Never glad confident morning again

I woke this morning to discover that it was not a nightmare nor a horror film.  The country I thought I knew has voted to leave the European Union.  It is not only the decision that leaves me in despair but the worst political campaign of my life.  It can be summed up in the words of Yeats: “The best lack all conviction” for the Remain campaign and “the worst Are full of passionate intensity.”  describes the Brexiters.  I have never encountered such anger and hostility in politics as I met from supporters of Brexit.   In debate after debate simple facts made no dent in the convictions of leavers.  It is tempting to direct my own anger at the Brexit leaders and their repeated lies but the fault is much deeper. Whilst they spent decades attacking the European Union, so-called pro-European leaders from all parties failed to promote or even defend it.  It was always too easy to play to the gallery and make a snide remark or gentle denigration of the EU.   Westminster politicians looked down on Brussels and Strasbourg and, for the most part, did not trouble to find out how European democracy worked so could hardly explain it to the voters. Public opinion was shaped by the relentlessly europhobic press.   The BBC without conscious bias fed the same narrative through their choice of language and selection of what is newsworthy.  If Donald Trump sneezes, we have endless reports and discussion of how often he has sneezed, in which states he has sneezed and whether Hilary Clinton is going to sneeze back.  Meanwhile the coverage of politics in our neighbouring countries in the EU is superficial and occasional let alone any rare information about the member-states further away.  Finally, consider the weakness of our oft-proclaimed democracy.  A government elected by 36% of the voters calls a referendum which splits the country down the middle and a major constitutional decision is taken without any requirement for a threshold or special majority.  I have read attempts by individuals and groups to come to terms with the decision. To me it is all whistling in the wind and will not stop the gales which are to come. For myself, there is no comfort.  I have lost my country and my children have lost a better future.

Brexit, Uncategorized

To those about to wobble* -an open letter to Olivia

Dear Olivia,

You have indicated to me that you are seriously considering voting tomorrow for the UK to leave the European Union.   This has caused me some distress as not only do I value your opinion but I fear that you may be representative of a number of Conservatives whom I previously considered to be thoughtful and reasonable.  Indeed the only reason you have given me is that such people are also considering voting to leave.  Of course, we are all subject to peer-group pressure but I am sure that you are able to stand against it if you want to.  Not knowing what is influencing your decision, I have difficulty in answering whatever it is, but I’ll try.

I’m voting to remain for at least three reasons: peace, prosperity and a safe environment.

yPeace: We live in a continent where countries have fought against each other for centuries but have now stopped, at least within the 28 member-states of the EU.  You can put it down to a change in human nature, if you like, but I believe that it’s because we now have European institutions in which we can conduct and resolve our differences without warfare. When I put these arguments in the 1980s people would say that war in Europe was inconceivable.  A few years later, Yugoslavs were killing each other.  That has stopped now and Croatia and Slovenia are within the EU.  Some people reply that NATO kept the peace.  NATO and the Warsaw Pact maintained a fragile balance of power during the Cold War, which was not without casualties.  Balances of power eventually break down as in 1914.  Belonging to a community built upon law rather than armaments is rather more successful.  As our friend Sandy is fond of saying, he (and I ) belong to the first generation not to have to spill its guts on the battlefield.  Let’s keep it that way for your generation and the lives of your generation’s children too and beyond.

Prosperity:  The referendum campaign has seen exaggerated claims by both sides about the future.  I won’t repeat statistics, even the ones I am sure are right.  Boris dismisses the overwhelming balance of economic opinion by saying that some economists have sometimes been wrong.  So have some weather forecasters but most of the time they get it right.  If you don’t trust economists, ask yourself why the money markets (hard-headed and not under Cameron’s control) move down when the polls put Brexit up and move up when the polls put Brexit down. You will make your own judgement but I make two points which matter.  Firstly, it’s not a choice between European trading and global trading.  The UK has done both and will continue to.  We benefit from many EU- 3rd country trade deals, which outside the UK we would have to negotiate afresh just for the UK.  Michael Gove is curiously glib about this: we will be weaker at negating on our own.  Any potential gain in flexibility will be offset by the great loss of bargaining power.  Secondly, our trade with the EU.  Brexiters are so certain that the UK would get a good deal but with no evidence other the fact that Germany sells a lot of cars to the UK.  A trade deal with the EU has to be agreed by all 27 other countries; each has a veto.  Even if Germany wanted to have free trade with the UK outside the EU, which I doubt, any one other member-state could stop it.

