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Thursday 26 December 2013


For anyone who could be bothered to keep up with the newspaper headlines today; and who is inclined to easily believe the sort of positive spin that has become the norm in much of our mainstream media, then no doubt you will have been pleased and gratified to learn that within a couple of decades Britain will be on course to become Europe's largest economy; or that power and glory will be coming to Britain in 2030. After all, that'll be good news, right?
Only I'm no expert, but I'd be pretty sure that the likes of David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne and all, would be extremely happy about any newspaper headlines essentially confirming what they've been telling us all along, that the pain will be worth it in the long run, that their austerity measures are working, that we're all in this together.
The report in question, issued by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, proudly boasts that by 2030; and assuming a growing population, relatively low taxes, as well as a continuing existence outside of a still failing Euro-zone, Britain could, or even might surpass Germany as the biggest and strongest economy in Europe. Furthermore, the report authors go on to suggest, that the UK might become the most successful western economy, behind the USA, by 2030; a prediction that will undoubtedly warm the cockles of every Conservative heart in the country, especially when one considers the food banks, homelessness and their treatment of the disabled that they've been forced to impose on the country, in response to the last Labour government's wastefulness. However, according to some members of the Coalition government, this report simply helps to underpin the need for their austerity measures and lends weight to their argument that the deficit is falling (although the National Debt isn't) and that new jobs are being created (most of which are part-time and low paid, leading to a significant increase in the amounts of Tax Credits being paid out)
Of course, there are certain economic provisos, stipulations and pre-requisites to be met before we start jeering at the fiscal misfortunes of our German neighbours, not least of which is the need for a weak Euro, an ageing population and the prospect of future Euro-zone bailouts within the region. Only if these specific criteria are met can we hope to outperform our German counterparts, essentially by wishing them every sort of socio-economic misery that you wouldn't wish on your own worst enemy. However, in the event that the Euro-zone was to collapse and Germany was to return to its former national currency, the Deutschmark, then in all probability the UK would not, could not surpass Germany as the strongest economy in Europe. Happily though, the report does forecast that the UK might outperform our French neighbours more easily, given that the current socialist incumbent is bound and determined to impose high tax and low export strategies during his term of office, although whether or not these will still be adversely affecting the French economy by 2030 is extremely questionable at best.
According to the report by the CEBR, Britain's forecasted success over the course of the next sixteen years doesn't just depend on the bad luck experienced by our European competitors, but also the UK taking affirmative steps to secure its own future prosperity. Economic clouds on the far distant horizons of 2030 that it highlights include, the threat to cut immigration; and Britain's increasingly fractious relationship with the European Union as a whole, presumably referring to Mr Cameron's much vaunted promise of an In/Out referendum in 2017, which seems to take little account of the current state of the public opinion polls in the UK; and the growing likelihood that Mr Cameron will be a one term Conservative Premier anyway. That fairly important issue aside however, the report also makes plain that any future success for the UK must be based on its ability to win new markets and new customers, as well as to improve its current balance of payments, which is heavily influenced by domestic consumer spending, rather than by international trade.
Interestingly though, almost as soon as this report was published by the mainstream media, various commentators began pulling holes in it, not least the fact that the economists at the Centre of Economic and Business Research are trying to forecast events some fifteen to twenty years in the future, when generally they struggle to predict two or three years in advance.
The fact that the report also relies on the purported benefits of mass immigration to support its own hypothesis has also come in for a fair degree of criticism, especially when one considers that Britain already has millions of its own indigenous people idle, through lack of work, yet the CEBR espouses the introduction of even more foreign workers to fill what few jobs are left. Presumably the basis for their argument is that these foreign migrants are generally fit and able, yet seems to take little account of the fact that such migrants are often transitory in their nature; and in most circumstances are likely to take money out of the British economy, rather than put it in. This was particularly true of the hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens who drifted in and out of the British economy, ostensibly to make their money, which was then returned to their native homelands; and thus creating little if any benefit to the British economy as a whole. Added to this is the sheer investment that existing British taxpayers have had to make in order to ensure that additional basic structures were in place before a single migrant arrived, or paid a penny in tax, with essential services like police, health, education, community services all having to be reinforced to cope with the additional numbers of people living in a particular area.
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy comments offered by critics of this particular report, was the fact that one of the CEBR's own economists had previously forecast that it might take until around 2020 before the UK could end its debt reduction programs; and that on the basis of its own calculations Britain could not maintain its AAA rating, about which it was partly right and partly wrong. Other commentators who doubt the efficacy of the report have also pointed out that it is what the CEBR doesn't say, which is more important than what it does. They point out that the UK's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita has been slowly but steadily declining since 2007 due in no small part to the massive inward migration from Europe and elsewhere. This they suggest is why the CEBR report supports the idea of maintaining high immigration numbers, simply because high inward migration inevitably leads to higher GDP, but without the guarantee of higher national production. As things stand in the UK, making things, our manufacturing industries are estimated to account for around a miserable 10% of our country's total GDP, despite the fact that some seven million foreign born migrants have now settled in our country, perhaps illustrating the point that mass migration doesn't always lead to greater productivity in the manufacturing sectors.
Fundamentally though, this report, like many others will probably be as accurate as that other area of national forecasting, the British weather; and in all likelihood will offer no certainties about what the future holds. As with the weather, economic forecasting is dependant on so many variables, a few that can be controlled, but many that can't, that it would be virtually impossible to offer any cast iron guarantees about anything. Assuming the economic history of post World War II Germany to date, it seems highly unlikely that its politicians would allow their country to lose its hard won position as the foremost manufacturing centre in Western Europe. It also does not seem to make any sense that Britain with an ageing population would perform any better or any worse than Germany with an ageing population, when both countries happen to be the preferred destination for millions of young, economically active migrants from the former Eastern Europe states.
There's an old adage about how people wishing their lives away is an inherently bad thing to do; and it's probably safe to say that neither should we allow organisations like the Centre for Economic and Business Research to forecast our lives away either, as in all probability they'll be proved to be wrong. So for anyone who happened to get excited about the headlines proclaiming Britain as the economic strongman of Europe in around 2030, perhaps it might be worth waiting a few years before you start getting the bunting out.           

