Democracy Or Efficiency: Your Choice

Both of the established “leave” campaigns are so far doing far more harm than good. Neither the Toryboy money obsession of ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ nor the UKIP-like immigration fixation of ‘Leave.EU’ address the central concern of those campaigning for the “leave” outcome in the coming referendum—namely: Who governs Britain?

Should supranational EU institutions have the power to compel the United Kingdom government to act against the wishes of the British people or should the British electorate have the power to vote for representatives who are able to hold the government to account in Parliament? Simple.

Furthermore, the binary choice between “leave” and “remain” is perfectly clear, yet the legacy media seem determined to distort these straightforward propositions. First, there was a wholly misleading front page splash about Article 50 in the Independent on Sunday. Then there were a cavalcade of opinion pieces declaring that Britain should vote “leave” in order to “remain” in a “reformed EU”. Perhaps not coincidentally this is also the view of ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ CEO, Matthew Elliott, and leader of ‘Conservatives for Britain’, Lord Lawson.

Whether the legacy hacks are aware of it or not—I suspect that most of them are merely blundering about in the undergrowth searching desperately for something “original” to say—this is laying the groundwork for Cameron’s offer of “associate membership”, trailed in The Fundamental Law of the European Union.

To be clear, associate membership—or whatever Cameron ends up calling his package of “reforms”—is “second-class membership” in a two-tier EU which would leave Britain isolated—unable to affect meaningful decisions taken by Kerneuropa (the ‘inner core’) without first joining the euro—and still without full self-representation on the world governing bodies, such as UNECE, the OIE, the IPPC, Codex, etc., that agree global trading standards.

In an interesting exchange, Pete North elicited the following statement from europhile commentator Jon Worth: “You either have quicker decisions (QMV), or states hold vetoes (slow). Latter not efficient”. Pete North disputes whether supranational EU decision-making, based upon Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), is in fact more efficient than intergovernmental agreement at a global level, with each state holding a national veto, but, putting that argument to one side for a moment, I think the dichotomy Worth proposes deserves further clarification.

Which would the British people prefer: faster EU decision-making allowing supranational EU institutions to compel nation-states to act against their best wishes or slower intergovernmental decision-making which ensures that parliamentarians are accountable to their electors?

This may just be what Dr Richard North calls the schwerpunkt of the referendum debate. Should Britain accept second-class membership in a supranational treaty union that does not value our membership for anything other than the money we contribute or should Britain have full self-representation on the global bodies where international regulations are negotiated and agreed, with parliamentary oversight and a national veto to ensure that the interests of the British electorate are properly protected?

A Sinking Ship

hannan_tweet

Only the other day I was musing on the inglorious record of (among others) “eurosceptic” Tory MEP, Dan Hannan—a man who has made a career out of whinging about the EU without ever putting forward a single serious proposal for how Britain should decouple from the governing structures of this supranational treaty body. Well, apparently Hannan himself has tired of being garlanded by legacy media toadies and sycophants as ‘the voice of British euroscepticism’ and has instead decided to torch the last few shreds of his tarnished credibility with an hilariously misguided article for Conservative Home in which he asserts:

“Nothing would make me happier than for the PM to come back from Brussels with a deal that we could support.”

There is no rowing back from that, Mr Hannan, regardless of how hard you paddle, your high-water mark was and shall remain the extended rhetorical essay in nautical metaphor that shot across Gordon Brown’s wearied bow:

Ahoy!

Are You A Leaver Or A Whinger?

Over the past couple of weeks I have made a nuisance of myself on Twitter, messaging anybody who I thought worth the effort to remind them that the propositions on the referendum ballot paper are “leave” and “remain”—and that, for the sake of clarity, committed Brexiteers should stick to using only these terms to refer to the opposing campaigns. Following the launch of The In Campaign and two “leave” campaigns—Arron Bank’s Leave.EU and Matthew Elliott’s Vote Leave, Get Control—I now think that I may have been a little overzealous.

