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

Posts categorized "Brexit 2016" Feed

Sad but irrelevant.

People are understandably emotional in the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox MP. Her husband's feelings right now are all too sadly familiar to me and I am sure all our thoughts are with him and his bereft children.

She was a political foe but her death diminishes us just the same. Nothing she sought to achieve by democratic means could ever justify any violence against her.

So much so obvious, one would have thought. And yet a shameful chorus of voices is trying to make her killer an emblem of Brexit. Even The Spectator has published a piece that despite some weasel words amounts to a smear on the Leave campaign.

People say in grief things they will later regret. The genuinely distraught must of course be cut some slack. No forgiveness should be extended however to wicked people trying to make political capital from murder.

It's good that the official Remain and Leave campaigns were suspended out of respect. Let's hope some civility can be achieved in the final days of this historic campaign. The nation's future still depends on getting this right. A murderer must not be allowed to shape our decision.

Out – and into the world: why The Spectator is for Leave

Out – and into the world: why The Spectator is for Leave.

Cover_180616_landscapeI subscribed to The Spectator today because it seems to be the only publication consistently speaking for the best interests of the people of Britain.
Now I have to decide if my decades-long subscription to The Economist should go the same way as the one I cancelled last year to the Financial Times, which is now far pinker than it looks.
I do love this image from the current Spectator cover. It is a picture worth a thousand words and expresses my feelings about the referendum perfectly.

A message to our European neighbours


A cultured Polish friend posted this clip on Facebook today to explain Britain's odd attitude to the European Union. It's only funny because it contains a grain of truth. "Divide and rule" is comic overstatement however. Unlike France, Germany, Russia and even Poland (in the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire) our hands are clean in Europe. Even in the Age of Empires when we got a little carried away in our desire to open the world to our trade, we never sought to rule our home continent.  Our policy has always been "divide so as not to be ruled". We are anyway not much into ideologies or "geopolitics". We would just like our trade routes open, thank you very much, so we can keep on making an honest living.

The Continental mentality is different. Given their common Roman Law heritage our neighbours are inclined to a "top down" quest for Ordnung. They look for "rational" direction from the wise men of academia with their professorships and multiple doctorates. The very people we instinctively try to keep as far away from practical matters as possible! The economic democracy of markets, with doctorate-free plebs willy-nilly signalling their vulgar desires through trillions of spending choices, is repugnant to such intellectual snobs. Hence the shameful succession of "isms" developed in the academic Mordor of the Continental universities. Communism, fascism and socialism – all devised by European intellectuals – have repeatedly brought Mankind to the brink of destruction. These ideas are still (ask Cubans, Zimbabweans and Venezualans) wrecking lives on this planet by the million.

We Brits are pragmatists, realists and shameless tradesmen. We're not insulted to be called "a nation of shopkeepers". Retailers, unlike professors of politics or Énarques, are useful people who serve real needs and enhance our lives. We instinctively agree with Orwell that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them. We laugh at the pretensions of academics who insanely believe they can tell the world's billions how best to live their lives. We instinctively understood – before the expression was invented – that no-one, however clever, can outthink the "wisdom of crowds". 

The Common Law is both the sign and symbol of our mentality and our greatest achievement as a society. It has no author or founder. The names of the judges who developed it, first in the forests of what is now Germany and then on our archipelago, are lost. It derives from no "Grundnorm". It needs no pompous Constitution to give it legitimacy. It developed organically (and is still evolving to the extent modern politicians leave it be) from the customs of our common people going about their business. In modern parlance you could say it was "crowdsourced." It gave us a useful and adaptable legal order long before we had a democracy.

In the course of the Brexit debate, some German commentators (as reported via a link to Newsweek as the Der Spiegel article is firewalled) have even been wise enough to recognise that we;

... have an inner independence that we Germans lack, in addition to myriad anti-authoritarian, defiant tendencies. A lot of what happened in Britain spilled over to us sooner or later, reinforcing our cultural ties

They are right to fear that the EU will trend faster to authoritarianism without us, but their mistake is to believe we can hold that back from within. When we differ with our fellow members we lose every vote because its institutions are shaped by the dangerous tendencies I have outlined. It is yet another professor-crafted, top-down, énarque-run institution that – like the previous evil works of Europe's academies – only proves Mencken's point that;

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong

For so long as we are members, the EU will always try to harmonise our weird and wonderful way of seeing the world with precisely what makes Continental Europe the historic source of all ideological darkness. Our neighbours need to understand once and for all that, to to be available to them as an ideological fire brigade, we must remain us.

Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust

EU referendum: Who in Britain wants to leave, and who wants to remain?

I tire of the Remain campaign's "it's their future" meme, which suggests that older people should vote according to the majority pro-EU views of the young. It's insulting to older voters who know they would live through the short-term disruption that uncertainty in the wake of Brexit would bring, but may not get to see the longer term benefits they anticipate. Many believe they are voting Leave precisely to protect their family's future. It's also silly to assume that the younger voters are more likely to be right. It would be no more unreasonable or rude to say that  "support for the EU varies inversely with life experience". 

As the linked article reports, there is a difference in voting intentions according to age:

There is a huge gulf among young and older voters over the European issue - with seven in 10 young voters backing the European Union.  73 per cent of those aged between 18-29 want to remain in the EU, while 63 per cent of those aged over 60 want to leave.  The middle-aged population are divided almost evenly on the issue. 

The real mistake is to assume that these views will remain constant as the current electorate ages. My first act as a voter was in 1975, when I voted to remain in the Common Market. I was 18 and had read little about it. I believed the assurances of Heath and Wilson that no loss of sovereignty was involved. I had never heard of "ever closer union" and was essentially in favour of the promised removal of barriers to free trade. As I studied European Law and learned about the Common Market's institutions at University, I became more sceptical. Once qualified and out in the workplace I became even more so. By the age of 30 I was seriously doubtful of the Union's value. I then went to work in Europe and had my first encounters with Continental Civil Law and the very different political and administrative mindset of those brought up under it. By the age of 40 I was outright hostile.

I am not saying that everyone under 30 who is going to vote Remain will change his or her mind as I did. Some will, some won't. But it's absurd to assume that they will all remain constant in their views. If we Remain, many may regret they voted against their elders. If we Leave, many who are disappointed on June 24 may come to bless theirs.  Future new voters may, if we Remain, turn out to be more anti-EU on the basis of yet more experience of its incompetence, corruption, inability to get its dodgy accounts signed off by the auditors and anti-democratic tendencies! Maybe young EU enthusiasts should think of the interests of voters as yet unborn?

I have even heard it suggested by a young person working for the Remain campaign that "old people should only have half a vote in this referendum". Surely no-one should allow zealotry for either side of this debate to blind them to such a fundamental principle as equality before the law? We are all going to have to live together after June 23rd. Surely it's not too hard to assume our opponents will be voting sincerely with a misguided view of all our best interests in mind?

Things to come

Perhaps it's too soon to be worrying about the aftermath of the EU referendum. Magnanimity in victory is all very well, but let's have victory first. Or failing that, let's not be good losers until we have actually lost.

There is going to be a price to pay regardless of the outcome. Do any of us really believe, for example, that the Scottish independence referendum resolved the issue? The United Kingdom can never be the same again after the nastiness of that campaign and the narrow result. Many naive English people discovered, watching a horror story play out north of the border, that millions of their fellow citizens genuinely dislike them on imaginary ethnic grounds. Nice English people who are never likely to meet a "ned" socially were rather disturbed by this. Nice Welsh people who had never taken Plaid Cymru seriously also learned what goodies can be extorted by pseudo-ethnic acting out. The Kingdom's unity was clearly weakened.

I fear a similar outcome to the EU referendum. If, as bookmakers still believe, the British vote to remain members of the EU it will be by a very narrow margin. Our Continental brethren have learned both the fierce intensity of anti EU sentiment in Britain and the lack of any genuine enthusiasm in the Remain camp. "Of course it's rubbish in many ways and a bit corrupt, but it's useful on balance and we should stay in to fix it" is not the warmest of endorsements. If that's the level of patriotism to expect in the United States of Europe, God help it.

My Continental friends know that I am voting Leave because I hate the EU, not Europe. But the Continental equivalents of those English people with no Scottish friends who were shocked by SNP "neds" can be forgiven for now thinking us hostile to them as people. Ironically that's not because of anything the Leave campaign is saying. It has mostly avoided SNP style nastiness and is usually scrupulous about being anti EU not anti European. It is the Remainers who, in characterising Brexiteers as little Englanders, Empire nostalgists, uneducated elderly white males and sheer bloody racists are frightening the horses on the Continental street. Particularly as in places like France, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Greece "eurosceptics" are often closer to fascism than mostly perfectly rational British Brexiteers who come from all political persuasions and none.

