits that this is what happens when a political party goes public without having worked out its policies in advance. Then, without an established "line to take" and message discipline, it is easy for a motor-mouth candidate like Reckless to go off the rails – as he did with Libya, making unforced errors which then dominate the headlines. 

And this really is UKIP's problem which, compounded by the profound ignorance displayed by spokespeople and candidates alike, means that they are constantly suffering from foot-in-mouth disease. 

From the outset, the very idea of repatriating migrants who had exercised their rights of freedom of movement or establishment, under the EU treaties, is a clear breach of the international law doctrine of "acquired rights".

This is dealt with admirably in a Parliamentary briefing note and is so well established - having been formally evaluated by the International Law Commission in 1959 – that it has now taken on the status of customary law. 

No one who had made any serious attempt to inform themselves of the state of art could possibly have made such fools of themselves. It is the rank amateurism of the man that rankles– a man at the cutting edge of the debate who is so ill-informed that he can offer in the name of his party a clear breach of international law as a serious policy suggestion. 

Only later, via the Guardian, amongst others, do we get the official line from a "Ukip spokesman", disowning their own candidate, having to admit on the eve of the Rochester by-election that the 2.8million EU nationals living and working in Britain would be given the right to stay in the UK after an EU exit. 

"Ukip's position on migration is entirely clear", says the spokesman. "We need to sort out our borders, and we cannot do so whilst we remain in the European Union. Those who are in this country lawfully, such as those from EU nations, would have the right to remain".

However, even now, Reckless doesn't seem to have a grip on the issue, apparently saying that people already in Britain "would be issued with work permits and nobody would be deported". Thereby, he seems unaware that even issuing "permits" would be a breach of law, making an absolute "right" conditional on an administrative procedure. 

That brought Farage into play, telling the BBC, "When we invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets us off on a two-year negotiation to leave the EU, part of that renegotiations is what happens to retired people from Britain living on the Costa del Sol and what happens to people from Warsaw living in London".

"Let me make this clear", he added, "during our divorce negotiations, even if the EU was to behave badly and say [British] people living in Spain were to be threatened with not being there, we would maintain the line that we believe in the rule of law, we believe in British justice and we believe that anyone who has come to Britain legally has the right to remain".

 Nevertheless, this does not even begin to address the fatuity of the broader Ukip response. The ritualistic offering that we cannot "sort out our borders" whilst we remain in the EU is getting to sound a little tired, although none of the media seem to asking whether leaving the EU, per sewould be enough to solve the problem.

This is the distinction between necessary and sufficient, with Ukip failing to appreciate the difference. On the other hand, implementing controls already permitted by EU law, addressing ECHR issues, dealing with drivers of migration, in terms of reducing "push" and "pull" factors, and then improving the lamentably poor administration of migration control, would doubtless yield greater dividends than the incoherence of a party which, to this day, can't even get its act together on an EU exit plan. 

The point, of course, is that dealing with immigration in a post-EU Britain demands a considered policy response. So far, all UKIP have been able to do is play around with the idea of an Australian points-based quota system.

This, as an intelligent policy response, does not qualify. Britain is so different is so many ways from Australia that only a leap of imagination into the abyss could suggest it is of any utility. This country with its larger, more diverse economy, on the edge of a continental land mass, demands an entirely different response to a huge, under-populated land mass. Not least, this country has to deal with nearly 33 million visitors, against Australia's seven million, the greater number making the tracking of illegal immigrants that much harder.

All that UKIP has managed to achieve from this imbroglio, therefore, is to tell the voters that there is nothing it can do about the migrants already in place, with nothing to suggest that they know how to deal with migrants yet to come.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the controversy lasted long enough for the BBC evening news remarking on the 6pm news that the policy gap is showing once more. But then, as Complete Bastard points out, this is UKIP. The only way there isn't going to be a policy gap is to rebuild the party from scratch.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World trade: a catalogue of failure

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Following on from Siemens propaganda over the weekend, where the happy Mr Maier was telling us how good the EU was for business, the European Commission has issued a press release telling us exactly the opposite.