Thursday 12 December 2013

Being Blasé About Benefits:

Listening to the various spokesmen and women from both sides of the political divide, it is perhaps no surprise that most people would come to accept the idea that Britain has within its borders a rampantly acquisitive welfare underclass who are robbing the country's coffers blind, in order to pay for their expensive cars, foreign holidays, flat screen TV's and the latest digital devices. Of course, if you happen to be a Daily Mail reader, then you won't need to be told that most of those who are unemployed are simply jobless layabouts, who sit at home making babies, filling out the latest benefit claim form, whilst balancing a bottle of cheap cider on one knee and a butt laden ashtray on the other, as their reporters will tell you about them virtually every day of the week.
In order to fully illustrate the fact that any sort of two or three party politics is well and truly dead and buried in modern Britain, it was interesting to watch Labour's Rachel Reeve and the Conservatives Philip Hammond tried to outdo one another in their separate party's proposals to exert some form of control over the unbridled excesses and failures of the British Welfare State, with the equally obnoxious Jo Coburn and Andrew Neil helping to drive them along. Both main political parties agree that the current Welfare State is generally unsustainable and therefore plan to review, examine and reassess the entire benefits system, but not before they waste millions more of the taxpayers hard earned money in trying out a series of ill judged and misconceived computer systems that are clearly beyond their abilities and timescales. For Labour it was the billions wasted on an NHS IT system, for the Tories it was the millions wasted on attempting to build the Universal Credit network; and then they have the sheer nerve to call the Welfare system wasteful.
What was both alarming and annoying about Ms Reeve's and Mr Hammond's united denunciation of a system that supports the pensioned and the poor, was that they were equally damning about an administrative and fiscal monster that both Conservative and Labour parties have helped create in the first place. Margaret Thatcher's de-industrialisation of Britain helped ensure that many of the high skilled, well paid jobs of the past either went elsewhere or disappeared completely, leaving industrial wastelands in their wake. The financial bounty from North Sea oil, that might otherwise have been spent on re-tooling, restyling or rebuilding our old fashioned and badly maintained industrial heartlands was used instead to maintain the dole queues in the former manufacturing and coal mining centres of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Yes, an all encompassing welfare safety net can be a bad thing! But just who exactly created the social and economic conditions to make it so vital and necessary for millions of people in Britain today? 
Although the country survived Thatcherism, its survival came at a very high price, not least in terms of the loss of traditions, communities and skills that had taken generations to create and to learn. Just whose fault is it that there is little if any large scale industrial manufacturing in Britain today? The successive governments who have singularly failed to attract such businesses? The businesses themselves who have relocated themselves to the low wage economies of Asia? Or is it the fault of the 17 year old who leaves school with few qualifications, few real practical skills, but might be lucky enough to get a full-time job in a local factory, or in a local supermarket? Obviously, if you accept the Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat's line of thinking then its the 17 year olds fault, as it has nothing to do with them whatsoever.
And where does the Labour Party fit into the equation? Well, let's not forget that it was Tony Blair and his trusty Scottish sidekick Gordon Brown who took the view that in order to compete with the likes of China, India and the other low wage economies, then Britain too needed to be a low wage destination. Of course the only flaw in Mr Blair's plan was that he then thought it would be a good idea to flood the country with millions of European workers, who were more than happy to work for lower than average wages, beginning a "race to the bottom" in terms of wage rates that's still being run. But still, with increasing numbers of low paid jobs, part time posts and escalating living expenses, Mr Blair was able to offset the worst effects of the low wage economy by rolling out a whole new set of benefits for people, including the likes of Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits. So now, instead of having millions of people sitting on welfare doing nothing, we have millions of people on welfare doing something, including keeping employers costs down and making the welfare bill bigger and bigger. So once again we make the same old point. Yes, an all encompassing welfare safety net can be a bad thing! But just who exactly created the social and economic conditions to make it so vital and necessary for millions of people in Britain today?
Part of the problem when people start talking about welfare is that the concept and the actual conversation most commonly associated with the term itself is that regarding the idle and the indigent, in fact the comparatively small numbers of claimants who choose to see benefits as a viable alternative to paid work. However, if you take a look at the specific breakdown of welfare benefits paid out in this country on a yearly basis, most people would be surprised at what the Welfare State is comprised of and what exactly is paid out by the benefits system.
Strictly speaking the Welfare State covers the provision of basic healthcare, education, employment and social security, rather than as one might suppose the provision of money alone, which is the one particular aspect of Welfare that seems to agitate people's opinions the most virulently.
Interestingly though, it wouldn't occur to most people that the biggest part of Britain's Welfare budget, around 46% of it, or some £74.2 billion of the monies spent on it in 2011-2012, actually went on old age pensions. A further £16.9 billion, or some 10.6% of the total Welfare pot was spent on Housing Benefits, whilst another £12.6 billion, or 7.9% was spent on providing Disability Living Allowance. At the same time an estimated £8.1 billion, or 5.1% of the total budget was spent on Pension Credits, whilst a further £6.9 billion, or 4.3% was paid out in Income Support. Rent Rebates totalled £5.5 billion (3.4%) Attendance Allowance accounted for £5.3 billion (3.3%), whilst Jobseekers Allowance amounted to £4.9 billion (3.1%) of the total. Incapacity Benefit came to £4.9 billion (3.1%), Council Tax Benefit £4.8 billion, Employment & Support Allowance £3.6 billion (2.3%), Sickness & Maternity Pay £2.5 billion (1.5%), Social Fund Payments £2.4 billion (1.5%), Carer's Allowance £1.7 billion (1%), Financial Assistance Scheme £1.2 billion (0.8%) and other Welfare expenditure £4.7 billion (3%).
However, when considering some of these apparently eye-watering sums of money, it is worth bearing in mind perhaps that in 2013 the Coalition has set aside, or is planning to spend around £97 billion on education alone. They are also estimating that our debt interest payments, the cost of borrowing money from the markets is going to cost £51 billion from our national budget, at the same time that George Osborne and Danny Alexander are planning to borrow a further £108 billion to help fill in our country's financial deficit. Recalling that the cost of Jobseekers Allowance was around £5 billion for 2011-2012 and yet this year we were going to spend ten times that amount just to pay off the interest on our national loans should help put the question of Welfare into some sort of overall perspective.
And for those who might question the need for basic Welfare payments of any description, please remember this. Attendance Allowance, which cost £5.3 billion in 2011-2012 is provided to those over-65's (pensioners) who have a disability, or are seriously ill and require help with personal care. Should their benefits be cut? Approximately 5 million people rely on Housing Benefit to keep a roof over their heads; and to keep them safe and secure. It cost the country £17 billion in 2011-2012. Should their benefits be cut and the claimants be made homeless? The largest part of the Welfare budget goes to the estimated 10 million pensioners that we have living in this country, a number that is guaranteed to rise in the coming years. Should their benefits be cut? As of May 2012 there were an estimated 2.3 million people claiming Disability Living Allowance, which amounted to £12.6 billion. Should their benefits be cut? Pension Credits designed to help top-up the incomes of our most impoverished old aged pensioners cost the country £8.1 billion. Should their benefits be cut? Income Support, which is provided to those not registered as unemployed, working less than 16 hours per week, with little or no pay, cost the Treasury an estimated £6.9 billion. Should their benefits be cut? That is not to forget of course the 5 million households (perhaps more) who are in receipt of either Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit, both of which will be costing the treasury billions every year through the HMRC; who are entitled to financial help in order to offset their often meagre hours or basic pay; and without which work would certainly not pay. Should their benefits be cut?
Even though no-one can seriously doubt that huge savings need to be made to Britain's overall expenditure, as testified to by the fact that the Treasury is having to borrow just over £100 billion just to help balance the books as it were. However, the very idea that finding substantive savings by essentially penalising the very poorest or the most needy has to be a recipe for disaster; and would doubtless be seen as such, were both Labour and Conservative parties not trying to appeal to the very same small group of potential voters in time for 2015.
The concept that significant numbers of the unemployed, the young, the low paid or the large numbers of those workers who are under-employed are somehow deliberately taking advantage of an overly generous Welfare State is a complete nonsense created by a tabloid press that would be well advised to get out of its offices more. If we have a major financial problem in this country, both Labour and Conservative politician's might do better than to take their eye off the Welfare football and cast a glance at their own creations, such as Overseas Aid that is costing this country around £9 billion a year, Free School programs that are costing £1.5 billion, contributions to the European Union which is costing us £9 billion, or large scale infrastructure projects that have been estimated at hundreds of billions over the next 20 years or so. Full employment in any country is essentially a myth, it always was and always has been. It is pointless exercise for the political classes to constantly carp and complain about social and economic situations that they themselves have helped to create. If you close down industrial capacity, then expect unemployment to rise. Fail to invest, then expect a lack of international competitiveness. Only offer workers part-time and low paid work, then expect them to take up the welfare benefits that are on offer. Withdraw or reduce those necessary benefits, then expect people to struggle to survive. It isn't rocket science, just good financial commonsense, but just being blasé' about benefits doesn't help anyone, least of all those people who want to be elected by the very same welfare recipients that the politicians are currently threatening to target. 

