Note: this is a very long bit of fun I wrote in June 2013. It is obscenely long, so you might want a biscuit and a nice cup of tea. Alternatively, you can download it here as a PDF for enjoyment later.
Part One: A woman named Valerie.
The image, of a sad looking Adolf Hitler wearing a blue armband with a European Union flag on it, said as much about The Daily Mail as it did its cover story.
“Freedom at last!” the headline declared, with a smaller picture of young Conservative activists burning an EU flag in Trafalgar Square. Inside, a well-known right-wing historian speculated, perhaps through the use of a medium, as to how disappointed Adolf Hitler would have been at the news of British withdrawal from the European Union.
A free “Dad’s Army” DVD was given away with each copy. Read more…
JCJ is coming to get you! Woooo!
Let’s start with a few facts about the European elections:
1. It’s hard to claim Jean Claude Juncker won a democratic mandate for anything. That’s just not how most Europeans outside of a section of Brussels actually vote in European Parliament elections.
2. Having said that, it’s hard for British eurosceptics to claim that the result went their way either. Even in Britain a majority of voters voted for parties that support the European Union. In France, where Marine Le Pen scored a very handsome result, most French voters didn’t vote for her vision of an EU-free Europe.
3. The tendency of British eurosceptics to co-opt results for their own use, either deliberately or through incompetence and genuine ignorance, continues unabated. You would easily think, reading the British media, that Marine Le Pen was some sort of free market fellow traveller. The truth is, JCJ’s vision of Europe, with a European single market at its heart, is far closer to David Cameron’s vision than Marine Le Pen’s.
4. But the biggest fact is that David Cameron has once again, by pandering to the never-to-be-satisfied maw of British eurosceptics, sabotaged a process in which Britain might get some of the things Britain wants. That’s the bizarre thing: watching the British PM get humiliated over JCJ you’d be forgiven for not knowing that Britain is A) the second biggest country in the EU, and B) that British reforms do have some considerable support with other member states. Yet through either incompetence or gutlessness, David Cameron has managed to not get Britain what Britain says it wants.
And for what? To stop a “federalist” becoming European Commission president? THAT’s what he wanted to fight on? Really? I mean, by British standards, isn’t every single European Commission president a federalist?
More to the point, who cares? It’s the same with the new British obsession with the phrase “ever closer union”. To put it in context, getting upset over these essentially symbolic things is sort of like France obsessing over the fact that Britain, like Iran, has a state religion, with religious leaders in political office and the prime minister effectively choosing bishops. Do you know how weird that looks? Yet the reality is that it barely matters in the day to day affairs of the United Kingdom.
And, let us not forget how JCJ was picked in the first place. Because David Cameron insisted upon pulling the Tories out of the European People’s Party. Cameron pulls the Tories out of the largest centre-right force in Europe, and then bitches and complains about that same centre-right force choosing a candidate he doesn’t like? Seriously? Come on, admit it: who really screwed up here? This was all entirely predictable years ago, yet David Cameron’s obsession with genuflecting towards the political fetishes of the Tory right and their media pals results in him getting an outcome directly in contradiction to what he says he wanted. And we’re supposed to feel sorry for him?
The reality is that Europe’s voters neither voted for or against JCJ. But a majority of them probably expected there to be a European Commission president at the end of the process, and JCJ, like Schulz and Verhofstadt, put his name on the table early, where it is no less legitimate than anyone else, and surely an improvement on the “Election By After Eight” process behind closed doors that used to choose the Commission president.
Where was David Cameron’s candidate? More to the point, who is David Cameron’s candidate? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Posted by Jason O on Jun 2, 2014 in British Politics
, European Union
One of the key tenets of the last 200 years of British foreign policy has been to prevent the emergence of a single powerful force on the European continent. It’s been a very successful policy. Yet for the last 15 years, the insular nature of British politics has effectively called that policy into question. British withdrawal is now a serious proposition, but what’s more is that other member states are now beginning to wonder as to whether the cost of keeping Britain is actually worth it?
