THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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June 2016

Just Say No

Just Say No: The Spectator On The 1975 Referendum eBook: The Spectator, Toby Young, Constance Watson: Kindle Store.

The Spectator has published a cheap E-book collecting its best pieces from the 1975 referendum debate. It's an interesting read. My recollection was that the "Common Market" was sold solely as an economic proposition. It was all about removing trade barriers and as a young classical liberal freshly rejecting the Marxism of my extreme youth I was all for that. However, this book shows that all the issues discussed in the present debate were clearly identified in 1975 to the minority (not including young Tom) who were paying attention.
One leader column summed the situation up rather well, given the impoverished state of the pre-Thatcher economy and our general national pessimism at the time; 
It may prove to be the case that the Prime Minister’s contempt for his countrymen is justified, and that the independent life of the country is, in fact, drawing to its close. In this case, Mr Heath’s European policy is tantamount to an act of euthanasia, rather than being essentially suicidal. If, however, Britain’s present sickness is temporary, then there can be no doubt at all that our repudiation —preferably amicably negotiated — of the Treaty of Accession to the Treaty of Rome, and the repeal of the European Communities Act, must, and indeed will, become the duty and the pleasure of every patriot, and the prime purpose of every politician who believes it to be his chief justification to revive and uphold the laws and liberties of this country.
The sickness was temporary, thank goodness. The 1970s "sick man of Europe" now offers career-launching opportunities to millions of young Continentals who would otherwise have no chance, given youth unemployment rates between 35 and 50%. And yet still their governments resist the economic liberalism that cured us. Still their politicians ludicrously assert "the primacy of politics over economics." They might as reasonably call for "the primacy of politics over physics!" Economics is an imperfect science, but science it is. It is at least trying to analyse the way things work. Politics, by comparison, is more like grown-up playground bullies trying to steal the nation's lunch money.
As the Daily Telegraph put it in 2014, discussing the failure of the Euro;

Their experiment has caused depression (not recession as inaccurately reported by pro-European journalists at the BBC and elsewhere) across much of Europe. 

This is getting worse. The Italian economy is moribund, social cohesion has vanished and Italians are starting to turn venomously on immigrants. The Greek economy has shrunk by 30 per cent, and one quarter of the population is out of work. Youth unemployment in Spain stands at an unspeakable 50 per cent.

We were lucky at the end of the 1970s to happen upon a strong leader who drove through privatisation and market reforms despite the unified scorn of HM Opposition, the Civil Service, most of her own party, our always-treasonous intellectuals, the Eurocrats and the governments of all other member states. We would do well to heed her warning, given at Bruges in 1998:
We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels... The lesson of the economic history of Europe in the 70's and 80's is that central planning and detailed control do not work and that personal endeavour and initiative do. That a State-controlled economy is a recipe for low growth and that free enterprise within a framework of law brings better results.

Our "European partners" have always despised us as "a nation of shopkeepers". They are very welcome to continue to do so. They are also welcome to their Communist trade unions, their street protests, their youth unemployment, their rising levels of neo-fascism and their status as the second slowest growing continental economy on Earth (after Antarctica). We do not seek to tell them how to live. They are welcome to choose their own route to Hell and we will be delighted – in our vulgar, Anglo-Saxon way – to sell them the hand baskets. And perhaps even employ the better-educated of their youth (if they can compete with immigrants from the wider world) to deliver the goods.

Tony Benn's five questions

My father and I were reminiscing today about the 1975 referendum on Britain's continued membership of  "the Common Market." We both voted then to Remain. We are both voting this time to Leave. I reminded him that he had said to me at the time, "I am on the other side of every argument to Tony Benn, so I assume he's wrong about this one too."

He laughed when I said Tony Benn was guiding my vote this time. To be precise I am basing my decision on the five questions the late Mr Benn said every generation should address to the powerful;

  1. What power have you got?
  2. Where did you get it from?
  3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
  4. To whom are you accountable?
  5. How can we get rid of you?

I can come up with sensible answers for the EU's seven Presidents to give to the first two. I have serious concerns about the answers they would give, if they were honest, to the third and fourth. The deciding factor for me is the honest answer they would have to give to the fifth, which is "You can't".

Benn said that only democracy entitles us to the answers to those questions and "that is why no-one in power likes democracy" and why "every generation must struggle to win it and keep it. Including you and me. Here and now".

