Monday 29 September 2014

EU Referendum: A Free Bet?

This blog has no ulterior motive other than to campaign to exit the EU a reflection of myself who was inspired to object to membership during the Maastricht debates and the ERM crisis. And as I made clear internally when I first joined UKIP, and stood as a PPC in 2010, my loyalty is to the cause not to any party.

However events change as they often do in politics. What I thought was not possible five years ago was that a major party would offer a referendum on EU membership as Cameron has done. Those who took part in very lonely campaigns over the last 20 years must be invigorated by the fact that the question of EU membership is starting to take centre stage.

In some ways UKIP can take the credit for this and for the about turn by Cameron. Despite Cameron previously refusing a referendum on the basis he wanted to stay in and deploying a three-line whip on the same basis, he has performed a very significant u-turn.

And he has done so as a result from pressure from his own party who in turn feel the heat from the rise of UKIP. It’s odd therefore that many in UKIP having extracted this concession now dismiss the Tories offer. One wonders what they actually want. Perhaps this is a reflection of UKIP’s long standing fundamental indecisiveness of whether it is a pressure group or a fully fledged party.

The latter seems to have won out and has a consequence become a party that not only jumps on every bandwagon going (when Nigel is not falling off it) but performs consistent rapid backtracking on party polices withing 24 hours as per VAT on luxury goods. Then in addition it often makes clear that it simply wants to destroy the Tories and nothing else. Somewhere in the mist the party's mission of exiting the EU has become somewhat lost.

Now it is understandable given Cameron’s track record of many not “trusting” him on this issue – an unprincipled, shallow, useless chancer he is. For me this for the eurosceptic side is a bonus – not only does his lack of authority and principles make him very vulnerable to his party’s whims but having an incompetent “general” in charge of the “in” camp is beneficial.

Thus for me it's not a question of trusting Cameron but strategy.  Like most in the country I don't trust politicians in general. Well actually more accurately I should emphasise that I do trust them…to do precisely what they’re told when they absolutely have to, for example the consequences of marginal seats concentrates the mind no end. That’s the nature of true power and democracy.

The EU referendum then becomes one that is more of a question of strategy and having a punt (worth noting that certain UKIP supporters bet against their party)

The brutal reality for those who wish an EU referendum is, as it stands, voting for any other party in 2015 will guarantee that we won’t get one, thus we stay in the EU for another 5 years. Labour won’t give us one, UKIP can’t and nor can any other party.

However… a Tory victory has given the possibility of a referendum in 2017. And in my view political reality says Cameron won’t have a choice but to deliver. If he wins the general election it will only be with a small majority giving rebellious backbenchers a lot of power. These backbenchers will consist partly of those who have campaigned for a referendum during this parliament and others who also simply just don’t like Cameron. Thus if he fails to deliver it is very likely that he will be out on his ear sharpish.

Of course despite this Cameron may be able to wriggle out of a referendum but in the event of that what would we have lost? Nothing other than 5 more years in the EU; the same as would be by voting for anyone else anyway.

So in betting terms what we have if we want a referendum is a free bet.

Friday 26 September 2014

How To Lose The Female Vote In An Instant

Apparently Nigel Farage is attempting to woo the working class voters with a so-called 'wag tax'
Ukip has unveiled a tax on luxury goods such as designer shoes, handbags and sports cars in a series of populist announcements aimed at winning over former Labour voters.
The party wants shoes costing more than £200, handbags worth more than £1,000 and cars costing more than £50,000 to attract a higher level of VAT.
Leaving aside the fact that the acquisition of designer clothes can be part of working class culture, not least women who desire to own Louis Vuitton handbags and Blahnik shoes, what on earth is UKIP doing proposing to retain VAT? VAT is an EU tax which was introduced with our entry into the then EEC in 1973. Why is UKIP proposing to keep it?

We can't help as a consequence coming to conclusion that UKIP has no interest in leaving the EU...

Update: And what about Russell and Bromley? As an example. Most certainly they are not classed as "luxury shoes" but some cost more than £200. Have UKIP lost the plot? One suspects their policy has not only been made as they go along but by men who have no idea whatsoever...

Thursday 11 September 2014

Eurosceptic Lite

Thanks to the tenacity of Witterings from Witney, he has managed to procure a copy of David Campbell Bannerman's IEA submission, a copy of which is available here. On his blog WfW had done a fine critique of DCB’s flawed submission, with an added piece from Richard North.