Environment:  As you know I worked as an environmental lobbyist in Brussels.  Air, water, pollution and wild animals do not respect national borders.  You can’t take control of them, at least not in one country acting alone.  You’re not a climate change denier.  The EU has led the way in international negotiations, achieving originally the Kyoto protocol and more recently the agreement in Paris just before Christmas.   Making our environment safer usually imposes costs on industry.  It is very hard for the UK or any other country acting alone to accept those costs if they make us less competitive than producers in other countries.  Acting together across the EU we can do it together.

Again, I’m having to guess which arguments against membership have influenced you.

Democracy:  The EU is democratic, I would even argue more democratic than the UK.  Laws are made by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, both composed of elected politicians.  The parliament votes by political groups not national delegations.  The council reaches concensus 80% of the time.  In the remaining 20% of cases, the UK has been on the winning side 87% of the time.   The European Commission does propose legislation but only within the context of a work programme agreed by the Council.  The Commission is appointed by Prime Ministers in the European Council and has to be confirmed by the European Parliament, which can also sack it.

Immigration:  Naturally I assume that you are not swayed by the more racist tendencies of the argument but may have legitimate concerns  about numbers.  The evidence is clear that the economy benefits from migrant workers, their taxes exceed any benefits paid better than for us the native population.  The money they spend here also boosts the overall economy.  The Brexit response is curious; they argue for a points-based system.  Under free movement migrants come to take up jobs. That’s the market deciding who we need.  The points-based system by contrast relies upon experts in Whitehall deciding who we need, not a market solution and an odd one for people who decry experts and regulations.  For those who are worried about immigration, leaving the EU will not resolve their concerns.  Any trade deal worth having with the EU will include Free Movement as a condition.

Sovereignty : The mantra of the Leave campaign for some days has been “Take back control”.  We haven’t lost it.  Most important issues which are genuinely within the power of the UK to resolve acting alone are settled by our national government and parliament.  Sovereignty is the right to take decisions when what matters is the power to take them.  The US state of Indiana once passed a law that pi was equal to 3 exactly.  It didn’t change a thing although they must have had some odd wheels on their carts.  We pool sovereignty in the EU precisely because it gives us the power with our neighbours to decide things which would escape our power acting alone.

I’m sorry I have taken so long, but I am working in the dark here as you have not told me what matters to you.  I do not seek to defend every aspect or every policy of the EU any more than you would expect me to defend those of the British government.  What I do proclaim is that law between nations is better than war between nations and somebody has to make that law.  The European Union provides a democratic mechanism to do just that.  If we don’t like a particular law we fight to change it.   Even I as a lobbyist have persuaded elected politicians to change European law on regional and environmental policy.  If we leave the EU, we lose all power to change anything.

With love and affection and hope,


*refers to a Saki story and tariff reform


EU sponsors paedophilia – Farage

Farage pubThe Daily Mail reports Nigel Farage speaking to supporters at Clacton-on-Sea has attacked the European Union for spreading paedophilia across Britain.   “Millions of migrants have the right to come here”, he said, “and many of them bring their foreign habits and alien culture to our country.  Can it be a coincidence that the rise in child abuse coincides with the arrival of thousands of migrant workers, many of them from Catholic countries and we know what their priests are famous for  ? Our taxes are paying for their unnatural practices.   If only we left the European Union, we could put a stop to paedophilia for good”.

(Check the date, guys)



Gove lies

gove_zps55d5c593A friend recently cited an article by Michael Gove in the Telegraph as a reason for voting to leave the EU.  I’d say it was a reason to stop reading the Telegraph.  Here’s what he wrote (in italics) and what I think of it.

I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.

Decisions and laws ARE made by people we choose.  European legislation is decided by the European Parliament elected by the people and the Council of Ministers consisting of national ministers.  We can remove MEPs once every 5 years, same as MPs in Britain.  We can only remove ministers by changing the governing party in a general election; this applies to decisions taken by HMG and legislation proposed by HMG just as much as when they sit in the Council of Ministers.

Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out.

Now we get to the heart of it.  The laws are NOT decided by politicians from OTHER nations.  They are decided by politicians from all member-states including British ones.  What Gove is actually saying is that foreigners shouldn’t have a vote at all.  In other words he denies the possibility of any democracy bigger than a nation-state.  It’s like a football club wanting to play in a league but demanding that they alone will decide the rules of the game and other teams have nothing to say.

We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT,

Because we voluntarily signed up to agreed rules on VAT.  If we want the ability to change that ourselves, then every country must have the same right and before you know it the single market is dead and divided by 28 different excise taxes each of which have been chosen to favour each country’s own producers.  Incidentally, it was a British government which put VAT on sanitary towels and could have removed it before the VAT directive was agreed.

cannot support a steel plant through troubled times,

Not true.  State aid rules prevent governments giving their own national companies advantages over other countrys’ companies but there is provision for derogations in troubled times.  The British government has not sought a derogation.

cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed

I have no idea why Gove thinks the EU is to blame for this.  It is a common tactic by Brexiters to raise a problem we all recognise but which has nothing to with the EU and then blame it on the EU.

and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country.