For me, that is all my vote this time round is about. I am simply determined that everyone in political power over us should be subject to peremptory removal by - and should therefore respect and ideally fear - the people. 

Enough about "trade deals" already.

Mark Wadsworth: Peter Lilley debunks "free trade deals".

Governments don't trade goods and services. Companies and individuals do and governments get – more or less, according to how economically idiotic they are – in the way. Most "trade deals" are to remove tariffs created by governments in the first place. The other kind of "trade deal" is the symbolic nonsense flourished at international summits so that the politicians can pretend that they have "done something" about job creation. "Trade deals" only make trade easier when the governments concerned made it harder in the first place.
All governments really trade is insults, ordnance and corrupt advantages for politicians.
All of this idiotic talk about being on the inside when making trade "rules" is therefore so much political blather. The main "rule" that matters is the law of supply and demand. I will buy Italian cars if they suit my needs better than German or British cars at the price point I can afford. I have bought all three kinds – and even a disastrous French one – in my time, according to my perceived needs at each stage of my life.
Sure, governments can make protectionist rules to prevent or dissuade me from spending my money as I choose, but then another rule that really matters - the law of unintended consequences - will make the cars they want me to buy progressively less attractive in direct proportion to the extent that government protects their manufacturers from competition. I am pretty sure protectionism is what made the French chapter of my car history such a disaster.
As Peter Lilley is quoted as saying in the linked post by Mark Wadsworth;
"Britain set the rules of tennis but rarely wins Wimbledon. British exports to the EU have grown less rapidly since the Single Market than they did before, less than our partners’ and much less than non-EU countries’ exports! Maybe that is partly because we suffer EU regulations on 100 per cent of our companies whereas non-EU firms need only comply with EU regulations on activities carried out within the EU."
Quite. So enough already with the "trade deals" crap. I respectfully suggest you don't allow all the hot air about them to influence your vote in the Referendum. And if you can't name all of the EU's Presidents without recourse to Google and explain precisely how to get rid of the rascals if you are dissatisfied with them, then I respectfully suggest you are not morally entitled to vote "Remain".

Trips to Warsaw and Moscow this month

It's been a while since I traveled far so I am excited to be visiting two of my former home cities in the course of the next month. I shall be in Warsaw from June 18 to 21 and in Moscow from June 29 to July 3. Sadly these are not to be road trips, so Speranza will stay quietly at home.

After years of frequent flying on business I avoid it now as much as I can. I still love aeroplanes, but I truly hate airports. Nowhere does one feel the force of an over-mighty state more directly than in such places. I will grit my teeth and focus on the anticipation of meeting old friends in two of my favourite cities. My life in Poland was before my blogging began. I moved there in 1992 and left in 2003. I started this blog from Moscow in 2005 when the Prevention of Terrorism Act's attack on habeas corpus upset me badly, but always wrote only about issues in Britain.

Both Poland and Russia have been through serious political and economic changes since I lived there and I will be interested to get updates from my friends. Blogging may well be light during both trips as I have alway found it combines badly with vodka! Actually, for someone who lived so long in the Slavic world, I combine rather badly with vodka and will try to stick to whisky, gin or tequila.

Greatest hits

Now that the blog is being sailed out to battle again I have been battening down the hatches. In its occasional role as a travel journal, it had become a bit cosy in appearance and the sidebar had been put into storage. One of my tasks for the day is to tidy up the "favourite posts" list in the sidebar and delete out-of-date items. In doing so I have been re-reading the posts and have formed a view as to my overall favourite. For the benefit of newer readers, here it is.

It's been a long time since I visited the mischievous pal in Swansea whose party inspired it. Perhaps I should ask for a rematch?

The Brexit message crosses the Atlantic

Many Americans instinctively favour the European Union because it resembles - from a distance - the USA itself. It's not surprising that the citizens of a successful federal superstate favour the countries their ancestors fled seemingly copying the model they adopted in the New World. The idea that Britain might leave the European Project has therefore been received with surprise by Americans of all political views – not just statists who favour fewer partners to deal with in their fantasy world where governments, not traders, drive trade. 