With those comprehensive critical pieces I don’t have much to add, only to express that it saddens me deeply, as someone who wrote a 20,000 word submission as part of a history degree, to read the utter poor quality of DCB’s work. This is not supposed to be a GCSE homework project, but a submission into the IEA competition, or indeed a Brexit plan in general.

WfW rightly highlights the basic errors - for example capital letters appear to have been inserted at random – and certain arguments are fundamentally incorrect for example DCB’s assertions that the four freedoms can be negotiated:
The ‘Four Freedoms’ is regarded by the EU  as a non-negotiable part of the Single Market acquis – something stated quite categorically by Viviane Reding whilst she was an EU Commissioner.
As a result one has to question the thought processes of anyone who proffers an amendment to something that cannot be amended. Another example of the poor standard of the submission can be seen below from a random couple of paragraphs:
Citizens from the original group of 15 EU member states, including Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Portugal, originally had unrestricted access to the Swiss labour market. but in May 2013the [sic] Swiss Government moved to tighten the immigration tap, extending restrictions to these older EU member states, setting a cap of 53,700 for 12 months.

But [sic] most significantly, all immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, two of the newer EU members, was severely restricted and will remain so for years. This Swiss safeguard quota model is designed to limit numbers from the .least [sic] economically developed nations - those often with one sixth of UK average wages, whilst allowing free flow from more developed nations, and EEA Lite follows this logic. .[sic]
This sort of sub-standard work, with a complete lack of proof reading, would have been chucked out of the window as a degree student. Yet DCB as a Conservative and a former UKIP MEP who has "prestige" it is taken seriously. A demonstration indeed of the failings of our so called media and establishment.

If this is the best the eurosceptic movement as a whole can accomplish then we deserve to lose any referendum. We seriously need to up our game.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Outside The Wall

It's long been this blog's view that the status quo effect will prevail in the Scottish referendum, especially when the "don't knows" are hovering around the 23% mark. Thus while the polls recently have become neck and neck in terms of in or out, bookmakers are still offering odds-on regarding a no vote.

With Scotland there is understandably a clear anti-establishment vote which has been relayed to the pollsters. Yet experience shows that this only translates to referendum results, or indeed other elections, if the resulting vote has no dramatic consequences.

An example of this is the non-binding referendum in New Zealand in 1992 regarding political reform. We also see the same apply in mid-term by-elections where anti-etablishment kicking is prevalent only to return to a default candidate at a General Election. Ireland proves to be another example when they rejected the Lisbon Treaty first time around only to approve at the second time when it was made clear "rejection would have consequences" regarding EU membership.

An interesting observation though is despite the obvious anti-Westminster vote within the Scottish referendum, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have decided to encamp in Scotland for the day so that there will be no PMQs, thus demonstrating a wonderful illustration of arrogance and complete political blindness - seemingly unaware that their presence is more damaging than helpful to the Union cause. Subrosa is not impressed and rightly so:
Interesting times aren’t they?  Yesterday, in a token gesture to Scotland, the Saltire was raised over 10 Downing Street.  I believe it is to stay in place until after the referendum.  How happy I am to see such benevolence from London. Do I feel patronised?  Of course not.
Be prepared for the media to be overflowing with reports about the London heir bummers’ visit to our country and don’t forget to smile at their ignorance (or should that be arrogance?).
A point echoed by Norman Tebbit:
The political establishment down here in the Westminster village has been stung into hyperactivity by the sudden surge of support for the Yes campaign in Scotland. Without very much discussion with their own parties Ed Milliband and David Cameron have reached a joint conclusion: that Scotland's discontent can be overcome and a "No" vote secured by promising the Scots that they can have independence in all but name if only they vote to stay within the Union. Devolution by the bucketload, it is implied, would allow the Scottish assembly to tax and spend as it pleases while still remaining under the cover of sterling.
It seems to be a perfect example of why so many Scots are supporting the severance of the Union. In short, it typifies the remoteness of that Westminster establishment, not just from Scotland, but the people of England and Wales.
And again, more forcefully by Dan Hodges:
By the evening Gordon’s chat with a few of his constituents had become a full-blown plan to recast the Union. It was, Brown said, nothing less than a move towards a federal Britain. “A new Union is being forged in the heat of debate”, he said.
Great. But what debate? I’m not involved in it. You’re not involved in it. Unless I’m missing something, no one in England, Wales or Northern Ireland is being given a say over this radical new constitutional arrangement.
I’m not missing something. Gordon Brown was crystal clear yesterday. “These reforms will confirm that Scotland has helped changed not just our own country but the United Kingdom,” he announced. Well, thanks for that. But I’m afraid that’s not Scotland’s prerogative.
Scotland is currently holding a referendum over whether it wishes to secede from the Union. It’s a simple Yes/No question. Do you want to stay, or do you want to go? Not, “do you want to unilaterally establish the English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh Federation.”
’ll repeat, what do our politicians think they are doing? Whether or not Scotland remains a part of the Union is a matter for the Scottish people alone. It’s right they are having their referendum, and that they should have sole say over their destiny. But that is no longer what is on the table.
What is now being proposed – we are being told – is nothing less than an entirely new constitution for the United Kingdom as a whole. And no one other than the people of Scotland appears to be getting a say on whether they agree with it or not.
Actually, let me rephrase that. No one but the politicians appears to be getting a say.
Alex Salmond has some justification when he refers to "Team-Westminster". Team Westminster are clearly panicking and are offering overtly devo-max, this though is not new, it was offered quietly by Cameron some time ago. But how arrogant is it for Gordon Brown et al to now brazenly offer such terms without reference to anyone else in the Union  - it's our Union as well.