A “remain” campaign that self-identifies as the “In” campaign and which does not feature the words ‘European Union’ or ‘EU’ anywhere on its website is an even bigger triviality and distraction than I was cautioned to expect. Likewise, a pair of “leave” campaigns that focus on the unholy and divided trinity of “eurosceptic” campaigning—immigration, regulation and cost—are not going to be anything other than noise-makers that put people to sleep with the same old arguments that have seen Britain’s political and economic institutions merged ever closer into what was first a Market, then a Community and, finally, a Union.

Senior figures who claim to represent both the “leave” and “remain” campaigns accept that “reform” is their first priority. Whether it is Business for Britain or the Labour Party. Nigel Lawson or David Cameron. There is general agreement that Britain’s present relationship with the EU is inadequate and unsustainable and that EU “reform” is the answer. It could be argued that this is progress of a kind, but, this has in fact been the status quo view expressed by parliamentarians for at least 30 of the last 40 years.

Such is the way in which the various campaigns are lining up, the division between “leave” and “remain” is not as clear as it should be. What we face instead is an irrelevant “remain” campaign and a division within the “leave” campaign between Leavers/Brexiteers and Whingers/”eurosceptics”. Practically the entire “political class” accepts that the EU must “reform”—even europhile grande dames like Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson will say so—but there are very few (if any?) among the parliamentary parties and their associated hangers-on who will state explicity that Britain should leave the EU.

In other words, we face a situation in which David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Alan Johnson are parroting almost the exact same soundbites as John Redwood, Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell—and being applauded by different audiences. The later have made nice careers out of whinging about the EU, and whinging, rather than productive solutions for achieving Britain’s EU exit—Brexit—are all that they have to offer now. The niches these and similar men and women have carved out would disappear should we embrace the opportunity to correct an historic mistake and set course for a future founded on national independence, democratic governance and intergovernmental co-operation. Perhaps that explains their lack of conviction.

The question that those who wish to contribute towards the “leave” side of the referendum campaign need to ask themselves therefore is: Are you a Leaver or are you a Whinger? If you are a Leaver then you had better think of a more productive way of contributing to the debate than retweeting Farage’s/Carswell’s/Hannan’s mindless euro-whinging.

Cutting Through The Noise

reasonstoremain

The perceptive Your Freedom and Ours shares my general impression of the “leave” campaigns that have so far thrown their hat into the ring. Echoing and amplifying said message is EUReferendum.com, where Dr Richard North writes: “All this reminds me the famous medical dictum that, ‘if one cannot do well, then one should at least do no harm’. Referendum campaigners could do well to pay special attention to these wise words. Otherwise, the public truly will be ‘bored to death’ and all our work will have been in vain”.

To date, we have witnessed the farce that was the launch of the unfortunately named In Campaign; the appalling Vote Leave, Get Control website; and the inanity of the Leave.EU effort. The obsession with trivia and personality amongst the legacy hacks—so far behind the curve that those who want to win the EU referendum have already lapped them three times—wraps all of the above in a hermetically sealed plastic that protects the bubble-dwellers from the threat of original thought.

This evident lack of seriousness has led to a massive increase in the ‘noise level’, but there is one individual (see image)—aside from the usual suspects (see blogroll)—who is making his or her voice heard above the din. When I wrote recently about the legacy media tendency to troll its readers, watchers and listeners, it was in the knowledge that ‘two can play at that game’ and that the affect is often far more powerful when the message is being communicated by a new media source. Legacy media trolling generally leaves people bemused whereas a good counter-troll can start to make people think.

This will not win a referendum, of course, and I suspect that I will tire of the joke eventually, but, for the time being, I am enjoying @VotingToRemain. The account is only a 20 percent exaggeration of the sorts of rubbish that so many ill-informed europhiles are prone to say and I have even seen hardened Brexiteers “debate” with the account, such is the verisimilitude of the performance.

For my part, I think that Brexiteers would be well advised to ‘step off the gas’, as the Americans say. The two-year referendum timeline means that this will be a very long campaign and there is already evidence that prospective voters are growing tired of the usual back and forth. There is no shortage of time in which to explain the issues that really matter.

