Three little words

This letter was sent by our Chairman to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Burton on Trent papers.

The government is introducing the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and many Europhiles have acquired a new-found zeal for the principle of parliamentary scrutiny. They say the Bill gives “Henry VIII” powers to the government to strike out legislation which has come to us from the EU.

This is the height of hypocrisy. The European Communities Act 1972 was voted through by MPs who had not had a chance to see the treaty to which they were agreeing. Nigel Spearing (Labour), the last MP to speak against it, complained that Parliament was “signing a blank cheque”.

The treaty of accession to the EEC had been signed under royal prerogative without any parliamentary scrutiny at all. The 1972 Bill made the terms of the treaty enforcible in British law. It said that all European law – past, present and to come – would immediately become binding in its entirety “without further enactment” by our Parliament. This is the settlement of subjection which advocates of EU membership have maintained and supported ever since.

It was an Enabling Act, transferring responsibility for our laws out of democratic control – more gradual but not dissimilar in kind to the one which Hitler used to nullify the German parliament. Twelve years before, the Lord Chancellor Lord Kilmuir had written to Edward Heath to say that Parliament would have to become accustomed to being a rubber stamp, if we joined the EEC. That was kept an official secret for thirty years.

Governments of all parties have since promiscuously overused the device of Statutory Instruments to bypass effective parliamentary scrutiny and debate. So there is every reason to reform parliamentary procedures, now we are getting our country back. However, the least hint of filibustering by Europhiles under the cloak of a pretended concern for the dignity and powers of Parliament should be seen for the fraud that it is and disregarded. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill must go through in a timely way, or we will never see a return to any proper, democratic accountability at all. Parliament can always kick out a government here – something we never could do with the European Commission.

Yours faithfully,

Edward Spalton

The Miller’s Tale – part 4. The tale concludes

(Some of the links are quite long. So you may wish to read straight through and then go back to any which interest you)

IMAGINE a country where there are empty shelves in the shops, rampant inflation and shortages of basic supplies, where the electricity is frequently interrupted and rationed, where you cannot get a job in most industries or public services unless you have a membership card of an officially recognised trade union. This is not some banana republic or Eastern European “People’s Democracy” but Britain in the early Seventies around the time we joined the EEC.  When Sir Emrys Jones, formerly a top civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture and newly appointed Principal of the Royal Agricultural College Cirencester, visited the Society of Feed Technologists  shortly after we  joined, he had more pressing questions for us than we had for him. Where could he get a reliable supply of toilet paper? “Our Victorian drains block solid after a week of the Daily Mail” he said.

Following the financial crisis of 1967 when Prime Minister Harold Wilson devalued the pound (including “the pound in our pocket” which, he assured us, was unaffected) , he and the Foreign Secretary George Brown went to see General De Gaulle about joining the EEC as a possible means of improving Britain’s exports. De Gaulle was not sympathetic but he was ousted after the riots of 1968 and the new President, M. Pompidou, was not only more sympathetic but badly needed somebody to pay for the Common Agricultural Policy which was hugely advantageous to French peasant farmers. So, with the new Conservative government of Edward Heath, it was a matter of “cometh the hour, cometh the mug”, as the Americans say. Heath was a fanatical believer in the European project.  The taxpayer and housewife would pay dearly for his ambition.

The Labour party membership in the meantime had hardened its opinion against the EEC  for reasons amply stated by Nigel Spearing MP in this video.

Nigel was the last MP to speak against the EEC treaty in the crucial debate.  Some 69 Labour MPs defied their party whip to vote in favour of the EEC, which gave the Heath government its narrow majority to join. That was 1972 . As this is all so long ago and memory tends to compress events, I have made the following timeline of some of the most  significant..

1970    June                Conservative Edward Heath wins general election with a majority of thirty

1971    January          First British soldier is killed in Northern Ireland.

November      National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) starts overtime ban

1972    January          Miners begin national strike. Fourteen people killed by British soldiers during “Bloody Sunday” in Londonderry

February        Thousands of miners and others led by Arthur Scargill picket Saltley Coke depot in Birmingham and force its closure in spite of hundreds of police.

