Leave or Remain – I vote “In”

Several people have asked me to lay out why I am positive about the EU and why I think it is a bad idea to exit.  I will divide it into 3 sections:

  • Sovereignty/democracy/identity
  • Economy
  • Immigration

I will try to be as neutral in my writing as possible, but like anybody, I am biased by my own opinions, so to make my position clear up front, I will be voting to remain in the EU, primarily as I believe the European Single Market is important to our future and I believe that Europe needs an “outer leader” to act as a counterweight to the “inner leader” roles played by Germany and France.  I am what most people would define as a liberal internationalist, and I believe Britain is at its best when it looks out to the wider world.

If you want an answer on how to vote that avoids all the hyperbole, I think it boils down to this:

  • Vote “in” if you want greater prosperity but accept that this comes with a higher population;
  • Vote “out” if you are willing to be less prosperous in return for having less growth in population.

 

Sovereignty/Democracy/Identity

I have grouped these together as they have tended to merge into one continuous argument during the current debate and beyond legal or dictionary definitions, I think most people see them as part of the same issue.  It is also the aspect of the debate where the “out” camp have the strongest argument – albeit one that is difficult to articulate to a mass audience beyond simplistic soundbites, so it has got somewhat lost behind the far more emotive issue of immigration – but it is also the aspect that the EU is probably having the most discussions about reforming right now, as this is clearly not a UK specific issue.

We are all used to laws and regulations being made by different institutions at different levels; it would probably be impossible to run a complex, modern and democratic society in any other way..  As a resident of Ilford in East London, I get to vote for five different levels of lawmaking administration:

  • Redbridge Borough Council;
  • Greater London Assembly;
  • Mayor of London;
  • House of Commons (Ilford South Constituency); and
  • European Parliament (London Region).

 

There are also hugely important elements of the legal and administrative system where none of the general public have any say in terms of their appointment:

  • Members of the House of Lords;
  • Members of the judiciary;
  • Members of the Civil Service or local government administration; and
  • The Governor of the Bank of England.

I say this not because I think they should be voted on, but rather that they work rather well.  They are all involve an appointments based system. It is about balance: too few elected politicians and you get dictatorship; too many and you get gridlock (USA anybody?).

I do not disagree that the members of the European Commission, the judges who sit in the European courts and the official of the European Central Bank are unelected, but so are their domestic equivalents.  I will grant you that the 28 European Commissioners (as opposed to the broader European Commission, which acts as the EU civil service) have executive powers that domestic civil servants do not have, but they are each appointed by the elected governments of their home states, and the legislation that they propose has be approved by the member governments at the Council of Ministers, much like the Chief Executive of a local council has to have matters approved by the elected councillors.

This is essentially where democracy and sovereignty collide.  If the European Commission propose legislation and it is approved under Qualified Majority Voting (a complex type of super majority), the UK by itself cannot block its introduction by itself.  For example to block a spending measure beneficial to the poorer east or depressed south of Europe, the UK would need the support of other net contributors, e.g. Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Austria could together block a measure.  I think it is hard to say this is not democratic, but it does mean that the UK has pooled certain aspects of its sovereignty.

But what exactly is sovereignty and where do you draw the line of veto?  Humans have always grouped together, from family units to the United Nations, and at some point you have to accept that you do not always get your own way if the groupings are to last.  In 2005 Tony Blair won a third term in government, but Michael Howard’s Conservative Party won the English popular vote; the people of England had to put up with policies they hadn’t wanted because English sovereignty is pooled at a UK level.  In 2015 the population of London voted overwhelmingly for Labour, but it did not get the government it wants because its sovereignty is also pooled at a UK level.  Should London, with its disproportionately high level of both UK GDP and capital turn round to Wales and Northern Ireland and say ” we are fed up with our money going to you to spend on things we don’t agree with”?

