Monday, 22 June 2015

Greece And The Euro: A Matter Of Politics Not Economics


"The process of monetary union goes hand in hand, must go hand in hand, with political integration and ultimately political union. EMU [economic and monetary union] is, and always was meant to be, a stepping stone on the way to a united Europe"
(Wim Duisenberg, first president of the EU Central Bank) 

"The single currency is the greatest abandonment of sovereignty since the foundation of the European Community: the decision is of an essentially political nature"
(Felipe Gonzalez, a Spanish former PM, 1998)

"Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises."  
(EU founding father Jean Monnet)

As the eurozone goes through one of its periodic 'difficulties' there's much fuss being made about a possible Greek exit, or Grexit. Today "Greece faces a critical 24 hours as European leaders hold an emergency summit in Brussels that could break the deadlock around the country's debt crisis".

We have of course been here many times before and naturally such speculation results in a media plethora of economic analysis, graphs and statistics and goodness what else.

There's often incredulous analysis on why Greece hasn't yet left Euro and go it alone and why it should; the economic case is one which is largely obvious.

Yet to make such an economic case is to miss the point entirely. What is so often overlooked is that the euro, and indeed the EU, is a political project not an economic one. And as the quotes above make clear the EU, and its member states, make no secret of this. But despite proclaiming its political intentions so publicly it is a damming indictment that we can no longer rely on the UK media to even acknowledge this simple fact, which perhaps reflects the prevailing UK view in general.

But it's in this political context we must see the Greek crisis. The euro has always been a political project to achieve its "ever closer union" as per the opening sentences in the Treaty of Rome 1957. "Ever closer union" is the utter founding principles of the EU; they meant it then, they mean it now.

To achieve full political union requires salami tactics or the Monnet method. Normally with a currency union we should start off with political union first and then economics. However due to the difficulties of achieving the political union part first the EU quite deliberately put the cart before the horse. By doing so they ensured the euro was a flawed project from the outset.

By making it flawed meant it was inevitable that it would encounter a series of crisis. Each crisis needs a solution and that solution, if we may call it that, invariably would be a call for 'more europe'. More Europe, more power, more integration. Thus step by step a series of euro problems allows the march towards further integration to continue unabated.

What could not be achieved explicitly by the front door would be achieved less obviously via the back door on the back of an economic Trojan horse - of ultimately economic misery. The euro is the extension of engrenage or 'the Monnet method' writ large:
The Schuman Declaration was presented by Schuman on 9 May 1950 (9 May was later to become Europe Day). Monnet and Schuman believed that it was through economic integration that political integration would eventually be achieved, via a process called spillover. Monnet and Schuman were thus the first functionalist theorists of Europe. Indeed, this process of integration is often termed the 'Monnet method'.
Yet much of this obvious point seems so beyond our own media who seem to be willing the Greece to exit to reinforce their misplaced, wrong and self-important analysis that the EU is all about economics rather than deal with the real issues as they are.

Thus despite all the brinkmanship and threats of Grexit, ultimately someone will put up some money, more than likely Germany, to paper over the cracks and the eurozone crisis will be left on hold until a new treaty comes along. Bailouts are de facto fiscal transfers - essential for an economic union to succeed. All that is needed is to make them official via a new treaty.

It's with some irony that the UK is aggravating the Greek crisis by having a referendum in 2017. By doing so it is holding up the new treaty to try to resolve the euro crisis; the Fundamental Law of the European Union which now has to wait until the "English question" is settled.

Despite the dreadful economic statistics Greece will stay in, politics and EU integration ambitions ensures that it must.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Parish Notice

Apologies to regular readers for the lack of new posts recently. It's no reflection on the lack of activities regarding a referendum. Plans are afoot on a personal level to make this blog a full time operation.

Normal service will resume shortly.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Union Flag

Visiting the local dentist with Mrs TBF today we notice that not only the phrase on a fire extinguisher, pictured above, is; "European Approved" above a Union Flag, but also that the Union flag is effectively "upside down".