There is also no evidence that the biff-bam of the established campaigns or the personality-obsessed legacy hacks have any intention of engaging with these serious subjects—I live in hope—but unless they decide to make the public part of their conversation, we shall have to have the debate amongst ourselves. In the meantime, I shall continue to treat the established campaigns and the legacy media with the contempt that their abysmal efforts merit, while, with a little help from my friends, also enjoying a hearty laugh at their expense.

Let’s Raise The Level of Debate

On Sunday morning, Andrew Marr played host to a discussion between Richard Tice, a representative of Leave.EU, and Richard Reed, a representative of Britain Stronger in Europe. Before the “debate” descended into a tedious back-and-forth arguing the toss over numbers that are of no real importance, Richard Reed said a few things that I think warrant further comment.

Reed himself, to take a brief detour, is an interesting figure. He co-founded Innocent Drinks with two university friends following a successful experiment at a rock festival during which the trio set up a stall selling fruit smoothies with two bins outside—one marked ‘yes’ and the other marked ‘no’—into which their patrons were invited to discard their paper cups. The gang agreed that whichever bin was more full would decide whether they would all return to work on Monday morning or quit their day jobs to go into business making smoothies. At the end of the festival, the ‘no’ bin contained just three cups while the ‘yes’ bin was fit to burst, so, true to their word, notices were served, and soon thereafter was born the well-known Innocent Smoothie brand.

That, I think that you will agree, is a pretty remarkable story. There is a genuine sense of adventure and entrepreneurship associated with building a business from a festival stall to a Coca-Cola acquisition. The enthusiasm and self-belief that must have taken is evident when Reed bangs the drum for Britain’s continued EU membership. The “remain” side must be delighted to have such a likeable spokesman, especially given that the discredited Tony Blair, the slippery Peter Mandelson and the grey-on-grey John Major also share his conviction.

Except, like so many of his ilk, Reed is desperately naive regarding the political aspects of the EU. In a recent tweet, Reed wrote: “I’m coming out that I am for staying IN the EU. Not about politics, it’s about Britain and our collective future.”

Not about politics. Need I say more? The EU is a supranational treaty body committed to “ever closer union”; it is 100% a political organisation.

During the Andrew Marr Show, Reed expounded “three simple arguments” in favour of Britain remaining EU members. Those were as follows:

1) “Britain, economically is stronger in Europe”. We have already seen too much of this. Europe is a continent and a civilisational perspective; neither are synonymous with the EU—I believe there are more than 50 countries in Europe, while there are only 28 EU Member States, and there was certainly no EU when the Greek city states were inventing democracy over 3000 years ago.

2) “We’re safer when we’re part of Europe”. I am not sure what is even meant by this and I am not convinved that Richard Reed knows what it means either. In common with many of our continental European allies, Britain is a part of NATO. Britain is also one of only five countries with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. I suspect that Reed was given this line by the spin doctors simply because it implies that the opposite is also true—Britain will be less safe when we’re not part of the EU—without the need to actively state anything so egregiously stupid.

3) “As consumers we are all better off being part of Europe”. This one is the most interesting of the three. Reed expanded upon this point at some length and with a real sense of enthusiam, so often absent from these encounters. If you watch either the video of Reed on The Andrew Marr Show or of his appearance on Sky News later on Sunday, you will see that Reed is a strong advocate for the Single Market. Nothing that he mentions in either appearance—literally nothing—is dependent upon Britain’s participation in the political integration process that is the only reason for our continued EU membership.

Equally as enthusiastic but far more credible was the case made by Owen Paterson, appearing on Sky News just after Reed. This comment was particularly apposite: “What I want to have is a complete[ly] new relationship with our European neighbours based on trade and friendly co-operation, but above all making our own laws in our own Parliament”. It is hard to say it any better than that!

Every vote is equally important

The reason for this post, in spite of Reed’s all too apparent ignorance, was this statement: “The one thing we will be absolutely unified on is that it is a big decision and every citizen gets one vote and every vote is equally important… it is a big macro-decision. We should all get as informed as we possibly can and everyone has got to vote”.