As a higher rate taxpayer living and working in London, I am in EU speak a “net contributor”; while I may grumble about the amount of tax I pay, I accept it is for the greater good.  However I ask myself if it is somehow wrong for me to be contributing for say the construction of a bridge in Bulgaria to help develop the economy, why is it right for me to be contributing for a road in the Rhonda for similar reasons?  And if the NHS is “overwhelmed” by people from the other EU countries living here, and it is right to exclude them, could not a similar argument be made against British smokers or the obese?

Are matters decided at the right level?  Not always, but that is a charge at least as applicable within the UK as it is at a European level.  For example, the UK minimum wage goes a lot further in Wales than it does in London, so should it be set at a regional level?

The complaint is made that unelected Brussels bureaucrats spend UK taxpayers money, but that same taxpayers money that is spent domestically is equally spent by unelected bureaucrats; it is just they are in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and various other locations.  Politicians may vote on laws, but it is civil servants who implement them.

So the UK has agreed to pool certain elements of sovereignty, just as the people of England and Scotland have pooled sovereignty (as an aside, I think it is rather ironic that among the most passionate to leave the EU are those who are equally as passionate about Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining in union with England and Wales), but what has it actually agreed to pool sovereignty on?  Let us start with what they don’t involve:

  • Health system;
  • Pension system;
  • Benefits system;
  • Tax policies;
  • Foreign policy;
  • Defence policy;
  • Education policy;
  • Immigration from outside the EU; and
  • Policing.

Now if we were having a general election tomorrow, I would bet money those would make up the vast majority of top ten issues.

So if we have not pooled sovereignty on those matters, what have we done it on?  The primary ones are:

  • Agriculture;
  • Fisheries;
  • External trade to the EU; and (most substantially)
  • The Single Market.

I am slightly surprised that agriculture and fisheries have not been a larger element of the debate, as they are two areas where the EU can hang its head in shame, and why I have some sympathy with the so called “Norway option” of EFTA/EEA membership, which retains access to the Single Market but brings back home competency of the other three.  The agricultural policies make large farmers (both in the UK and the wider EU) rich on subsidies, but put tariff and nontariff barriers on agricultural products from developing countries, while the fisheries policies have seen disastrous reductions in fish stock levels in the waters around the UK.

External trade is a classic negotiation situation; both sides compromise in the hope that they gain something overall.  The downside of being in the EU on such matters is that it leads to a slow process because you are negotiating a very large block, however they are never quick.  For example the agreement between the EU and Canada took 10 years to negotiate, while that between the much smaller EFTA and Canada took 8 years.  The upside is that the EU remains the world’s largest market, so its negotiating position is on a par with other behemoths such as the USA and China.

So that takes us to the largest element of pooled sovereignty, the Single Market.  The question I always ask people who wish to exit the EU “because of all these rules from Brussels”, is which laws exactly they object to?  If they were those that I mentioned above that relate to agriculture and fisheries, as I said, I would have some sympathy, but invariably there is no answer, or at least none based on facts (the EU does not regulate the curvature of your bananas for example, much as the tabloids might suggest).  Is it the Prospectus Directive they object to?  How about the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive?  (Two I am personally familiar with).  Perhaps it is the one that sets drinking water standards or regulates the approval of prescription medicines?  The reality is that the Single Market is a vast set of standards to govern commercial activity within the EU.  I am not for one minute suggesting that the UK could not implement its own drinking water, prescription medicine or share prospectus standards; I am saying why would we want to?  Standards like this are there to make things safe, make things work and make it easier to trade.

If the Single Market had existed in the past, the UK would not have a different style of electrical plug from the continent and we would drive on the same side of the road.  Right hand drive is not better or worse than left hand drive, nor are continental European electricity plugs better or worse than those in the UK; they are just different and as a result different standards have to be used for no benefit.  My argument is not that EU regulations cannot be improved, like most things in life there is always room for improvement, but that the benefits of common rules and standards far outweigh any benefits that might be gained by changes specifically for the UK.  These rules may be agreed by compromise, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Which takes me finally for this section to identity.  Does the EU in some way dilute or Britishness?  We have better food than we did in the past, but does our consumption of French cheese or Italian salami make us less British?  I don’t think so.  Has membership of the EU eliminated cricket because it is not a European pastime?  No.  I can’t see how we have become less British just because we have also embraced Europe.  On the basis that having joined what was then the EEC in 1973, you would have to be over 60 to have been an adult before we joined, I don’t see the working-age population of Britain as devoid of a British identity.

