EU Membership (lack thereof)


If it actually mattered, the least someone could have done is assembled a positive campaign as to why and settled some of the British complaints.

EU officials and leaders seem to be wandering around with their heads in their hands, wishing that they had been given the opportunity to keep the UK on side. It’s not like less than six months ago they sent Cameron away from the negotiating table with some sundry scribbles on a post-it. Really they have very little to complain about except possibly their own stupidity.

In the event the most positive we got in a four-month campaign was a pack of lies from Leave, which they acknowledged within hours of winning the vote had been known to be a pack of lies all along. (But very positive and inspiring lies all the same.)

Both country and Union will have to muddle through. The destruction of UK soft power on the continent is unfortunate. The wrecking ball through EU status (losing the second largest economy, largest military spender, provider of warships to patrol Schengen borders, owner of four submarines of nuclear warheads and holder of a seat on the UN Security Council) is perhaps more unfortunate.

Boris and Gove, now they have their result, seem curiously disinterested in actually doing anything with it. One can understand Cameron’s hesitancy to invoke Article 50 (but he should have done so anyway). Why Boris now doesn’t want out is less clear. The longer he clings on, the more pressure there will be from backsliders for another referendum. If he loses that, it will destroy his prestige and Britain’s negotiating power. (Said power was never very much because the EU never believed the UK would actually walk. See above. Oops.)

Some questions have been raised as to whether if in the November election (one looks likely) Labour could win by offering to nul and void the referendum. Personally it would settle my resolve not to vote for them. It would stink. The referendum has been had. The Labour Europhiles have marginally lost. Maybe if Leave weren’t a bunch of liars they wouldn’t have done. The enhanced deal is dead anyway, so in that regard there’s not a lot of point. Move onto the next battle.

Both campaigns were based on fear, which presumably resulted in more people than just me eventually falling back on original prejudice. This was a pity. The European Union is a good project. There is nothing inherently harmful in the scheme. The problem is the steamroller attitude. Things like the Constitution which reappeared as the Lisbon Treaty so suddenly didn’t need any referendums. There’s the attitude of lending money to uneconomic countries in the Union for massive infrastructure projects which they may or may not have needed but certainly couldn’t pay for. It would be like London paying to upgrade the A1 around Newcastle and then expecting Newcastle to pay the money back out of council tax. It should have been done on grants. It is broadly accepted in the UK that the South-West, much of Wales, the remainder of Ireland and the Highlands have to be subsidised. The result would have been much better than imposing technocrats on countries that had spent years acting like they’d been given free money and much more honest for North-Western Europeans, who knew perfectly well that cash is never going to come back.

When dealing with countries with a tradition of democracy, an open approach as to what you want to do is acceptable. It is surprising that a body born out of North-Western Europe should have failed to grasp that voters can be trusted. It’s the vacuum of information that gets filled with nonsense about the Turks entering the EU that’s damaging, or that £350m per week somehow gets absorbed entirely by a few pen-pushers, and arguably more damaging than making Greece a holiday destination with decent infrastructure. (Instead the EU has left Southern Greece with no railways except the Olympia branch. Much success there.)

Thus blame for Brexit rests on various shoulders – Cameron for not seeing the danger early enough, Nick Clegg for not winning enough seats to force the coalition that would have killed this referendum, Jeremy Corbyn for being too irrelevant for words and the Marketing Department of the European Union for being implausibly terrible at their job.

We will now get a new Tory leader (and Prime Minister) a trifle earlier than booked (as no Tory leadership frontrunner has won since Anthony Eden I would not bet on Boris). After that the Tories will likely go to Parliament for an early election. Labour therefore has until Monday to decide if Corbyn will lead them through such an election. The Tories have got a month less than Labour had last year and will predicate the election on their timescales not Labour’s. Alternatively Corbyn can attempt to use Parliament’s power over elections to veto one in November, which will give the next Tory leader immediate and total legitimacy (given that Corbyn will have essentially voted for them) until 2020.

This post should be read in a regretful tone. There is no point in anger. There is no point in being angry at a dead ideal. Hopping around shouting at old people for being hideous racists merely breeds the sort of resentment (on both sides) that Leave people were busy stoking. In any event it is quite possibly untrue. Some old people voted to Remain (or not at all) and some of them already wanted to leave the EU for perfectly sensible reasons. Cameron’s domestic political career is dead after a similar length of premiership to Major. The United Kingdom is now out of the European Union (to all intents and purposes, if not yet practically) and we are off into waters which are not exactly uncharted. People like to say they’re uncharted. They don’t want you comparing this to the last two times we came out of European supernational bodies:

  1. 410, end of the Roman Empire’s presence in Britain. It appears that this was followed by a recession and the collapse of urban living. Unfortunately all that survives in the way of written records for the next 150-odd years is a book by a monk called Gildas who should have watched his blood pressure and didn’t know when he was writing relative to the end of the Empire. Passing comment is therefore rather tricky.
  2. 1534, when Henry VIII formally dissolved our link with the Catholic Church in Rome and declared himself head of the Catholic Church in London. This took some straightening out over the ensuing years. The precise implications of this division are still being worked on, though peace is expected at some point.

So nothing to worry about.

Here is a picture of Bastad in Sweden, seen from a Oresundtog (Oresund-crossing train) climbing out of Bastad on its way from Gothenburg to Copenhagen. This is now an ex-view. Not because UK nationals are banned from visiting Sweden, but because since my passing through the area last year the Swedish have diverted the railway into the twin-bore Hallandsas Tunnel past Bastad. Fast trains can now work along this (previously rather rural single-line) section of the Malmo – Gothenburg mainline a trifle more quickly.

Bastad 1 JPG.jpg

“Swallows” on celuloid

Some while ago I heard mention that there was a new film coming out of Swallows & Amazons. For those unfamiliar, this is a book by the journalist and author Arthur Ransome, who after reporting on the Russian Revolution came home to the Lake District, wrote comment articles for the Guardian and then met up with the family of a girl he once proposed to. With the encouragement of girl and her husband, he taught the children to sail. When they returned home to Syria (nice people, Syrians) he wrote a book of imaginary adventures for enthusiastic 1920s children with a boat, two tents and some form of access to an island in the Lakes. (What sort of access is never discussed, except in Secret Water. This is one of the bits of fantasy in the books.)