Few Americans understand that the EU is an anti-democratic institution based on centralised economic planning. So far from being a proponent of "free trade" it is a protectionist zone behind tariff and non-tariff barriers. It may have a President (seven in fact) but it requires some study to realise that Europeans can't throw the rascals out as Americans can theirs. It may have a Parliament, and that Parliament may be elected, but it's not the legislature. It's a decorative talking shop designed to fool an inattentive majority of voters far too remote from the EU institutions to pay them any mind. 

If we look at agriculture as an example the EU is pretty much a White First World racket to keep Third World farmers in poverty by subsidising European farmers who could never compete with them fairly. It then adds insult to injury by sending any food surpluses created by its rigged market to the Third World as "aid." Aid that might never have been needed if the recipients had been allowed to trade fairly in the first place!

When I was a partner in a pan-European law firm, I often heard my Continental partners speak of their farms and vineyards on the side. The Common Agricultural Policy allows Europe's rich to get subsidies for such "hobby farms" from ordinary European taxpayers - the very people paying the resulting higher prices for their food! If that were not obscene enough, consider the disgusting concept of "set aside"; paying farmers not to cultivate land in order to reduce supply and keep prices high. The "set aside" scheme ran from 1992-2008, when it was abolished because of shortages after two poor harvests. It has never been acknowledged to be morally wrong and might be reintroduced if surpluses returned.

In a world where hunger persists, I can think of few things more vile than paying people (including hobbyists and others who would never have been in business were it not for subsidies) not to farm in order to keep food prices high. Post set-aside, the EU still subsidises (sometimes imaginary) olive groves while denying access to its markets to Third World farmers who could otherwise have raised themselves honourably out of poverty while feeding Europe's poorer people more affordably! Either the CAP is a signal of the moral darkness at the heart of the European Project, or the Énarques who devised it have proved, as Orwell said, that there are some ideas so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them.

The EU is sui generis, thank God. However, as Americans insist on wrongly comparing it with the USofA, they must forgive me for pointing out it more closely resembles the USSR. If there is an American analogy for the Brexit debate, it is with the War of Independence, not the political miracle that followed. I am happy that the Washington Post has now published at least one piece that seems to show a glimmer of understanding.

Parisian anecdote

One January, more than a decade ago, I was attending an industry conference in Paris. The organisers for some reason had scheduled a debate about the EU. A well-known Eurosceptic whose blushes I shall spare was scheduled to speak but failed to show. The chairman (not the most impartial I ever met) announced from the stage that the event couldn't proceed because he didn't know anyone else who opposed the EU!
Mrs Paine had persuaded me to make a New Year resolution never to mention the EU again so I sat quietly and pondered how I might pass the hour thus liberated. But a German client and friend of mine in the audience pointed at me and said "this guy can do it". So up I went. My opponent was better prepared but in all modesty the contest wasn't too unequal. I had talked about the EU a lot. Living as I then did in Continental Europe, many of my friends, colleagues and clients were often keen to hear a viewpoint never seriously presented in their own countries.
It passed off well enough but the interesting part came later. That evening in the bar, European after European came up to talk to me. A Greek gent said that he had never met a Eurosceptic and wanted to shake my hand. He didn't share my views but could see my point. He congratulated me on my impromptu performance, as did a succession of others. I was clearly a political curiosity, but all the discussions were open minded and friendly.
One French gentleman said to me that if he were British he would feel the same. His reasoning was that in Britain we occasionally had governments inclined more or less to free markets. "In France", he said, "all possible governments are bureaucratic and hostile to business. We have no hope of a Thatcher to privatise our economy or roll back our state. To you, the EU is bureaucratic and socialistic. To us, it is our best hope of holding back the Énarques who would crush all enterprise. From a French perspective it is a liberalising influence."
To me the EU is not a life or death or even a moral matter. I despise its anti-democratic aspects of course but mostly I think it simply doesn't suit us, our global trading and our modern service economy. For most of its history (although opinion polls suggest sentiment is moving against it even in its heartlands) it has suited most member states well enough. I really don't understand though why progressives who laud diversity and localism in other contexts (eg devolution within the socially and economically much more uniform UK) have such a blind spot when it comes to European integration. One size doesn't fit all as between the frankly indistinguishable Scots and English and yet it does between Brits and Bulgarians who are economically leagues apart?
Am I being too cynical in suspecting that they simply have the same analysis as my French friend that long-ago evening, in that they would like to use the EU to subvert the classical liberalism of Britain, just as he used it to subvert French statism?