 

Economy

The only thing about economic forecasts that is certain is that they won’t be right; if the economy could be accurately predicted then life would be much easier, so I am not going to say that the X economist is better than Y economist.  I find it pretty compelling that the vast majority of people whose job it is to look at the economy believe it would be better to remain, but I also accept that there are a significant minority that believe we would be better to be out.  So instead I will try to look at some key factors that are put forward as to why we should exit from the economic side of things.

Firstly the people leading the “leave” campaign from an economic perspective are not new and nor are their views; the likes of Patrick Minford, Roger Bootle, Liam Fox and John Redwood have been consistent and coherent on these matters (unlike some of their fellow campaigners) for a long time.  However, anybody who is planning to vote “out” because they feel the chill wind of globalisation, and believes that this will lead to a return of heavy industry and secure blue collar jobs, should look closer at their policies.  These are ardent free market supporters who are seeking to make the UK hypercompetitive in world markets by reducing regulations and barriers to trade and capital, while restricting free movement of labour as a countervailing force.  From an economic perspective this is probably the only logical alternative to the Single Market, and I don’t argue that it could work, but it would be far more dog-eats-dog than is currently the position.  Turning the UK into an ultra-free market economy – a kind of colder and wetter version of Hong Kong – is on paper a viable option, but the reality is that the British population will not buy into such.  There were enough howls of protest over George Osborne’s half-hearted attempts at austerity; a move to low tax and privatised welfare provision will not get support.  If they don’t go this route, the alternative economic options look poor, and that is why the models run by the Bank of England, IMF, OECD etc. look so poor; bluntly, they do not anticipate a UK that is willing to change in the way that Minford and Bootle are proposing.

Secondly, the “leave” campaigners argue that there remain economic issues within the EU, that if they explode, it will be better to be out.  Again I would not argue that such issues remain.  While the Eurozone has emerged from the worst of its recession and is now growing faster than the UK, albeit still not that fast, it would be foolish to suggest all problems have been solved.  Greece continues to be a basket case (even the ECB now appears to accept the IMF argument that some degree of debt write off will be required in its 2017 refinancing) and youth unemployment remains horrendous across the so called “Club Med” countries (and would be worse without the release valve of UK jobs – just go round any London restaurant, bar or café to see how many young Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese staff there are).  However those issues will not cease if Britain leaves the EU – in fact they are likely to be exacerbated – and the impact on the UK will be just as severe in terms of reduced trade.  We are not in an economic union with the USA, but the whirlwind created by the subprime mortgage crisis hit just as hard.

Thirdly, we are told that the price of membership is too high.  Again, I don’t propose to argue over the numbers on the side of the bus, but to put them into perspective in terms of what is a very large economy.  The total value of all UK economic output is £1,812bn.  Of this £716bn (39.5%) is paid to the UK government and in turn they spend £772bn (42.6%), the difference being the budget deficit and made up by borrowings.  The amount paid to the EU (gross contribution less rebate) is £13bn (0.7%) and the net contribution is £9bn (0.5%).  For comparison, £116bn (6.4%) is spent on the NHS and the current rate of economic growth is 2.0%, i.e. the UK’s net contribution to the EU is equivalent to just one quarter’s growth in the economy.  Now I don’t for a minute think the UK economy would collapse into a Greece-style depression if we exited, but even a modest recession would wipe out any cost of membership.  The recession of the early 1990s, the most modest in the last 50 years, involved a 2.5% of GDP peak to trough loss.