Swallows & Amazons was what might be called a sleeper hit, but the series became iconic after the sequel (Swallowdale) came out and Ransome was able to live comfortably on the proceeds of the (eventually 12) books for the rest of his life – along with his wife Evgenia, who before their marriage had been Leon Trotsky’s secretary.

The Swallows books are often accused of being rather quiet and slow these days. Obviously anyone who says such things hasn’t read:

  • several bits of Swallowdale;
  • the middle of Pigeon Post;
  • We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea;
  • the wet bit of Secret Water;
  • very much of The Big Six;
  • the key scene in The Picts and the Martyrs; or
  • any of Peter Duck or Missee Lee (but particularly the climaxes).

What they do offer is a remarkably egalitarian fantasy world. If you already happen to live in a fantasy world, you too may enjoy adventures out of Philip Pullman’s creations. If you have access to a large rambling house with empty rooms and wardrobes unvisited for years, it is quite possible that you might find yourself in a despotic dictatorship with a deeply entrenched class system where lions provide eternal distant government and beavers talk at you. If you get to dig in old gravel pits outside your house, there may prove to be a Psammead down there as delightfully promised by Edith Nesbit. J. K. Rowling offers a glorious world of more entrenched class systems for people who turn out to have magic powers, and then goes on television to complain about class.

These are all excellent bits of escapism that have entranced children (and adults) with imaginations of a world that they cannot really visit.

But Ransome’s landscape involves no magic. It is accessible to anyone who can get hold of a tent and a boat, and some of the more peaceful bits of the Lakes could still be borrowed for such adventures. Failing that there’s always a Scottish loch or four (Loch Morar is nicely out of the way, well-endowed with islands and apparently home to Morag, the Loch Morar Monster). It can remain believable as a possibility, and his characters are so real and human (especially the Swallows, being based on real people) that they almost walk out of the page. There is no need to abandon the family altogether and there is no class system.


This all meant that I was looking forward to this new film with interest. Here’s the trailer:

Oh gawd.

Aside from the curiosity that Ransome made Susan the sensible one and she seems to have been all but written out of the trailer…


Ransome of course never did expand on Captain Flint’s backstory, but the “retired pirate” is never really confirmed beyond Titty’s imagination (Nancy merely says that it is “quite a good thing for him to be”). By Pigeon Post he seems to be connected with mining in some way. What is certain is that the character in the books was not thin or built for clinging onto trains of 1950s suburban stock. He was also always rather polite to Mrs Walker, although as they didn’t meet until after he’d slandered her son this may be for more reasons than his amiable personality. All-in-all, there is an air of “from the stable of the films of The Chronicles of Narnia“. As with Narnia, the cast look alright and have a family-ish air which probably works better in the full thing.

I liked the Paddington update, bringing the concept into the present day, giving the children more vim and building a new adventure around the base idea of the original short stories. I’ve been enjoying the Professor Branestawm adaptations the BBC has been doing as well (again, building up short stories). When reading bits of Swallows books that I am too familiar with, I like to picture how to update them to a bunch of modern kids with mobile phones. (The “Better drowned than duffers” telegram is clearly an email written in a hurry; the lack of mobiles is simply because Wild Cat Island has no mains electricity so they all go flat by sundown; Mother thinks she can trust the children without life jackets – I’m fairly sure I’ve been rowing without a life jacket; candles can be replaced with battery lanterns; the boats haven’t changed much and Coniston is still not all that busy.) Actually, bringing the Swallows into the present day would be rather appealing.

Part of the concept is to bring in elements of Arthur Ransome’s life, which actually would warrant a film of their own. (Even with his “Ransome already left” embellishments to his autobiography.)

We’ll leave it there. It looks like something that might have been better under a different title (Blah & Witter, based on Swallows & Amazons). That doesn’t necessarily do you any harm (see the recent Lady Susan film adaptation, done as Love & Friendship but clearly the same story from one look at the trailer – Lady Susan might have no name recognition, but I’m never quite sure Swallows is that widely read these days). Under a different title I might be interested in seeing it, but as Swallows it feels like I’d be coming back in and picking up the book to make sure nobody’s changed it in my absence. I might, on reflection, go and see it, but then I might sit in and put this on – the trailer (in a way which suggests the 2016 Swallows may be better than it looks) fails to fully grasp its innate humour, humanity and liveliness:

But Susan looks happy in this older one, and I like the ’70s Titty. She has a blog, in case anyone’s interested; I picked up her book while holidaying in Coniston. Being in the area of course provides an opportunity to take way too many pictures of the Lakes, so here’re a few.

Peel Island 01 JPG My sunset picture of Peel Island on Coniston, which found its way onto here with a lengthy description back in October.

Lake Windermere 04 JPG.jpgWindermere, at Bowness, as I saw it on arriving late on a Saturday evening – astride an overladen bicycle, fresh off the train, looking for a chip stall and ready to sail to Ambleside.

Lake Windermere 05 JPG.jpgThe cross-Windermere ferry, mentioned in the previous post.

Old Man of Coniston 01 JPG.jpg The landscape – high above Coniston, on the quiet way across from Ambleside (with bike), looking across at the hulking form of the Old Man of Coniston. I should have cycled over earlier that day and gone up him that morning; the view would have been something. I saved it for the last day of the holiday, by which point the weather had broken and the Old Man was wearing hat and balaclava.

Stable Harvey Moss 1 JPG.jpg Swallowdale Country, in the form of Stable Harvey Moss near Torver. It is easy to picture the Swallows tramping across this towards Kanchenjunga or Titty and Roger getting horribly lost in the fog (who needs guns when you have fog on boggy moorland?). This is where the bike proved less handy; it is impossible to hunt out Swallowdale with a road bike and aside from trying to stretch the lock round a tree by the road there is (it being the sticks) nowhere to secure it.

