Der Spiegel is ahead of the game

Sometimes you get a better idea of the direction of Cameron’s renegotiations by reading the foreign press than you do from our national daily newspapers. Certainly this article in Der Speigel online seems to have the measure of the play-acting going on between David Cameron and the various powers-that-be in the European Union:-

The victor in this game has already been determined. On Feb. 19th in Brussels, David Cameron will prevail with all of his most important demands. The British prime minister, to be sure, will be standing alone at the summit, faced with opposition from his 27 EU counterparts. But in the end, following tough negotiations, he will get his way.

Such is the result envisioned by EU leaders and in fact European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have already written the script for their own defeat. “We want Cameron to return to London victorious,” say EU officials in Brussels, in an uncommon display of unity. In Berlin, a Chancellery official says: “We will be extremely helpful.” Anything that isn’t a complete betrayal of European values is negotiable, the Berlin official says.

Their goal is that of providing Cameron with the political tailwind he needs to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union. This summer, Cameron is planning to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU. Only if he returns from Brussels in February with a better deal for Britain does he stand a chance of reversing the widespread EU-skepticism that characterizes the country.

So there you have it – a stage-managed confrontation which will see Cameron seemingly winning against  the odds – talking tough and somehow, browbeating all the other 27 countries to get his way, except in reality they are more than happy to be browbeaten because of the fear of Brexit.

For Tusk, Juncker and Merkel, a Brexit would be a nightmare scenario, and one that they are seeking to avoid at all costs. It would shake the EU to its core, continues the article, perhaps with some truth. However, advocates of “remain” on both sides of the Channel have failed to face up to the fact that two contradictory forces are in play that can never ultimately be  reconciled.

The EU leadership is unbending in its commitment to “Ever Closer Union.”  Angela Merkel herself has said “We need a political union, which means we must gradually cede powers to Europe and give Europe control.” The problem is that the majority of the UK electorate doesn’t want to do this. It’s a bit like Jeremy Corbyn having someone in his shadow cabinet who not only rejects unilateralism but actually rejects socialism altogether! Such  a person is clearly in the wrong place.

So, for all the fears of the shock of Brexit, it really ought to be a benefit for the peoples of Europe. If they are at one with their elected (and unelected) leaders in still wanting ever-closer union, then getting rid of the foot-dragging Brits will enable them to achieve their objective a lot quicker.

If, on the other hand, the peoples of Europe are falling out of love with the European project, then we can lead the way towards a  peaceful, orderly dismemberment of the EU rather than the chaotic scenes we saw 25  years ago when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia fell apart. After all, the EU has no divine right to eternal life. Brexit is actually a win-win situation for everybody, but first, we need to ensure that our own countrymen are as well-informed of the true nature of David Cameron’s charades as Der Speigel so manifestly is, so that we’re not taken in.

The EU – Mr Cameron’s greatest (phoney) acting role

All the world’s a stage, ..And one man in his time plays many parts (As you like it. Shakespeare)

As the ruling élite, particularly our Prime Minister, continue to strut around on the world stage, stage-managing artificial disputes and triumphs, how much is genuine and how much is just acting a part, perhaps many parts or ‘going through the motions’, to deceive us of their real intentions about the European Union (EU)? How can we reliably tell the difference?

We could start with integrity, for example. Does our PM actually believe in anything? Does he have (conservative) values and principles? His track record of destruction, for example, decimating the armed forces, closing working power stations, his railroading of HS2, does not appear consistent with a conservative ethos or compassion. Then there is the obsession with remaining in the European Union (EU) at any price and handing increasing control of our destiny as individuals and a country to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Hardly evidence of high principles, but then for great acting, principles could be a handicap rather than a help.