Lastly there is the argument that the EU is less competitive in many areas of commerce than other parts of the world, and only by leaving can the UK gain competitive advantage.  But what exactly do they mean by “less competitive”?  It means that the EU has higher wages, greater employment rights, more holidays, safer, more pleasant working conditions and less pollution.  The other areas of competitive advantage such as quality of education, investment in skills and technology, certainty of law and free movement of goods, services, capital and labour are either matters unaffected by EU membership or would be impaired by exit.

 

Immigration

Lastly we move to immigration, the factor that seems to be driving much of the “leave” vote.   Now I do not argue for one minute with the “leave” campaign’s claim that exiting both the EU and the Single Market (and by default not joining Norway, Switzerland and Iceland in EFTA) would be a core element of reducing “net migration”  from last year’s 333,000 people to the 30,000-50,000 per annum that Nigel Farage suggests is a reasonable level.  It would however need to be accompanied by a sharp reduction in non-EU immigration, where the net figure for 2015 was 188,000 (higher than net 145,000 from within the EU) including those seeking asylum (41,563 asylum applications received in 2015).

Remaining in the EU (or in the Single Market) does involve free movement of people, but that is two way; there are about 1.5m Brits living in other parts of the EU and 3.0m other EU citizens in the UK.  On the basis that most of the 3m EU people in the UK are of working age and most of the 1.5m Brits in the EU are retired, it strikes me as a good deal from our side.  Will we continue see such large numbers of immigrants from the EU?  It really depends on how their economies progress.  Of those coming to the UK from other EU countries last year, roughly half were from “western” countries (mainly young people from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy where youth unemployment is very high) and half from “eastern” countries, your proverbial Polish plumber or Romanian farmworker.

In simple terms, this is very much what the free movement provisions were designed to achieve; they provide labour from countries with high unemployment to those countries where unemployment is low, which in this case predominantly means the UK and Germany.  It should not be forgotten that the UK has the lowest rate of unemployment (5.1%)  it has had in 40 years (bar a spell in 2003-2005, at which point it did not get any lower than 4.7%) and its highest workforce participation rate since records began in 1971.  We are almost at full employment; 3% is accepted as just the natural “between jobs” rate, and much of the rest will be people who due to attitude and behaviour are going to be difficult to employ.  So immigrants are not “taking the jobs” that Brits would do, but filling gaps in the labour market.  We have relatively high minimum wage levels, so they cannot push wage rates down that far.

Could we fill the demands of employers while reducing net migration to 30,000-50,000?  Not in the short term.  Closing this source of labour will likely push up prices as employers look for ways to compensate for attracting people from competitors or replace them with machines; there will be winners among some individual workers (especially in skilled trades such as electricians and plumbers), but overall we will be less well off as a country.  Longer term we would likely seek to automate more activities (which is the approach that Japan is taking), but this is not a route that is going to benefit those who feel they are in an uncompetitive position compared to migrant workers.

Does migration increase demand for housing and public services?  Off course it does.  Any increase in population does this, but that suggests that houses, hospitals, schools etc. cannot be built.  In the 1960s we had large increases in the population due to the so called “baby boom” and we built significant numbers of all these, far more than we currently achieve.  Rather than blame migrants for taking houses, school places and hospital beds, perhaps we should blame government and local authority policy for not building enough?

 

Nick

Little Britain is not the Future

 

I understand that a lot of people find the world that we are in to be rather scary, especially, dare I say, older people.  Flows of people, goods, data, capital, services and idea are moving faster and in greater volumes than has ever been the case, and it strikes me that feelings against the EU has become a lightning rod for people who are uncomfortable with the direction in which the world has moved, just as Donald Trump has become such in the USA.  The world of the past is just that, and seeking a return to some mythical age before the EU when everything was wonderful, the sun never set on the British Empire and the UK was better at everything from shipbuilding to football than Johnny Foreigner is like wishing an escapism to the world of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.