If it ain’t fixable, don’t break it: Society & the European Union

A week or so ago, in more innocent times, I was contemplating attempting to write a coherent piece on Britain’s membership of the European Union and remarking on what a nice non-violent continental shelf we seem to have, with tones that there seems no need to worry while the Prime Minister isn’t being blown up at party conferences.

Shortly afterwards a US gunman, in a somewhat crazed and rather distorted attack, proceeded to spray a nightclub in Orlando with bullets. The response was so divided and so predictable one wonders why either side of the political process bothered to actually say anything. Obama was clearly going to point out the problems with too many people having easy access to guns. Trump was clearly going to say that US Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to enter the USA and that if the people in the nightclub had all been armed they would have shot back.

Then in Britain a man who was apparently an British man of British ancestry looking to achieve the best deal for Britain as a land of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants shot a Member of Parliament repeatedly in the head. There has been some interesting remark as to whether this is because he was mad, not because he had been brainwashed by excessive claims of the destruction of Britain, or whether it was because the media had been banging on at scaremongering, not because he was mentally ill. The extreme nationalist movement have now gone off tarring everyone in an association with the same brush, which is progress of a sort.

It is some years since the last time an MP was assassinated and it is an unsettling sort of thing to happen in a safe, civilised country. It can also be argued that it has absolutely nothing to do with the political discourse around the referendum on EU membership. For the purposes of dramatising this article, they will be conflated anyway.

The European Union

Once upon a time there was a continent consisting of a load of countries that could be ruled by a King with a small army and a horse. In order to rule such a country, it is necessary for the King, his army and his horse to be able to get clear across the country in two or three days. The logic for this was aptly proven in autumn 1066, when King Harold II was obliged to march four days on each side of a nasty battle in the North of England – the result being that his reduced army was cut down at Hastings after the second march and he lost his kingdom.

Such kingdoms are also just large enough for the King to have a week off moving the border by a few miles and then popping home before the King next door has a chance to react.

The result is that by the beginning of the 20th Century Europe consisted of a lot of smallish countries. Most of them had managed sufficient economic growth between wars to tottle off and build empires in distant parts of the world. Despite the Kings persisting in popping over neighbouring borders, building pop-up fortifications and challenging their neighbours to Orwellian perpetual war (and periodically being replaced by fake Kings that called themselves other things), their actual countries had remained much the same for many centuries. This gave everyone a pleasant patriotic feeling of being different to neighbouring counties, who spoke other languages, ate strange food and lived on the other side of the river.

Komsjo 1 JPG.jpgA border. On the left is Sweden. On the right is Norway. This is important. 

After the European countries had fought the First World War for no reason worth speaking of, most of these pleasantly patriotic people found they had spent four years suffering for their country to be confronted by unchanged borders, bankrupt governments, severe shortages of healthy young men and a taste of defeat. Between bouts of Spanish flu, several of these countries ejected their Kings and hurriedly replaced them with people promising economic growth and a restoration of former pride.

This in turn led to the Second World War, which spent nearly six years tidying up all the contradictions and resentments caused by the First World War by the simple expedient of demolishing everybody’s countries and selling half the continent to the Russians.

After the Second World War France, Germany, Italy and Benelux (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) took a rather unusual step. They buried the hatchet and formed a trading bloc called the European Coal and Steel Community.

Trading Blocs

Trading blocs are handy things. The countries within retain their individual identities but arrange to make trading between them easier. Ultimately, why should it be easier to sell coal from Paris to Marseilles than it is to go from Paris to Amsterdam? Amsterdam is slightly closer to Paris than Marseilles and the fact that 500 years ago the Netherlands were owned by one King and Paris by a different King is an odd condition on which to base trading arrangements.

Trading blocs are however liable to go various ways. Sometimes one country grows more than all the others and loses interest. In another notable example, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries is basically a cartel:

In accordance with its Statute, the mission of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is to coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its Member Countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry.


In other words, members agree to sell oil at a fixed price rather than competing for work. Of course, in something like oil where supply is limited by getting the stuff out of the ground (rather than building contractors who are more limited by brick purchasing and staff availability) it could be said that a cartel is the best way of ensuring that nobody gets priced out in a race to the bottom and a basically dangerous industry can be managed with proper safety standards.

OPEC has not moved beyond managing oil prices. The European Coal and Steel Community could have decided to stick at coal and steel. This would have made life since much simpler.

Britain failed to get involved in this trading bloc for various reasons, including the fact that it hadn’t been burned down as much as the other countries involved and so felt less need for such things. Britain had lots of home-produced coal and steel and didn’t want to start reducing its perceived competitiveness (particularly in its Empire) by forming a cartel with a bunch of continentals. There was also a belief that Britain was a massive Imperial world power. This belief persists and is awkward for persuading people of things.

British World Power

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, formerly the centre nation of the British Empire, now claims various notable statistics:

  • 22nd country by world population;
  • Home of one of the ten most densely populated regions of the world;
  • Fourth (possibly fifth) largest military budget;
  • Fifth largest Gross Domestic Product;
  • Nuclear-weapon owning power;
  • Permanent member of UN Security Council;
  • Sixth largest Government expenditure (and fourth largest Government deficit);
  • Largest television broadcaster;
  • Several transport accolades relating to airport capacity, age of city metros and usage of railway stations;
  • 29 World Heritage Sites;
  • Ancient, broadly reliable, well-known currency;
  • Similarly well-standing legal structure based on precedent;
  • Home of the world’s most widely known language;
  • Largest international financial centre (London);
  • Former owner of the world’s largest Empire, which was rolled up remarkably peacefully over a 20-year period (barring one colony that legged it in the 1700s);
  • Apparently more “soft power” than any other country in the world.

This is brought on by various things; several are historic and geographic good fortune, some are pot luck evolution and one or two may be deliberate.