We also note that fire extinguishers regarding fire are subject to international ISO standards, not EU standards. And it's in international bodies where rules are really made, making the EU redundant.

EU Referendum: Queen's Speech

Despite the understandable reluctance of many in the eurosceptic community to take Cameron at his word, particularly Cameron's previous form over his "cast-iron" promise regarding the Lisbon Treaty, the Queen's Speech today contains measures to introduce a referendum bill to be held by 2017:
My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all Member States. Alongside this, early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.
Politically Cameron never had a choice - it was a matter of political pragmatics. The idea that Cameron could be trusted was never an option, it was less about trust and more about reality. Politicians in general should never be trusted - which is why the concept of democracy exists, to give us the power to vote them out in order to concentrate their minds. Thus, by the Queen's Speech, and given that the Tories have a slim majority, it's clear we will get an EU referendum by 2017.

It is likely, and not unsurprising, that the referendum question will be similar to; "Should the UK remain a member of the EU?" which is well within the Electoral Commission's recommendations. The EC's preferred option was "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union", yet it looks like the "yes/no" option will form part of the bill.

It could be argued that a "yes/no" vote enforces the status quo effect to remain in, but here we are reminded that saying "no" can be effective as per the Community Charge rebellion back in the late 1980's:

It's now down to us to win...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Scotland

Having returned from Scotland over the weekend, may we suggest that if it wants to maintain its reputation as "a clean, unspoilt destination with beautiful scenery", which generates at least £4bn per year in tourist spending, it stops desecrating all that lovely scenery with wind turbines.

We have never seen so many turbines - the presence of so many completely destroys any natural beauty the Scottish countryside has.

However on the brighter note we took the opportunity to visit parts of Scotland we hadn't got around to seeing previously. We had a little day trip to Dundee, despite the rain, and found our way to Tannadice Street home of both Dundee FC...
  
 ...and Dundee Utd FC.

They're so close together on the same street it's ridiculous (Dundee is on the right, Dundee Utd is just down the road on the left). 

And then we visited the Falkirk Wheel, which is an amazing piece of engineering - the 21st century upgrade of the Anderton boat lift in Cheshire:





And with engineering in mind, we note that passing across the Forth Road Bridge progress is being made on its replacement which is due to be finished next year. The reason for the replacement, despite being built in the 1960s, is the old road bridge is falling to pieces. What a contrast to the Victorian rail bridge, opened in 1890 which...er...is still there and needs no replacement. And is the bridge where the SNP are proud to stand outside.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Parish Notice

I will be spending the rest of the week in Scotland for a personal visit, so the opportunity for blog posts may be rather limited although I am taking my laptop with me.

Blogging will resume on my return with a piece on the BBC, an EU Referendum and Ofcom. Meanwhile above is a picture of Ravenscraig Castle in Kirkcaldy, which is near where I will be staying.

Monday, 18 May 2015

EU Referendum: 51%

The cruel clarity of boolean outcomes inherent in referendums means that we need 51% of the vote to win the EU one in 2017. If we don't, we lose. It's as simple as that.

There are 45 million people who are eligible to vote although, 7.5 million of them fail to register by the general election of 2015. We may see a higher figure eligibility figure should there, like Scotland, be a last minute rush to register.

Most of all we have to consider turnout. This is hard to predict. In the 1975 referendum the turnout was 64.5%, the AV referendum was a very low 42.2%. Generally, turnouts for referendums have not been promising. Indeed of all of the twelve referendums which have been held in the UK only two have breached 64% in terms of turnout; Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement referendum, 1998 at 81.1% and the Scottish referendum even higher at 84.59%.

Assuming therefore, for the sake of argument, a turnout of between 65-70%, this would leaves us with between 29.3 million and 31.5 million potential voters. To achieve the magic 51% we would need to convince around 16 million voters.