Again, not sure what he’s getting at.  If he’s referring to the human rights restrictions on deportation, they are derived from the European Convention on Human Rights which was drafted by British lawyers on behalf of the Council of Europe, a separate institution from the EU.  Again it’s a common tactic of Brexiters to mix up the two.  Gove is not a lawyer but he is an intelligent and well-educated (well, studied English at Oxford) man so he must know he is not telling the truth.

In Britain we established trial by jury in the modern world,


 we set up the first free parliament,

Probably not true, depends upon what he means by “free”.  Some Nordic countries had parliaments long before we did and mostly gave the vote to women before we did.

we ensured no-one could be arbitrarily detained at the behest of the Government,

I suppose he means Habeas Corpus .For foreign equivalents see here:


I particularly like “In 1430 King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland granted the Privilege of Jedlnia, which proclaimed, Neminem captivabimus nisi iure victum (“We will not imprison anyone except if convicted by law”). This revolutionary innovation in civil libertarianism gave Polish citizens due process-style rights that did not exist in any other European country for another 250 years”

we forced our rulers to recognise they ruled by consent not by right, we led the world in abolishing slavery,

This from the man who wanted pupils to study more British history (I agree actually).  Yes, we played a major role, particularly in abolishing the slave trade but the picture is much more complicated.  See here:


we established free education for all, national insurance, the National Health Service and a national broadcaster respected across the world.

Not the only country to do these things.   I have no objection to celebrating all the achievements which Gove mentions.  I do object to the idea that Britain somehow developed in a bubble while the rest of the world remained barbarous until they learned from us.  Even if that were true, it would be UTTERLY IRRELEVANT to the question of Brexit !   It’s just a traditional nationalist rant which ignores the achievements of other countries.

The euro has created economic misery for Europe’s poorest people.

No, dreadful national government and corruption has created the misery.  The euro as a currency has performed well ( compare with other currencies) but it did give cover to poor governance in Greece at least.   Greece should not have been admitted to the euro because it was not ready.  Would you argue that the American dollar is the cause of misery for the poorest Americans ?

European Union regulation has entrenched mass unemployment.

No argument is given.  It’s an assertion.  He neglects the fact that each EU regulation replaces 28 separate national regulations.  The EU has therefore undeniably reduced the amount of regulation and made trade across Europe easier.  The causes of unemployment are wider and not limited to the EU.

EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders.

This is one of the worst deliberate confusions spread by Brexiters.  They always mix up migrant workers within the EU, immigrants from outside the EU and refugees.  War in the Middle East and North Africa has created refugees.  Restrictions on migration, much favoured by most Brexiters, are the cause of people traffickers who prosper by overcoming those restrictions.  It is true that the EU has failed to solve the refugee crisis. Why ?  Because the action required needs unanimity and is not subject to majority voting.  This would be exactly the same if the EU did not exist.  Indeed without the decades of co-operation and compromise within the EU, finding a solution would be even harder.

Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity.

So, does he really believe that 28 countries each pursuing their own interests without the peaceful method of reconciling those interests provided by the EU would have done better ?  The history of Europe suggests not.  Thanks to the EU we have had the longest period of peace within its boundaries since the Antonine emperors of the 2nd century.

The EU is proving incapable of dealing with the current crises in Libya and Syria.

National governments have not given the EU instruments capable of dealing with these crises.  Brexiters prefer that every country has national sovereignty intact so they mustn’t complain at the consequences.

The former head of Interpol says the EU’s internal borders policy is “like hanging a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe”

He fails to mention that the Schengen agreement which supports free movement also includes provision for intelligence sharing between police and border agencies across the EU, both of which are vital to dealing with terrorists.  He also neglects the fact that terrorist attacks in Britain were perpetrated by people born here.  All this from the man who proposed that the invasion of Iraq would bring peace and democracy both to Iraq and the wider Middle East.  In 2008 he proclaimed “The liberation of Iraq has actually been that rarest of things – a proper British foreign policy success.” adding “Alone in the Arab Middle East, it is now a fully functioning democracy with a free press…”  Like Tony Blair he makes no apology for the worst foreign policy decision in my lifetime, which our own intelligence services predicted would lead to an increase in terrorism.  The he blames the EU !!

and Scandinavian nations which once prided themselves on their openness are now turning in on themselves. All of these factors, combined with popular anger at the lack of political accountability, has encouraged extremism, to the extent that far-right parties are stronger across the continent than at any time since the 1930s.