Britain has always been out of step in the EU for reasons I have explained here before, but I would not blame Continental true believers in the European Project for now seeing us as permanent obstacles to its success. Especially as they will also see that a narrow Remain result is not final. As in Scotland the issue will come back again and again until we finally Leave. We can hardly blame them for thinking, as many English think about the Scots, "... bloody well get on with it, take your hatreds elsewhere and leave us in peace..."

There will be different but equally serious problems if we vote to Leave. Britain has long been a country divided against itself on class, national and regional grounds. If not united by a common enemy a shocking number of us find reasons to despise and try to prey upon groups of our fellow citizens. Cameron and Osborne are open to much serious criticism of their policies, but how much easier it is to sneer at them as Bullingdon Club toffs. I was brought up in t'North to see Southerners and particularly Londoners as parasites and perverts preying upon honest working folk. On the other hand, fans of the London football club I now follow sneeringly chant "we pay your benefits" at the locals when they play away in the Midlands and North. My mum, an Englishwoman in Wales, has experienced ungentlemanly treatment at the hands of Welsh nationalists. And so on ad infinitum. We sure as hell do not need more division.

How would those of us who fought to take Britain out bring back into the national fold the loyalists of the EU and the ordinary Brits they have frightened into line behind their banner? It would be hard to avoid triumphalism, given how they have derided us. Yet if we allow the celebrations to last for more than one joyful night, we risk fracturing the very nation for whose independence we have struggled. The Conservative Party will swap leaders and unite under pressure to win an election. But what about the rest of us? Will UKIP dissolve itself, its mission accomplished, and let its members and voters drift back to mainstream parties? What purpose will the EU-compromised LibDems fulfil in a post-EU Britain? There will be plenty of political issues to resolve because people want Brexit for many different reasons. From Galloway on the authoritarian statist wing to Paine on the libertarian flank, we agree on leaving the EU but precious little else. We can't afford as a nation also to be divided over what should then be a dead issue.

I have no solutions to offer. I am merely thinking aloud. How, gentle readers, do you see this playing out?

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".

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.

The most dangerous man alive

Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737 – June 8, 1809) is my political hero. I didn't adopt his name as a nom de guerre because I agreed with all he wrote. I hubristically purloined it because I admired the force of his writing. "Common Sense" was the most influential pamphlet in the history of the world and - had the internet existed in the 18th Century - it would have been a blog post. In a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt at sympathetic magic, I hoped - when I began this blog over eleven years ago - that it might have half as much effect.

He left school at 12 and never went to university. He was an autodidact, spending spare cash on books and spare time on attending lectures and debates. It speaks to his greatness that he is claimed these days by both Left and Right - each conveniently ignoring those parts of his thought that don't match their thinking. He believed in society taking care of the weak and unfortunate but he did not confuse society in any way with the state. He was a sceptic when it came to government. He was reviled and assaulted in the USA he helped found because no sooner was the revolution over than he was attacking corruption in the new government. He was sentenced to death in Revolutionary France, where he sat in the National Assembly, for opposing the execution of the King and denouncing the Terror.

He died thinking himself a failure; disappointed with the outcomes of both the French and American revolutions and sad that he had not been able to incite one in England. But his words still echo. He proved that one person can make a difference if prepared to put his work before his safety. He's not alive any more but he's still dangerous. More so perhaps than the Lenin and Marx with whom Steinbeck once bracketed him. His ideas will live as long as free men breathe.

I was pleasantly surprised by the even-handed approach of Melvyn Bragg - a Labour luvvie if ever there was one - in presenting Paine's story in his "Radical Lives" series. I commend his programme to you. 

Melvyn Bragg's Radical Lives E02 Rights of Man... by DemonPreyer1 

At this moment of British Crisis, with rogues on both sides of the referendum debate playing on our fears, I also commend to you the words from Paine's American Crisis that Washington read aloud to his troops before the Battle of Trenton;

“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” 

I will not lower myself to conscript the dead to my cause as both Leave and Remain have done with Thatcher and Churchill. For all I know, Paine might have supported the EU, while demanding more effectively than we have ever done the application of real democracy and the extirpation of corruption in its governance. Still, I feel sure that the emotional response of free men and women to the aristos of the European elite should be the same as that of Paine to the "asses for lions" of the 18th Century. Our modern aristos are self-selected, rather than picked at random by nature, but their contempt for the people they seek to rule and their sense of entitlement to lord it over us, is every bit as profound. They should meet the same fate and I hope - in my own name not Tom's - that June 23rd begins their procession to a figurative guillotine.