What would be the actual consequences of British withdrawal for the rest of the EU? Trade would continue, after all, it’s in no one’s interest that it doesn’t. Brussels would still set many product rules that UK manufacturers would have to obey anyway, only without a UK voice at the table. Reform of the EU would lose a champion, that’s true, but bear in mind that Downing Street’s obsession with placating the Daily Mail means that Britain has been pretty ineffectual in pushing through reforms at EU level anyway, despite the fact that Britain has allies. British withdrawal would almost certainly trigger withdrawal by one or two other countries, but the reality is that most member states, even with their own gripes about Brussels, see being at the table as the least worst option.
Secondly, whilst the days of the overt federalist United States of Europe are probably over, the gradual subtle process of integration, through technical methods such as the Fiscal Treaty, could probably speed up with British or Danish or even Irish withdrawal. The end outcome would be a European confederation of sorts, orbited by a number of nominally independent states who have to make nominally sovereign decisions whilst paying attention to the vast economic gravity of the politically united Eurozone. And all without worrying what the Daily Mail thinks about British soldiers wearing EU cap badges. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 19, 2014 in British Politics
The Liberal Democrats are bumping around in 8-14 poll range, which seems to be a source of great bitterness for Lib Dem members. I’m not that surprised at the poll rating. Having been to Lib Dem conferences back in the day, I was always struck (as an outsider) by how many people seemed to me to be there because the party wasn’t Labour or the Tories. Now, in the cold light of governing reality, those soft “why can’t we be nice to everybody?” types have left, or defected to the party that, eh, invaded Iraq.
The remaining vote, bobbing around 10%, seems about right, the sort of vote liberal parties elsewhere in Europe get. The problem, however, is that whilst that is all fine and dandy under a PR system, it’s lethal under FPTP.
What that means is that the Lib Dems cannot enter another coalition without a commitment to legislate for some form of PR. Without it, a second term will kill them.
Now, the idea of getting PR may not be as fantastic as some think. For a start, it’s true that the Tories and Labour will just not concede on full PR. However, imagine a scenario where UKIP wins, say, 15% of the vote, more than the Lib Dems, and ends up with no seats? To bloke in pub this becomes an issue of fairness. Surely a party that gets more votes than another party should get seats? It’s the sort of scenario that Cameron and Milliband would be weary of just dismissing as a political anorak issue.
At that point, it would not be unreasonable for the Lib Dems to argue for a national list of say, 150 MPs, elected completely separately from the FPTP constituencies. By electing them separately, it means that most MPs on the list would still be Tory or Labour, but it would also guarantee Lib Dems and UKIP a cushion of seats. It’s not ideal, but it would be progress, and more importantly, it is not impossible to imagine Tory and Labour MPs voting for such a scheme either. After all, it would create a batch of super-safe Tory and Labour list seats.
The British general election of 2016, held after the collapse of the minority Cameron government of 2015-2016, is recorded in history alongside the 1945, 1979 and 1997 general elections as an election of major historical significance. In short, a key turning point in the politics of Britain.
Not only was it noticeable for the radical overturning of conventional politics with UKIP’s emergence as the largest party in the House of Commons, but also for the election when Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system finally suffered a major malfunction.
Following UKIP’s modest entry into the Commons in the 2015 general election, and the hung result of that election with the Conservatives remaining the largest party but just barely ahead of Labour, it was not surprising that a second election was to occur within a year. This was triggered primarily by the inability of either David Cameron or Nick Clegg to convince their respective parliamentary parties to consider a second coalition, and the fact that a Labour/Lib pact would just narrowly miss a majority.
The following months were hellish for Cameron, with UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour all level pegging in opinion polls in the early twenties, and with the Lib Dems, now freed from the shackles of government, stabilising at mid-teen level. The Conservative party was now engaged in open civil war between the minority Cameron modernisers and the majority who wished for an open pact with UKIP for the expected next ballot. Cameron and Hague, his foreign secretary, both openly opposed such a pact. It eventually resulted in a vote of no confidence passed by his own parliamentary party, followed by his resignation as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister a mere eleven months after the last election. Read more…
Supposing you wanted to secretly take over Britain? How would you go about it? Well, one step you’d almost certainly take would be to disarm Britain’s ability to prevent you carrying out your diabolical plot. That could involve eliminating Britain’s most famous secret agent, of course, but it could also involve depriving the UK of its direct ability to control or influence events. In short, tricking the British into withdrawing from the European Union would be a masterstroke.
