Sheep and true democracy.

Sheep and true democracy.

It is fair to say I will never be described as saintly; I have never mastered piety, my good works, such as they have been, are mundane, and  I too easily slip into my vices. I imagine, that the majority of us, I am better described as a sinner than as a saint. However, over the past year and a half I have developed a saintly aspect, rather small but perfectly formed, I have developed the patience of a saint and I have needed it.

I live and work in a rural, agricultural part of the country where the majority of my neighbours, mainly farmers, voted in favour of Brexit. I tend, like my friends, to have liberal views and to be welcoming of change. I also voted in favour of Brexit. Since the referendum there has been a steady barrage of complaint – “How did you come to make this dreadful mistake ? The area you live in needs EU money. Farming can’t manage without subsidies ?Without the EU illiberal policies will threaten the fabric of our civil society”

Now it is perfectly reasonable that after a vote discussion will continue. I am sure that, had the vote had gone the other way,  I would still have argued my cause. But the wilful blindness which refuses to see any shades of grey in an argument is starting to become irksome. The tendency  so see every mishap as a consequence of our impending exit from the EU is largely boring. Having kept up with the newspapers,  I am sure after we leave, by failing to be part of the European Weather Consortium, we will be prone to worse winters and plagues of frogs. The Guardian and Independent, in particular, now have become almost mirror images of the Daily Mail in their search for hysterical straplines.

This, however, is not the problem. This is just the normal push and shove of political debate and anyone with an IQ adequate to be literate can see this and handle the details appropriately. Where my patience is stretched is peoples’ inability to see the larger issue. Again and again it was stated that people voted for Brexit to “take back control“, some people argued the issue in terms of ‘sovereignty’ others in terms of a ‘democratic deficit’ which had developed over the years. All argued that democracy was less effective in the EU as decision making had become remote and removed from the people. For most people who voted for Brexit this was the single biggest issue – Democracy works when people are involved in it, not otherwise.

Now this is the first stress on my saintly patience.  I like others voted to improve democracy but now I am told I voted for lots of other (usually disreputable) reasons and we really need to look again at the vote because we got it wrong. So, just like the Irish after their wrong decision in their first referendum on the Lisbon treaty, we are being encouraged to “do it again but get it right this time“. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but can these people not see the irony of questioning a referendum that voted for greater democratic involvement and suggesting that the “experts” know better and we better vote again.

The second stress on my saintly demeanour is when we are rebuked for failing to see the financial benefits that the EU gives us and, without which, we would be in dire straits. The maths are easy, the UK is a net contributor to the EU, so we give more in than we get out. Precise figures aside we can decide how to spend this money. It is suggested that this will be better done by bureaucrats in Brussels rather than bureaucrats in London, especially when this argument is played to a Scots or Welsh ear. Why on earth should this be the case ? Apart from having a racist tinge to it, “Those terrible English”, it also seems so improbable. A bureaucrat in London has a shared history and culture with us, he has probably heard of Falkirk and Fishguard, he probably has family members and friends from our area of the world, he may have even had a romance with someone who hailed from our neck of the woods. This bureaucrat might just conceivably be on our side! But even if not we could vote them out if they let us down, something impossible for the politicians making the decisions in Europe.

And finally, there is the stress to me and my sheep. My activities, and my neighbours, are controlled by the Common Agricultural Policy. For over a generation this has set all aspects of agricultural policy in the U.K. –  No planning, no development, no vision, no change has started here. Do you know who is the Minister of Agriculture ? (*)  When was the last time you heard discussion of our farming policies ? In a rural area, such as where I live, we need to be able to think about agriculture, it is the very stuff of life and not something that can be left to bureaucrats. Especially when the plans these bureaucrats create result in subsidies to Lord Iveagh of £900,000 a year or the poor racehorse owner, Khallid Abdulla Al Saud, getting only £400,000 annually. If public money is going to subsides agriculture we need to democratically control how it is used. This means bringing the control back to the area where the activity occurs and to the people who do the work and know what can and should be done. No-one wants subsidies that allow inappropriate businesses and practices to thrive, we don’t want a repeat of butter mountains nor wine lakes, and we can only avoid this by closer democratic scrutiny and accountability. The same fate that affects my sheep has also affected the fish through the Common Fisheries Policy and many other areas of industry.