My question is what are these rules and laws that everybody seems to find so much of a danger to Britain?  I work with EU rules and regulations every day: Market in Financial Instruments Directive; Market Abuse Rules; Prospectus Rules; etc., etc..  Does anybody who reads this and wants out have the slightest idea what they are about?  There are a 1001 other such rules and directives across matters from pharmaceuticals to recycling of electrical goods.  Do they in some way make us less free?  I can’t see why they would.  Do they impose costs?  Yes, but personally I would rather have old TVs and toasters recycled rather than in landfills.  Would the UK have to have its own equivalents?  Almost certainly.  Would they be better?  Quite possibly, but then we would lose the benefits of standardisation, which are massive.

In the first half of the 20th century, various countries developed their own standards of electrical plugs, different voltage systems, different sides that the steering wheel was placed in the car.  I don’t think “wow, look how lucky I am to have a British plug”; no, I think “what a giant pain in the butt that I need an adaptor to use my laptop when I travel abroad”.  Things are some things that are better with competition and others from standardisation.  Cars and mobile phones get better with rampant competition; shipping containers and internet protocols are better with standardisation.

So I ask again, what are these laws and rules that are so terrible?  Which ones oppress good ole John Bull and drag him to slavery?

Also ask yourself why younger people are disproportionately lining up to vote to stay in and older people out?  Younger people are looking forward, not backwards; they see the opportunities from openness.  They see a world where the borders of old are not the barriers they once were; air travel is easier and cheaper than ever; high speed rail networks criss-cross Europe; social networks, satellite TV and instant messaging make it as easy to understand and communicate with someone across the ocean as down the street.  They don’t wish to limit themselves to Europe, but they certainly do not wish to distance themselves from it either.

As a 45 year old, I am apparently on the borderline of those disproportionately inclined to vote either yes or no, but on this (if not much else in my life), I am very much with my younger compatriots.  Much is made of the Remain campaign being “project fear”, but proclaiming a future that is more prosperous, more open and more cosmopolitan does not sound like fear to me.  I say to all those older people who find the modern world an uncomfortable place, do not ruin the futures of your children and grandchildren and vote to leave just because you feel Britain is changing too fast; the whole world is changing fast and it is time to embrace it because you can’t escape it.

 

Nick

Andy Burnham and Manchester

Andy Burnham’s decision to run as Mayor of Manchester (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/may/18/andy-burnham-to-stand-for-mayor-of-greater-manchester) is an interesting move.  Like Sadiq Khan and his successful election as London Mayor, this would give Burnham a very high profile position in British politics and real executive experience at a time when Labour have been out of power.  When any party has been out of power for an extended time it is easy to wave the “no experience” card at them, but if you can say, “well we have been running London and Manchester”, that takes a lot of the sting out of that one.

I think it may also allow the likes of Burnham and Khan to cast a distinctive position away from the constraints of Westminster and 5 minute news cycles.  You may be high profile but you are dealing with more tangible matters such as bus fares and policing.  The more devolution that happens, the more that local politics becomes a sensible route into politics.  Perhaps our future leaders will no longer come from such a narrow base?

Could he use it as a springboard to Labour leadership ahead of 2020 if Corbyn does badly, say in the 2018 council elections (London Boroughs, Metropolitan Boroughs and many second tier cities like Cambridge and Norwich)?  Possibly, but he will be 1 year behind Khan and will be able to show little progress in such a short time.

Nick

A Solution to the House of Lords

The recent vote against the proposed Tax Credit changes by the House of Lords, despite having previously been been voted through by the House of Lords, has once again raised a question of the legitimacy of the UK’s second chamber, albeit from the opposite side of the political spectrum than most previous demands for change.  While the Lords has changed significantly over the last 20 years, with the vast majority of the hereditary peers now gone, it is now overloaded with appointed peers, totalling 821, (plus another 41 who are currently disqualified or on leave of absence), with no retirement age, and lacks democratic legitimacy.  Set against that, the lack of elections results in peers being rather less malleable to party whips and independent of thought than their colleagues in the House of Commons, who are never more than 5 years from having to stand for election.

So is there a way to combine the benefits of the appointed House of Lords while adding democratic legitimacy?  I believe there can be.

