Archive | May, 2016

Playing the immigration card

26 May

So the Brexit campaigners have decided to concentrate on the issue of immigration, having been thoroughly trounced on the economic arguments.

I can only assume that they are hoping to raise even more fears about immigration, to elicit responses that range from Little Englander distaste for anything foreign to full-on racism.

This is an area where they are on very sticky ground. When asked what we would do about trade with the EU, our biggest trade partner and the largest trading area in the world, the usual answer is that we would adopt the same sort of arrangement as Norway or Switzerland. That is, be part of the European Free Trade Area but not a full member of the EU.

If we were to be allowed to do this, we would be required to confirm to free movement of EU citizens within our country. Which means that we would still have EU workers coming here. In other words it would mean no difference to the numbers of EU citizens over here. And we would still be contributing to the EU, about half of what we now pay, and have to conform to most EU directives.

As for protecting our borders from refugees and economic migrants, we have never joined the Schengen Area. That is the agreement made by 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders.  This means that we have strict border controls for non-EU visitors. Just because a non-EU visitor can enter one Schengen Area country it does not mean that they can come here.

The numbers of Syrian refugees we have accepted here would fit in a single Tube train with space to spare. Many are carefully watched by the security agencies. So, if anyone is banging on about thousands of refugees tell them that they are misinformed, stupid or vicious racist liars trying to raise racial tensions.

As for numbers of EU migrants, there are many more British in Spain than Polish in the UK. Moreover the vast majority of EU citizens here are in work and paying taxes. They are also mostly young and healthy. The British in Spain are mostly over pensionable age, pay no tax and have a heavy requirement for medical care. If all the Brits were forced to come back here the effect on the NHS would be very significant.

Of course, we could always completely dissociate ourselves from mainland Europe. It takes on average 28 months to negotiate trade agreements with other countries, and the terms of these agreements would certainly be worse than we can get as part of a block of over 500 million people. The result would be a catastrophic economic meltdown. That is not raising fears, that is certain.

In or out of the EU?

23 May

There is much talk about “facts” and the case for remaining in the EU or going with the Brexit arguments.

Fact 1: Britain has the 5th largest economy in the world.

This is true, in that the base figure for GDP in 2014 put Britain in 5th place, though we were about to be overtaken by France.  It is a fact, but one that needs to be qualified. The measure used by the UN and most international agencies is GDP (PPP), a corrected figure allowing for the cost of living in the country. By this measure in 2014 Britain comes 10th in the list.

Fact 2: The EU is the largest trading block in the world.

Top of the list in both GDP and GDP (PPP) is the EU. That is a fact. The largest trading block in the world is the EU. The EU is out largest trading partner. Is it wise to risk out trading relationship with our largest trading partner and the largest market in the world?

Now not even the most bone-headed of Bexiters thinks that we can stop trading with the EU. The most frequent line given is that as they still want to sell us BMWs and olive oil, trade will carry on. That is correct, but the sub-text goes unmentioned. Prices will rise and there is no guarantee that they will want to buy stuff from us. In fact, if we seriously piss them off, our trading partners will probably mention words about sex and travel if we try to renegotiate terms.

Of course we could always try to negotiate independently with China and the US and others. That might work. Or it might not. It might be quick and easy, or it might not. There are no guarantees, nor even enough data to make reasonable predictions about what might happen. It could be utterly disastrous. That is a distinct possibility. What is utterly nauseating is the attitude of many Brexiters who tell us not to worry, that it will all result in some sort of golden age. These shall henceforth be known as mindless optimists.

Another argument is that we could do as Norway or Switzerland do and remain out of the EU whilst remaining in a free trade area. That is certainly a possibility. Under the terms of such an agreement the UK would have to allow the free movement of EU citizens throughout the free-trade area. In other words, we would still have to obey the same rules. There would be no curb on EU immigration into the UK. Moreover, we would have no input to any decisions made, such as letting Turkey join the EU. We would not be represented on any governing body of the EU. We would still have to take on board EU directives as well, so, double whammy. Oh, and we would still have to make financial contributions to the running of the EU.

If we do vote to leave, the negotiations will be complex and protracted, and there will be no sudden changes. It may not be noticed for years.

The EU is only partially democratic. Directives discussed by the EU Parliament are not initiated there. In contrast, our present government was elected by 23.7% of those entitled to vote in the UK. Moreover the use of statutory instruments to get laws passed without full discussion in parliament is just about as anti-democratic as it is possible to get in our current system. So much for democracy.

To summarise, we could vote to leave, but it will almost certainly have no effect on our ability to control EU immigration, it will leave us with les power and control, not more and there is a very high possibility that it would be disastrous to our economy.

Going through the motions

19 May

When I was twelve or thirteen I decided that I wanted to join the school sailing club. The stipulation for joining was the ability to swim 50 yards, and I could not swim. As I lived in Dover at the time I decided on a crash course of learning to swim. There was no town swimming pool at the time, so I learned to swim in Dover Harbour, and reached the necessary proficiency in less than two weeks. I could and can be single minded and absurdly determined when I want to be.