Tony Benn was right when he said that the suggesting EU membership was “asking the British people to destroy democracy” because if ‘you cut the umbilical cord that links the lawmakers with the people, you destroy the stability of this country’. So, as a first step, let is get power brought back from Europe to Westminster, then from Westminster to Edinburgh and Cardiff, and hopefully later even more closely to home. We need to review and improve our agriculture and stewardship of the land. The changes needed will be best decided locally and what works well in Meirionydd may not be the best plan for Morbihan nor Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Brexit is an opportunity to refresh our democratic involvement and to refresh our industries, let us not waste it.

By all means point out my errors and explain why European Union can be a beneficial thing. I know the reasons I voted and, I am sad to say, that I am more certain as the  undemocratic nature of the EU has become evermore apparent; in its both its handling of the Brexit negotiations and its stance towards Catalonia). Explain routes to counter these problems, see if you can get the EU to rekindle interest in subsidiarity, suggest alternative plans, but lets be constructive in our debate on the future. Don’t force sainthood on me by testing my patience by obdurate calls that the majority of the populace was stupid and hoodwinked. Please don’t repeat your mantra “forgive them, for they know not what they do”, I did know and if necessary would do it again.

 

 


(*) A trick question as it has been merged into the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and it is Michael Gove, for the time being


While the Daily Prompt prompted this tirade it was also triggered (and there was no trigger warning!) by the excellent article by Jon Holbrook on spiked-online.

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The problem of nationalism.

The problem of nationalism.

As committed internationalists, Libertarians often have problems with nationalism. Nation states are often seen as barriers to free movement of people and free exchange of ideas and trade.  States are often coterminous with nations, such that, to many libertarians, the nation is in fact the state and thus viewed as the problem. Indeed, national governments erecting barriers at their boundaries, imposing tariffs of trade and, in the most extreme cases,  waging war for the nation’s benefit are all factors which confirm many libertarians opposition to nationalism.

However, as Murray Rothbard and others knew :-

“The nation, of course, is not the same thing as the state, a difference that earlier libertarians, such as Ludwig von Mises and Albert Jay Nock understood full well” 

Often, through accidents of history, the nation-state has been the recognised form of the state but, through centralisation nations have in many areas been subsumed into bigger groups with more powerful, and more centralised, states. This would be the pattern in the United Kingdom, in the historical empire building of the past, and more recently in Soviet Russia and the eastern block and in the European Union. Now a number of nations could be subsumed under one larger state.

Our nations are not simply our states. Our nations are formed from our ethnic groups, our religious and cultural associations, our shared languages and experience, our traditions, many things which are more important to us as individuals than the state. It is the reason that ideas of nationhood do carry personal significance to many people. When nations have been gathered together to create supranational states then nationalism can help break up these superstates and weaken the power of the state. Nationalism can also make it harder for fixed markets and  crony capitalist corporations to line up so effectively with the state to secure large rent payments from the public’s purse. We saw this beneficial effect of nationalism, when the collapse of the communist regime in the east was hastened by the rediscovery and creation of smaller national groupings.

The Benjamin Franklin’s  old joke that “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch” contains an important kernel of truth, which is the danger that John Stuart Mill called the “tyranny of the majority”. Libertarians stress the independence and importance of the individual, and rightly make individual liberty the highest goal, to minimise this problem, However, another factor which reduces this danger of tyranny is to make democratic units increasingly smaller. As the units are smaller the minorities as proportionately larger. To reduce this to the absurd; in an electorate of one there is no minority and the individual’s vote is always successful.