Size

First, the size of the Lords has to be limited.  I would set this 750, with a retirement age of 70 (the same as judges), and a 15 year term for each peer, with no second term.

Appointed Peers

The Lords certainly benefits from the expertise of non-political appointed peers, and I believe it would be a shame to lose this entirely.  I would therefore propose 150 of the 750 be appointed cross-benchers, 50 retiring and being replaced at the end of each 5 year parliament.

Democratic Element

The remaining 600 peers would reflect the results of elections, but rather than change dramatically at each election, there are benefits from a degree of continuity, so I would propose they be based on an average of the popular vote at the last three elections.  The representation of parties would be limited to those who averaged 5%+ in the last three elections, with allowance made for the smaller nations by including the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies in proportion to their population, while for England the UK General Election results would be used.  As with the appointed element, one third would retire at the end of each 5 year parliament and their replacements reflecting the change in those averages in the elections during the term.  The peers themselves would be selected by their parties in whatever method they choose.  This model would give the following party split:

Conservatives 211
Labour 205
Liberal Democrats 109
UKIP 33
Scottish National Party 18
Plaid Cymru 6
DUP 5
SF 5
SDLP 3
UUP 3
Alliance 1
600

Nick

A Pivot to China or Just a Pivot?

Much comment has been made about President Xi’s visit, with claims of selling out both the jobs of steelworkers and the human rights of minorities in the PRC, alongside others regarding the commercial benefits.  The most interesting comments in my view however, have come from across the Atlantic, with, for example, Foreign Policy magazine saying:

“That has plenty of observers in the United States and the U.K. fretting that Osborne’s courtship of China threatens the decades-old special relationship that has long served as the keystone of the trans-Atlantic alliance. While the White House publicly downplays the significance of the Sino-British embrace — “the United States welcomes strong relations between our allies and China,” press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday — many U.S. diplomats are privately said to be “incandescent” with rage at Britain. And many in Britain, from former officials to current opposition politicians, have excoriated what they see as a British sell-out to Beijing.”

(http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/21/u-k-china-cement-growing-friendship-with-big-nuclear-deal-hinkley-xi-osborne/?wp_login_redirect=0)

Considering the Obama administrations on well publicised “pivot” to Asia”, it might be argued that Cameron and Osborne are merely following their lead.  I would however like to put a different perspective on it.  

Since Margaret Thatcher’s election victory in 1979, Britain, under both Conservative and Labour administrations has followed an essentially similar foreign policy: junior partner to the USA in global matters while trying to drag the EU in a more free-market, pro-NATO, neo-liberal direction.  While most people will not remember, or at least not remember well, anything different, this was not always the case.  While I do not wish to delve into the into the policy of “European Balance of Power” that had dominated Britain’s foreign policy for centuries until World War I, during the intervening 65 years the policy was much more multi-polar.  While not always successful (notably the failure to prevent the circumstances that led to World War II), it was nuanced.  Clement Attlee tried to sail a middle ground between the USA and USSR, at least to begin with., and in 1950 the UK was the first western government to recognise the People’s Republic of China.  The Conservative administrations of the 1950s and early 1960s tried to combine decolonisation with an effort to turn the Commonwealth into an economic relationship and one into which the European efforts at integration (EFTA and EEC) might be combined.  Harold Wilson in the 1960s avoided entanglement in Vietnam, while many of the difficulties in the negotiations for joining the EEC by Wilson and Heath and subsequent re-negotiation by Wilson revolved around ongoing trade relationships with Commonwealth members.

So does this week’s visit by President Xi mark a pivot to a more diverse foreign policy?  Maybe not by itself but let us look at other events:

  • The UK was the first western country to apply to join the Chinese sponsored Asian Infrastructure Development Bank in March 2015, at a time when America was rather hostile to what it saw as a rival to the US-led World Bank.
  • The current government’s policy of re-negotiation of Britain’s EU membership (whether it is successful or not) is aimed at somewhat loosening these ties.
  • Philip Hammond re-opened the UK embassy in Tehran in August and immediately made efforts to strengthen trade ties with Iran, while Washington remains much more cautious.