Think about it: of course Britain will still trade with the EU after withdrawal. But the reality is that many British companies, with an eye to the continental market, will lobby their home government to effectively copy EU regulations because it’ll allow them to save money by having the same manufacturing and compliance regime for both the EU and UK markets. Regulations which, after withdrawal, Britain will have no say in creating or amending.
It’s true, Britain will not be LEGALLY bound to obey or implement these regulations, but the sheer economic gravity of the vast EU monolith beside it will just make it easier. Especially given that the British withdrawal deprives moderate eurosceptics or reformers within the EU of their strongest ally.
In short, Britain will have been reduced from the second most important nation in the EU to a de facto EU protectorate, a dominion state, nominally independent but behind closed doors still caught in the EU regulatory web. But with no British voice at the table. No commissioner, no ministers, no MEPs representing the British view. Even better, the British people will never know, seeing the blue flags vanishing but not knowing that the EU influence remains.
As coups go, it’s a very British one. If Blofeld were a European Federalist, he’d be very pleased with Agent Farage. Very pleased indeed.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 23, 2014 in British Politics
, European Union
The UK Tories quit the European People’s Party, and their allies in Irish Fine Gael, the German CDU, French UMP and most of the EU’s centre-right parties because they alleged they didn’t share their values.
Instead, they joined an alliance with the Polish “the gays are coming!” Law and Justice Party, and the Turkish “Twitter must be banned because it keeps revealing corruption in Turkey” AK party of Prime Minister Erdogan.
Seriously, Dave? You find Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny more objectionable than Erdogan? Really?
The EU: like the water supply, taken for granted, but would be missed if it weren’t there.
1. Pro-Europeans believe in European unity for the same moral reasons you don’t.
2. If you succeed in dismantling the EU, you’ll have to find something/someone else to blame for your problems. Europe isn’t what bugs you. Modern life is.
3. Everything isn’t a conspiracy. I’ve met EU commissioners. They complain about how they’ve no power.
4. Every country in the EU complains that other countries are calling the shots. Even the Germans.
5. European countries have to choose between living in a world dominated by China or Russia, or standing together. Brits have more in common with Belgians than Beijing.
6. If we didn’t have the EU, we’d have to come up with something that pretty much does what it does anyway. The world is just too integrated to manage inside national borders. The EU is a tool for helping small countries manage a complicated world of 7 billion people.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 24, 2013 in British Politics
Spoiler alert: I’m assuming you’ve seen the Dr Who anniversary episode. If not, why not??
The French National Front has, in the past, been very big on hijacking Joan of Arc as an icon of their values. The Brits, on the other hand, have never been big on that. Winston Churchill sort of fills that particular void, but even then only from a distance. Despite being right on the single most important decision of his life, opposing Hitler, Churchill held opinions that would alienate many on both the modern right and left. Eurosceptics shift uncomfortably at his support for a United States of Europe, and in government after the war he was economically left wing and a union appeaser. The left remember his opposition to Indian independence. Still, one can’t be too picky. JFK was elected in a rigged election. FDR imprisoned Japanese Americans. An icon is supposed to be soothing from a distance but not looked at too closely.
Having said that, watching the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, I couldn’t help thinking that if there is anything that sums up modern Britain, it’s The Doctor. It’s hard to imagine any country where the identity of the actor playing a fictional character on a children’s (yes, that is who it is aimed it, even if it has made efforts to include the whole family) TV show is a source of enormous national debate and media coverage. The Americans don’t do the same about Superman. Even James Bond doesn’t demand the same loyalty.