This mea culpa, however, isn't exactly transparent – one has to read into the title which hides its light under a substantial bushel: "the 11th report on potentially trade-restrictive measures identified in the context of the financial and economic crisis". What it conceals is the catalogue of failure of the entire global trading system. 

In the 13 months covered by the report, we are told, G20 members and other key EU trading partners adopted a total of 170 new trade-unfriendly measures. The countries that have adopted the most such measures, by the way, were Russia, China, India and Indonesia. 

At the same time, only 12 pre-existing trade barriers have been removed. This means that hundreds of protectionist measures adopted since the beginning of the economic downturn continue to hamper world trade, despite the G20 commitment to easing barriers. 

This is very much a hidden failure, though. Twenty years ago, at the inception of the WTO, replacing the GATT, tariffs were still very much the issue. Then European levels typically at 20 percent. But now, with levels in the order of five percent, one might think that the problem was over (or diminishing). 

Indeed, while the process of reducing tariffs globally has been considered a successes, it has also been described as like draining a swamp. The lower water level has revealed all the snags and stumps of non-tariff barriers that still have to be cleared away. 

After thirty years of swamp draining, the stumps have started to grow. Observers are thus notingthat decades of ever tighter regulation of goods - most of which was adopted for purely domestic policy aims - have escalated regulatory protection. 

As a result, these "Non-Tariff Measures" (NTMs) – or, alternatively, technical barriers to trade (TBTs) - have become more important than tariffs. By way of background, we see that in 1995, the WTO received 386 formal notifications (complaints) of TBTs. By 2013, this had risen to 2,137 (see chart below). 

Putting clothes on this, we see the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT)complaining that non-tariff barriers such as different regulations and standards add over 20 percent to the cost of trading between the EU and US. Trade barriers have replaced tariffs. 

Any which way you look at them, the data suggest that restrictive measures are increasing: trade is still a long way from free and, since the global crisis of 2008, is becoming even less so. The great experiment in "free trade", of which the EU is a central part, has indeed been an almost unremitting failure. 

This puts to bed all this "motherhood and apple pie" rhetoric about free trade. We can waffle all we like about free trade areas, WTO and all the rest. Decades of labour and millions of man-hours (and not a few women hours) have simply changed the nature of the barriers which businesses encounter. 

Interestingly – or perhaps appallingly – we don't even know how to measure trade properly, or assess the impact of trade flows. 

For instance, ONS published the definitive trade statistics for 2013 recently, with much made of the trading deficit with the EU, running at £66 billion. This is out of a total deficit in goods running at £110 billion – a disastrous performance until one adds in services, whence the deficit drops to £33 billion. 

Now here's the thing. Trade in goods is geographically rooted. We can tell where our deficits in goods come from, but that is not the case with services. Much of the foreign currency which is gained from trade which qualifies as "exports" of services is earned in the City. But then international tourism also goes in that bag, so it gets extremely difficult to pin a flag on the money. 

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As long as we keep goods and services in separate boxes, though, we can moan about the imbalance of, say, car sales as between the UK and Germany. But are services and goods so unrelated? It is said of Ford that they make no money out of assembling cars. Their profit comes from financing the sales, selling high-priced loans to eager buyers to let them drive their showroom-fresh dreams out of er… the showrooms.

Cars, in this context, are just the mechanism for selling loans. That makes them part of the financial services industry, at which the UK excels. While the Germans make their money screwing nuts onto bolts, we could be making more by lending their customers the money to buy them. We could, but we just don't know.

Then there is the nature of the automotive industry itself. It accounts for four percent of our GDP (£60.5 billion) and currently provides employment for more than 700,000 people in the UK.

But the thing to appreciate is that it is an automotive industry – it sells components as well as cars. The UK produced 1.6 million cars and commercial vehicles but it sold almost 2.6 million engines in 2013. And about 75 percent of components production is exported to mainland Europe.

Then, according to statistics collected by the SMMT in 2013, 2.3m new cars were registered on UK roads and we built 1.5m cars, of which 1.2m were exported. That left us to import about 2m cars. But that doesn't tell the whole story. We are the second largest premium vehicle manufacturer after Germany, so the average per car came to £20,600, while the average value of imported cars was £13,000. We exported, in value terms £24.4bn and imported £24.7bn - the deficit only £0.3bn.