Here I find myself in total agreement with the smoothie-maker. This is a massive decision, and in the spirit of getting “as informed as possible”, one of the crucial factors that people like Mr Reed need to understand is that supranational subordination to EU institutions is not part and parcel of participation in the Single Market or Britain’s trade with the rest of the world. Trade and friendly co-operation with our European allies would be enhanced should Britain regain its full seat on the intergovernmental bodies—like the OIE, UNECE, the IPPC and Codex—and in so doing regain the ability to exhert real influence over regulation agreed at a global level. Indeed, in no small part due to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (more detail here), the EU is largely a law-taker rather than a law-maker—or to phrase it another way, a redundant rubber-stamping mechanism Britain does not need.

Approaching the EU referendum with an open mind will allow us the opportunity for a real debate over Britain’s proper place in the world and the form that our future relationship with the EU should take. If we do not do this, then we all face a very tedious two years, listening to ill-informed pundits and politicians replaying the same old soundbites over and over. Let us instead demand something better by raising the level of debate. First of all by recognising the political realities of where we are—i.e. Britain’s relationship with the EU is unacceptable (the view expressed by the Prime Minister in his Bloomberg speech)—and then by competing to see which side can present the most imaginative, creative, optimistic and enterprising vision for Britain’s future.

I See A Red Door And I Want It Painted…

voteleave_image

I mentioned in my previous post that I am short of time for blogging at the moment, but the launch of a new EU referendum campaign group probably demands a brief comment. The first thing that comes to mind is…

Of a piece with the inadvisable choice of a black background, the general aesthetic of the ‘Vote Leave‘ website leaves a lot to be desired. Whereas one report took issue with the site template, I have no problem with it. Uninspired, perhaps, but a degree of familiarity is probably a good thing in the context of a campaign website that should be accessible to everybody.

It is in terms of accessibility that the site starts to fall down. The mostly grey on white text—and spidery choice of font—makes reading and comprehension more difficult than necessary, while the sections that feature white text on a picture background are almost unreadable. I have sufficiently good eyesight and technological awareness—you can increase the size of the font by pressing ‘Ctrl’ and then ‘+’ at the same time—to overcome these problems, but the old and the visually impaired will face needless struggle. This is web design 101 and should have been corrected prior to launch.

There are also copywriting errors that a thorough proof-read should have caught. The “jobs” section contains references to the “Out Campaign” and the “No/Out Campaign”.

voteleave_no_out

There are also sentence fragments in the “privacy” section that should have been picked up.

voteleave_section

It gives me no pleasure to say that the more I look at this wretched thing and the more I read the actual content, the worse it appears. ‘Vote Leave’ is almost a case study in how not to build a website or effectively communicate a clear and coherent message. Under the heading, ‘Why Should We Vote To Leave?’, the first sentence reads: “Technological and economic forces are changing the world fast”. Not only does this not directly address the supposed topic under discussion, but the sentence structure means that the meaning is unclear. I shall spare you the gory details, but, suffice it to say, copywriting tends to be extremely formulaic. The above, which I hope I have established is not a suitable topic sentence (but leaving that to one side), should say, “The world is changing fast. Technological and economic forces…” See the difference?

This may sound nitpicky—indeed, it is, that’s the point—but the reaction of bosses who spot even an unnecessary space between the words on a particular page is generally pretty ferocious. This is because they are well aware that a lack of care and attention to the finer details on your website creates the impression that your business is sloppy and unprofessional. The first interaction that most people have with a particular organisation nowadays tends to be through a public-facing website. It is important to the owners and executives that all of the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed.

What is a couple of billion among friends?

Accepting that all of the above could be the mistakes of haste—and could (née should) be corrected very quickly—the bigger problem is the decision to focus so much energy and attention on peripheral issues. Rather than leading on the core argument regarding Britain’s future relationship with the EU—should the British people lend the authority to govern to the EU’s supranational bureaucracy or Britain’s national democracy(?)— the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign leads on the issue of cost. I have written before about what I regard as the divided and unholy trinity of “eurosceptic” debate; issues that will need careful handling during the referendum campaign.