Dr Eric Edmond highlights the difficulty of the task in front of us:
To win the in/out Cameron referendum requres [sic]a 51% vote in favour of leaving the EU. Last year in Scotland the SNP under Alex Salmond backed by Nicola Sturgeon and a superb organisation could only get 45% and we all saw how Nicola trounced Cam, Mil and Cleggy in the General Election debate.It shows the  enormity of the task we face to get a leave the EU vote. LibLabCon are not scared of the referndum [sic] vote. As things stand they would win it 2 to 1.

On 7th May UKIP won 12.6% of the national vote. To win the referendum they will have to quadruple that vote. That siimply [sic] cannot be done on UKIP votes. You need to attract millions of voters who voted LibLabCon.

On  7th May. UKIP got 3.8 million votes. LabCon got 20.6 million, the SNP and LibDems who are EU fanatics together got 3.8 million. So the Out campaign has to pick up roughly 10.5 million votes from LabCon to secure an out vote. That's a big ask.and with Farage anywhere near the campaign its impossible.
Eric Edmond, makes a crucial point. In any "out" campaign we need votes from those who have voted for anyone other than UKIP. And therein lies the danger when conducting a campaign which does not have a broad focus. Using the referendum to highlight issues of climate change, NHS, electoral reform, and immigration risks alienating the very voters across the political spectrum we need on board.

As Complete Bastard observers, language like "quislings, traitors and fifth columnists" with sometimes an ill-disguised anti Muslim feeling (who vote too) coupled with language on HIV infected foreigners will mean we comprehensively lose.

Ultimately the referendum will not be decided on the likes of myself who will vote 'out' regardless, nor on the likes of Nick Clegg who will vote 'in' but on the soft middle - the "could-be-persuaded-either-way". And it's here where we must make our case.

Friday, 15 May 2015

EU Referendum: Media Bias

During the 1975 referendum all the newspapers bar one – the communist Morning Star – supported EEC membership. Such positive support in the media for staying in the EU would be almost identical today, liberally sprinkled with FUD, as illustrated above, with possibly the dubious exception of the Daily Express. Even the likes of the supposedly eurosceptic Daily Mail has made it clear, in editorials, that it supports EU membership:
Let the Mail lay all its cards on the table. This paper has no desire for Britain to pull out of Europe — and particularly not at a time like this, when withdrawal would add immeasurably to the uncertainties threatening our recovery and rocking the confidence of the markets.
The economic FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) has already started in earnest. Courtesy of the BBC across it's broadcasting outlets we have this from Bank of England governor Mark Carney:
[He] has said that the UK should hold its EU referendum "as soon as necessary".

"We talk to a lot of bosses and there has been uncertainty whether it's for the election or the referendum," said Mr Carney on the BBC's Today programme.
Analysts fear businesses may delay making investments while there is uncertainty over Britain's future in the EU.
"FUD, FUD glorious FUD" means that if we are to win a referendum, it is essential to negate it by making it clear that the UK will remain in the Single Market post exit for the time being as to make it economically neutral. It remains our only hope of clearing the first hurdle required to ultimately win.

But it’s certainly obvious that it will be a significant challenge in trying to overturn the message of the establishment, media and FUD, all of which will be heavily funded. Not least because the eurosceptic movement is so divided with no coherent message.

Certainly this was the experience of the early 1970's with our entry into the then EEC where pro-market lobby groups were co-ordinated under the umbrella of the European Movement part funded by the EU Commission to act as an integral part of the government campaign.

Efforts were made, by the Heath government, to bring the media on board particularly the BBC where eurosceptic presenters were dismissed in favour of more sympathetic ones. Less competent or more divisive spokesmen were chosen by the media, and the BBC, to represent the "out" campaign for negative effect.