Tuesday 10 December 2013

A Chamber Of The Dire And Dishonourable:

I wonder just how many of us would choose to vote for a political party, or an individual representative who bravely stood up at a public meeting and freely admitted that they were going to lie to their electorate, were going to deliberately misrepresent their electors views, spend their voter's money irresponsibly, were likely to spend more of their time on paid directorships than on public service, or were likely to claim more in expenses than some of their individual electors earn from a full-time working salary?
How about voting for a prospective candidate who would willingly admit to being told what to do by his bosses, even if that meant acting against the public good, or at the expense of the public purse? How about choosing a political candidate whose more than happy to spend your hard earned money on foreign singing groups, than on the elderly or the disabled in the UK? Would you vote for an electoral candidate who is more than happy to hand over control of our industrial capacity, our transport networks, our energy provision, our agricultural sector, our fishing grounds, our national borders or our diplomatic services to a foreign government?
The chances are that should a prospective political candidate of any description freely admit to any of these things electoral promises, then in all likelihood they wouldn't be chosen to represent any given parliamentary constituency, yet increasingly it seems this is exactly what's happening with our elected representatives. Electioneering by all parties has become much more about what candidates don't say, as opposed to what they do tell the electorate, making pre-election promises essentially worthless, to any of us who remain naive enough to believe a word that our political classes tell us prior to any public vote.
The fact that so many councillors, prospective parliamentary candidates and sitting members of parliament choose to treat their electorates with such utter contempt, should be a worrying development for any voter, but most especially for the 50, 60 or occasionally 70% of the electorate who choose to exercise their right to select a representative. Were a banker, a shopkeeper, a businessman, a doctor, or even a travel operator to mislead us in such a obvious and contemptible fashion, then we would have recourse to the law, or to some form of regulatory body, yet with our publicly elected representatives, no form of redress is readily available to the individual voter, or even to a larger body of disillusioned constituents.
Either by accident or by design we have somehow managed to create a "cheats chamber" at the heart of our democracy, an inequitable and seemingly unimpeachable forum, consisting of the great and the good, as well as the dire and the dishonourable.
It is perhaps no surprise then that increasingly the British voter want to play no part in the representative facade that our parliamentary system is fast becoming, if only because they have little if any real part to play in the entire political process. Come election time, the best they can hope for from their party candidates are half-truths, lies and misrepresentations, rather than the well thought out logic of argument and counter argument, viewpoint and its counter view, reason and debate. How much easier it is to simply tow the party line, to offer pointless political slogans without any real substance, to attack your opponent without offering credible solutions.
The sheer mendaciousness of our political leaders has been well illustrated on an almost endless basis by the likes of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, with their individual acts and promises on a variety of high profile issues, from EU referenda to banking reforms, from student fees to gay marriage, from EU renegotiations to reform of the NHS, from environmental policies to controlling mass immigration, the list of ill conceived,  never intended and occasionally secretive electoral strategies just goes on and on. And of course, to add to the intrinsic worthlessness of our elected representatives we enjoyed the public debacle of the MP's expenses scandal, with their duck houses, their moats, their naughty films, their flipping houses, their travelling costs, their family members being paid from the public purse; and the rest of the private arrangements that seemed to go on ad infinitum. "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive!" Clearly, that little ditty could have been written specially for some of our "honourable" members!
As if to further underpin the actual disdain that some of our leaders have for the public at large, we have a British Prime Minister, supported by the majority of his parliamentary party, along with most of their junior Liberal Democratic colleagues, sending a delegation to Europe, ostensibly to renegotiate our terms of membership, in preparation for the much publicised EU referendum in 2017. Now, where one would expect that this negotiating team might have included those with a more sceptical view of the EU project; and who would therefore have demanded the most onerous of terms from the EU, in order to ensure our continued participation in the European club, it seems that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg have instead chosen a negotiating team, which is almost guaranteed to get as little as possible from their European counterparts. Given that that is the case one can only conclude therefore that neither Mr Cameron, nor Mr Clegg are genuinely interested in renegotiating our membership of the EU; and instead are content to give the British public "the finger", when it comes to the whole question of Europe and our place within it.
True to form though, Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg and no doubt that other intellectual star of the Commons, Mr Miliband, will all agree that whatever deal is reached with Europe, is and was the best for all concerned, regardless of the people's view to the contrary. With a considerable war chest to finance a pre-determined "yes" vote in any future European referendum, be that in 2017 or later, once again the British people can fully expect to be treated to the same sort of lies, propaganda and misrepresentation that have become almost commonplace within modern political debate.
The reality is of course that the people who are ultimately responsible for the government of our country; and therefore the likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and their parliamentary colleagues, including the cheats, the thieves, the liars, the misguided, the misinformed, etc. are us, the British electorate. We're the forty-odd million people who put them in charge of our laws, our taxes, our foreign relations, our benefit systems, our health service, our schools and colleges, our Armed Forces; and all of the other departments that run our country on a day to day basis. Even those who wilfully choose not to cast their votes during elections are responsible, because their choice to deliberately abstain from the voting process can directly affect the outcome of individual constituencies, preventing the better qualified candidate from winning; and allowing the possibly less able party placeman or woman to succeed. At the end of the day we get who we vote for; and it is beholding on us as an informed electorate to see behind the spin, the lies, the propaganda and the misrepresentation that candidates offer us on the doorstep, or in their professional looking manifesto leaflets. One would like to imagine that the average British voter is becoming much more adept at spotting the liars, the cheats, the charlatans and the party placemen and women who have little to offer the country except their own personal vanity and greed, but no doubt we'll just have to wait and see if that happens in the European elections of 2014 and the General Election in 2015. Here's hoping anyway! 