But joking aside, when nationalist groups are able to reduce the power or larger states the libertarian will find themselves on the side of the nationalist. We support those who throw of the yoke of empire and those who reduce the size and power of the state. Smaller states are more visible, the individual is clearer on the powers that are yielded, and the individual’s power in a smaller electorate is improved. Further smaller states hopefully give the option of voting with your feet. In a state the size of Europe or America it is difficult to move to seek life in a state more compatible your views. If our nations were smaller, or even better were we to consider communes, then we could participate effectively in our municipal politics with less imbalance in the power between the state and the individual and, at the same time, the our mobility might allow us  to decide where we will participate and which state we might  tolerate.

Unfortunately sometimes nationalism has been used as a cloak to gather power for the state, or has been the cloak that has been used to obscure racist and illiberal ends. All too often calls for national greatness are the siren call of the totalitarian and we should be clear about this and reject it. But when nationalist groups threaten to weaken the state and increase the power of the individual, libertarians should support them. Historically this has a great tradition; the American republic, with its liberal outlook and respect for the individual, was born out of nationalist feelings and hopefully Brexit, and the various celtic nationalist struggles, will start the break up the European super state.

I am an internationalist, I see all men as my equal, but when the state has grown larger than nations, I will support national independence struggles which try and reduce the size and scope of the state.  Remember the words of Sun Tzu :-

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

Some coincidences are pleasing, a happy twist of fate. They can be a pleasant caprice which brightens your day , for example, the happy coincidence of meeting a friend you had been thinking about when in the town. Or it could be the pleasure of seeing the coincidence of the numbers of your date of birth being present in the winning national lottery ticket. The coincidence of  having actually bought a ticket with those numbers on the same day as they won would be a very happy coincidence ! Yes, it can be great fun to watch the stars align and imagining that the hidden logic of the world has been revealed.

However, more commonly coincidences are a pain in the neck. It seems every time I need any specific power tool for a job; the drill, the plane, the router, anything – by coincidence that is exactly the tool I lent out last week, or which I lost, or which broke. It is uncanny, and it does suggest, that if there is an underlying power guiding my life it has a mischievous sense of humour and enjoys annoying me.

But over the last months my interest in coincidences has taken a more serious turn. I am not concerned about being irked by minor twists of fate but of the  perfect storm  which is developing. We  have seen the coincidence of an election where the most inappropriate Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, more lacklustre than Michael Foot, found himself with the luck of facing the most misguided of Conservative Party campaigns – running a campaign based entirely on personality but using the charisma-free Theresa May.

Next we can reasonably expect the coincidence of Brexit and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The greatest challenge Britain’s economy is going to face in a lifetime could coincide with Britain having a government most hostile to economic growth – They are already planning for a run on the pound!

I suppose coincidences are matters of luck and perhaps we don’t deserve such bad luck as this, and if it is not luck then perhaps we can do something about it in time.

Fingers and toes crossed

 


Dodging a bullet ?

Dodging a bullet ?

The was a collective sigh of relief when Macron won the French election yesterday. There was a general feeling that a bullet had been dodged and normality has been restored. There have been some congratulatory reports that the French have turned the populist tide that had caused so much consternation with the Brexit referendum in the UK and Trump’s victory in the USA. But is this the case ?

It is clear that Macron won comfortably  by nearly 2:1. However, this misses a number of other factors. Firstly the turnout was poor  compared to previous French elections and there was the lowest turnout since 1969 and this as amplified by 9% of voters voting “Blank” finding themselves unable to support either party. Secondly, as was the case previously with Chirac, many voted for Macron, holding their noses, as they wished to defeat Le Pen rather then support Macron, and, thirdly, nearly 11 million French voted for the Front National. If one looks at the distribution of this vote it shows a clear divide in France between the more prosperous metropolitan areas supporting Macron and Le Pen’s support in the rural areas and ‘rust belts’. In addition to these problems there are the additional details that Macron has to form a government without the backing of an established political party which is unknown ground.

Then there is the problem of Macron himself. He presented himself as the outsider, the agent for change, the new broom. However, his background and policies are clearly those of the EU ‘business as usual” form. He had difficulties introducing these when he was the minister of the economy in  Hollande’s government. He has plans to reduce corporation tax, reduce  the number working in the public sector, promote greater EU integration and reduce the deficit. His policies will please companies and corporations and be regarded well, but are unlikely to be well received by those at the bottom. They will do nothing to improve the lot of those who currently feel disadvantaged and left behind. If the French economy  does not continue to grow, and grow substantially,  then those 11 million who voted for Le Pen will not have found a saviour in Macron and might find their numbers grow.