To reiterate, cost is not a suitable lead issue. Of course, I recognise that costs must be discussed and assurances provided, but economic assertions are contingent and comparatively easy to undermine. Merely casting uncertainty and doubt over the numbers will serve this purpose.

By way of clarification, Britain pays around £20 billion into the EU budget every year and receives back around £10 billion every year, which is then “match funded” by the British government. These are extremely rough figures, but what is a couple of billion among friends?… and that is the real point. The United Kingdom government’s budget deficit is around £100 billion a year. In the context of a trillion pound economy, the cost of Britain’s EU budget contributions are not all that significant.

Furthermore, arguing about cost very quickly descends into a bun-fight over whose figures are more reliable and where these hypothetical savings should be spent. We cannot beat the Tory Party, the Prime Minister and the British government if we fight the referendum contest on the terms that they set. Arguments about costs are the enemy’s home turf; we need to drag the debate into areas where we feel comfortable and where David Cameron is comparatively weak.

As far as serious Brexiteers are concerned, we could not care less if the EU only cost the country £9.99 a year. The EU referendum is about Britain’s future relationship with the EU, and how and by whom the country should be governed.

We must demand better

Finally, the calls among some “eurosceptics”—a designation that I repudiate—for “those who are not united and do not agree” to come together, are misplaced. If we do not criticise and critique our own side, sometimes even visciously, we will not be in a position to convince others of the rightness of our arguments when battle is truly joined. The acceptance of those who evince and have articulated no committment to our cause is also tactically and strategically inept.

These are not trivial issues for the launch of what one presumes is intended to be a “hub” for campaigners and seekers of information about the EU referendum.

Indeed, following hot on the heels of the blokey, Arthur Daley, he’s a’right, knees-up Mother Brown, end of the pier, Leave.EU effort, ‘Vote Leave’ was supposed to mark the entry of the slick London professionals. But, on first impression—and one would expect these issues to have been addressed prior to the launch—to call this an amateur effort is an insult to the many volunteers who are already expending time and effort to support and promote a cause in which they believe.

No. This site is far worse than amateur. It carries the imprimatur of people who simply do not care, which, given that (without exaggeration) the EU referendum is about the future of our nation and Britain’s place in the world, is grounds enough to place a very large question mark over whether the ‘Vote Leave’ organisation and the people behind it are suitable candidates to lead the official “leave” campaign.

UPDATE: I see that Vote Leave has now changed the background of ‘The Campaign’ page from black to white. Good for them. They have still not done anything to correct the appalling copywriting (12/10/2015).

A User’s Guide To The New Media

Reports of journalists attending the Conservative Party Conference being spat at prompted the following headline on Yahoo News: “Hatred of the press is reaching toxic levels”. An ungenerous person might be tempted to remark that this is scant surprise given the great height from which the journos have been spitting on the rest of us for so many years. That, however, would be ungallant and unjust. Ad revenues are down, staff have been cut, and ‘click-bait’ is what brings in the punters, not in-depth or reasoned reporting.

The wretched hacks never stood a chance, for as the tech community never tires of telling us, we are in the midst of a revolution. While print circulations spiral ever downwards, the legacy media’s web-based counterparts are just about able to compensate, provided that costs are kept low. This favours a style of reporting that, like so many other aspects of networked culture, unthinkingly adopted by the masses—without any understanding of the (frequently bizarre) military-industrial/counter-culture complex that shapes executive decision-making on the West Coast of the United States—has rapidly become established as the de facto standard throughout the media industry.

Lacking the intellectual architecture to report on, let alone analyse current affairs, the legacy media resorts to trolling. Most readily associated with provocative comments ‘below the line’, written with the express purpose of eliciting an emotional response, trolling also takes place ‘above the line’—and with increasing frequency. Why? Trolling works. Millions of people visit the websites of The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Spectator and Brietbart London to receive a daily dose of outrage porn.