So, leaving aside principles, does our PM have a track record and skills in deception (or acting)? A reasonable place to start looking for an anwer could be to consider his relationship with the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, whose trust in the integrity of the Prime Minister appears to have been betrayed. Having worked closely with Mr Cameron as coalition government partners for nearly five years, Mr Clegg found the Conservative Party pouring resources into Lib Dem held constituencies in the last General Election rather than Labour held ones. The result was a wipe-out of his party. With political friends like Mr Cameron, who needs enemies? And how much of it was a deceitful act to keep Mr Clegg and his colleagues off their guard and for how long did it go on?

Election strategies are not planned or implemented overnight. Based upon this and other examples of somewhat disreputable behaviour, (such as the use of induced fear to manipulate us in the General Election) it would be prudent to treat all mainstream politicians, their acolytes and fellow travellers with at least some caution, and the PM with more than most.

Our PM did not have a normal job before going into politics. His early career could be summed up by Rudyard Kipling (in Epitaph to a Dead Statesman) ‘I could not dig: I dared not rob: Therefore I lied to please the mob.’ His time out from politics (as Director of Corporate Affairs) appears to have been in public relations – handling the Press and facilitating make-believe corporate images of Carlton Communications whose main business was in make-believe (film and TV media) products. In such an environment, fiction and fact are somewhat interchangeable, as was said succinctly in the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: ‘This is the West, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’ Such a background would be eminently suited to a young, ambitious career politician, as Winston Churchill observed of a PPC (prospective Parliamentary Candidate) ‘He’s asked to stand, he wants to sit and he is expected to lie’.

Mr Cameron certainly appears to be a consummate politician; at ease with power and at home  in the company of the international ruling élite;. He possesses the accoutrements of the modern successful career politician – namely,  being able to outmanoeuvre others, work alliances, use people and the weapon of fear to gain advantages and to use spin and undeliverable ‘promises’ to manipulate and conceal the true situation.

There are naturally various downsides to this political acumen, not least a worsening of actual governing competence, changing priorities to the spurious (spin, sound bites and appearances etc.), undermining democratic transparency and accountability, and a general deterioration in ethical standards and integrity. Some effects are subtle yet potentially significant.

Spin negates the need to deliver actual results and restricts the ability to analyse and to think outside the ‘spin-box’; sloppy, vague and confusing language undermines clear, logical thought and rational ideas. George Orwell in Politics and the English Language wrote about political language being used to deceive, to conceal the true horror and give substance to pure wind. He also pointed out its limiting or negative effect on ideas ‘English …… becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.’ This is readily apparent in the superficiality of supposedly important parliamentary debates and policy documents where high standards of observation and analysis are largely absent.

The consequence is self-evidently poorer performance by the government and a failure to assess properly any negative impacts of policies and thus to introduce timely mitigations. Less obviously, a modern advanced society, especially in the Internet age, needs a high level of trust in order to function efficiently and create future per capita wealth. Consequently, setting a poor example at the top must filter through negatively into the performance of the economy and society’s mores.

Yet, fortunately, there are pointers in the forthcoming referendum on EU membership which will enable us to distinguish between the phoney and acting from the real thing.  For example: over-acting the part and being too in earnest or emphatic; making unbelievable claims (for example, about EU ‘renegotiations’) or statements that defy logic or available evidence about the EU; endless repetition of known falsehoods about the EU, our relationship with it and life as a free and independent country; telling different stories to different audiences or at different times; all presentation and soundbites, without any actual substance or thoughtful analysis. Although this play-acting sounds impressive at the time, it is almost instantly forgettable.

The greatest triumph in acting is to convince the audience at the time to the extent that they accept the persona of the part, rather than that of the actor; and some actors appear to believe their roles are real. The greatest accomplishment of Mr Cameron in deception (and acting), and PR triumph would be to convince us, the electorate, and win the EU referendum, without his having a genuine belief in the cause, but just through acting or over-acting the part of the ‘statesman’.

And so to paraphrase Shakespeare’s tale of power politics and betrayal, Julius Caesar:
‘Friends, Britons, EU leaders, lend me your ears;
I come to bury UK, not to praise her.
The evil that I do lives after me as PM;
UK’s goodness will be interred with her bones;
So let the end be with the former GB.’