Unlike some countries, England tended to combine rule of law with a tendency to get rid of Kings who overdid matters; this resulted in having an elected Parliament (of sorts) to vote on taxes from the late 13th Century and a charter of rights for free people (such as there were) from the early 13th Century (which was periodically reissued with minor changes, and which dwelt on such matters as fish weirs in the Thames). A conveniently sited capital combined trading with being a financial centre, its streets apparently “paved with gold”. Being on an island just off France, largely surrounded by rough seas but separated by a channel that everyone doing seaborne business with the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia has to use, helps both defence and encouraging trade. The presence of an elected Parliament to discuss whether the King should be allowed any pocket money forced a relatively open Government that was unable to impose stupid taxes (until, ironically, the power of the King declined in favour of Parliament and taxes on things like windows and income began to emerge).

Britain’s good agricultural basis and surprisingly stable government (the Glorious Revolution was partly Glorious because the King was simply allowed to become aware it might be a worthwhile idea if he packed a few bags and left the country) allowed it to develop several bits of technology which improved industrial efficiency and allowed more stuff to be exported. The canal was not entirely new. The locomotive-powered railway, by contrast, is a wholly and indisputably British invention which suddenly made it possible for a man who owned a hole in the ground near Newcastle to become filthy rich selling the South Americans cheap coal. The Government also demonstrated a intriguingly amoral approach while trying to conquer China by selling the Chinese opium and then declaring war on the Chinese Government when the Emperor of all the Chinas took a dim view of this.

The island thing has ensured that wars tend to happen elsewhere, so it was not until Hitler turned up with bombers that the Briton at home had to seriously face the impact of war that had long troubled residents of Ypres. This reduced the impact of periodic setbacks caused by major trading centres being razed to the ground. Periodically people also claim that the British Army has never lost a war.

The Government, terrified of losing any degree of international status, has traditionally been keen on remaining at the forefront of things. Thus there was extensive development of battleships, until the concept became obsolete; early and rapid development of an air force; very early development of the atomic bomb and the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. (Calder Hall – also the first nuclear power station to experience a meltdown. The official reaction was very British, with the Government taking the view that nothing had happened, that the decision to pour the morning’s Cumbrian milk production down a drain was routine, and that if anything untoward were to be suggested to have occurred then it was the fault of the staff.) Other notable UK figures have developed understanding of relativity and created the Internet.

All this is inclined to make it sound like Britain would be a very happy country outside the European Union, readily able to stand on its own two feet (or multiple component parts). This may well be true; on some levels whether the United Kingdom remains in or leaves the European Union is irrelevant. On some levels it may help to be Out. On other levels it is useful to be In, and the UK can make a better impact on the world as a member of the Union.

Sellafield 1 JPGSellafield, seen from Muncaster Fell. An ominous looking place. Nearby is a container park where low-level nuclear waste is put in containers until it becomes safe to handle in quantity.

Membership Referendums

The UK didn’t have a referendum on joining the European Economic Community before joining. It simply went in, along with Ireland and Denmark. The economy was in a hole and clearly getting worse; the “can’t go on like we were” option won out in the 1975 referendum on membership and the UK stayed in.

Left-wing hostility to membership of a capitalist trading bloc was slowly augmented by right-wing hostility as the trading bloc grew in size and scope. It was an organic growth. There may have been founders who envisaged a United States of Europe, but the growth was fairly logical bloc development:

  • If you have a coal and steel community, why not freely trade other stuff? Particularly as coal becomes less relevant to household living.
  • If people can freely coal from the Ruhr, why buy peat from a Galway bog?
  • If not buying peat from a Galway bog, what happens to the people who cut that peat? Should they be allowed to go to the Ruhr, where production needs to increase? Should they be subsidised to keep cutting the peat?
  • If you are allowing people to buy from wherever in the single market things can be produced most efficiently, shouldn’t you allow employers to “buy” their labour from wherever in the market the best skillset is?
  • If the former Irish peat-cutters want to go to the Ruhr, what is stopping them from moving there and selling their labour to Ruhr collieries?
  • If they all go to the Ruhr and the people left in Galway are unemployed, should support be provided in Galway to get the area going again?
  • If coal is realised to be mangling the environment, poisoning the skies and wrecking the landscape with waste heaps, should there be action taken to stop this?
  • If action is taken, isn’t it fairest that this should be across the market so one country doesn’t undercut everyone by mining coal in an unsafe environmentally degrading manner and then burning it irresponsibly?

At the end of this programme, what had been established as a 6-nation cartel had become a 28-state economic and political union. The European Union has a shared currency (subject to meeting various tests, which some of the longer-standing members don’t meet)


Positive vision 1: Britain becomes a thriving economy of financial services, efficient agriculture and quality manufacturing, respected in its own right, with quality geographic links to Continental Europe and the Commonwealth of Nations.

The problem is that nobody can remember who’s in the Commonwealth of Nations these days, except for when occasionally it holds the Commonwealth Games in one of the Imperial Motherland’s cities or one of the African nations is expelled for some reason. Otherwise the British press ignore it. It is hard to see how it could be brought back into national consciousness (except as a nice idea) for long enough to develop it as anything, debatable as to whether anyone else in the Commonwealth wants to develop it into something serious (one has images of a Granny trying to organise a Hunt the Biscuit game at a student birthday bash) and questionable as to whether there is any point in a trading bloc between North-West Europe and Australasia.

The economic shock in leaving would certainly clean out the inefficient agriculture and poor quality manufacturing. It is also reported to be likely to remove the Euro financial markets, which for reasons the Eurocrats are not quite sure of trade in London rather than the eurozone.

Positive vision 2: Upon Britain voting Leave, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland (plus possibly Finland) look at their views on the EU and follow us out. Norway and Iceland are invited to join a looser North Sea trading bloc which sells people oil, eats whalemeat and insists that people be nice to each other and the environment. (Possibly the whalemeat isn’t that positive.)