Now we factor in the components, and here it gets doubly interesting. The European manufacturing industry works at a regional level. For UK-built cars, about 35 percent of components are sourced from other EU countries. But, since about £5bn-worth of UK-produced components are exported – with 75 percent to EU countries - some components come back to us, built into assembled cars. Others are exported to other countries. German cars become vehicles - so to speak - for British exports.

And that's the real reason why the industry is so nervous about the UK leaving the EU. The supply chain is so complex that no one really understands it. And with a totally integrated industry - much of it working on a "just-in-time" basis - disruption of the supply chain engendered by the loss of the single market would bring the industry to a halt, Europe-wide.

What this isn't about, therefore, is relative trading disparity. We don't know how to measure trade, we're not measuring it properly and we don't really know where it is all going. And, in terms of trying to improve trade, we're not really much better off there, either.

It seems to me, in fact, that we have a long way to go before we even begin to understand how the system really works. And as long as we have so many parties churning out their dogmas, we're not even making a start. What we mustn't do, though, is put a dirty great spanner in the works. We must be able to assure industry that, when we leave, the goods will keep flowing.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Media: the other side of the coin

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While there may be reasons why the media isn't telling us things, it is as well to ponder about the other side of the coin - why it is telling us the things it does. And leaping into that category is the news about "Bopris" (as the Mail happily misspells him in one of its captions) fathering a previously secret "love child" (aka bastard).

What is interesting about this piece of news is the extent to which Mr Johnson sought to conceal it, and the effort which the Mail sought to publish it, defending a case in the High Court and then fighting a case in the Appeal Court.

In this latter case, the findings of Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Dyson are pretty damning, the judge effectively ruling that the public has a right to know about Boris Johnson's philandering past, which takes precedence in this instance when "weighed in the balance against the child's expectation of privacy".

The disclosure, however, is more that just a news story. From last year when Mr Johnson was the darling of the media and being widely slated as the next Conservative prime minister, possibly deposing the incumbent, this amounts to a signal that his bid for the leadership is over.

Even the Telegraph Media Group Ltd, which must have been aware of its employee's behaviour, but so far kept silent, has been forced to out its employee.

And, with the outing, it may well be that Mr Johnson's utility as an over-paid columnist is numbered. Certainly, to some of the business's customers, his attraction will be reduced and – as anIndependent poll indicates – to a measurable extent.

But what is also very interesting is Mr Johnson suddenly became so popular – especially as this is a man with few demonstrable leadership skills who handled the August riots badly, and who has none of the political experience that would be required of a prime ministerial candidate. Not only is he not, currently, an MP. He has no ministerial much less cabinet experience.

One suspects here that Johnson found so much favour with the media for the same reason that Mr Farage is so much in vogue – he was a useful stick with which to beat David Cameron. And, if that is the case, now that Mr Farage has so willingly stepped up to the plate, the London Mayor is redundant.

There, possibly, is the real agenda behind today's news. For you, Meester Johnson, ze varr ees over. And you read it first in the Daily Mail.

COMMENT THREAD

Media: you read what you are allowed to read

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One of our number remarked recently on the absence of any mention of Article 50 from the broad sweep of the legacy media. A quick search proved that to be the case.

Autonomous Mind coincidentally notes the role of Article 50 as an antidote to FUD, the latter from the Goldman Sachs stable. Its report author was careful to avoid any reference to the potential of the Article to enable an equitable settlement to be negotiated, in circumstances which must be deliberate. 

One wonders, though, whether the general absence of comment in the media represents active censorship, which is turn invites dark thoughts of conspiracy between media bosses. 

Before these thoughts are dismissed outright, the emergence of yesterday's piece from Booker provides more than adequate testimony that pieces which contradict the editorial line do get spiked. Active censorship is a fact of life in the media, and everything you read is filtered through the system of editorial approval. 

So it was in the early days of UKIP in the European Parliament, where we found that stories submitted by journalists which mentioned UKIP were edited, and any reference to the party was removed. 

As a result, self-censorship took over. Not uncommonly, journalists would remove quotes attributed to Farage or one other of our MEPs, and similar quotes substituted, bearing the names of Tory MEPs. Daniel Hannan, himself a Tory MEP and then a leader writer for the Telegraph Media Group Ltd, was particularly prone to this, something for which I have never really forgiven him. 