Next month sees the visit of India’s Prime Minister Modi to the UK, and possibly a similarly warm welcome as given to President Xi.

Creating a more multi-dimensional foreign policy will not be easy, but if it can be achieved, it may well offer many benefits.

Nick

Europe & Migration

It appears to be impossible to read/watch/listen to the news without the interrelated topics of migration, immigration and refugees being raised.  Whether it is people fleeing the wars of the Middle East, young workers of central Europe seeking greater opportunities or populist politicians calling the end is neigh like Chicken Lickin, the subject is most certainly topical.  On one side are humanitarian calls to help those risking life and limb to make treacherous journeys to reach the European Union (“EU”) and then onward to preferred countries, while on the other the concerned calls of those who fear that public services will be overwhelmed, housing shortages exacerbated and wage rates undermined.

Is it possible to have a rational debate and look at matters in a logical manner in such an emotionally charged environment?

My first thought is that if ever there was a matter that is best addressed at an EU level, it is this.  The movements of populations are multi-faceted.  From outside the EU, there are refugees from war zones, those seeking relief from grinding poverty, while within the EU there are the young workers of the less-developed East and recession-ridden South seeking opportunities in the more economically buoyant countries of the North, while in the other direction many retirees (or semi-retired) from the cold, wet, bustling North seek sun and a slower pace of life in the countries of the Mediterranean.  Even within the larger and more successful economies of the UK and Germany, there are significant internal migrations from the areas with fewer opportunities to those with more.  Separately, but with long term relevance to the conversation, the EU native-born population is is in decline due to low birth rates concurrently with it ageing due to the post-1945 baby boom and the longevity benefits of first-class health and social services.

So what we see is not a movement of people in a single direction, nor a universal social situation, but something substantially more complex.

My question is why these issues are not looked at in the whole?  While cities like London and Munich might be drawing in migrants from both within their own countries and the wider EU, how many a former Yorkshire mining village, industrial town of Thuringia or rural town in Limousin is slowly dying because it is being drained of those with ambition and energy as they head to the cosmopolitan delights of London, Berlin or Amsterdam?  Notice must be taken of the flows of migration within the EU and within individual countries, but it is a fallacy that Europe is full and cannot accommodate these refugees.  Would these communities not benefit from an injection of new blood, just as over many years London has benefitted from waves of immigration, and more recently, Leicester benefited from the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ugandan Asians who arrived in the early 1970s?  However, such communities cannot be just left to their own devices; they will need support, and again, this needs to be delivered on a pan-EU scale if it is to be done properly.  The quid pro quo for this is that those coming to Europe as refugees would need to understand that their residence within the EU would be predetermined until they had established their new economic position.

Migration is rarely an economic negative in the longer term; the people who have the determination to make such a journey will have the drive to make a positive life for themselves in their new home.  Let us stop being and look at the opportunities instead.

Nick

The Corbyn Breakthrough

Like most Arsenal supporters, I had long bemoaned the team’s lack of a good defensive midfielder, and then, during the height of last Autumn’s injury crisis, a player who had been on Arsenal’s books since 2008 was recalled from the latest of three loans, this one to Charlton Athletic, Francis Coquelin.  Mr Coquelin had been written off by most, and it had been anticipated that he would be sold, but since then he has played almost every game and has blossomed into a first rate player; he had the proverbial “breakthrough year”.  But this article is not about football, it is about politics, and Mr Coquelin’s sudden rise from the reserves is an analogy for the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn.

The Corbyn/Coquelin comparison bears comparison on other levels as well.  Not only were they both forgotten by their team/party, but Francis’ adherence to some of the traditional tenets of football such as strong tackles, headed clearances and interceptions in amongst a team of football artists, has comparisons with Jeremy’s move to traditional Labour policies such as nationalisation and close union links among a the spin and artistry of New Labour.  But enough of my admiration of Le Coq…………

So far the reactions to Mr Corbyn’s rise appears to fall into three camps; I shall call them Left Center and Right.  For the Left he is loved, a prophet who has spent the proverbial (and almost literal) 40 years in the wilderness, and believe him to be a genuinely positive influence.  The Centre hate him because they see a leader of the opposition that they believe is unelectable, and thus result in a Conservative victory in 2020, even if they have sympathy for his policies.  The Right hate his policies with an almost evangelical zeal, but they equally love the idea of him becoming leader for the same reason the Centre hate him.