North-western Europe, with the exception of Ireland, largely has strong economies with a certain amount of social democratic welfare tradition. This alleviates the inherent strains between economies of the North-West and the Mediterranean economies, which are more based on sitting under olive trees drinking ouzo and inventing democracy. The smaller area with smaller populations also makes constructing a democratic supra-national body easier. Part of the problem of the EU is that the democratic structures were established when it became apparent that the rapidly-growing organisation had advanced beyond a coal cartel, which left a body publicly arranged around cartel management rather than political democratic responsibility. This has been changed, with the abolition of the former Article 252 EU law implementation approach, but it is still struggling to appear democratic and is too recent for public conciousness. (Article 252 asked the European Parliament to comment on laws, then passed them anyway. Article 251, which survived the Lisbon Treaty under a new name, gives the Parliament and the Council the final say and requires Parliamentary agreement. The Council is of course made up of Ministers from Member States, so is not overly undemocratic. The European Commission is now little more than a law-proposing civil service.) In any event the popular press isn’t interested in such things. A new body might be better placed to overcome such things. (It would go down particularly well with the UK press, given that of the countries listed above only the UK and Sweden have a population larger than Greater London. The UK would therefore essentially run the show.)

The Scandinavians are currently busy proving that it is possible to have a currency union without actually having a currency union. Denmark, Sweden and Norway all use the kroner. Unfortunately for people seeking an easy life, but happily for people who like currency variations, all three use different forms of kroner. Their values float around 10kr to the £.

Negative version: The UK abruptly discovers, rather too late, that it is a small rain-soaked island in a North Europe archipelago with no firm contacts elsewhere and the economy promptly sags. International companies withdraw into continental Europe. Ireland is forced to spend its time deciding between European affiliations and its land border with the UK.

When the European Commission introduces a rule that all bananas sold in Europe must curve at 1 gradian per millimetre (hands up all those who, like the spell-checker, have never heard of the gradian), the UK will find itself being supplied with compliant bananas at enormous extra expense because banana suppliers see no point in segregating non-compliant ones for UK sale. (For balance, the positive version of this is that the UK gets supplied with millions of non-compliant bananas at junk prices.)

For a better example, we become the dumping ground for the next wine lake and all our vineyards go bankrupt.

Also when the EU changes the rules on car design everyone flogging cars in and around Europe changes to comply, even if the alterations put up UK prices without benefiting anyone.

European students cannot cheaply come here to study; UK students find it harder and more expensive to go abroad to study. USA students on tours of European teaching institutions for a year abroad (I ran into such a person in the Lake District last October on the cross-Windermere ferry) find their programmes don’t seem to come to the UK so much.

As with all negative concepts, this one isn’t very cheery. Unfortunately for the Out movement, they have made little effort to expand on the sunny concepts and have let Remain paint the negative option. Taking back control is all very well, but what sort of control, and what do we plan to do with it?


Cameron has stated that he doesn’t see reform as being ended by the referendum; more begun by it. Certainly a tight result will clearly state that his renegotiations were only just enough and that further amendments, possibly involving treaty changes, will be required. Agitation in other countries may start to make these more desirable. His party has the challenge of either not unseating him or finding someone who is better at talking nicely to other European leaders to replace him.

Other countries in the EU will appreciate having Britain’s bulk to offset Germany’s, which stops either country from obtaining total dominance.

Vision 1: Britain continues sitting just inside the fringe, arguing to be outside everything and holding up integration amongst the countries that want it. EU continues broadly as usual, satisfying nobody and selling itself badly.

Vision 2: Britain throws itself enthusiastically into Europe in a spirit of making a proper go at it, involving joining Schengen, the euro and the metric system of measurements. Anyone who wants to enter the UK from another European country will be allowed to do.

Vision 3: UK representatives sit down with people from likely reforming states (several bits of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Germany) and hack out a realistic plan to rebuild the Union from within. Free movement for leisure is retained, but work is made a little more constrained (reasonable grasp of language, formal work paying taxes, minimal reliance on state aid). Lending to less developed parts of Europe is heavily constrained and reconstructed into more of a grant structure. External borders are properly policed. A strategy for incoming migrants and refugees is written with a cool head. Regulations are streamlined. Fishing is reassessed and the French are told to stop being so protectionist. Efforts are made to ooze positivity in general, suggest a more nimble and less steamroller-y environment and avoid giving an air of a tractor statistic organisation, completely up itself and living in an ivory tower. Possibly make the President directly elected (not using the US electoral college), simply because it would be symbolic.

In any of these versions the UK remains a handy conduit between the American continent and the European one. UK-based companies can continue to take advantage of the single market.


The campaign has not managed to suggest anything very positive. This includes both sides. Both have managed to sing about reducing immigration if they win, both have threatened economic collapse if they lose.

Neither has noted any benefits to immigration – widening experience, growing talent pool or even cheap labour. Nor has it been officially noted that if immigrants are working – and the fairly stable UK absolute unemployment number suggests they are – then they are presumably paying taxes and therefore contributing towards providing the improved infrastructure (hospitals, schools, hydroelectric plants, railways) that their presence requires. If the Government is spending this money on something else, this is the Government’s problem and will not change simply because we leave the EU.

The assassination of a MP while tensions are running high is probably not a coincidence. Certainly it is reasonable to argue that the assassin decided to do it so takes responsibility, rather than some silly poster – if Mrs Jones shoots Mr Jones then this is the fault of Mrs Jones. But, if someone has been dripping in Mrs Jones’s ear that Mr Jones is only in it for himself, doesn’t care for Mrs Jones and knows there’s no way for her to get at him… does this for a long time… and takes advantage of any moments of weakness or strain on Mrs Jones’s part to reinforce the message – then that someone might not be criminally liable, but they should bear some guilt for their relentless, unmitigated negative campaigning against Mr Jones. Particularly if he is actually very much in love with Mrs Jones and merely bad at showing this.

Nigel Farage will of course take no responsibility for hammering on about terrible immigrants who must be stopped at all costs while a few MPs suggest that, after we went to so much trouble to destabilise the Middle East under Tony Blair, we might make some sort of gesture to help the people who have the misfortune to live there. Nor will anyone ever question why Rupert Murdoch, billionaire Australian, is considered more interested in the long-term prosperity of the United Kingdom than a few British born and raised politicians on salaries that equal around 10% of what they might expect for a similar job in the private sector. But we all have to deal with the fallout of suggestions that immigrants are “others” that can be kicked around. It normalises the concept by standing around shouting that it is legitimate. It’s a tricky debate to play, but it can be played better.