The Wilful Destruction Of A Promised Land:

There is perhaps a subtle irony in the fact, that a country, which is supposedly so valued by so many outsiders, will almost inevitably be destroyed by them, such is their determination and desire to become part of it.
I well remember a friend who lived in a beautiful little Victorian Spa town in Mid Wales telling me about the hundreds of visitors who regularly visited his hometown every year to marvel at the architecture of a bygone age, set in the tranquillity of the Welsh countryside; and the many who wished that they too could live in this same rural idyll away from the noise, crime and pollution of the various English towns and cities that lay just across the other side of the border. And some of these same people actually did go on to make the move, from urban conurbation to rural community, selling off their extremely expensive city homes; and purchasing properties and land, where they hoped to create their own little piece of heaven on earth, just as they'd imagined when they first visited the area a few years earlier.
In fact, before long, so many of these city dwelling visitors had relocated themselves into the small Victorian Spa town that virtually all of the existing housing stocks had been exhausted; and in order to accommodate even more of these largely English settlers, increasing amounts of farming land, the very same pastures that had helped create the rural idyll in the first place, was sold to housing developers, who very quickly began to build new housing estates to accommodate all of the new residents. These same new properties all required new utilities, new roads and new shops, all built to cater for the growing population, that within a decade or so, had fundamentally destroyed the rural idyll that every one of the visitors and foreign incomers had been so desperate to be a part of in the first place.
In a similar manner, but on a much larger scale, one could so easily make a comparison between what happened to that small Mid Wales Spa town and what is currently happening to Britain. Ask the economic migrant or the political refugee from almost anywhere in the world where their preferred destination would be and there's a fair chance that a significant proportion, if given that choice, would choose to come and settle in Britain, often for the widest variety of reasons. It might be because they've heard that our native people are highly amiable, because we have beautiful countryside, because we're a democracy, because we don't stigmatise or persecute minorities, because there are lots of employment opportunities, because we offer generous welfare benefits to the poor, or because we offer the disenfranchised and the dispossessed the chance of a new start in life regardless of their past. In fact, name your reason for people to choose to leave their homelands and no doubt some or other migrant or refugee has used it as a reason to come to Britain.
Putting aside the basic fact, that per kilometre, the United Kingdom is the third most populated country in all of Western Europe, were it simply a case of actual physical "space", then in all likelihood our country could doubtless accommodate millions more than it does at present. In truth however, the matter of physical space, or actual room, is not quite that simple, as one also needs to consider the farmland, the rivers, the buildings, the transport links, the airports, the houses, the business parks, the forests, the parks, the cities and the towns that make a modern country what they are and what they need to provide to their indigenous peoples. Were we simply able to live shoulder to shoulder, with no basic need for heat, light, shelter, food, healthcare, transport, entertainment or education, then quite obviously we could quite probably fit tens of millions of extra people onto our little island home, only knowing that our limits were reached when the people on the outer edges of our communities began falling off our coastline and into the seas that surround us.
In the real world though, people do not live like that and neither would we expect to, or indeed like to. Even the most generous, the most naive amongst us, must recognise that limits on our population are necessary, if only to ensure that we can adequately feed, house, educate, transport, warm, defend, entertain and employ ourselves. Even though it might be argued that we have plenty of spare room in Britain, in order to easily accommodate the extra 200,000 migrants and refugees who come into our country each and every year, it's perhaps worth bearing in mind that each and every one of these newcomers has to be fed, housed, employed, cared for, transported around and in some cases educated, from the very limited resources we have, but that were never intended to cope with such huge additional numbers of users.
Obviously we can build new homes, schools, hospitals, motorways, railways, airports, shops and offices; just as we can employ more doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, teachers, classroom assistants, nursery nurses and policemen, but at what additional cost to our existing citizens, as well as our national exchequer and our native environment? Just how long would it be before large parts of Britain would start to resemble that Victorian Spa town in Mid Wales, with its rapidly diminishing natural environment being slowly but surely replaced by busy commuter routes; and growing suburban sprawl, complete with its associated accoutrements, like the schools, supermarkets and health centres that commonly attach themselves to such growing population centres. It's not so much a rural idyll anymore!
Other changes that often accompany such large scale migrations by outsiders to a particular area, or indeed country, is the almost instinctive desire for these strangers to surround themselves with familiar things from their previous lives. Consider the number of "urbanites" who initially proclaimed the raw beauty of the rural life in Mid Wales, who very quickly came to complain about the lack of facilities that they had become used to in the former city homes. No restaurants, no cinema, no big department stores, no high end brand stores, no burger bar, no fun pubs, no nightclubs; all of the sorts of things that one would never expect to see in the sort of rural idyll that they claimed to want for themselves, but that inevitably established themselves in the Welsh countryside in pursuit of their custom.
Likewise, most foreign refugees and migrants who come to Britain simply seem to pay lip service to the very same things that they claim drew them here in the first place. Instead of adopting the values of their new homeland and integrating themselves into British society, significant numbers of these same foreign incomers tend to isolate themselves within their own ethnic or national communities, becoming part of the disparate foreign ghettoes that regularly establish themselves within our bigger towns and cities. Rather than support and use British based businesses, they often choose to establish their own, complete with foreign language signs, as a means of further segregating themselves from the surrounding British based community. They instil their own cultural histories and traditional values into their children, most of whom were born here in the UK, rather than those of their adopted British homeland, thereby undermining the cultural heritage of our own country, yet would still deliberately and dishonestly claim to "love" everything about Britain, when in fact their actions and behaviour suggest otherwise.
Some migrants and refugees who reside here, not only actively dislike Britain and anything British, but can also occasionally bring with them their own inbred intolerances from their native homelands, be they cultural or religious, which are fundamentally alien to the British way of life, Sometimes these same natural prejudices can become engrained into the various foreign communities that exist within our national borders; and can sometimes cause even British-born nationals to commit criminal or otherwise intolerant acts, ostensibly on the basis of injustices, beliefs or teachings that have absolutely no place within British society; and yet we allow them to continue!
Clearly, it is absurd to expect that a Pole, a Romanian, a Frenchman, a German, an Indian, or a Chinese citizen, who wasn't actually born in Britain, to want to safeguard our historical or cultural heritage. Why would they? After all, that would be like expecting a Briton to protect theirs! And why would we do that? We have no ties or allegiances to their histories, or their cultures; and neither do they to ours! Migrants from our European neighbours are not here for any other reason, than it pays for them to be so. If it best suited or paid for them to leave tomorrow, they would be gone tomorrow; and on that basis alone, we should expect nothing more from them; and we certainly shouldn't expect them to protect or even respect our hard earned history and culture.
Like it or not, the British public appear to be facing a series of hard choices in the coming years. Do we choose to continue as we are, with an open door policy for anyone with an EU passport, a Commonwealth link or a personal hard luck story; or do we decide to say enough is enough, we're full for the next few years, until such time that we can bring some sort of order to our country's immigration policies? A break with our previous open door migration policies might also allow time for the various foreign communities within Britain to make a choice of their own, either to try and integrate more fully into the British way of life, or maybe, just maybe, to find a new home elsewhere, in a country that best suits their particular linguistic, cultural or religious needs.
In reality Britain is and never has been a promised land for everyone. We are and always have been a country and a people who have been shaped by our past. Our national awkwardness, though damned by some of our nearest European neighbours, might be thought to be based on our own national reluctance to change, which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your own personal point of view. However, large scale unfettered and unregulated migration from elsewhere in the world will simply cause change to be imposed on us all, whether we want it or not. If Britain is any sort of promised land, then it was only ever meant to be so for the generations that came after those who paid the price of building it for us, not for the millions of international waifs and strays who would come to our country and rob us of the historical, cultural and religious inheritance that we were gifted by our forefathers.  