Understanding why people consent to this mild but persistent form of emotional abuse would require a team of psychologists, but it is my pet theory that many people are attracted to these “prestigious” sites by the readily accessibile comments section and the prospect (if not the actuality) of a captive audience. They vent and then they go back to sleep. However, the process is destructive rather than constructive. As a result, people will eventually tire of it and begin to wonder about what else they could be doing with their time.

The legacy media fears boredom and apathy (towards its offerings) above all else, so, for want of a coherent worldview, the intensity of the trolling will increase, driving smarter people even further out towards the periphery. The fear and confusion that the journos peddle—more often than not as a result of their own ignorance—is approaching a stage where near-on everybody with an ounce of self-respect is ready for something new.

…utterly unfit to cover the news

Part way through writing this piece, I was not sure that I wanted publish it. I was concerned that the topic was too theoretical and I was not happy with some of my descriptions of the more esoteric concepts, then a new media colleague posted the following message on Twitter, “This is how dumbed down our public service broadcaster has become. The BBC is utterly unfit to cover the news”, accompanied by a link to the following:

BBC_trolling
Above: The BBC trolls its own audience… this is from the news not Have I Got News For You

QED.

I am of the opinion that there is a large constituency of people who would like to embrace something better than what the legacy media provides, something that acknowledges that political debate is a matter for adults and engages in genuine dialogue. The aim of this blog therefore is to offer the kind of information and opinion that is condusive of reasoned debate. If you are not yet ready to abandon the security blanket of the legacy media then at least you may have access to an alternative—something to compare and contrast.

Unlike the legacy media I shall not troll my readers. The legacy media has little to offer except fear and confusion; their rotating ‘narrative’ kalidescope, which distorts debate through omission and misunderstanding, cannot possibly match a coherent intellectual architecture, which provides an essential aid to clear and critical thinking. Here, the fundamentally supranational (“above the nation”) nature of the EU institutions will be taken for granted, rather than denied, which, I think that you will find, clarifies, rather than confuses.

To that end, unless the main players in the legacy media considerably up their game, I see no use for their ramblings other than as entertainment and distraction. The aim is for this blog to become a place for real reflection, so, come one, come all—europhiles, eurosceptics, Brexiteers and Flexciteers—the legacy media no longer demands our active engagement, so let us instead engage with one another and get to the bottom of this matter of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

Finally, in the spirit of intelligence-led campaigning, I have a stack of books about global governance and where the various nation-states, along with the EU, fit into this matrix of connections. There is much more work to be done to develop the Weltanschauung to report on these issues with any degree of authority. I shall return.

Animal Farm

I am strongly of the opinion that the “leave” campaign must be led by people who are wholly committed to Britain leaving the EU. This may sound self-evident, but those of us who set this modest bar are already being accused of “infighting” for questioning whether Lord Lawson, who has so far only said that he would “leave” an “unreformed EU”, is an appropriate spokesman for the “leave” campaign.

This is unacceptable. An elite institution such as the SAS, for instance, has requirements for entry that must be met in order to gain admission. The servicemen who do not make the grade are not entitled to insist that the bar be lowered to accomodate their insufficient capabilities. This is not the SAS, of course, and Dr Richard’s North’s emphasis on self-starters who define their own level of involvement means that, in theory, there is a place for everybody in the EU referendum campaign. Qualifying to become a Brexiteer requires only that you are committed to achieving Britain’s exit from the European Union. How much you contribute and at what level is a determination that each individual will have to make for his or her self.

…from pig to man, and from man to pig…

The propositions on the ballot paper are “leave” and “remain”. There is no “reform”. Moreover, there is no EU “reform” that could ever satisify our demand for the return of independent self-government to the people and institutions of the country that we call home. We who advocate that Britain “leave” the EU do so not out of any misbegotten animosity towards the people or peoples of any other European nation-state, but because we fundamentally reject the principle of supranational (“above the nation”) governance upon which the EU is founded. Brexiteers do not think of leaving the EU from an introverted or an isolationist perspective, but recognise that Brexit is the only realistic means of achieving a lasting new relationship for Britain with the EU, based on international trade and intergovernmental co-operation.