Miners’ strike ends with total NUM victory.

March             Westminster government takes direct rule over Northern Ireland

July                 Secret talks between government and IRA

October          European Communities Act 1972 receives Royal Assent.

1973    January          U.K. joins the European Economic Community

October          Egypt invades Israeli-occupied Sinai. Beginning of oil crisis

November      NUM starts another overtime ban

1974    January          Government imposes “three day week” to ration electricity

February        Another strike by NUM. Heath calls general election – “Who governs Britain?” The electors decide not him.

March             Labour forms government without a majority. Ends three day week.

October          Prime Minister Harold Wilson calls general election to win a majority. Wins a majority of three.  SNP wins 30% of vote in Scotland.

November      IRA murders 21 people in Birmingham pub bombings

1975    February        Margaret Thatcher defeats Edward Heath to become Conservative leader.

June                Referendum on continued EEC membership. Pro Europeans win by 67 to 33 per cent

August            Inflation rate hits almost 27%

November      Queen and Prime Minister officially open North Sea oil pipeline.

1976    March             Harold Wilson resigns as Prime Minister

April               Replaced by Jim Callaghan

August            Strike begins at Grunwick photo processing works in London

September      The pound sinks in value against the dollar. Chancellor Dennis Healey turns back at Heathrow from journey to IMF meeting. Prime Minister warns Labour conference “The cosy world is gone”. Healey says he will ask the IMF for the biggest loan it has ever granted.

November      In London the IMF delegation demands huge cuts in public expenditure as condition of loan. Healey argues for smaller cuts. Majority of cabinet oppose all cuts.

Nov –Dec        Callaghan  & Healey persuade cabinet and IMF to accept smaller cuts.

Loan granted.

1977    March             Government negotiates lib-Lab pact to ensure government majority.

June                First mass picket at Grunwick. Fighting between police and pickets.

July                 Postal workers boycott Grunwick mail.

National Association for Freedom (now the Freedom Associatin) secretly collects and distributes Grunwick mail.

1978    January          Inflation below 10% for first time since 1973

July                 End of Lib-Lab pact.  Grunwick strikers admit defeat.

August            Conservative launch “Labour isn’t working” poster campaign

Opinion polls move in favour of Labour

September      PM Callaghan, having toyed with the idea, decides against Autumn election. His policy is to keep wage rises to 5%

November      Unions defy government guidelines for wage increases and strike for  higher pay. “Winter of Discontent” begins

1979    January          PM Callaghan goes to Caribbean for international conference and holiday. On his return, the Sun summarises his response as “Crisis? What crisis?”

Jan-Feb          Peak of strike wave all over country. Dead unburied, rubbish uncollected.

Supermarket shelf stocks run low as lorry drivers stop deliveries.

March               Strikes peter out. Government proposals for devolution defeated in referendum. SNP withdraws support for government which loses a vote of no confidence. General election called for May

May                Conservatives under Mrs. Thatcher win with majority of 43 votes. Liberal vote collapses. Labour slightly increases its vote.

 

There were also several movements which started in this decade and gained influence subsequently. The legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 cleared the way for the aggressive Gay Liberation movement which now dominates government policy from primary school upwards and diversified into transgender ideology. The feminist movement gathered strength  around the same time, eventually leading to the killing of millions of unborn children, as a matter of reproductive health and lifestyle choice. Prompted by increasing immigration, the National Front rose to some prominence but was largely eclipsed by the end of the decade.

This Private Eye cover gives some idea of the country’s financial state and the problems faced by Chancellor Dennis Healey.

The shortages were personally inconvenient rather than catastrophic although the cumulative  effects on an already weak economy were considerable. There were some nasty incidents when supplies ran out but people were mostly good humoured. Sugar ran short. My late sister Sue did not have a sweet tooth and used very little sugar. Yet even she stocked up with several bags “to be on the safe side”. So did millions of others and the shops were suddenly bare. Then a story got round that salt was in short supply and the same thing happened. There are millions of tons of salt under Cheshire but what ran out was retail packaging – and so the shop shortage became real.