This does remind us though that the current wave of publicity afforded to Farage and his party is neither accidental nor spontaneous. He gets publicity at the pleasure of the media barons - because they permit it. The moment that permission is withdrawn, Farage will disappear into the obscurity from which he emerged. 

That further raises the question as to why Farage is getting such a volume of (largely) favourable publicity, especially as the corporate businesses that run the major newspapers do not share his values or objectives. With the possible exception of the Express none want to withdraw from the EU. Given the opportunity, all will support any renegotiation concluded by Mr Cameron or his successor, no matter how weak it might be. 

An obvious conclusion to draw from this is that Farage, and thereby his members, are being used. Senior Tory members are convinced that he is a convenient stick with which to beat Mr Cameron, who has – for several and different reasons – fallen out of favour with the media barons and their corporate interests. 

Should Cameron at some time rebuild his bridges, or a more acceptable replacement be put in place, Farage will be ditched, leaving UKIP members in the wilderness. At the moment, journalists are being allowed to play, but the moment business gets serious – round about general election time – the teachers will rap the table, and the children will be brought back into line. 

That gives the clue to the treatment of Article 50. On the face of it, invoking the Article, seeking EFTA/EEA membership, and repatriating the acquis offers a sensible, temperate solution to withdrawing from the EU. It minimises any collateral damage and allows trade to continue uninterrupted, without loss. 

And that, of course, is the last thing that the corporates - which include the media interests -actually want. They do not want a solution to the problem, otherwise people might agitate for it, and we could end up actually confronting a successful withdrawal. Thus, they will publicise Farage, under license, but not Article 50. 

Through this dynamic we get the surreal situation where the self-appointed "expert" from Open Europe manages to write a long piece about leaving the EU, without mentioning Article 50 once. It is raised only in the comments by a reader.

The point to emerge from all this is the reminder that we are very far from enjoying a free press in this country. Anything of political significance that you are able to read in the print media is there only because someone decided you should be allowed to read it. 

There may be exceptions, but these only go to prove the rule. A few licensed dissidents – such as Booker - are allowed. They are treated with benign amusement, and kept on because they have high page traffic. But they are kept firmly in the "ghetto" and not allowed to play with the rest of the girls and boys. 

Sadly, though, people – the dwindling band that continue to read newspapers and believe what they say – actually believe that they are well-informed after they have expended so much of their life-energy reading the tat they are permitted to see. 

But they should never forget that most censorship comes not from governments but from the media itself. They have the power to dictate the agendas and they are not at all reticent in using that power. You read only what you are allowed to read. 

COMMENT THREAD

EU referendum: a common vision

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The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs, it says here, is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

That was written a while ago, but it may give some hint to the fact that this blood-sucking parasite it not universally adored. And it may, therefore, be a mixed blessing for the europhiles to have it reporting that a British departure from the EU would result in a "loss/loss scenario" in which both the UK and the rest of the bloc would be damaged. 

The report is from Kevin Daly, a member of the investment bank's economic team, and it says that a UK exit would "come with a significant economic cost to the UK" because it is "highly integrated" with the EU. 

Crucially, Daly then dismisses those who argue that Britain could negotiate a trade deal with the EU once it had left. "Given the size and importance of the UK economy, it is unlikely that the UK could negotiate the same access to the EU single market that Switzerland and Norway have achieved", he says. 

Now, that Mr Daly so carefully refers to Britain negotiating a trade deal with the EU "once it had left" cannot be an accident. It must be done for effect, especially as Article 50 refers to negotiationsbefore a withdrawing country leaves. 

Assuming that the default position of any responsible government would be to invoke Article 50, Goldman Sachs is therefore engineering a scenario which is both extreme and highly pessimistic - and not provided for in the Treaty. And, without it offering a range of scenarios, this can only mean that the bank is talking a partisan and therefore worthless line. 

The thing is, of course, is that the UK could opt for membership of the EEA via EFTA, and for repatriating the entire aquis. This may not be acceptable to the "unilat" fundamentalists of UKIP, who are singing from the same songsheet as Goldman Sachs, but it is a tenable option and one espoused by at least one British cabinet minister. 