But Dr Who is different. Possibly because TV is a more intimate form of culture than film, and by the sheer nature of TV producing much greater episodic quantity than film, and the fact that it is family friendly, and the fact that nearly three generations of TV viewers have now grown up with him, The Doctor has managed to find a particular niche.
But there’s more to it than that. Unlike James Bond, Dr Who has modernised to reflect modern Britain, and more to the point, is at ease with it (Prediction: we’ll see a female Dr by 2017). He’s cheeky, informal, comfortable with different cultures and even sexual orientations, and suspicious of big power in whatever form. He’s also from a former superpower long neutered, yet still with cultural impact throughout the galaxy.
To Eurosceptics, he could be an icon for an independent Britain not afraid to face down Brussels. To pro-Europeans he’s someone who recognises the need to work with allies, often by convincing them of his leadership ability in pursuit of a common goal.
But you know why he’s a national hero? I’m not a Brit, but even I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck when Tom Baker’s voice is heard in the final scene, because it means something. There’s a line in the episode when Rose his companion points out to The War Doctor that the wheezing sound the TARDIS makes is now synonymous with hope, and it’s the truest line in the whole episode, because for every fan from 1963 that’s exactly what the sound meant. That in the middle of an episode, when people were in what seemed like desperate hopeless danger, the sound of the TARDIS materializing always meant one thing: Here Comes Help.
Is there a Brit over six years old who doesn’t know that sound, or not know that a blue police box has absolutely nothing to do with either the police or telephones?
Isn’t that the very definition of iconic?
Guess who funds the RNC?
There was once a time when you knew where you stood. The mega wealthy, the Hearsts and the Rockefellers and the Morgans were very powerful and used their wealth to further their interests. They bought newspapers, hired muscle, politicians, judges, even started wars.
Pretty much same as today, you say?
Not quite, because at least back then they had the subtlety to keep pretty much out of the limelight, and even their hired political lackeys would pretend to be working for the ordinary joe.
Now, however, we have the surreal scenario of the plutocrat class not only having all the money but actually demanding that the rest of us, under the threat of some Fox News applied collective Chinese arm-burn, say it’s a good idea.
The pinnacle of this recent movement was, of course, the nomination of Mitt Romney, a good man (I’ll get back to that in a minute) who actually felt obliged on the campaign trail to stand up for the civil rights of corporations.
Think about that for a moment. In an age where the western middle class is genuinely fearing, for the first time since World War II, that its living standards are actually in reverse, the nominee of one of America’s two great parties felt an obligation to step in and stop billion dollar corporations being bullied by poorer people, including many of those same middle classes now fretting.
And here’s the thing: I think Mitt Romney is an honest, decent man whose values told him that those businesses were being harassed by someone and he felt it was unjust. He genuinely saw them as the victim. He’s like the guy who sees Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, and thinks “Poor Lucy! She must be so exhausted having to trick Charlie Brown and make him going flying through the air every time!”
It wasn’t always this way. In the 1950s, Eisenhower and Churchill, both in office, and hardly doyens of the hard Left, saw mass society-wide membership trades unions as legitimate actors on the economic stage, with just as much right to be there as business. Both men sided with business, but saw society as a careful balancing act between capital and labour where both sides had to be able to walk away feeling they’d gotten their slice of the pie.
Now, you have an appalling lack of grace from the mega wealthy, where many plutocrats not only believe they should be free to use their resources (wealth) to further enrich themselves and their class, but then get indignant at the middle class for using its great resource, government through democratic elections, to pursue its class interest.
This leaves us with the jaw dropping scene of the mega wealthy feeling genuinely aggrieved, pointing fingers at people economically far beneath them and accusing them of “class war” for wanting things such as employment rights, universal health care or minimum wages.
It results in the grotesque spectacle of a US Republican Party, a party founded on the principle of righting one of the greatest wrongs of human history, now reduced to regarding the taking of food assistance from low income families and stripping them of low cost health insurance as a noble aim worth pursuing.
It is, quite simply, appallingly bad manners of the part of a class that should know better. A class that seems to lack, for want of a better word, class.