Saturday 7 December 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do:

Even though most people's opinion about the European Union and our country's continued membership of it, are still probably largely informed by the highly emotive subject of mass migration, or the implicit threat of millions of British jobs being lost were we to ever contemplate leaving the club, in and of themselves these particular subjects are only ever employed to simply, what is after all, a very complicated matter.
Like a long marriage or relationship, the longer it goes on the more entangled both parties become with one another, to the extent that it is often easier to stay together, than it is to go through the bother of separating out what belongs to one party; and what belongs to the other. This is especially true when one considers the mutual relationships that Britain has built up with its European neighbours, in terms of trade, finance, migration, education, defence, transport, political representation, agriculture, employment, welfare, policing, judiciary, fishing and international affairs, all of which have become legally enmeshed over the course of the past forty years. The fact that it has taken four decades to integrate ourselves into Europe, should also be a clear indicator as to just how much time and trouble it would be, to fully and finally disentangle ourselves from the European Union, assuming of course that we could or would be bothered to do so.
Not a single one of us should be under any illusions though! Were the decision left to our three mainstream political parties, Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrats, the question of our continued membership of the EU would be moot, simply because all three leaderships are intrinsically wedded to our membership. Had it not been for his own sceptical backbenchers and the unexpected rise of UKIP in the national opinion polls; and regardless of previous promises that he had made to the country on the subject, David Cameron would not and probably will not choose to offer this country a referendum on Europe that he might potentially lose. Neither for that matter will Nick Clegg, or Ed Miliband, simply because in their own minds; and in their own opinions, that would be the wrong decision for our country; one that they're certainly not prepared to trust to a public vote, which they might very well lose.
But therein lies part of the problem with the European debate held thus far in Britain. With the Conservative leadership grudgingly forced to promise a referendum in 2017, assuming of course that they're re-elected in 2015; and with both Labour and the Lib Dems steadfastly refusing to discuss the issue under any circumstances, any properly informed debate has hardly yet begun. As a result, we've had Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem party trying to stifle any sort of public debate on the subject by quoting often highly questionable, if not completely fatuous figures about how many British jobs would be lost as the result of a UK withdrawal from the EU, which simply serves to frighten the electorate, rather than inform them. For their part, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Trade Union paymasters seem to have placed a party wide embargo on the subject of our continued European membership, not because they don't have a view on it, which is entirely pro-European, but presumably because by choosing to ignore the issue entirely, allows them to keep their electoral options open. However, no-one should be in any doubt, were we having a referendum campaign today, Mr Miliband and most of his Shadow Cabinet would almost certainly be strenuously campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union, regardless of any terms and conditions that that membership might impose on our country.
For myself, as a devout Eurosceptic I would like to see our country out of the European Union completely, but restoring our historic and traditional trading links with any and all countries that are willing and able to engage in reciprocal trade with us. Like many others, I do not dislike Europe or its various peoples, but neither do I consider myself a European. I regard myself as British, as old-fashioned and as out-of-step as that might appear to be; and as such take a personal pride in the histories, traditions and culture of our country that powered this generally insignificant crop of island's in the northernmost corner of Europe, from medieval backwater, to the centre of the greatest and largest Empire the world has seen thus far.
That magnificent history aside, one well understands that the world has moved on and that commerce and finance are now two of the levers of power that control the world's events, bringing into play the various trading and customs unions that the EU represents. However, such trade clubs are not in themselves a reason for individual sovereign states to simply surrender their historic independence to a remote and un-elected central committee, as we seem to be doing here in the UK. As each year passes, our elected parliament and the six hundred or so British representatives who sit there become less and less relevant to the way in which we live our lives on a day to day basis. Increasingly, it is the generally anonymous Members of the European Parliament (the MEP's) who are more involved with and important to just how the British people are ruled. The problem with that; and the existence of the European Parliament is that British lives are not only being run by British representatives that we, the British people, have actually voted for, but also by French, German, Belgian, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian MEP's, who have been elected by their own native populations, to look out for their national interests, not yours or mine.
Of course, if you happen to be a huge fan of the European Union and its various democratic offices, then you will see nothing wrong in that arrangement at all. However, given that every single one of our nationally elected governments, including those in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, etc are essentially redundant, having deferred most of their executive powers to Brussels, then surely the logical conclusion is that at some point in time they will be closed down; and what then? If such independent states are no longer deemed to be sovereign countries in their own rights, by virtue of having no national ruling government of their own, but are simply represented in Brussels by a specific number of regional MEP's, who can easily be outvoted by their political opponents, then what sort of future for Britain then? Clearly, the likes of Mr Cameron, Clegg and Miliband must be in favour of such political developments, simply because they see Britain's place within the European Union, with its ever closer union, even though it would seem that they're essentially voting for their own political extinction in a sense!
The truth of the matter is that no-one knows what would happen if or when Britain chose to leave the European Union, British politicians don't know, European governments don't know and EU delegates don't know! Nobody knows simply because it hasn't happened before! A lot of people, including economists, politicians, diplomats, newspaper editors and even world leaders have all speculated about a possible British exit from the European Union, but even they don't know what the outcome would be, other than of course from their own guesswork. Some of these so-called informed seers, including Mr Clegg have tried to frighten the life out of voters by suggesting that up the three million British jobs could be lost, even though he forgot to mention that these three million workers also produce goods for other non-EU customers, so in fact probably wouldn't lose their jobs after all. He also forgot to mention that his assumptions were entirely based on Britain and the EU not trading with one another after a British withdrawal, which clearly is a nonsense.
According to Tim Oliver in his excellent appraisal "Europe Without Britain", the UK as it stands accounts for 12.5% of the EU's total population; and some 14.9% of the Union's entire economy. Despite its recent difficulties the UK economy is still the 6th largest in the world and around 20% of all European Union exports come to British consumers, with an estimated four million European jobs relying on this business. In 2011 alone Britain ran a trade deficit with the EU of £28 billion, underpinning the importance of the UK as one of the EU's primary marketplaces. In the same year, 2011, the UK contributions to the EU budget amounted to five billion Euros; and had it not been for the UK's annual rebate, Britain's total contribution would have been 8.3 billion Euros, greater even than Germany's budget payments. It is clear therefore that rather than Britain having anything to fear from a withdrawal, the biggest losers from such an eventuality; and certainly from any sort of diplomatic fallout resulting from that action would be the European Union itself.
The reality of course is that no-one will fall out with one another! People deal with people all of the time, the same as companies deal with companies, countries deal with countries; and so it will remain if and when the UK withdraws from the EU. As one of Europe's leading nuclear and military powers, for anyone to suggest that Britain will descend into an anonymous backwater, just because we've resigned our club membership is a complete absurdity. Even as the most awkward member of the European Union, Britain remains a lynchpin of Europe's defence; and our country's trade and diplomatic networks, built over decades, is second to none, so the very idea that this country would be in any way isolated is a wholly fatuous suggestion, especially as it comes from our own supposedly homebred politicians.
The old adage of there being "nothing to fear but fear itself" is probably highly appropriate given the sorts of debates that we can expect to have in the coming months regarding the EU and our continuing membership of the group. The likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, along with their Euro-fanatic allies in the media and in business will no doubt try and raise all sorts of fears and doubts in people's minds regarding a possible British withdrawal, much the same as they did in the 1970's, the last time we were offered a say on the matter. As with any divorce however, be it marital or political, things are always likely to get messy, but no more so than if two squabbling partners remain together for entirely the wrong reasons. Nobody wins in that situation; although it tends to be the case that both parties end up being equally miserable with one another, so that there are no winners, only losers.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Bordering On Madness