We are, therefore, in danger of being greatly damaged by FUD, and currently we are losing the FUD war - it's being created faster than can be responded to by various media outlets including blogs. Richard North notes:
Talking yesterday to a senior politician, he observed that the "out" campaign should already have a rapid rebuttal unit up and running, to deal with this sort of thing. To my mind, it is an indictment of Ukip, which should already be equipped to handle false claims.
Thus the "out" campaign is going to have to establish its own permanent rebuttal units to monitor and counter media FUD. This was a tactic very successfully adopted by New Labour in the lead up to their landslide victory in 1997. Peter Oborne's book on Alastair Campbell observes (page 134):
[Campbell] put into effect the new electoral technology which New Labour had imported from the United States: the giant media war-room, the 24 hour monitoring of television, radio and press outlets, a rapid rebutal serivce, a savage clampdown on MPS and Shadow ministers who spoke out of turn...Labour's ferocious internal discipline was the key to its success.

In stark contrast to the [Tories]...Labour MPS were prevailed upon to limit their public utterances to the bland platitudes imposed upon them by the party machine.

...what gave Labour complaints the edge was that they were inevitably well-researched and sensibly focused. The vigilance was extraordinary. Roger Mosey, then the editor of the Today programme, recalls: 'If you had a line that Labour didn't like on the 6.30am bulletin you got called instantly. Often Labour complaints had some substance...if there was a glimmer of an inaccuracy they were onto you.'
This gives an indication of the ruthlessless required to win a referendum, particularly if the odds are stacked against us. The internet and social media becomes the key.

In addition with newspapers we have a complaints procedure, which obviously anyone can use. Post-Leveson what was the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has now become the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and we will address the significance of this with a subsequent piece.

Here we will concentrate on television broadcasters. The 1975 referendum, being the first nationwide poll of its kind in the UK, presented broadcasters with hitherto unknown dilemmas of balance and responsibility. Up to that point, in general elections, broadcasters used the existing strength of parties in MPs, or in votes, at the last election as a guide in establishing the priorities of the coverage.

The White Paper of February 1975 offered no particular formula or solution, instead its 'advice' was one of hope rather than one born out of regulatory oversight (page 19):
4.9 The Government are confident that the IBA and BBC will exercise editorial discretion designed to ensure that there is a fair balance between the opposing views in news and feature programmes. The broadcasting authorities may also decide to run a series of short "referendum broadcasts" analogous to party political broadcasts. In this way an equal number of short periods of television time would-be"made available to the main campaigning organisations in the two or three weeks before polling day.
The Government would welcome such an initiative.
Whereas in 1975, the government was "confident", hardly an endorsement of rigorous oversight, now we have regulatory authorities in place regarding the impartiality of broadcasters.

With the establishment of the Ofcom under the Communications Act 2003 and the establishment of the Electoral Commission under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 the broadcasting oversight is more structured which means that crucially it is an avenue where we can complain. Ofcom provided examples of this oversight during the Scottish referendum.

With regard to Ofcom, broadcasters should ensure that they comply with Section Five: (Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions):
To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. To ensure that the special impartiality requirements of the Act are complied with.
And broadcasters also have to comply with Section Six (Elections and Referendums) of the Code:
To ensure that the special impartiality requirements in the Communications Act 2003 and other legislation relating to broadcasting on elections and referendums, are applied at the time of elections and referendums. 
In addition, there is the prohibition of political advertising in Section 321 of the Communications Act 2003:
(2) For the purposes of section 319(2)(g) an advertisement contravenes the prohibition on political advertising if it is:
(a) an advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature;

(b) an advertisement which is directed towards a political end; or

(c) an advertisement which has a connection with an industrial dispute.
(3) For the purposes of this section objects of a political nature and political ends include each of the following:
(a) influencing the outcome of elections or referendums, whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere;
This applies to the multitude of local television and radio outlets with the exception of the BBC which is overseen by the BBC Trust.

In the 1960's JFK embraced the relatively new medium of television to great effect, this in contrast Barack Obama who embraced the new medium of the internet in 2008. His internet campaign was crucial to winning the Presidency.