Our firm was buying salt in ten ton loads for animal feed without the slightest problem at the time, so I brought a half hundredweight bag home which lasted us for years. We did have our own business problem with packaging though. We had just launched a product range with different coloured bags (blue, yellow and white) but suddenly could only get white. So we had to alter the design and get coloured stripes printed on the bags to match the leaflets and presentation.

This has all faded in the public memory now but it was real enough at the time, as these recollections show

“THE GREAT GRAIN ROBBERY”

No sooner had we got used to the higher prices and bureaucracy of the Common Agricultural Policy than all commodity prices went crazy. For several years as a goodwill gesture  the Americans had offered the Soviet Union a facility to buy wheat at a subsidised price. The Russians had not taken very much until the Summer of 1972 when, through American agents, they very quietly bought a massive quantity. The agents did not alert the authorities and quietly pocketed the subsidy, said to be around 300 million dollars.

The winter of 1972/73 was unusually cold in Russia and there was little snow cover, so all the autumn-sown wheat crop was killed and deliveries became urgent in 1973. The  world price of wheat doubled and more. My recollection is that the price went from around £45 per ton before joining the EEC to around £60 on joining and then zoomed up to a peak of around £200 . Most other commodities were similarly affected in the panic. It was a hectic time to obtain supplies and keep pace with prices. There was a prices and incomes policy too, which meant you were not supposed to put up your prices until your actual material costs increased. But there was no ban on reselling cheaply bought raw materials,  taking the profit, buying in new material at the higher market price and putting up your product price. So it was fairly ineffective.

CLIMATE CHANGE – GLOBAL COOLING!

We were unaware at the time that there was strong scientific opinion that the output of soot and smoke from factory chimneys was blocking sunlight and causing global cooling. Some of the scientists who were keenest to freeze us then are amongst the keenest to fry us now with global warming!

The CIA produced a report saying  “Scientists are confident that, unless man is able to effectively modify the climate then Canada, the European part of the Soviet Union and major areas of northern China will again be covered with 100 to 200 feet of ice and snow…”

“…early in the 1970s a series of adverse climatic anomalies occurred. The world snow and ice cover increased by at least 10 to 15 per  cent. … Nothing like this has happened in the last hundred years” .

The CIA also reported  that climate science was developing a “successful climatic prediction model” and that “scientific consensus” endorsed it. Sound familiar, doesn’t it? But this was all built around global cooling!

THE EUROPEAN FOOD SITUATION

It is a quirk of history that the first few years of our EEC membership made less difference to food prices because the inflationary effects of the CAP were masked by the huge hike in world prices. Generally speaking,  those in favour of independence damned the inflationary effect whilst pro-Europeans thought that our membership of the EEC gave us greater food security. Everybody in parliament would remember food rationing which only ended in 1954.

In the debate on the agricultural white paper of 1975, Margaret Thatcher said

We are the most vulnerable country with our need for food imports. Therefore it is vital that we secure access to  continuous and good sources of food supply. In some years supplies from the continent will be more expensive; in other years they will be cheaper. But the great benefit is access and the greater stability of supplies”  (Hansard 1024)

In those days  she thought that Europe was the place to be. It was a panicky time and many felt that  coming together with the European countries made us more secure. It was psychologically rather  like the American pioneers pulling their covered wagons into a circle.

Because of our dependency on imported food, it is still as true today as when Kipling wrote of the Big Steamers bringing us the produce of empire. He made the case that the mighty Royal Navy of those days needed reinforcement   to protect that trade.

“For the bread that you eat and the biscuits you nibble,

The sweets that you suck and the joints that you carve,

They are brought to you daily by All Us Big Steamers

And if anyone hinders our coming you’ll starve!”

The same goes for cross-channel container ships and ro-ro  ferries today.