Cameron’s major problem is that he is discovering Tony Blair was right about not getting much done in his first term because he hadn’t got the levers of power. But Blair was wrong about finding them, and Macmillan’s summary of the biggest problem in politics (“Events, dear boy, events”) was quite right. The Prime Minister has no department to run. There is no direct power. There is very little to pull and there is very little control. Rising immigration can be leant on, but stopping it in the modern world is an entirely different matter. All it can be said is that it’s rather complimentary to us that so many people want to come here, rather complimentary to our politicians that nobody who can get elected is that open about stopping them and rather complimentary about us that we can debate the matter. Thought it would be nice to debate it rather than throw tomatoes at each other.

Does it matter?

Probably, but it can be hard to say.

  • Rules on employment law will likely remain, unless anyone really wants to lose paternity leave.
  • A lot of equal opportunities and things like abortion law or same-sex marriage are UK ideas anyway.
  • The immigrants who are already here can be expected to stay.

What will change is that when we next want to impose rules on improving car engine efficiencies, making financial markets behave themselves, exposing tax evasion or the importance of National Express being allowed to freely bid to run German rail services we will be ignored and irrelevant.

The £350,000,000 sent to the EU every week (around £365 per annum per head of population) will not all be spent on the NHS, since some of it is currently rebate and some of it is returned as EU funding for regeneration projects. If it all goes to the NHS, this means that regeneration schemes to improve livelihoods for people not in hospital will go down the pan. So the next time a railway in an Objective 1 area wants a passing loop providing, it will be told the money can’t be spent on the railway but can be spent treating the remains of accident victims and air pollution on the adjacent road.

Penryn 11 JPG.jpgAn EU notice board, hidden behind construction fencing, claims responsibility for said fencing – to provide Penryn station with an enhanced car park, a crossing loop and more trains. Before the EU came along, the now half-hourly Falmouth Metro service was a bit like a Swiss cheese – slightly plain and full of holes.

In that regard it does matter – very much matters.

Political leadership

Two bits of early 19th Century political reform come to mind. The first is the Reform Act of 1832, which eliminated representation for places like Old Sarum (an isolated hilltop with the remains of a castle and cathedral on it) and Dunwich (a town that had been washed away by the sea some years previously). It was deeply opposed by the Tories until the Duke of Wellington decided it was going to happen and might as well go through gracefully. The Tories then went out and encouraged people to vote for them (by the traditional expedient of “I’m the Tory candidate and your landlord; vote for me”). The result that they got back into power some years after the reforms with more votes than they’d had in the days when only their voters could vote – and considerably more cheaply, as they no longer had to buy the votes at £100 a throw.

The second is the abolition of the protectionist Corn Laws, which was abruptly shoved through in 1846 by Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel, in almost total opposition to his party. His party is of course still going strong and is currently arguing over use of protectionist policies. His political career was extinguished the same night. The country moved away from agriculture and into manufacturing, with the resultant decline in agricultural standards of living.

It is likely that, whatever the result of the referendum, if the Tory party does not manage some rapid smoothing of opinions there will be an attempt on Cameron’s leadership. Whether a Boris/ Gove government would decide to celebrate the autumn by reintroducing the Corn Laws is hard to say. Unlike during the 2010-15 Parliament it is hard to see the Cameron wing of the party (or some representatives thereof) transferring to the Lib-Dems at the moment. There may be a session by the Tory Whips on Friday morning going round the usual suspects to tell them that they can either shut up or join UKIP.

The Tories will have the awkward job of trying to terminate a fixed-term Parliament early if they change leader and want an early election. A loss of 6 seats will eliminate the fragile majority. On the other hand, Corbyn can be fairly legitimately (by political standards) called a tax dodger (for his taxes) and a liar (for his very vague support for an Union he usually opposed). Presuming, of course, the Tories are going to be talking enough to share an election platform…

Koln 2 JPG.jpgKoln, or Cologne – a place where people live, work, pay taxes and generally act like citizens of the European Union.


There is an article online that has published this graph:

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 15.41.59

May I say both?

Donald Trump is an interesting character in many ways. My own view of him has been somewhat coloured by reading a blog written by Dilbert creator Scott Adams (example here, but he’s written a lot on it for the last year or so). Adams can be inclined to be a bit mad. He proposes making the world much better with schemes to cut carbon by making everyone’s car-based commutes involve driving downhill instead of more obvious solutions like trams. (Although Tashkent has just decided that car space is better than sucking up to the tram lobby so, you know, Adams may have a point.)

With this sort of thing in mind, he attempts to play what can only be assumed to be Devil’s Advocate on Trump describing a judge as Mexican. The remark is given a certain additional effect by Trump’s previous remarks about Mexicans. Certainly the judge may self-define as a Mexican. It is also the judge’s job to have sufficient compartmentalising skills to decide on things without being affected by any Mexican ancestry he may happen to have. If he can’t refrain from judging as though considering his own case he shouldn’t be a judge. The concept that someone can put preconceptions to one side is of course something the US may find hard to consider when reviewing its justice system. The British jury approach is that anyone who does not know defendant, victim, witnesses or persons otherwise directly related to a case can sit on a jury. The US likes to weed out a bit more, asking arrays of questions to detect biases (taking a presumption that people are biased and that even when discussing the facts before them they will excessively bring these biases into play). The scenes earlier this year where US politicians explicitly argued over the open political allegiances of a Supreme Court judge on the basis that the judge would make decisions based on these allegiances were verging on disturbing. (It could of course be argued that in the UK Lord Denning merely had the decency to pretend not to be acting on personal biases when he re-wrote the system of equitable remedies in his image. Then of course he went on to say rude things to the Birmingham Six of wrongly-convicted Irish non-terrorists, just to prove UK judges are capable of bringing different approaches to cases.)