We can therefore learn the lessons of using a new medium to try to keep the old medium of broadcasters "honest", or by simply by-passing them. Thus in the UK we can embrace the internet in the same effective way and with regulatory bodies in place over the traditional legacy media  the internet allows us as individuals to facilitate a campaign to ensure some resemblance of impartiality. The simple use of Twitter has worked before

Thus unlike 1975 we now have the internet and everything that comes with it; smartphones, Twitter, Facebook and forums. The establishment no longer has a monopoly on information. Scotland revealed the significance of this development. The independence campaign was a dry run of how an EU referendum would be conducted and it showed comprehensively that unofficial campaigns centered on social media was very powerful.

By using the internet to lobby regulatory bodies, each one of us can make a small but significant difference.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

EU Referendum: The Wilson Fudge Part II

 
On May 27th, we fully expect proposals for an EU referendum to be included in the Queen's speech. There are of course some doubters who are convinced that Cameron will renege - an understandable sentiment after his "cast iron" betrayal - but political reality says this time he will have no choice but to follow through with his promise.

Cameron has reiterated his promise publicly and consistently since the election and also to various media outlets. Should he not deliver his credibility would be shot to pieces, he will lose all political authority and his backbenchers would get rid of him sharpish.

So whether we like it or not an EU referendum is what we now face. In ideal world we would like the referendum to be free and fair. The reality is that by their very nature referendums never are. They are crude, blunt instruments which are easily manipulated by governments. It is for very good and obvious reasons that they are banned in Germany under their constitution, Basic Law.

Inevitably, therefore the eurosceptic movement faces a difficult and unfair battle, but it's not unwinnable. In our view, looking back at the lessons of 1975 the greatest threat is actually a lack of coherence from our own side and that is something which can be under our own control.

Another cause for optimism is that the way of manipulating a referendum by framing the question in such a way as to encourage a certain result is far more difficult. Here we have a defence against such manipulation in the form of the Electoral Commission (EC). It advises Parliament on what will be the most neutral referendum question, which it has already done:
The Commission’s recommendations therefore highlight an important decision for Parliament: whether to retain or move away from the UK’s recent experience of  referendum questions using ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ responses.

If Parliament wants to retain the use of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ as response options to the referendum question, then the Commission has recommended that that the question should be amended to:

'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?'

If Parliament decides not to retain a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ question, the Commission has recommended the following referendum question:

'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?'

The responses would be ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ / ‘Leave the European Union’.

Research participants found this the most neutral of all the versions tested. 
Interestingly when we look at its full report, the EC would have had concerns over the question (and possibly the preamble) used in 1975 (pictured above). Referring to the proposed question in the European Union (Referendum) Bill during the last Parliament which was:
“Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?”
The EC concluded on page 12, that "there were issues with the [phrase] ‘Do you think…?"
Use of ‘Do you think…?’
2.20 Views from participants on the opening phrase ‘Do you think…’ in the proposed question were split. Those who liked the wording thought it was neutral and personal, as if it was inviting someone’s considered opinion and encouraging them to think about the question. Younger people were slightly more likely than older participants to express a preference for this phrasing, because it made them feel that their vote was important.

2.21 Other participants, however, did not like the use of this opening phrase because they thought it was too informal, and likened it to a question that would be asked in an opinion poll survey. Some participants thought that the phrase ‘Do you think…’ implied that no action would be taken as a result of the referendum vote.

Use of ‘Should…’ instead of ‘Do you think…’
2.28 Four of the alternative questions included in the research (versions 2, 3, 4 and 6) included the use of the word ‘Should…’ in place of ‘Do you think…’. This alternative question introduction did not affect people’s ability to understand or answer the question according to their intentions, but some research participants preferred it because they felt it was asking them to state their choice or a decision about the issue, rather than their simply their opinion. These participants felt that the use of ‘Should…’ was more decisive and binding, and that the Government would take it more seriously, with action taken as a result.
While the EC settled on the word "remain", should the proposed question contain the word "stay", as it did in 1975 this would be subject to further assessment:
...the iterative nature of the research meant that it was not possible in the time available to fully explore and user test the impact of any variations to the wording (such as using alternative answer responses such ‘continue’ or ‘stay’ instead of ‘remain’, or using shorter versions of the response options).