I don't imagine that many of us give a great deal of time to thinking about the subject of national borders, their importance in international law, the difference that they make to our everyday lives; and how much more troublesome our daily existence would be, in the event that such well established territorial boundaries suddenly ceased to exist.
Prior to mankind settling the land around him, for the cultivation of crops, or the raising of livestock, there would have been little need for territorial possessions, especially for the bands of early hunter gatherers whose entire lifestyle might have been impeded by any sort of fixed land border, which would have prevented them from accessing their long held traditional hunting grounds, fishing waters and game rich forests. For thousands of years and prior to the concept of personal ownership, of land or natural resource, our hunter gatherer forefathers would no doubt have mimicked the migration habits of the animals they relied upon, moving from one region to another, from one resource to another, from one food source to another; and in doing so, completing a twelve month cycle of existence that is still commonplace within most of the natural world.
Commonplace that is except within the majority of the human species, which has for the most part, chosen to distance itself from its early ancestors through the act of permanent settlement. Of course, not all of the human race chooses to settle in one place, with a small number of indigenous people's still preferring to migrate to other traditional places on a fairly regular basis, taking with them their homes, their families, their possessions and their animals, replicating journeys that generations of their ancestors have been undertaking for many thousands of years.
The fairly obvious difference between ourselves, the members of modern societies; and these small groups of indigenous peoples, as well as almost the entirety of the world's animal species, revolves around the single idea of ownership. Many traditional native people's don't or wouldn't understand the idea of personal ownership when it's applied to the natural world, simply because they share our early ancestor's view of nature and the wider natural world. The animals, the cereals, the fruits and the water that they generally exploit to sustain themselves and their communities, are not theirs as such, but are a natural resource available to everyone. They don't covet such natural resources in the same way that a member of a modern society would, perhaps because they don't interpret the intrinsic value of the resource in the same way. A hunter gatherer would simply regard meat, fruit, cereal or water as a means of satisfying a basic need, be that hunger or thirst, whereas a member of a modern society would be almost certain to consider the additional benefit of the natural resources actual financial worth, whether that was in terms of how much it would cost them, or how much they could make from selling it to others.
It was thought to be the settlement of land, for the cultivation of crops, the acquiring of natural resources, coal, copper, tin, gold, etc. and the raising of livestock that ultimately brought an end to the era of the hunter gatherer; and ushered in the concept of personal, regional and national borders, or in other words, ownership. As a result of this new human acquisitiveness, covetessness and greed, bloody wars would be fought, large armies would be raised, formidable defences would be built, administrative formalities would be introduced, tariffs would be applied; all as a result of one set of people wanting to possess and exploit a given resource for their own benefit.
Although we generally think of borders in terms of national geography, where one country, or one region joins another, in reality if you're a home owner, then you have a property border, which is commonly referred to as boundary. If you own your home and the land that it sits on then the chances are, you will jealousy safeguard your property boundary, your borders, as if your life depends on it, simply because it has an intrinsic financial value; and if someone were to essentially steal a piece of your land, then that would almost certainly reduce the financial value of your holding, in terms of the amount of money you would expect to get for it, if you chose to sell your house, garage, field, or whatever.
For virtually every independent nation on the face of the earth, national borders and the natural resources that they incorporate, are considered to be so important, that the rulers of those countries raise an armed force to protect them, in the form of an army, a navy (assuming access to the sea) and an air force. Even those countries who regularly send troops to fight foreign wars, such as the likes of the USA and the UK, initially raised such military units simply to protect their own borders and resources, not necessarily anyone else's. However, as the risk of military invasion has declined, so such border protection duties have been deferred to specialist civilian agencies such as the UKBA, or the Police, with some armed forces being diverted to other overseas operations, as in the case of Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Britain takes great pride in the fact that only three times during the past two thousand years has it been successfully invaded by foreign military powers, to the extent that its own native rulers were essentially usurped by outside leaders, the first being the Romans, the second the Anglo Saxons and the third time by the Normans. On all three occasions there have been underlying reasons why these foreign invasions were eventually successful, the common reason being because the country was often fragmented by petty divisions amongst the ruling elite and the lack of a single cohesive military strategy to deal with any outside invader. It is also worth remembering that even though all three invading forces were initially foreign to the indigenous peoples of Britain, we have had over a thousand years to assimilate them into one common cultural thread, unlike today, where the British people are being asked to absorb some seven million foreign born migrants into our society within the space of some fifty or sixty years, which is far too much for any modern society to cope with, let alone one as unused to change, as is the case in the UK.
For the next thousand years or so, from 1066 onwards, Britain's borders remained largely intact, allowing for the odd military incursion by various elements of the French, Spanish and Dutch armed forces, which have generally been associated with the highly divisive political landscape of the UK over the same time period. Although Britain was successfully invaded in 1688 by William of Orange, the fact that he had actually been invited to invade the country by a number of the nation's leading Parliamentarian's, in order to oust the highly unpopular monarch James II, tends to undermine any suggestion that his landing was actually opposed by anyone, apart from the most devoted Stuart supporter. Just over one hundred years later Napoleon Bonaparte intended to try and invade Britain and amassed a large army on the French coast in order to carry out his plan, but which was ultimately defeated by the might of the Royal Navy.
As an island nation, Britain has been fortunate to be gifted a natural barrier to its lands, in the form of the Channel, the Irish Sea, the North Sea and the North Atlantic, all of which have helped to provide the largest protective moat of its kind. That having been said however, it would have been remiss of our forefathers to rely on their presence alone, bearing in mind that most of our historic enemies also had large navies; and thus the capability to land their soldiers on our shores. As a consequence, our navy, our land army and later our air force was always well maintained and prepared to meet any unknown threat, rather than simply relying on our natural defences to keep us all safe and well. History has also taught us that being unprepared for the unexpected also tends to carry a heavy price, as our enemies are all too often aware of Britain's limited abilities to strike back, as has proven to be the case following the Napoleonic War, the Boer War, the First World War and then the Second World War, following all of which we have allowed our military forces to dwindle, often at a direct cost to our own national and international interests.
One wonders what our forebears would have made of the current situation, which has allowed millions of foreign migrants to have penetrated our protective borders without the simplest by your leave; and often with the most cursory validation of their right to entry. We have somehow arrived at a situation where our civilian border control agency haven't got the faintest clue of who is entering the country and who is leaving, meaning that we have little real knowledge about the potential dangers being posed to our citizens. A sensible approach to such a serious situation might be to strengthen our border controls, increase the numbers of officials employed to weed out the illegal entrants, or too at least consolidate our military forces, to deal with any potential dangers that might present themselves, now or in the future. Unfortunately, our country is currently in the hands of a totally misguided and largely incompetent political class, who seem more intent on weakening our border controls and our defence forces, than they are strengthening them, thereby exacerbating the risks, rather than reducing them.
The news that there are an estimated 600,000 foreign migrants economically inactive in our country, a minimum of 500,000 illegal immigrants at large in our country, that potentially £3.7 billion pound's worth of taxpayers money is being spent on non-UK citizens, that a significantly corrupt and largely un-elected foreign government wants access to both our police and potentially our military forces, simply helps to illustrate the level of dereliction of duty, which exists within our own national government. At the same time that government is losing control of our borders and our ability to control the numbers of unreported strangers in our midst, these same politicians are reducing the numbers and effectiveness of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, the numbers of frontline police officers, as well as doctors, nurses, healthcares; not forgetting firemen, paramedics and border control personnel, all of the people are country will rely upon if and when the system finally starts to fall apart.
Our national borders, the men and women of our armed forces, our police forces and our great national institutions are here to protect us; and help us in our hour of need, which they cannot do, if they are removed through illegally contrived treaties, or undermined by deceptive and deliberate political chicanery.
The opponents of nationalistic fervour, or more correctly patriotism, would counter that national borders and controls are an outdated symbol of intolerance, division and simply provide an obstacle to globalisation, multiculturalism and human homogeny. Well I would say tell that to America, Australia, Canada, India, Japan, or any of the other great democracies of the world who fully embrace all aspects of a modern country, but do so entirely on their own terms; and without compromising the security, cultures or financial well-being of their own citizens. The irony is that nobody believes that any of these countries are mad or bad for maintaining these sorts of controls over their country's national borders, or indeed the people who want to come in and out of their individual territories. And yet for anyone in Britain to suggest the same is heresy, as if we somehow inhabit a different world, where opposite rules apply. Call me a racist. Call me a fascist. In fact, call me what you like. But until such time as we once again control our borders; and retain the right to decide who comes in to our country; and who doesn't, then we can expect things to get a lot worse than they are now; and that's pretty bad! 