It is clear that the bureaucrats in the EU and the large companies and corporations who benefit from the EU (through rent seeking and stifling competition) feel they have dodged a bullet. However, it may be that they dodged this bullet by pushing a public sector worker in front of it, and it is in no way certain that the gun won’t be reloaded.

 

 

 

Totally Free, Totally Independent

Totally Free, Totally Independent

A lot of territorial changes are anticipated in the wake of a letter from Theresa May to Donald Tusk. By triggering Article 50 it clear that the political map of Europe will need to be redrawn. There is a great deal of uncertainty of how Britain’s leaving of the European Union will be managed, what form trade arrangements will take, what new international arrangements will be made, how will new opportunities be handled. Although slightly apprehensive, I am optimistic that this is a step in the correct direction and one which will allow us to become more democratic, more responsible and able to have relationships with a wider range of people and places.

It is also likely that this change may lead to changes in the make up if the ‘United’ Kingdom itself.  The S.N.P. see Brexit as an opportunity to push for a second independence referendum and, were they successful, Plaid Cymru may follow suit. Although this is rather opportunistic of the S.N.P., I have no concerns over this. Smaller is better in terms of democracies and, in the absence of a federal or canton system in the U.K. , four smaller nations would be less undemocratic than one large unit. These smaller states would be more flexible and responsive than their larger progenitor. This could possibly, though not necessarily, lead to better economic and social systems.

My only concerns are that the S.N.P., with its large state policies and plans to seek continued membership of the European Union, is not promoting policies which bode well for an independent Scotland’s future. On the one hand their policies suggest a future reminiscent of the nightmare of Venezuela (Inefficient oil-backed socialism) while Europe’s policies sugest and equally unsavoury prospect of a Greek future (of externally imposed austerity and reduced public spending).

If we are going to try to use nation states to break up bigger units and bring power closer to people we have to be careful that we manage to do this. Break up the United Kingdom by all means but break up the European Union also.  Don’t bring powers back from London simply to send them further away to Brussels. If we are going to ‘Cry Freedom’ lets go for full freedom and independence. Fully free we can work out our economic and social plans for ourselves.

 

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Territory

Irked rather than enraged.

Irked rather than enraged.

via Daily Prompt: Irksome

It seemed apt that the Daily Prompt today was irksome as, like many others in the UK (and probably the majority), I had been feeling irked by the success of the legal challenge raised against aspects of the process of Brexit. I say irked, as opposed to irate or enraged,  as this is a minor, and possibly inevitable and necessary, annoyance.

Why am I not enraged alongside many in the media ? Because this is haggling over minor details and unlikely to do more than cause a minor delay in the triggering of Article 50. Yes, I agree that it is having an adverse effect on the economy by extending the period of doubt and uncertainty – we have seen the effects of this already on the effect on the FTSE. Further, yes, I agree that will weaken Britain’s bargaining hand when they negotiate in Europe – it will be difficult to present a strong and resolute front when the negotiators on the other side of the table know there is so much friction and uncertainty at home.

However, these are small issues compared to the issues of democracy and sovereignty. It was these major issues on which the Brexit campaign was fought and won. I know that many feel that parliament handed authority back to the people when it agreed to a plebiscite. With a referendum the normal mechanics of representative democracy are changed to permit an episode of direct democracy. However, it appears that the wording of the Act was not sufficient to ensure this in law, leaving the referendum with an ‘advisory’ status despite the statements made that its results would be binding. We now need to amend this error. We will do this and then move on. While doing so we should ensure we do not damage our democratic institutions, it was for these that we fought. Any righteous anger that an error was made, or that we were mislead, should be kept in check.  We should be careful that we do no win the war and lose the peace.