But then, Goldman Sachs could not possibly consider this scenario if it is to stand up its headline finding that the UK leaving the EU would be a "loss/loss scenario". And, for a company that works hand in glove with the European Commission, this is the only conclusion that its employees would be permitted to draw. 

It was, after all, Goldman Sachs alumni, Mario Monti who took over the governance of Italy at the behest of the Commission, it was Goldman Sachs who cooked the accounts to allow Greece to join the euro, and it was then Goldman Sachs people who engineered the Greek "bailout" and the haircuts which tipped the country into the depression. 

That such an eminently untrustworthy organisation thus reports adversely on the UK exiting from the EU is, therefore, no bad thing. But how fascinating it is that both Goldman Sachs and the UKIP fundamentalists share a common vision of how the UK will manage its departure. 

COMMENT THREAD

Monday, May 20, 2013

Media: Booker uncensored

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As the pages of the Telegraph and the Mail are swamped with pieces about the ongoing crisis at the heart of the Tory Party, the ever widening rift between David Cameron and his grass roots, it may be germane to recall a curious episode back in December 2006, a year after Cameron became the Tory leader. 

On the Friday of that week, as usual, Christopher Booker submitted his column for the Sunday Telegraph, including a lengthy item analysing why it was already clear that what he called "the greatest gamble in modern British politics" had not come off. 

This was Mr Cameron's attempt to turn the Tories into a "Not The Conservative Party", contradicting pretty well every principle the Tory grass roots believed in. 

On the Saturday afternoon, just when the paper was due to go to press, he received an incandescent call from his then-editor, Patience Wheatcroft. There was no way she could allow such a piece to appear in her paper. That week's Booker column would have to appear in absurdly truncated form. 

This little incident briefly caused a flutter of interest behind the journalistic scenes, prompting some mischievous observer to post entries for Wheatcroft and Booker on Wikipedia, describing what had happened, But these before long disappeared, Ms Wheatcroft herself did not last much longer as editor, her successors never censored Booker in such a way again, and history rolled on. 

Six and a half years later, however, as the rift between Cameron and the Tory grass roots, contemptuously dismissed by his party chairman as "mad, swivel-eyed loons", makes front-page headlines - with Nigel Farage taking out a full-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph inviting disaffected Tories to come over to UKIP en masse - those words which Telegraph readers were never allowed to see now seem even more apt than they might have done at the time, 

This was what Booker wrote:
David Cameron ends his first year as leader of the Opposition, there are clear signs that the greatest gamble in modern British politics has not come off. The little group of ex-public schoolboys who last year hi-jacked the Conservative Party have seemed to gamble on just one strategy. List everything the Party used to stand for – low taxes, the family, rolling back the power of the state, encouraging business, upholding our defences, curbing criminals, common sense – then go for the opposite.

The essence of the gamble has been the belief that, in wooing the support of Lib Dems, would-be greenies, Guardian readers and the supposed "soft centre", they could take their supposed "core" supporters for granted. But as support for Cameron falters, all the evidence seems to suggest that those wished-for new recruits to his "Not The Conservative Party" are not forthcoming, while the Party's former natural supporters are left baffled, dismayed and increasingly angry.

All this was neatly symbolised by the recent photo-opportunities staged by the three men now competing for the role of Britain's prime minister. Mr Blair and Mr Brown, aware that defence and national security (not long ago rating 34 percent on a Mori poll) still rank very much higher as voter priorities than "environmental" issues (only eight percent), flew out to the Iraq and Afghan battle-zones to pose in front of the largest guns they could find. Mr Cameron, at the same time, flew out to the Sudan, in Lord Ashcroft's CO2 emitting private jet, to be pictured cuddling a little refugee child. It was the "Men from Mars" against "the Boy from Venus". "Darfur Dave" did not come well out of the contrast.