We will not be able to stop people who do not share our principles— “eurosceptic” Tory politicians among them—from jumping on the Brexit bandwagon once we start the wheels turning, but we are not obliged to let any of them inside the tent. Those who say that “reform” is their first priority or who will only commit to leaving an “unreformed EU” exclude themselves. I see no reason why we should seek refuge in the false security of consensus when to do so would undermine the principles upon which our pragmatic position rests.

To that end, Anthony Scholefield’s Futurus think-tank hosts several briefing papers on its website. The paper titled, ‘Mistaken Assumptions of the EU Referendum Battle’ expresses the view that I have attempted to explicate (above) with tremendous clarity: “The referendum is about [the choice to] ‘remain or leave’ the European Union, not choosing between an ‘unreformed’ and ‘reformed’ European Union”. I recommend reading all of the briefings on the Futurus website. For those who are new to the EU debate, the papers explain many of the key issues in a bite-size form, and, for those of us who have vast stores of information about the EU and its assorted institutions and arrangements knocking around inside our heads, the papers are charmingly straightforward, without being simplistic.

With that in mind, I return to the introductory topic: How much do the positions of Tory Party peer, Lord Lawson, who says that he favours leaving an “unreformed EU”, and the position of Tory Party leader and Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, who says that “I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it”, really differ? Putting statements from the two men side by side indicates the claim that the Tories are “split” on the issue of Britain’s EU membership is fantasy. The ‘mood music’ may be different, but both of these men are singing from the same hymn sheet. Their first preference is “reform”, but, if they cannot achieve that, then they will accept the second-best option, which is to “leave” the EU.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”.

Are we to believe that there is some strange alchemy that allows hack journalists to determine that the europhile Prime Minister is simply indulging in a bit of convenient political positioning while one of his lieutenants, Lord Lawson, is a reliable ally of the “leave” campaign whom we should trust to give us direction?

As I have mentioned several times already and will mention many more times still, that is not how referendums work. Referendums are an opportunity for the people to give direction to government. What the politicians say or think is of no more importance than what your average man or woman on the street says or thinks. In fact, it is worth considerably less; there are only 650 of them, there are more than 30 million of us. We have no need of “pigs” who want to boss us about. The matter of whether Britain should “leave” or “remain” in the EU is for us to decide amongst ourselves.

Brexiteers do not accept that leaving the EU is the “second-best” option. We think that leaving the EU is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Language Matters

Article 50
Above: Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, in full.

Evidence of what Lord Justice Leveson termed our moronic media’s “powerful reputation for accuracy” was on display for all to see—and have a good laugh at—in The Independent on Sunday this weekend. The front-page headline read: “Brexit: We’d Have No Say On The Terms—EU rules insist other member states would dictate UK’s new deal after 2017, campaigners warn”. Perhaps some generous benefactor would like to provide the typewriter wielding monkeys who mashed together this slur of syllables with a dictionary so that they might ask an adult to look up and read to them the definition of the word “negotiation”—for this is what would follow Britain’s submission of an Article 50 notification to the President of the European Council.

According to that fount of all wisdom and knowledge on the Web, Wikipedia, “[n]egotiation is a dialogue between two or more people or parties intended to reach a mutually beneficial outcome, resolve points of difference, to gain advantage for an individual or collective, or to craft outcomes to satisfy various interests”. Clear? Negotiation is “a dialogue between two or more people or parties”. In other words, neither side can nor will “dictate” terms to the other. Certainly, there will be compromises. That is to be expected. But the aim of such a negotiation would be to arrive at a “mutually beneficial outcome” on which both parties can agree. Simple, right?

The Boiling Frog was quick off the mark, doing the hard work of providing a detailed refutation of the Independent‘s abject misrepresentation of the facts before the day was out. I would highly recommend also reading his detailed description of the Article 50 withdrawal process, as it is defined in the Treaty of Lisbon and in accordance with international law. It is difficult to imagine how anyone with the reading comprehension of an eight-year-old could fail to understand that the text for Article 50(4) (above) simply says that the withdrawing Member State shall not be allowed to sit on both sides of the table during negotiations to agree a suitable exit settlement. Embarrassingly Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, who still has not responded to my challenges to his false assertions regarding Britain’s EU membership, is quoted in the piece, supporting the illiterate Independent view. Whoops!