If the Bill is amended to include this version of the referendum question, we would therefore undertake a further assessment of the intelligibility of this wording, including research, consultation and further testing in Welsh. We would also seek evidence from potential referendum campaigners about the impact of this approach.
Even the preamble on the ballot paper used in 1975 would cause problems. The phrase "the government have announced the results of renegotiation..." is likely to influence possible positive responses for staying in, as well as being too broad and vague. What results? What was renegotiated? As the EC states the preamble must be clear and neutral. Certainly if Cameron tried to add a preamble similar to the one used in 1975 onto the ballot paper we have the opportunity to challenge and seek clarification from the EC over its neutrality.

This time therefore we can have far more confidence in the neutrality of the question. However this won't prevent Cameron trying to repeat the Wilson renegotiation sham during the campaign.

This time we do have some advantages; experience informs us this will happen so we can be better prepared, we have two years to define Cameron's sham treaty before he can. In addition, while we accept that there will significant amount of "incoming" Cameron has helpfully informed us where the shells are going to land. With limited room for manoeuvre, he has already laid out his strategy of concentrating on 'small changes' under Article 48 regarding free movement of workers. Thus we are forewarned of the nature of the fudge to come. So by broadening out the eurosceptic case away from the very narrow focus on immigration reduces greatly the danger of us being outflanked.

Interestingly though there was a crucial impact the 1975 renegotiation, what Brussels dubbed "the so-called renegotiation", tactic had which no longer will have the same effect.

It wasn't so much the content (or lack of it) that mattered swaying opinion towards staying in but the delay that the protracted discussions caused. Negotiations took up a considerable amount of time...and time was on the side of continued membership.

The longer Britain remained a member, the more it reinforced the status quo effect. The delay from March 1974 when negotiations began through to the referendum in June 1975 virtually doubled the period over which Britain had actually been a member of the EEC. Over this period, Britain was progressively adopting EEC rules and adapting customs duties and other measures in accordance with the provisions for the transitional period. By the time the referendum came, Britain was getting used to being a Community member, thus swinging the status quo effect significantly in favour of remaining in.

The delay also had another benefit. In Spring 1974, the EEC was in disarray, notably over energy questions and Britain's rising prices were attributed to Community membership. If a referendum had taken place in March 1974, Britain would very likely have decided to leave. Wilson therefore needed time so that the decision could be made in more favourable circumstances.

After 40 years of membership, the status quo effect is fully established so this major impact of a Cameron fudge in this regard will be negligible. Even more so given that unlike 1975 we have an exit plan in the form of Flexcit.

So with one crucial advantage gone, being forewarned and with time to define Cameron's treaty early we can help nullify the damage that the so-called "reform" option presents us with.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

EU Referendum: A UKIP Free Zone

It's does seem rather incredulous that as the starting gun has been fired on an EU referendum, UKIP - supposedly an anti-EU party - vacates the debate completely. Their website's "very latest" reduces mention of the impending referendum down to a footnote without being a main piece, Farage its leader decides to take four months off on vacation, setting up the party for civil war in the form of a leadership challenge. And with no exit plan, the party now seems more interested in electoral reform than actually taking any interest in trying to win a referendum.

With this in mind, this blog will now become largely a UKIP free zone. Regarding exit from the EU they have become an irrelevance. Ancient history. Instead, for the rest of us, we have a "out" campaign to organise - to do the job that UKIP was set up to do.

Instead we will now concentrate on issues that will be relevant to the forthcoming referendum campaign. And to relect the slight change in emphasis, this blog has undergone somewhat of a makeover. One major change is that I've embedded Disqus for comments. However by doing so it has removed from public view all previous comments. We will try to upload them to Disqus in due course.

There will be further changes to come and any observations, suggestions or criticisms of the new look are most welcome.

More importantly though we now have a referendum to try to win.