The tragedy is that, confronted by the most corrupt, hypocritical, inefficient, illiberal, discredited government in history, what millions of voters are looking for is an alternative which might put an end to the sleazy, self-regarding sham of the Blair era by displaying some "masculine" firmness: in cutting back on the bloated public sector and the out-of-control bureaucracy which is destroying our health service, education and police; which might encourage enterprise; which might restore democracy to local government; bring back some balance into our public finances; sort out the shambles into which our Armed Forces are sliding; uphold Britain's national interest, as we suffocate under the malfunctioning system of government represented by the European Union.

In other words, what much of the country is crying out for is a party which represents precisely those values which Mr Cameron's Not-The-Conservative Party seems so hellbent on abandoning. As for what he stands for instead, almost the only clear message Darfur Dave seems to have put over to the voters is his sentimental "save the planet" greenery, on which his dotty little gimmicks and practical ignorance have simply made him a laughing stock.

What many voters sadly begin to conclude is that Dave and his cronies seem so hopelessly ill-equipped to take on the serious business of government that, if we have to choose between one gang of PR merchants and another, better stick with the devil we know. Hence the evidence of the latest polls appearing to show that the gamble has failed. Ever larger become the number of would-be Conservatives sorely tempted to join that 40 percent who already feel so alienated from politics that they just stay sullenly at home. But the Guardian readers are scarcely flocking to replace them. So where does all this leave our country?
And that was more than six years ago. Even more so now than then, we are asking the same question. As the Conservatives go into complete meltdown, where does all this leave our country? 

COMMENT THREAD

EU referendum: none of your business

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The europhile Independent wants us to believe that economics is more important than politics, giving a group of self-interested corporates license to peddle this lie in a letter to the paper, with front-page treatment afforded in this and the sister "I" publication.

It is in the latter paper that the lie is at its most prominent, the front-page legend (illustrated above) having it that, "Leaving the EU would cause economic disaster". And an egregious lie it is. Given our exit scenario, where we maintain the Single Market through membership of the EFTA/EEA, and then repatriate the acquis, the net effect of our withdrawal from the EU is economically neutral. 

For sure, we lose some of our influence in the decision-making on the EU's versions of the rules for the Single Market, but this is largely compensated for by our regaining our influence on international bodies such as the WTO, UNECE, etc., from where most of the rules originate in the first place. 

What these corporate pirates are doing, though, is conflating membership of the Single Market with membership of the EU. The very last thing this dishonest crew wants to do is admit that we can be members of the Single Market without belonging to the EU. 

In peddling their lie, however, the corporates are aided and abetted by the "unilats" – the eurosceptic groupuscules who are wedded to the idea of unilateral withdrawal. These people are intent on precipitating exactly the economic disaster of which the corporates are now warning. 

Nevertheless, the corporates have over-reached themselves. In complaining about eurosceptic MPs putting "politics before economics", they are placing their interests above those of the people. The EU is a political construct, and the argument over withdrawal is political. It is not about economics. It is about who governs Britain. 

In this, elected MPs are perfectly right to put politics before economics. It is totally out of order for former VAT fraudsters like Branson to suggest otherwise. Business has every right to expect that its interests are taken account of, but when it comes to how we are governed, that is none of their business. 

We the people must make that decision, and without the interference of the self-interested corporates, represented by the chairmen of BT, Deloitte, Lloyds, Centrica and others, who, when push comes to shove, are only interested in lining their own pockets at our expense. 

COMMENT THREAD

EU referendum: hostages to fortune

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Former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson was in full flow on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday. But what he said was of very little importance in the greater scheme of events, any more than anyone really gives a damn about what "dead sheep" Lord Howe has said.

What might stick, though, is Mandelson's jibe about UKIP whom he called the "UK Isolation Party". That is just the sort of snide slur that can gain a certain currency, and it struck me at the time that it was far from spontaneous. This has been worked on by Mandelson and his little friends, all part of the classic technique of denigrating the opposition. 

If it does stick, though, it will be because there is a grain of truth in it. One just has to look at the comment threads on the online Booker columns, and other threads on EU-related issues. Very visible and voluble are the self-identified UKIP members who demonstrate by their comments that their only interest is immediate withdrawal from the EU, whatever the cost, and whatever the damage caused. 

This we also see on our own forum, the relentless advocates of unilateral withdrawal who are so obsessed with leaving that they would destroy any chance of a negotiated settlement and cause endless damage to British business and other national interests. 

