Britain could exit the EU without too much worry, but without the great prize eurosceptics hope for.

Not quite what it seems.

Not quite what it seems.

The level of debate about Britain’s future in the EU is getting interesting, because the Eurozone crisis is throwing up opportunities, and not just for eurosceptics either. There are some who advocate a straight British vote followed by a walkout, but other calmer heads are beginning to see another option. If Chancellor Merkel is to amend the Lisbon treaty, it’s very hard to see David Cameron agreeing to any changes to the treaty (which will have to go through the Commons and Lords) without getting some sort of quid pro quo for his trouble, such as British membership being transformed into access to the single market and opt outs on everything else.
This would, of course, open the treaty up to debate as every country starts looking for stuff, which could cause the talks to rumble on as the markets look on aghast. But it could also allow Britain and other eurosceptic countries (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Czech republic, Slovakia, possibly Ireland) to push for a new reduced form of associate membership. If it could be done tidily, indeed if Cameron now were to (even secretly) begin negotiating a draft treaty text agreeable to Britain’s potential allies, he could present a fait accompli to Chancellor Merkel as the price for agreeing to the creation of a fiscal union for those countries that want it. It would surely be Cameron’s greatest moment.
Or would it? Firstly, let’s be honest. It would not be the disaster that more excitable British pro-Europeans claim. Britain is an important trading partner for most EU countries, and so an amicable arrangement will be arrived at to accommodate the New European Free Trade Area (NEFTA). And yes, Britain will save money by not contributing as much to EU coffers, although it will, as Norway does, still be required to pay a membership fee. Money which, by the way, Britain will have no say in spending, as Britain will no longer have a commssioner or MEPs or a seat at the council of ministers. As for the end of regulation, there’s some truth in that. Britain will no longer have to apply the social legislation, like workers rights. But British manufactured products will still have to obey EU regulations and standards to be sold in the EU, this time without British ministers and commissioners fighting the British case. British industry will still be told what to do by Brussels. And yes, it is true, Britain will now be able to speak for Britain at the WTO. Once the US, EU, China, India, Brazil, Japan and Russia decide the big stuff. Then Britain can have her say.
Finally, I look forward to eurosceptics looking across the English channel at the 150-200 million integrated economic behemoth that they will have little or no control over. Well done chaps!

An Irish solution to an American problem.

Well f**k me, a nice Republican!

Ooooh! A nice Republican!

See this guy to the left? There are lesser spotted lesbian pottery making owls who are less rare than him. His name is Lincoln Chafee, and from 1999 to 2007 he was a Republican United States Senator from the great if teensy-weensy state of Rhode Island. Nothing special there, you say. Except he was against the death penalty. And the Iraq war. And in favour of gay rights. In fact, on many issues he was to the left of President Obama. In the 2004 general election he wrote George Bush senior’s name on the ballot as a write-in candidate. He endorsed Obama in 2008. Surely, you say, he’s really a Democrat. That’s certainly what the hard right in the Republican party say, calling him, and other moderate Republicans “RINOs” (Republicans in name only.) Yet Lincoln Chafee only quit the Republican party relatively recently, and is now the independent Governor of the state. Why? Because he believes in free enterprise, a small government, low taxes and the freedom of the individual. In other words, traditional Republican values, not the hate filled bible bashing whackjobbery that has seized control of what was once a pretty good party. It seems that there is no room in the modern Republican party  for moderates like Lincoln Chafee. Why is that? Here’s why:

Supposing Sinn Fein were able to draw up the boundaries of their own Dail constituencies, to ensure that all the Sinn Fein voters in a given area were in, and non-Sinn Fein voters were moved into another constituency. In other words, it was 100% assured that that constituency would  elect a Sinn Fein TD. What that would mean is that the real fight would not be the general election but for the Sinn Fein nomination. And supposing only Sinn Fein voters were allowed vote in the primary election. Imagine the sort of “I hate the Brits more than you!” grandstanding that would go on to appeal to that narrow electoral base, leading inevitably to candidates more concerned about appealing to the extreme voters in their primaries than the broad electorate because they are guaranteed to win in the general election. Sure, it’s not the same in Ireland, where our politicians are so broad based as to be meaningless, but in the US it is causing a poison at the heart of American politics. Both parties have gerrymandered districts so that most are either solid Democratic or Republican, and as a result the real fight is in the primaries, where candidates have to appeal to either ultra liberal or ultra conservative primary voters, and as a result you get a Congress with almost no middle ground.

That’s where we can help. Our electoral system, the single transferable vote, would transform US politics for the better, and here’s how:

First, it would allow parties to scrap the expensive primary process, instead permitting every candidate to contest the general election. In other words, there would be a number of Democrats and Republicans on the ballot paper. But rather than splitting the vote, STV would allow Republican voters to vote for their favoured candidate, but know that if he/she could not get elected, their votes would transfer to their second choice, and so on, until some candidate would win of 50% of all the votes in the district.

But that doesn’t matter in a rigged district, surely? That’s right, but that is where the second part of the Irish system helps. Multi-member districts, as we have in Ireland, make it much harder to gerrymander in favour of one party or another. A four or five seat district means that voters have a better choice, and a better representation for minorities (Such as white voters in parts of Los Angeles. Pay attention conservatives!). But it also allows American voters to vote for how they really feel. A Lincoln Chafee Republican may feel more comfortable giving a second preference to a Clinton Democrat than to a Rush Limbaugh Republican. Likewise, a Rush Limbaugh Republican may prefer to transfer to a Joe Lieberman Democrat than to a Lincoln Chaffee Republican. This system improves choice whilst rewarding moderation, and that’s surely what America needs now.