Dover Harbour did not meet any standards as to cleanliness of the beaches as there were none and there was a sewerage outlet that caused some objects to float towards shore on the incoming tide. So as I was learning to swim I was not only going through the motions but paddling in the piddle. Strange to relate I don’t remember ever getting any serious disease, but maybe I was just lucky. Several people of my generation I knew became infected with poliomyelitis, which could be caught from swimming in polluted water. That is how Ian Drury was infected.

In the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher’s government sold off the water industry to private buyers. At the same time European legislation demanded the clean-up of beaches and other environmental measures. The Tory government howled in protest, but the new private owners were forced to implement these measures, passing the cost on to the consumer. There has been a further tightening on pollution controls since.

As a result of this legislation we now have clean beaches, and as part of this we also have much lower rates of poliomyelitis. Would the government have passed legislation in this country without the shove from Europe? Almost certainly the answer to that is ‘No’.

The workers rights we have in this country are largely the result of European directives, and try as they might to circumvent such legislation the current Tory administration has to follow this bare minimum of fairness. At a time when the wealth gap between the richest and the poorest has become a huge gulf it is necessary to have such controls. The unions are largely powerless these days.

So when you hear of the dead hand of Brussels forcing their will on this country, answer with the comment that most of this legislation is worthwhile. I listened to the BBC radio news programme ‘Today’ last week and one item was from a meeting of small business owners. One man who was in favour of Brexit was asked if there was a significant burden of bureaucracy from the EU said that it did not effect him as he did not export. Another business owner, who did export, when asked the same question said that the burden was less than from the UK specific controls. I have a strong suspicion that much of what is blamed on Brussels bureaucracy is in fact our own controls and the way we apply European guidelines and directives. It is so much easier to blame other people than do something about it yourself.

Getting into the meat of the story

12 May

I have just completed a little over 3000 words today, having spent the previous few days plotting and planning. I even found a small town that was about right for the story, got hold of an old map of the place and set out the street plan with all the character’s houses marked on it.

For once I am not writing in a strictly linear fashion. but doing the big scene at the near end first and then adapting the earlier bits so it all leads up to this.

When I started out I wanted ‘Hark, hark!” to be a sort of late medieval Steven King book, but I really don’t have the ability to write that supernatural schtick without laughing at myself. I suppose my scepticism is greater than my ability to convince myself or others.

Anyhow, after endless delays and stop to research I am on my way again. As usual I over-research everything, and now know far more than I needed to about the Peasants Revolt, Lollards and Roger Bacon. Still, bits of it do come into the story.

I also read a few medieval yarns, such as Scott’s Ivanhoe and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Black Arrow, and I started Conan Doyle’s The White Company. The plots may be OK, but the cod medieval speech is a real turn-off. I have borrowed from Chaucer, Langland and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. My English teachers would have been proud of me. Now to keep up the momentum and finish the draft.

I came across a note that I made two years ago that I should include an ancestor of Walter Mansell-Lacey, (Most Secret, Down in the Flood), in a medieval book. That could be done!

Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,

The beggars are coming to town.

One in jags, and one in rags,

And one in a velvet gown.

Relativism and Brexit

11 May

If there is one thing that I dislike in any debate it is relativism.

Relativism is the intellectual position of giving equal weight to each argument. When a report suggested that there was a link between the MMR jab and the increase in autism it was reported in the newspapers and expert opinion against this study was sought and given.

On one side was a single study, and on the other was a serious body of information, meticulously assembled and peer reviewed which suggested that the single study was at best an outlier. Reviews of the methodology of the single study revealed serious flaws in the methodology which discredited the result.

Most newspapers gave equal weight to the conclusions on each side. Many parents refused to allow their children to be inoculated, or went to the expense of having their children immunised with separate jabs at considerable expense. Measles, mumps and rubella outbreaks occurred for the first time since the mass inoculation programme was initiated. These are not petty childhood diseases, but can lead to blindness, infertility and various other results. And did I mention death?

There are serious results in giving out misinformation in the guise of giving a balanced argument. Where all the expert opinion falls on one side and the other side may be the work of a dangerous crank, which side should be emphasised?

In the Brexit debate the huge majority of expert opinion comes down in favour of the UK remaining within the EU. On the other side is a collection of people varying from the mildly eccentric to Little Englanders, to the mildly racist and right through to right wing extremists. In this debate you would expect the newspapers, on previous form to provide at least a balance of reporting based on relativism.  Not so. The best selling newspapers have all come down on the side of Brexit. The counter arguments are not reported at all or are derided without consideration.

This might be something to do with the fact that all these organs of the press are owned by individuals or companies that pay no tax in the UK, They are deeply irresponsible and have little stake in the fate of this country.