Adams claims to be merely following Trump’s marvellous persuasion skills. It is hard to say if they are marvellous or not. They are admittedly somewhat different to Tony Blair’s persuasion skills. Blair wandered around claiming to be a shimmering angel who would make everyone nice and everything perfect. It is ironic that he left the world stage having converted several disagreeable dictatorships that shot people for disagreeing into failed states that shot people for being people, but that’s perfection for you. The shootings, bombings and tortures are at least now equally applied without fear or favour to all races, creeds and genders.

(Incidentally, my mildly cynical views of Adams calling Trump a “Master Persuader” were made very cynical when Adams said nice things about Jeremy Corbyn. For any Americans reading, any British politician who likes to seem moderately competent would say what Corbyn said. Any British politician who is competent said something rather blunter.)

Trump seems to consider that the world bequeathed by Bush and Blair is sub-optimal in many ways. For example, he appears to reckon the US blows up too many people and throws its weight around too much. For those of us still feeling scarred by the Bush years, this is a nice thought.

When asked whether he supported the Iraq War (back at the time, as opposed to last week), he said “Yeah, I guess so”. The “Yeah”, simply quoted on paper, sounds very amiable to warmongering. On actually listening to him saying it, he sounds like a man who doesn’t actually believe in the war but doesn’t feel it’s socially acceptable to say so. (He does foreshadow his current campaign by saying he wishes he knew who the enemies are. His policies to create more of them until he can spot a few in a crowd seem less sensible.)

When not worrying about the US throwing its weight around too much he considers that the US kow-tows to too many people, accepts too many migrants and is too nice to places like Iran and Cuba. It would be interesting to see him launch another war on Cuba. Cuba has not really lost a war with the US for some decades, and it is probably time someone made up for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. As far as Iran is concerned, there is no doubt a body of thought that takes the view that it is better to be enemies than friends with countries that want to sell oil and have a tourist industry.

This body of thought, being a body of thought, is entitled to vote on that basis and be represented at a level proportionate to the number of people who subscribe to that body of thought. They are idiots and the world is a much better place when we are talking nicely to Iran, but they are still entitled to be represented. Government of the idiots, by the idiots, for the idiots and all that. Iran is a much nicer place when we’re talking to them too, since it gets tourists and feels a need to be nice to them, and its residents can go on holiday to places where women don’t feel obliged to cover up and everyone can make a balanced decision on which option they prefer. (The Iranians may stick with what they have, but they can do so with the open-mindedness that comes from seeing how other people live.) Also the Government of Iran can feel less need to buy enormous nuclear weapons systems to defend themselves and spend the money on healthcare, education or infrastructure instead. Finally, the zealots who want to become Government of Iran to better launch terrorist attacks on the West can’t so readily argue for bloody revolution and that the West is a scourge on the world that causes of all their problems when we’re wandering the Grand Bazaar, buying their tat and being friendly.

On other fronts, Trump has managed to end up on record saying women who have abortions should be punished. He may have made the remark quickly and without thinking, as some commentators like to argue. It is an odd remark to make without thinking; in parts of the world where abortions are accepted as something that happens, and which we would prefer not to discuss too much, it seems odd that someone could possibly say “yes” to the concept of punishing women who have one. The more usual without thinking answer to such a question in a lot of other parts of the West is “No” – but it is worth reflecting how much variety on this there is within the United Kingdom. Free access to abortions is still banned in both parts of Ireland and Trump would be very much at home there. He backed down in the face of uproar, no doubt losing much support across Ireland in the process. But he said it. All it does is raise questions about what else he thinks and what he might say, accidentally or not, when his opinions do sort of matter.

Pausing for an interesting thought. He did not feel he could justify a position enjoying wide-scale popularity in other evangelically Christian countries (as opposed to secular with Christian heritage and institutions) and nor did he sound that in favour of the Iraq war, but said he might be. He says he is saying what he thinks. Is he actually doing so? Does he really, beneath the flopping hair, have any confidence in his real convictions? Does he know what he wants to do if he’s president or has he just worked out a few things that some other angry people want him to say?

Trump does have policies on infrastructure and movement. He’s against it, largely because he completely overrates the risk of terrorism. A certain German co-pilot last year demonstrated that the risks of easy access to aircraft cockpits are partly outweighed by the risks of loony co-pilots locked in alone in aircraft cockpits. People who can grow up feeling appreciated, wanted and generally not marginalised, unless totally irrational (which is another matter entirely), will be less open to people edging up to them and offering lots of imaginary virgins in exchange for striking a blow against the bullies. When Trump marches around announcing that Muslims aren’t nice people and will be banned from entering the USA until “we’ve figured out why they hate us” (or words to that general effect) he is sort of answering his own question. (He isn’t of course explaining why some of them hate the USA now, nor why that hatred might be demonstrated by blowing up Belgium, but he is suggesting a answer as to why some Muslims might be browned off with him if he’s elected.) When people go around making sweeping unamusing generalisations about the British I go off them a bit. If someone is verging on pledging to throw a large and disparate grouping of people out of their homes if elected for no better reason than that someone loosely associated with a fringe of the loony end of this disparate grouping has committed an unusual atrocity then more persuadable members of this disparate grouping can be introduced to the ideas that a) they will be thrown out of their homes and b) the solution is bombs, guns and other non-problem-solving options.

The worrying bit is when the US media suck up to this sort of thing, with that infamous Fox News sequence a couple of years ago being the prime example. Americans who have never looked up Birmingham and watch too much Fox News can come away with an idea that this sort of thing could happen in their back yard.  There are some alarming comments under Scott Adams’s blog, from which one would think my walk to work in a British provincial town involves passing balaclava-wearing Kalashnikov-wielding men cutting the hands off any schoolgirls who aren’t wearing their burkhas correctly. They are not alarming so much for the vision that they present, much as it is an undesirable vision of a world beyond dystopia. More alarming is that anyone honestly believes, to the degree of voting entirely on that basis, that Western Europe has turned into that sort of place. I was wandering North-Western Europe this time last year. It was boringly lacking in any form of violence and aside from sporadic outbursts appears to be remaining that way. It’s hardly the world of the 1970s Troubles on the British mainland, let alone in Northern Ireland. (When the Prime Minister is blown up during a party conference then some of us may get a trifle more anxious.)