Saturday 5 October 2013

A Europe Where Giants Are Ruled By Pygmies

It wasn't so long ago that any discussions relating to Europe would have centred around maybe half a dozen of the region's different sovereign states, rather than the continental federation of 28 which now constitute the comparatively new economic and politically driven construct, which is the European Union. Where once the international community spoke about and dealt with the likes of France, Britain, Germany, Holland, Sweden and Denmark, along with a raft of other ancient nation states, now the international community commonly speak to and deal with faceless appointees of the EU, rather than the national representatives of the individual sovereign countries, which for the most part have willingly allowed themselves to be subsumed by the growing continental monstrosity, with its unerring mantra of "ever closer unity".
It's hard to imagine that impoverished Portugal once led the western world in sea-borne exploration of the globe, producing some of European history's greatest ever maritime explorers and opening up the western coast of Africa, along with parts of South America, for trade, for settlement and yes for exploitation too! But who will remember all of that rich cultural history, now that Portugal has agreed to sell itself, its people, its future employment prospects, its national currency, all for the prospect of being good little Europeans, rather than remaining proud and independent Portuguese, or even Iberians?
The same might be said of their larger neighbours, Spain, the only European nation to have ever truly rivalled Britain on the global stage, in terms of its own imperial ambitions; and that but for the vagaries of the Atlantic weather, might well have become one of those small number of foreign states ever to successfully invade England. Alongside its Iberian neighbours though, Spain too has chosen to essentially abandon its rich cultural and nationalistic past in favour of becoming just another region of the proposed United States of Europe, sacrificing control of its currency, its jobs markets, its national borders and its traditional fishing grounds, simply to become a fairly unremarkable member of this new socio-economic club.
As for France! Well, what can one say? For hundreds of years, France and England have shared a love/hate relationship that generally defies rational explanation. Whether we have been fighting one another, or fighting against a common foe, our mutual and traditional antagonisms have never been that far away, but still our political leaders have managed to put them to one side, if only for as long as it takes for disaster to be averted, or for the danger to be confronted and overcome. From a purely French perspective, one can well understand that the emergence and development of the European Union, with its ethos of ever closer union, is generally not regarded as a threat or a danger to France itself. Why would it be, when France was one of the chief architects of the post World War II proposals that brought the first incarnation of the Union into being? Added to that is the fact that France commonly treats EU rules and regulations as a buffet of choice, picking out the bits that it likes and disposing of, or ignoring those parts that it doesn't quite like the look of. Even though France has been called upon to surrender its national currency, its border controls and a multitude of other national competences, in order to comply with the EU's myriad of new rules and regulations, overall, by benefiting from them directly, or by just ignoring those that don't add benefit to their economy or society, one can well understand why France would actually regard the EU as a worthwhile experiment.
As regards Britain's attitude to Europe generally and the European Union specifically, one supposes that it depends on who you ask? For the most part, it seems highly likely that a majority of Britons are largely indifferent to "Europe" as a general subject, either because they haven't given the matter a great deal of thought, or don't know enough about the subject to offer an informed opinion about it either way. Likewise, one would assume that most Britons don't really care that much about the EU as an organisation, unless of course it happens to be mentioned with regard to immigration, or the Human Rights Act, both of which tend to receive a significant amount of attention in the British media, often for the most negative sorts of reasons. The truth is though that if someone were to suggest filling in the Channel Tunnel and building a high wall around the southern coast of Britain, the vast majority of us probably wouldn't be that bothered by the plan, providing that some sort of reasonable justification was offered for doing it. We simply don't care enough about Europe, the EU, or anything else on the other side of the Channel, why should we?
Okay! So some poor souls might miss their Brie, their Champagne, their French Wine, their Swiss chocolate, but so what? Shit happens! For all such losses though, if someone were to justify the move by telling the British people that virtually all immigration from the continent would stop, or that they wouldn't be seeing any more Islamic clerics abusing our welfare systems through the use of the Human Rights Act, most people would welcome the move; and some would even help build the wall, or fill in the tunnel with their bare hands. Europe was, is and will always remain a nuisance to most Britons, as it simply represents a reminder of the complete waste of British lives, influence and money that have been invested in the place for the past two hundred years or more.
In fact, it might well be argued that it is not the success of the European continent or the European Union that has seen Britain attach itself to this particular political experiment, but rather the failure of our own British politicians to come up with a viable alternative. It's little wonder that the British people are so unenthusiastic about Europe and the EU when most of them recognise that in reality it is and always has been a really, really bad idea, but one that we've been forced to choose, because there isn't another on offer. To put it into some sort of perspective, the EU as an idea, is a bit like  pretending that a drainpipe is a bucket; and the user being constantly surprised when the water keeps pissing out of one bottom of it!
Of course the initial concept of the EU, a European trading bloc, where tariffs and duties were removed for member states, was a pretty good idea, but as with most politicians, the architects behind the scheme just couldn't stop tinkering with the idea. Clearly never having heard the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" they did try and fix it; and screwed it up entirely! Then when they found themselves in a socio-economic hole, they just kept digging, presumably on the basis that if they dig long enough and deep enough, then they'll emerge into daylight at some point in time?
Although we'd all like to think that the EU is being run by the brightest and the best, clearly nothing could be further from the truth. Small men having small minds can be the only explanation as to why what started off as a straightforward customs union, has subsequently morphed into a continental sized economic and bureaucratic nightmare that even the likes of Dr Steven Hawking would struggle to explain; and he's a clever fellow, unlike some of the political pygmies who seem to think they're in charge of the EU.