Turning our attention to the way in which one-time broadsheets—The Guardian, nominally on “the left”, and The Telegraph, nominally on “the right”—consistently refer to the EU referendum campaign as an “In/Out” contest, one could be excused for wondering if there is not a more sinister game afoot. Is it more realistic to imagine that a policy decision taken at editorial—or maybe even board level—to deliberately distort issues that are otherwise perfectly clear could explain the legacy media tendency to mislead or would the fact that the overwhelming majority of the reporters, leader writers and political commentators who write for these august journals are so lazy, ineffectual and incompetent that they have not yet grasped that the referendum will be fought between people and groups which advocate that Britain either “leave” or “remain” in the EU offer a satisfactory explanation of the persistent legacy media misrepresentation of even the most basic starting point for debate? Neither possibility is particularly salutary while both provide a compelling reason to begin to disengage from these incurious fools who presume to tell us how and what to think.

There are parallels between the “In/Out” idiocy and the policy of referring to the EU as “Europe”. Controlling language is a means of controlling thought, as George Orwell describes in Politics and The English Language. If the electorate associates leaving the supranational treaty organisation known as the European Union (EU) with “leaving” the geographical continent or broad civilisational dispensation associated with the word “Europe” then the proposition is instantly rendered laughable, silly, kookish. There is no need to actively argue a case because the “framing” privileges one perspective and disprivileges another.

The misleading designations, “In” and “Out”, which appear as a matter of routine in several national daily newspapers, should be a cause for serious concern among campaign groups on both sides of the debate. In their invaluable history of Britain’s only previous plebiscitary vote on the issue of our membership of the organisation that became the European Union, The 1975 Referendum, co-authors David Butler and Uwe Kitzinger explain:

… most pollsters believed that although phrasing could make a great difference in a hypothetical situation, at the end of a fully publicised campaign where the issue was clear the actual question wording would matter little.

In short, if we do not make the issue clear then the risk of an illegitimate referendum result increases. It is therefore the responsibility (née obligation) of everybody involved in the referendum campaigns to establish that we are making a choice to determine whether we wish for Britain to “remain” in or “leave” the European Union. To that end, all rhetoric aside, the media also has a serious role which is not presently being fulfilled. The propositions on the ballot paper are “leave” and “remain” and, according to the Code of Practice issued and enforced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the press “must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” and “whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”.

This loose use of language is highly corrosive, and not being a nuisance and making a fuss about it now is what allows newspapers the license to print full-blown distortions on their front page.

The Principle Reason For Our EU Membership

Reading back over David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech, I was astonished to find the following statement:

“Our participation in the Single Market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason for our membership of the EU.”

Could it be that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not aware of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which mandates that in product areas where “relevant international standards exist”, the signatories, which include both Britain and the European Union, “shall use them as a basis for their technical regulations” in preference to existing ‘domestic’ regulation?

The overwhelming majority of Single Market rules are technical standards for trade that apply globally. The EU role in the Single Market involves little more than putting its “stamp” on international regulations agreed between national governments at the BIS, Codex, UNECE, ITU, etc,. Therefore, taking Mr Cameron at his word, what he calls “the principle reason for our membership of the EU”—“participation in the Single Market”—is, in fact, a barrier to “our ability to help set [Single Market] rules”. The WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade means that Cameron is (unknowingly) supporting the case that is made by those who say that leaving the EU will enhance Britain’s global influence.

I already knew that the EU represents its various Member States, including Britain, on many of these important intergovernmental bodies, but I was not aware that Cameron had stated so publicly that the ability to “help set [Single Market] rules” is the “principle reason for our EU membership”. However, as an EU Member State, Britain actually has less of a say in setting Single Market rules. In other words, “the principle reason for our EU membership” is a compelling argument to “leave” the EU and forge a new relationship for Britain with the EU, founded on the principles of independent self-government and intergovernmental co-operation.