OUR BUSINESS SITUATION THEN

For the first years of our EEC membership, our firm was comparatively rather fortunately placed. We were somewhat insulated from the worst effects of inflation because our farmer customers were. Their prices, fixed by the EEC, rose automatically each year.  As a food supplier, we were exempt from the restrictions of the three day week.

We could use electricity whenever it was available. It meant working some odd hours, as it was often switched off in the daytime. So all of us who were fit worked on production and packing at night when it was necessary. When there were strikes, there were arrangements with the unions that food supplies would not be interrupted or “blacked”. So our lorries were not stopped and things were much easier for us than for many businesses.  Nonetheless it was extremely strenuous, keeping up with the rapidly changing situation  and ensuring continuity of supplies.

THE 1975 REFERENDUM

I was by no means overjoyed  to hear of this, much as I disliked the EEC. I thought it would mean unpicking all the work we had done to comply with the European system and we had plenty to do as it was and were pretty tired doing it. I think  my father somewhat typified the deep Tory sentiments of our family. “I don’t like this Europe business” he said “There’s something about it doesn’t smell right”. He paused for a few seconds and added “But that man Wedgewood Benn’s against it, so there must be some good in it” !

Talking to people about it in later years, I found this was a very common attitude. With Enoch Powell and Tony Benn both campaigning to leave, moderate people from either side of the political divide felt rather than thought that the “No” campaign was “extremist”. And, of course, the “Yes” campaign was massively better funded and professionally slick. We did not know the extent to which the press and the BBC were micro-managed.

So I guess we all voted “No” with a sense of duty rather than burning enthusiasm and expectation.  We did not know it but the “Yes” vote would sign a sort of slow  death warrant for our firm’s most profitable product – our baby calf food, Cal-O-Lac. (see previous episode).

“A FUNDAMENTAL RENEGOTIATION”

Like David Cameron in more recent years, Harold Wilson promised a thorough-going renegotiation of our relationship with the EEC. Of course, he got nothing of the sort – but rather more than was offered to David Cameron. Wilson was able to help our New Zealand friends with increased quotas of butter and lamb and he got certain other concessions which helped to reduce the inflationary effects of the high European prices for food. It was an unintentional consequence of this which so badly affected us – but only because of our failure to recognise and adapt to the situation.

The EEC operated a sort of book-keeping currency, called “the unit of account”. It was somewhat like the euro but without banknotes. To complicate matters there were different exchange rates for agricultural products, called “green currencies”. Harold Wilson wanted to reduce the high cost of EEC food imports and agreed to an adjustment of these. The effect was that continental animal feed manufacturers could ship and sell similar products to our baby calf food Cal-O-Lac at around the cost of our raw materials. This put us at a great disadvantage. We had a well respected product and an efficient plant but, however hard we tried, we would not be able to match the continental competition on price.. As I was responsible for sales, I got blamed for the decline in business. My father had retired and my  uncles, nearing retirement age themselves,  just thought I should be working harder. Of course, it was no use expecting a European  treaty to be altered on our account.

The obvious thing would have been to get our Dutch friends to make our product, close down our own plant and become a warehouse and distributor. A few people in the mill would have lost their jobs and we could have met the competition. But older people did not think like that in those days. We were British and made a British product- a good one too!

So the trade continued to dwindle and I continued to get the blame. I formulated other products, such as flavourings for animal feed which were not affected by the EEC policy and could see a market for liquid flavours which would be more effective if sprayed on the outside of the feed  pellets rather than mixed into them as a powder.  But my uncles were not interested.  So, after five dispiriting, depressing years, I decided to leave and started my own business in 1981.  With the encouragement and help of my wife Ellen, it was pleasingly successful and kept us through the next turbulent years.

But I was no longer a miller, grinding wheat, barley and oats. I was now a specialist manufacturer of feed flavours.. So I think this is the point at which my Miller’s Tale draws to its close.

As a post script, readers might like to enjoy this song by the Strawbs. Dating (appropriately) from 1973, it reminded everyone that we were now “Part of the Union”!