The less charitable amongst us might choose to believe that the EU is little more than a giant spider's web of deceit, woven with strands of financial impropriety, political shenanigans and sheer human vanity, at the centre of which sits the likes of Angela Merkel and her political associates in Germany. "She who pays the piper, calls the tune", so they say and there can be little doubt that financially strong and industrially active Germany is definitely pulling all of the various strands that constitute this particular web. There's nothing wrong in that of course, provided that Frau Merkel and her political cohorts are honest enough to admit that they're in charge, because they can be and choose to be, as well as admitting what their true intentions are. If their long term goal is to create a United States of Europe, similar to the USA, then tell people that. If they're determined to recreate some form of Socialist Federation, similar to the old Soviet Union, then they should tell people that also. Because, sure as eggs is eggs, people are going to figure it out for themselves at some point and if they don't like what they see, then what's going to happen then?
Obviously I can't speak for other countries, but here in the UK it has become something of a standard joke that most of our failed politicians are simply exported to Europe in order to work for the EU in some or other role, Lord and Lady Kinnock, Lord Mandelsson, Baroness Ashton, to name but a few of the so-called worthies that we've managed to off-load to the continent. Bearing in mind that they've hardly covered themselves with glory on this side of the Channel, therein perhaps lies a clue as to their actual abilities, after all one rarely disregards a star striker, whereas a clapped out old fart is another matter entirely. Sadly though, the fact that the EU accepted them in the first place is noteworthy, suggesting that the entire organisation is being manned and run by a variety of national rejects, has-beens and second stringers, with the odd few political exceptions , like Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall and Godfrey Bloom, thrown in.
The nearest comparison that one could point to when describing the EU and the European Parliament is probably the Eurovision Song Contest, which may in fact be fairly indicative of the way things work on the continent. The judging panel (in this case the Parliament) sits and listens to the individual song (in this case, the particular piece of legislation); and then when it's finished, they consult with their neighbour (in this case, representatives with a similar political outlook); and once they're sure that it's of mutual beneficial interest to them they vote in favour. However, as with Eurovision, any legislation connected with or of benefit to the United Kingdom, is automatically greeted with a "nil" point, so good luck to Mr Cameron when he attempts to recreate that "Bucks Fizz" moment between now and 2017.
Of course there's no good reason why our European neighbours should do us any favours, after all they're as indifferent about us, as we are about them. The only people who keep wittering on about being good Europeans are those EU employees, who generous salaries and over-inflated egos are entirely dependent on the project carrying on indefinitely, so a certain amount of self interest needs to be taken into account when considering such things. It would represent a massive failure for the EU project if Britain were to withdraw from the European Union, not least to those countries who are equally exasperated with its excesses, but too timid to say so publicly. Better to let Britain get all of the political grief, while they might gain some of the benefits, from any blood that the UK may be able to draw from the European Parliamentary stone. That's assuming of course that whoever we have as Prime Minister doesn't allow themselves to be as easily hoodwinked as Mr Cameron obviously was over the last round of European budget cuts, or his veto that wasn't a veto, until someone with a bit more commonsense explained it to him, although even then he still believed that he'd scored a victory, which just goes to prove what an embarrassment he really is!
Ultimately, the European Union may well have begun life with the noblest of intentions, that of preventing any future wars between Germany and its continental neighbours. The fact that this common treaty eventually evolved into a Common European Market was perhaps inevitable and laudable, had it remained simply that, a common customs union, or common marketplace. Sadly, earlier ill-conceived continental dreams of a Europe wide federation of states have subsequently been adopted by various politicians, often as much for their own personal vanity, or their individual nation's interests, without any real thought being given to how such radical socio-economic developments might impact on those less advanced nations who willingly chose to join the project.
One might well regard the European Union like a set of child's building blocks. Typically, the child on first use might simply continue to place the blocks on top of one another, unaware or indifferent to the instability affecting the structure, until eventually it falls over and crashes to the floor. It might take a child a few attempts to figure out that they need to secure the foundations of the pile of bricks, in order to ensure its stability, but eventually they'll work it out and no-one gets hurt in the process (unless of course they happen to be using real house bricks, in which case it's probably not a good idea to let them play with them in the first place) In a sense though that's exactly what the architects of the EU have been doing, allowing children to play with real house bricks, which in real life has resulted in the peoples of Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain and Ireland getting hurt. However, rather than taking the bricks off the child, they're currently in the process of inviting even more children to join in the game, including those from Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and Serbia. One wonders if they too will be enticed by the supposedly cheap money, the new roads, the shiny new cars, as were their Greeks, Cypriots and Spanish counterparts, who are now busily extracting themselves from the mountain of debt that engulfed them?
It cannot be a coincidence that Germany, one of the chief architects of the European Union and the central financier of the project, also happens to be one of the main beneficiaries of this enlargement and the ongoing European indebtedness. Could it genuinely be the case that the entire EU project is little more than a glorified Ponzi scheme, where new members are constantly required in order to feed the financial rewards given to earlier participants? If that's the case then what happens when you run out of European countries who are desperate to join? Do you move into Asia, Africa, the Middle East? And where do you stop?
Maybe a simpler answer, is that the EU is a big project being run by small men, who have neither the capacity, competence, or the personal integrity to handle such a massive undertaking, always assuming that it should have been started in the first place. Big, old countries like Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Britain haven't become easier to govern, they've become far more complicated, so quite why, the likes of Catherine Ashton, Herman Van Rumpoy or Jose' Manuel Barroso believe they can represent them, understand them, let alone solve their problems is a complete nonsense. Why would Angela Merkel, David Cameron, or Francoise Hollande care about the day-to-day problems of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, Denmark or Sweden, when they're elected and paid to look after the interests of their national electorates? And if the answer is that Catherine Ashton, Herman Van Rompuy or Jose' Manuel Barroso are paid to do that job, then I'll pose the obvious question, how on earth would they do that? Small minded men and women dealing with big national and international issues....why would we rely on them to solve what are fairly insurmountable problems? That would be as stupid as asking a history graduate to run the entire British economy, wouldn't it?