Why are far right parties stronger ?  Because people like Gove tell lies.


Vote AGAINST bombing Syria

Please contact your MP to oppose bombing Syrian in the debate on Wednesday (2nd December). If your MP is Liberal Democrat or you kinow a Liberal Democrat MP, please contact him before 5pm today (1st December) parliamentary party meeting to urge vote AGAINST bombing Syria.
LibDem 5 tests NOT satisfied. What’s the point of setting conditions and then ignoring them ?

UN Resolution 2249 – OK
What, if any, evidence of plans for a no-bomb zone ?
What, if any, evidence of such pressure and chances of it succeeding ?
The government is NOT absolutely clear on what Syria and Iraq will look like post-ISIL, NOR of any post-conflict strategy (including an exit strategy) they propose to give the best chance of avoiding a power vacuum.
Has the government published its 2014 investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood ?
What if any investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK ?
Any increased of acceptance of Syrian refugees ?


Them and us


Widespread antipathy to the EU isn’t all Nigel Farage’s fault.  So-called pro-European politicians unconciously endorse europhobia almost every time they speak, so here’s five rules for talking about the EU as if you were actually in favour of it.

1. Don’t say “Going to Europe” or “Coming from Europe” as if Britain was somewhere else, off the coast of the USA for example.  OK, it’s common parlance but it reinforces the underlying europhobic discourse and echoes the infamous (although possibly apocryphal) Times headline “Fog in Channel – Continent cut off

2. Don’t describe all EU legislation or announcements as “Brussels“.   You wouldn’t describe UK legislation as “London” unless you were Alex Salmond.  It reinforces the idea that everything is decided by some malevolent coterie of Eurocrats instead of by European institutions which Britain is part of.

3. Don’t talk about politics, law or culture as if there were only two ways of doing things – the British and the European. There are 28 different countries and although there may not be 28 different ways of doing any particular thing, nor are there just 2.  It’s as antiquated and innaccurate as suggesting we Brits all eat roast beef while all those nasty foreigners drown everything in garlic.

4. Don’t present all arguments about the EU as a zero-sum game.  This is particularly true when anyone speaks about the EU budget without the context of the mutual benefits which flow from membership.   Even funds which are directed to the development of a particular region increase the size of the single market from which everyone else gains.

5. Don’t present every argument as Britain vs EU.   It’s as if all British political debate were interpreted as Essex against the rest and just as untrue.


Art not imitating life well enough

Imitation Game

For months I looked forward to the Imitation Game, with the great Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing but it was a disappointment.   After the initial three (no less !) company idents, the film begins with a caption warning “Based on a true story” which of course means a lot of what follows is NOT true.  OK, so it’s fiction and it’s drama about a real man, a real group of people solving a real problem in a real place.  Of course they’re going to make things up.   I have no objection to dramatic licence to fill in the daily life of the historical narrative but this films distorts history for narrative effect and makes mistakes which add nothing to the narrative.   Yes, John Cairncross was at Bletchley Park but did not work closely with Alan Turing and he did spy for the Russians but AFTER Turing’s Bombe started cracking enigma messages not before.   The role played by Keira Knightley (not her fault) well illustrates the general misogynistic underestimation of women’s capabilities at the Park but is otherwise not merely fiction but so improbable as to be well beyond my ability to suspend disbelief.  To say more would be to involve a spoiler.  The question of when and how it was safe to use intelligence gained at Bletchley was a crucial one, but not one to be decided by Alan Turing, a mathematician and cryptanalyst not an intelligence officer.

No doubt the scriptwriter and director would defend the above errors for their added dramatic impact but there is no excuse for the following.   1) Not everybody who went to Cambridge was a professor, certainly not Burgess nor Maclean. 2) Caption at the end “The secret was kept for 50 years“.  No it wasn’t. Andrew Hodges published “Alan Turing: the enigma of intelligence” in 1985 and the stage production of “Breaking the Code” was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 1986 .  OK trivial but so easy to get right.

Finally and crucially,  Cumberbatch (again, not his fault) portrays Turing as arrogant and his colleagues as dismissive of and opposed to the development of the bombe, the mechanical device which made cracking the codes possible.   Designing and building the bombe was not a sole effort; others were involved and supportive.   Turing was indeed difficult and lacking in empathy, probably aspergic but Derek Jacobi’s portrayal  on the stage and in BBC TV’s “Breaking the code” seems nearer the mark than the role required of Cumberbatch.