What these people don't seem to realise, though, is that our withdrawal will almost certainly depend on us winning a referendum. And it is there, where the vote is soft that we will be relying not on the politically committed, but on the swing voter, who will have no settled view on the EU issue. 

What people also need to realise is that political engagement is a minority occupation. Only a tiny and diminishing band of people follow politics. The "mainstream" media is in fact purveying a minority view, and the bulk of people who get their news only from television rarely give the bulletins their full attention. 

Yet, it is these people upon whom will be relying to get us out of the EU. They are people we haven't spoken to yet. These are people who don't read the comments (thank goodness) and who don't read the blogs. Many of them don't even vote in most elections. 

But it is these people who will be most affected by the scare tactics of the europhiles, and the claims of people like Mandleson, who revel in claims that we are isolationists and "little Englanders". And they will be given plenty of opportunities by the BBC and the legacy media to make their points. 

Then, it will we our own rabid, swivel-eyed loonies, foaming at the mouth about "traitors" and "illegal treaties", German domination and all the rest, who let us down. 

Their squealing for immediate repeal of the European Communities Act, regardless of the damage caused, will seem to confirm the slurs from the Mandelsons of this world, giving their claims credibility as they seek to tar us all with the same brush. 

Thus, as eurosceptics, we need to be thinking hard, not only about our arguments, but how they play with the politically uncommitted. What might sound good to the faithful, or stack up the "recommends" on the comment threads, are not necessarily the arguments that are going to convince the swing voters. 

To do that, we are going to have to be careful what we say, and compromise. What many committed eurosceptics could end up doing, in promoting their preferred courses of action, is alienating – or frightening - ordinary people to such an extent that we end up losing a referendum. 

As it stands, it is going to be difficult enough to win. There is no need to make it impossible. 

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

EU referendum: disturbing stability in the polls

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The Telegraph Media Group Ltd is citing an ICM poll today which has 46 percent of respondents saying they want to leave the EU, as opposed to the 30 percent who want to remain – giving a 16 point margin in favour of withdrawal.

In the Independent on Sunday we have the results of a ComRes poll and it also puts the number wanting to leave at 46 percent, as opposed to 25 percent who want to stay in. That gives us a slightly healthier margin of 21 percent. 

However, this poll also tells us that voters would back remaining in the EU by a margin of 43 to 24 percent if some (unspecified) powers were returned to the UK, a finding which is very similar to the June 2012 YouGuv survey which found that people would elect to stay in the EU by a margin of 42 to 34 percent. 

Taking that last finding, on the face of it, the margin for staying in the EU following renegotiation has strengthened from eight percent just over a year ago, to 19 percent currently, in what could be considered a boost for Mr Cameron. 

But the main findings are nothing to write home about either. The 16-point ICM margin compares unfavourably with the Mail on Sunday poll last October, which gave a 17-point lead to the "outers". But, when the YouGov poll in July 2012 also gave the "outers" a lead of exactly the same 17 points, one can conclude that sentiment is not moving a great deal. 

One can take greater comfort from the ComRes poll and its 21 percent margin, but that would only represent a four-point shift in a year which has seen an upsurge in support for UKIP and a supposed strengthening of anti-EU sentiment. 

Here, we have to remind ourselves – as always – of the private poll conducted for the Labour Party in August 1974, which showed that, should there be a referendum on membership of the Common Market, 50 percent would vote to leave, against 32 percent who would vote to stay in, a "huge" lead of 18 points. 

At around the same time, Gallup confirmed these proportions, with a poll coming out at 47-30 percent in favour of leaving, giving a lead of 17 percent, almost exactly the same as the ICM poll. And, as we well know, nearly a year later in 1975, 67.2 percent voted to stay in the EEC, while those voting to leave had fallen to 32.8 percent – a lead of over 34 percent in favour of staying in, representing a swing of over fifty percent. 

What is puzzling about the current findings is the stability of anti-EU sentiment. In broad terms, it has hardly moved in years and seems largely resistant to the ebb and flow of the debate on the EU. And, if we are to take the historical precedent, the level of support for withdrawal is by no means enough to ensure a victory in any coming referendum. 