Nonetheless people perceive there to be a problem and Trump is their answer. They then vigorously ignore anyone (like, for example, the French Ambassador) who politely points out that the problem doesn’t exist. There are places where I prefer not to go at night and there are places where I’m happy wandering around at one o’clock in the morning. This is based more on familiarity, whether the locals leave their cars parked in the road with the windows wound down and general built environment than the number of Muslims walking the streets and the ease of procuring a non-Halal takeaway. Perception of a Western Europe violence problem has been much increased by some idiot Government ministers who walked their London constituency in flack jackets, which nobody ever did work out the point of.

Banning Muslims from entering the US means that to Muslims the US becomes some vague and horrible Other, and much easier to hate. The US, by contrast, will have less general contact with them and fail to understand that the number of violent Muslims bent on terror is minimal to the point to ludicrousness. It happens that some of the violent ones are better organised than the average criminal gang and more concerned with death than honourable Great American Crimes like robbing banks. But they’re hardly on the level of the Irish Republican Army (which some Americans happily funded while they tried to blow up the British Government). The IRA actually blew people up. More recent British terrorists make an amusing sideline when the authorities tow away illegally parked cars without noticing the explosives stuffed inside. British border security, notoriously lax as it apparently is, seems to be no less effective (touching wood) than the USA’s habit of asking visitors if they’re terrorists or spies. (Both are better than the French – at a trip from St Pancras last year, entering France at one of their few remaining guarded borders, the French authorities seemed less bothered about who they were letting in than the British were as to who they were letting out.) Happily, Muslims can at least be reassured that Trump is not using them entirely as centrepieces for his flack. He also has his campaign for Mexico to build a wall along the Mexico/ USA border if he’s elected. He also says Mexico will pay for it. They will too. They’ll have to keep the ex-USA migrants out somehow.

These are the sorts of policies which I feel – or hope – would not generally appeal to the Americans that I know. Certainly I work with two Americans who shudder when Trump is mentioned – albeit Americans who have married Europeans and crossed the Pond. But they evidently appeal to some Americans, and not that being disliked by Americans that I know inconvenienced George W. Bush in any way. It is not evidence of persuasion however. It is not persuasion to sell people something that they want to buy. It is not persuasion to promote a message that disconcerted people who worry too much about over-hyped inaccurate news already believe. It is called preaching to the converted. Massive Trump rallies are not a sign of massive conversion to his cause but simply that there were a few stadiums-worth of loonies to start with. A particularly enthusiastic preacher can carry more of the converted than a bog standard bore of a preacher. Enthusiastic preachers can get across their message and enthuse the audience into coming out to vote for them – although perhaps it is telling that Trump’s style can become rather wearing and repetitive that his daughter Ivanka wasn’t sufficiently inspired to register to vote for him.

The Sprogs of Trump point is perhaps worth dwelling on for a moment as an amusing aside. When Trump is not shouting calculated insults at people, he appears on the US version of The Apprentice. The British version is of course hosted by Lord Alan Sugar. Lord Sugar began his career by borrowing a barrow and working his way up. He made lots of money in the 1980s tech industry – which it was possible to do, but Sugar managed the harder task of still being around into the 1990s making money in some form of tech. His show is hosted with the help of his business friends and contacts, of whom he clearly has plenty. The Trump show is hosted by a man born with millions, who has frequently grumbled about in reality having no money at all, who employed someone who cashes 13c cheques (or does so himself), who largely attempts to make money from property (not difficult if you can afford to get in on the racket) and whose co-hosts are his children.

So much for equal opportunities.

Trump’s redeeming feature is that he is a man of no political experience to speak of who has pursued an existence in an outside field but now wants to round things off with the presidency. His earlier line about being too rich to be bought was good. It also seems to mean he’s rich enough to be unpleasant about it, but this is unfortunate. The thing is, one of the benefits of a structure where the head of whatever authority you have in mind is elected directly and independently of any other office is that anyone can run for it. No party affiliation should really be required. Even if a party affiliation manages to end up being desirable, think of the transport journalist Christian Wolmar running to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor last year. Certainly there is no obligation, as there is to become UK Prime Minister, to construct and manage an almighty machine to get at least 325 lackeys elected across the country in order to claim some form of mandate for you personally. Instead, Trump can walk up to the candidate registration office, declare himself as a candidate and go on the ballot paper to run the country based on his qualifications elsewhere. The successful businessperson can bring their skills home to give something back to the nation by developing its prosperity. It is so much better than the usual loyal party member thing that would bring the UK President Boris.

Trump’s imperialist bombastic approach to the world does not really sit well with an ostensibly anti-imperial nation. His precise success as a businessperson is periodically questioned. Unfortunately, all this suggests is that perhaps having to rise through a party machine and get 325 lackeys elected is a good way of weeding out the people who can’t work with anyone. Persuading the 325 lackeys to vote for you usually requires some positive thinking. From this distance, apart from vague cries of “Make America Great Again!” Trump is weak on detailed positivity. Clinton’s cries of love and offers of feminist progress may prove better for people who think life is okay and have lower blood pressure.

This feeds into one ground for avoiding concern that a man who wants an unpredictable approach to a consistent foreign policy (expect the unexpected and all that) will ultimately be elected. He is apparently moderately popular with somewhere under half the Republican’s supporters. The field was fairly unimpressive. The originally-leading Republican candidate could have resulted in three successive Republican presidents called Bush (and not coincidentally either). It is not wholly clear how the remaining, largely sane, non-affiliated voters will respond when, privately secluded with their automatic vote-counting machines, they have to decide if they can actually face The Donald running the place.

And for any Americans who follow foreign policy enough to realise that Clinton wouldn’t be the world’s first female leader and that female leaders can do economic growth (Thatcher and Merkel come to mind), there will be something else to jog thoughts. By November Britain may be on its way out of the EU, with all that entails for European unity, the European economy, NATO, the attentiveness of the EU to world affairs and the USA’s relationship with both the EU and UK. This may prove effective enough at breaking the system. The candidates’ response to such an outcome will be interesting and informative.