So, if this is only tidying up a minor legal error, why is it even irritating or irksome ? It is irksome because it was not necessary. No-one was acting with malevolent intention by planning to use the Crown Prerogative (which had been used to usher in much of the EU legislation before – it could have been a delightful irony). The government was not planning anything underhand but rather trying to deliver what it thought it had promised. It is irksome not because of the governments actions but because the actions of those who brought the legal challenge acted in bad faith. They had no desire to fine tune the legal process of Brexit they wished to impede or halt it.

Gina Miller, who raised this challenge (Along with the Orwellian doublespeak group ‘The Peoples’ Challenge’), was a remainer who described herself as “stunned”, “shocked” and “alarmed”  by the results of the referendum. She was thus galvanised to to do something about it, to try and subvert the results of the democratic process by legal pettifogging. This subversion will have some negative impacts, but in the greater scale of things their effects will likely be minor. She did not act to protect our sovereignty nor to promote democracy, she, and they, acted to thwart the choice made by the majority of those who voted and to try and stem the transfer of powers back to Westminster. They used the powers we have to keep us weaker but it will be in vain. Once the people have spoken their words can not be unsaid and, after jumping some legal hurdles,  Article 50 will be triggered and the process started.

However, if I am wrong, if I have misjudged the situation and predicted wrongly, then I may be using the wrong word by saying it is “irksome”. If, albeit very unlikely, the House of Commons stood in the way of the expressed will of the people then irksome would be the wrong word. Or, if the un-elected House of Lords decided, like suicidal lemmings, to reject the results of the referendum and enforce their greater authority on the people, then irked would not be the appropriate word.

Should frankly anti-democratic steps such as those be taken then much stronger adjectives will be needed. Perhaps furious, enraged or livid might be more appropriate. However, even in the Daily Prompt proffers these words as cues it is unlikely I will see them as I, alongside many others, will not be at our screens but out on the streets.

The Child is Father to the Man

The Child is Father to the Man

I was enfranchised and able to vote for the first time in 1975. It was a time of turmoil and unrest. Unemployment was high as was inflation (at one point inflations reached 24%). Young people felt that their futures were bleak and many felt society was becoming increasingly unequal. The European Economic Community was held by many to be one of the major causes of the many problems of the time; it was seen as a club designed to benefit business and the wealthy at the expense of the poor.  As a young man I allied myself with the progressive forces and campaigned for a “NO” vote in the EEC referendum on the 5th of June 1975.

We had a major battle ahead of us. The big money was against us and all the media, except the Morning Star, had sided with the YES campaign [1]. But we fought on. Our experts warned of increased food prices as a consequence of the Common Agricultural Policy, syndicalist groups warned of the effects for labour and statesmen of every hue warned about the loss of political power which would follow a shift of power from London to Brussels [2]. The nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Ireland joined the fray and warned against loss of sovereignty [3].

Our experts were correct, but we lost. We lost heavily it was a “landslide” for YES [4]. The young, the better educated and the left had been outvoted by the rest. We saw what had happened and knew what to do. We needed to continue to work to see if it was possible to change the European project from the crony capitalist support network it was becoming, to see if our criticisms were correct and our fears did indeed manifest, and to build a political consensus. In the next 41 years we discovered that the EU could not be changed from within, our fears were in fact correct and we had been able to build a political movement.

4o or so years later, we young voters, now more experienced, older and wiser, got a second chance and we took it. The youth had grown into the man and the man was able to look to the youth’s future.

 

 


My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold

William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is the father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.


1         Walsh J. Britain’s 1975 Europe referendum: what was it like last time? The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/25/britains-1975-europe-referendum-what-was-it-like-last-time .

2         News B. EU referendum: Did 1975 predictions come true? – BBC News. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36367246 .

3         Meyer J-H. The 1975 referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the EEC. cvce.eu. 2016.http://www.cvce.eu/obj/jan_henrik_meyer_the_1975_referendum_on_britain_s_continued_membership_in_the_eec-en-eb67b6cf-33ef-4f79-9510-b6fab56d2509.html.

4         MacKie D. Anatomy of a Landslide. The Manchester Guardian. 1975.http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/6/3/1433347013098/Mckie-7-June-1975-001.jpg