Thanksgiving service – everyone welcome

Thanksgiving Service
for the life of
NIGEL JOHN SPEARING
8th October 1930 – 8th January 2017
NOVOTEL  Shortlands Hammersmith W6 8DR
11.30 Friday 24th February 2017
No flowers please, donations if wished to own charity

A letter from our President to Mr Corbyn

Dear Mr.Corbyn,

I appreciate the attention you give to letters from concerned people so I hope you will reply to mine.

I am older than you and proud to have grown up in a small working class terraced home with socialist parents who knew very hard times. I am particularly proud of certain events in my lifetime in which I have participated whilst remaining of independent mind politically.

As a father of two small children and without being a member of any organisation, I travelled alone to London to sit in the Stranger’s Gallery of the Commons to watch and listen to Howe and Heath sell our country into the EC by 8 votes majority by deceit and by withholding the terms of entry from MPs. I was privileged to film great friends of mine, Labour MPs Nigel Spearing and Eric Deakin quoting their memories of that final debate and their speeches from copies of Hansard open on their laps. As Nigel stated as the last Labour MP to speak before the government winding up “It is like being asked to sign a blank cheque”. The film can be found under Nigel Spearing’s name on the internet.

Along with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown you first gained your seat in Parliament in 1983 and that would have been on the Labour manifesto promise that, if elected, Labour would take us out of the EU as Blair on his candidate address to his Sedgefield constituents stated clearly that membership was bad for trade and jobs. Labour after that defeat changed its policy to support on the encouragement of Kinnock and later lost.

You say that you are committed to remain in the EU for reasons I find questionable and inconsistent. I understand and I agree with you that you would nationalise our railways.

My first question to you therefore is how can you nationalise legally or at all whilst a member of the EU?
My second question is that you and I are greatly concerned about protecting our NHS, jobs and services against financial austerity cut backs. We pay according to present official figures, £33,000,000 net every single day to the EU. Presumably therefore you believe it is better to give this money away every day by remaining in the EU rather than spending it to prevent the closure of care homes, closure of libraries, post offices, cut backs to social, police, fire brigades and ambulance services and increasing council taxes plus being unable to legally provide state aid to save what is left of our steel industry? Incidentally I worked 51 years in engineering manufacturing watching it all go downhill especially in the West Midlands after joining the “Common Market” that was supposed to give us all greater prosperity and job security.

You and I remember the visit to England by super-salesman Jacques Delors in 1988 and the fine job he did whilst addressing the British TUC. I wonder what British seamen still think of being replaced by cheaper workers on Irish ferries and what, as only one example, the crushed, unemployed workers in Greece think of the EU rather than the view of their government? I think growing violent street demonstrations, not only in Greece, give the answer. We remember the famous newspaper headline “Up Yours Delors” in response to Delors attempts to force European Federalism on the UK. The TUC hierarchy remain surprisingly committed to EU membership.

As for worker’s rights, we recall the replacement of 543 directly employed seamen on Irish Ferries by predominantly eastern European agency crew in 2005. That resulted in Irish Ferry ships being laid up in Welsh and Irish ports for nearly three weeks. That dispute eventually was resolved but led to the employers being given the green light to proceed to outsource crews at lower incomes on its Irish vessels and reflag its vessels to Cyprus. I understand that all vessels then became managed on a contract basis to Dobson Fleet Management based in Cyprus and all new employees employed by Dobson. No doubt this meets with the TUC and your stand on international workers solidarity but I wonder what the replaced seamen still think of what has happened.

I am opposed to Conservative austerity measures, puzzled by what appears to be your inconsistent stance on EU membership and I never thought much about Liberal Democrats musings. I am aware and appreciate that you have opposed various treaties over the years.

I look forward to your reply but with regret that my father is no longer alive to compare your present Labour policies with those of much earlier days before Blair, Mandelson and Campbell did a makeover on the Labour party. I hope you will reconsider providing support to Lord Rose and Britain Stronger in Europe and now come out in favour of leaving. I prefer an outward looking future for the UK free to decide its own future and laws. It is why some of my relatives were killed to protect and to help liberate the countries and peoples of Europe.

With best wishes,

George West