Patrick Hennessy in the Telegraph ventures the opinion that 44 percent wanting an immediate referendum – as opposed to 29 percent prepared to wait until 2017 – represents a "further boost for the eurosceptic cause", but on current showing, we would most certainly lose an early referendum. 

The most disturbing thing, though – given the lack of movement in the polls and the favourable response to the suggestion of renegotiation – is that we might lose a referendum in 2017 as well. 

We can only hope that the opinion dynamics might change when a referendum is declared. But, if they don't, it could be too late to find out why and affect significantly the course of public opinion. Anyone truly interested in getting out of the EU, therefore, might feel some alarm at these figures, and be looking for stratagems which might improve future odds. 

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Booker: we can't have our cake and eat it in the EU

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How symbolic it was, writes Booker, that just when those 114 Tory MPs were voting to deplore the omission from the Queen’s Speech of any mention of an in/out referendum on the EU, the EU's finance ministers in Brussels were voting for UK taxpayers to give another £770 million to this year's agreed EU budget, with a further £400 million to follow.

George Osborne had gone over to Brussels determined to resist this additional demand, but was derisively outvoted. UK taxpayers must therefore fork out a further £1.2 billion, making a mockery of that ancient and jealously guarded rule that money can only be taken off them by agreement of the House of Commons. 

The previous week, our Government, in the Queen's Speech, could only scrape together proposals for a mere twenty new Bills, when not long ago Parliament could regularly pass up to 200 Bills in a session. 

But this is because so much of our lawmaking has now been outsourced to our real government in Brussels (the European Parliament website lists over 1,300 "legislative acts" being considered in its current session). The MPs we elect to Westminster have no more control over that than they do over the EU's decision to filch another £1 billion of our money. 

A measure of just how far the power has drained from our emasculated Westminster Parliament is the sight of our politicians now resentfully stumbling around in a fog, arguing one way or another about some possible referendum, without really grasping any of the realities of the situation in which we now find ourselves. We see them falling into three main groups. 

The first includes all those unreconstructed Europhiles who think it pointless even to discuss a referendum because the polls show "Europe" way down the list of issues voters think important. Oddly enough, the last thing such people want to explain to those voters is that the EU is now the chief engine of our government, let alone what an unholy mess it is making of all it touches. 

A second large group, led by Mr Cameron, favours the "have our cake and eat it" option. They admit that Britain's position is desperately unsatisfactory, but kid themselves into thinking that we can remain a member of the EU while somehow renegotiating the return of some of those powers we have given away. 

But they are baying for the moon, ignoring the most sacred rule on which it has steadily accumulated its powers for 60 years: that once power is given away to the centre, it can never be handed back. The "reformed" EU they babble of is one that does not and cannot exist. 

Still further across the spectrum are those dreamers demanding an in/out referendum as soon as possible, because they want us to get out. What they overlook is that, if such a referendum were held in the foreseeable future, the "yes" vote to stay in would win overwhelmingly, because a) no one has yet offered a properly worked out and positive vision of how well Britain could fare if we were to leave, and b) the leaderships of all the major parties, most of the media – led by the BBC – and big business would campaign to keep us in. 

Because of the absence of a positive alternative, it would be only too easy to scare voters into thinking that we would be left miserably out in the cold, losing half our trade and all that influence that we enjoy sitting around in Brussels being outvoted by our 26 colleagues. 

In short, we might be just like Norway and Switzerland, the two most prosperous countries in Europe, outside the EU but free to do more of their trade with it than we do. In many ways they actually have more influence on its affairs than Britain, through belonging to those global bodies that now make many of the rules on which we are represented only by the EU. 

Scratch away at what Mr Cameron's lot think they are after, and what it really comes down to is that they want us to be allowed to continue trading with the EU, like Norway and Switzerland, but without all that suffocating political baggage that goes along with the EU's drive to "ever-closer union". 

The only way they can get that is by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which alone could compel the EU to sit down with us to negotiate precisely the sort of a deal they want. But the snag is, of course, that we can only open that door by saying we want to leave: the very last thing Mr Cameron is prepared to do.

He wants to have his cake and eat it, Booker concludes – a dish that is simply not on the menu.

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