I would like to suggest another reason why a Corbyn election would be positive, and that is the difference between management and democracy.  The last general election saw the three major parties having a fundamental economic policy that was pretty much the same:

  • Conservative – Move into budget surplus before 2020, funded by spending reductions;
  • Labour – Move into budget surplus, excluding capital expenditure, by 2020, funded by balance of spending reductions and tax increases; and
  • LibDems –  Move into budget surplus before 2020, funded by spending reductions and tax increases.

That is an example, but fundamentally the same applied to all areas of policy that I can think of.  They all basically had similar policies, and all people were being asked is who they believed would manage the process best.  I am 44 years old, and have voted in the 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015 elections, and with the possible exception of 1992 (I’m afraid my memory is rather faded as to Kinnock’s manifesto), all I have ever been asked in the intervening years is who I believe will manage the process better.  However, my 49 year old self might be faced with a very different prospect in 2020.

To my mind, democracy is about the presentation of ideas and policies to an informed electorate, from which they can make a clear choice as to which they believe is best; it has to be about more that tweaking at the edges like a budget being approved at a chain of coffee bars, and the decisions coming down to 500 or 525 locations of the ratio of couches to dining chairs.  If it is not about something more than modest tweaking, let’s save ourselves some money and just have some sort of rota involving all those who sat PPE at Oxford.  

A Corbyn-led Labour Party would without doubt have a very different set of policies to a Cameron/Osborne/Johnson led Conservative Party.  Is nationalisation of the railways the right policy?  Should we scrap the UK nuclear deterrent?  Is there an alternative economic policy?  Surely in a democracy these are questions that people should have the right to vote on, whether or not you choose that the policy of the current Conservative government are right or not.  I believe that Britain’s membership of the European Union is a positive, that we should remain in it, and that changes and reforms will be slow due to the nature of the beast.  Equally I believe that the policy of holding a referendum on continued membership is the right decision and that David Cameron certainly gained support at the last election as a result.  The unwillingness of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to back such a referendum just fed the views of many that those in power just desired a steady state; that is not democracy and they rightly suffered.

Much is made by the Centre (as I described them earlier) that Mr Corbyn is unelectable because the “mass media” will rise up in unison against him and the electorate of lemmings will scurry unquestionably in to the polling booths.  I note similar claims were made them as regards the poor performance of the Labour Party in the general election and that UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics are already anticipating the same come the EU Referendum.  Really?  Have you slept through the last 20 years?  The newspaper industry is dying on its feet because so few people are buying a daily paper.  TV viewing is increasingly being dominated by streaming, downloads and scheduled recordings.  Instead information is flowing through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blog sites, newsfeeds and an amalgam of other methods that would not even have been imagined when messrs Blair, Brown and Mandelson rolled out the New Labour experiment, and this trend will accelerate.  Are enough people engaged in the process?  No, but neither do they slavishly do what their daily newspaper tells them to do; both ignorance and information have been democratised.

Will enough people in the right mix of constituencies vote in the 2020 general election for a Corbyn-led Labour Party?  Who knows, but if they don’t, it will not be because Rupert Murdoch tells them not to; the Sun will no longer have won it for anybody.  They will have lost because people chose the policies of the Conservatives or they will have won it because people wished to have different policies, but either way it will have been a victory for democracy.  Who knows, the jolt to the system may even result in the LibDems rediscovering what it is to be a true liberal party and the British electorate may be able to choose between conservative, liberal and socialist choices (plus green and nationalist) for the first time in my adult life; I am looking forward to it.

Nick