If nothing else the Scottish referendum demonstrates acutely that the arguments are less about Hadrian's wall and more about a circular symbolic wall around London, universally known as the M25.

We need this...

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Brexit And Telephones (1)

One of the greatest revolutions of the 20th Century is the obvious but often forgotten advancement in mass electronic communication technology. The rather humble telephone, along with devices such as the likes of television, came to dominate the 20th Century.

Although the telephone was commercially available in the late 19th Century it took until 1912 before a unified telephone system was available throughout most of Britain with the National Telephone Company providing for over ½ million subscribers. By the early 1930s radio, while in its infancy, emerged nationally; mass television though was still a distant dream, and the internet was not even a vague concept.

Thus from the outset, before the emergence of the internet (and other data networks), telecommunications had a simple clear meaning: the telephone and its elder brother, the telegraph. The relative simplicity meant that placing a conventional phone call used what is known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), informally known as the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) - using copper wires which carried analogue voice data over the dedicated circuits.

Described as circuit-switched telephony; the system worked by setting up a dedicated channel (or circuit) between two points for the duration of the call. Nothing illustrates this better than images in the early days of telephony showing operators needing to physically connect a call, moving cables from one place to another, as pictured below.
The basic principles of telephony endured during 1960s even after the innovation of the modern “fax” pioneered by Xerox and the digitisation of the PSTN. Facsimile sent via the PSTN, adding the ability to communicate documents and data at a distance, was still considered a telecommunications issue because it was still carried over a PSTN.

That changed after the 1960's when advances in telecommunications continued with indecent haste aided by significant advancements in computer technology. Thus as a consequence in recent decades electronic communication expanded to include data, video conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, and web browsing.

Telecommunications therefore as concept has also moved away from traditional copper wires to include microwave, terrestrial wireless, satellite and diversification of broadband via mobile phones. The modern industry therefore is far more diverse including not only software-based applications with a communications emphasis but also being suppliers of telecommunications equipment and software products as well as the telecommunications service provider.

Ironically the unprecedented relatively recent divergence in the types of electronic media to communicate, via voice, audio, video, or data, has led to a path of convergence of telecommunications hardware. Telecoms architecture has become increasingly integrated. Previously the PSTN, cable, and data networks coexisted as separately owned and operated networks carrying different types of communications.

Now most media is increasingly being communicated over a single common network as telecommunications has moved from the traditional circuit-switching to computer based packet-switching. A transition that was probably best epitomised by technology such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) - which achieved faster dial-up speeds on the traditional circuit switched network before it was killed off by packet switching broadband which led to BT Home Highway being withdrawn in 2007.

To give but one example of convergence; the existence of a private telephone exchange (PBX) within a company usually means two separate networks - one for telecoms and one for computer data. This meant two sets of cables and two types of incompatible sockets (RJ45 for network sockets and Type 600 for BT sockets) which would run throughout the building.

However with the emergence of Voice over IP as a technology (as popularised by programs such as Skype), which uses packet-switched telephony - voice information travels to its destination in countless individual network packets across the Internet -  means voice calls can be transmitted over computer data network. This not only makes voice calls free but eliminates the need for a separate voice network in businesses.

This voice/data integration of architecture offers economies of scale in both capital expenditures and operational costs, and also allows different media to work within common applications. Convergence has now meant that both telecoms technology suppliers and service providers are in the business of providing telecommunications in all media simultaneously rather than specializing in a particular type such as voice, video, or data.

The increasing technological advances and diversity has been significantly reflected in the continuous development of telecommunications regulation in the UK with government policy makers often struggling to keep up with rapidly evolving technology.

Beginning in 1901 with the licensing of private telephone companies, telecoms was then nationalised in 1912 and remained so until 1984 - the simplicity of regulation being directly related to the fact that it was a direct provision of the government - essentially it was a regulated monopoly

Then with privatisation in 1984 we had a regulated duopoly consisting of BT and Cable and Wireless who were able to provide competing telecoms services. In 1991 the existing duopoly in telecoms services was ended and licensing of multiple service providers permitted for domestic service only. International telecommunications remained within the duopoly framework. In 1996 the international duopoly was ended, and other operators were free to offer international services within the UK.

Thus we can see that the UK has progressed from a state regulated monopoly in terms of telecoms to one of a myriad of regulated markets. Yet it's not only internal pressures and technological changes that have lead to a diversification of the UK's telecoms regulation. Electronic communication very obviously has worldwide implications and not unsurprisingly is affected by international regulatory bodies notably by governance systems such as the EU, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The EU for example began "liberalising" the telecoms market in 1990 with Council Directive 90/387/EEC - "the establishment of the internal market for telecommunications services through the implementation of open network provision". This was during a 10 year period leading up to 1998 where the EU imposed on member states, via a series of green papers, directives, and recommendations obligations with respect to equipment markets, regulatory structures, value-added services, and regulation of infrastructure and service competition where it existed.

Then in 1998 the European Union issued framework directives to liberalize entry into telecommunications markets effectively trying to end monopoly provision in EU countries:

In order to accompany the opening of the sector to competition, the European Commission began the huge task, in 1999, of recasting Europe's regulatory framework for telecommunications. The general aim was to improve access to the information society by striking a balance between regulation of the sector and Europe's competition rules. This regulatory framework for electronic communications is made up of five harmonising directives, focussing in particular on the framework directives, access and interconnection, authorisation, universal service and users rights and protection of privacy. To these were added the Decision of 2002 on radio spectrum policy and the Regulation of 2002 on access to the local loop.

By 2003 further European directives removed the need for telecommunication service providers to be licensed by national regulators which in the UK led to several existing regulators merging to form Ofcom via The Communications Act 2003. EU involvement has probably been more immediate to telecoms customers by the privatisation of directory enquires as per EU Directive 2002/77/EC and mobile phone roaming charges within the EU.

Thus with the enthusiasm of the EU for increasing political integration, a process which is not yet complete, coupled with international bodies and a multitude of domestic authorities we see a muddled regulatory system that is not only less than ideal but also deeply embedded in the UK. The telecommunications regulator, OFCOM now sits amidst a number of ancillary and overlapping bodies in the United Kingdom, including horizontal or cross-sector regulators which include advertising, competition and data protection.

That there are various almost competing regulatory bodies which can intervene at all levels raises concerns about effective coordination and the risks of a lack of transparency. Too many ministries, agencies and authorities inevitably creates a danger of responsibility overlap and blind-spots in the formulation, implementation and oversight of policies.

This undoubtedly creates considerable confusion for customers, where awareness is often limited to only to domestic bodies such as the ASA and OFCOM, and perhaps Parliament. EU and International involvement remains hidden as is so often the case.

Telecommunications is one of Europe’s most important economic sectors. It's worth around £38.8bn for the UK and  €234 billion in total for the EU. Revenues are equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-sized country. EU and UK companies have invested in building businesses in every continent and the services they provide, in particular the broadband and wireless infrastructure, are central to many other sectors of the economy and to the daily lives of almost every citizen.

Therefore the complexities of European political and regulatory networks present significant challenges when considering Brexit, With this in mind we will be returning in more detail to this subject over the next few blog pieces.