The CBI’s foolish games

Towards the end of the 1990s, during drinks after at a debate at Bath on joining the euro, Mr Idris Francis, a long-standing supporter of withdrawal from the EU, asked Kate Barker, the CBI’s chief economist at the time, why she had not produced any calculations on the effects of joining the euro. She replied, in front of several others, that, “There are so many effects subject to such wide margins of error that it is impossible to know what the consequences of joining would be.” But he then asked her “But do you and the CBI want to join anyway?” to which she replied “Yes.”

Mr Francis quoted this exchange at several later meetings. At one Labour-organised meeting in Bournemouth, he was threatened with eviction by a senior figure in the Britain in Europe campaign. He also received a letter from Kate Barker, objecting to him quoting her words, but at the same time she confirmed what she had said.

Kate Barker must now be regretting her foolish support for the Euro. The CBI was thankfully dissuaded from supporting it as far back as 1999, thanks to the Business for Sterling campaign group. However, it has certainly not changed its policy of supporting our membership of the EU, come what may.

The Vote.Leave campaign recently gained access to the leaked minutes of the CBI’s president’s committee in July 2015, where former Chairman Sir Michael Rake told the meeting, “It is important not to overplay our hand in the negotiations with Brussels, like Greece, and that [the] CBI should be strong in making the case for competitiveness within Europe”. The meeting was attended by Lord Maude, Minister for Trade and Investment, as well as other government officials.

It should be noted that this is the same Sir Mike Rake, who was the deputy chairman of Barclays Bank, which was fined £284.4 million by the Financial Conduct Authority over “brazen” currency rigging.

It seems from his comments that no lessons have been learnt by the CBI in the years following its misjudgement on the Single Currency. Indeed, it is frightening to think that the CBI will almost certainly end up supporting another leap in the dark as untried and as doomed to failure as the Euro – namely UK associate membership of an EU. This will place the UK permanently in the EU’s powerless second division while the First Division  – the Eurozone members  – call all the shots.

It is so obviously a bad solution ot the UK’s “problems” with the EU, but it is almost certainly what  David Cameron will be offering us in the forthcoming referendum, aided and abetted, no doubt, by the CIB. It is sad indeed that an organisation claiming to be “the voice of business” dopes nothing more than play silly games.

Patriotism is not enough

Photo by The Library of Congress

In the centenary year of her execution, independence campaigners would do well to recall the words of Edith Cavell. The controversy over our membership of the EU has moved from being a cherished hope amongst a small, slighted minority to the realms of political possibility. With or without a referendum, it will not go away.

In the wilderness years, one motivation for burning anger was the sly adroitness with which politicians of the main parties concealed the profound injury to our constitution, caused by their subservience to the alien authority of the EU. Ministers who, as Privy Counsellors, had assented to the oath “….You will to your utmost bear faith and allegiance to the Queen’s Majesty and will assist and defend all civil and temporal jurisdictions …granted to Her Majesty and annexed to the Crown….against all foreign princes, persons, prelates, states or potentates…” brazenly made the Queen and all of us into mere subjects of the EU. A soldier takes an oath of similar import, to be kept at the risk of his life and with the prospect of severe punishment if he should break it. Yet he is sent into battle by a minister who faces no penalty for dereliction of his most basic duty at the very heart of the state.

The sheer maleficence and treachery of British Europhile ministers – “Europe at the heart of Britain” rather than “Britain at the heart of Europe”- was a strong motive for many to keep going. Yet it found little resonance with the wider public. Much of the heated debate within the independence movement was conditioned by such righteous wrath and took very little account of opinion amongst the vast majority of our fellow countrymen and women or of our country’s realistic role and opportunities in the wider world.

Just over two years ago, Nigel Farage ventured the opinion that his ideal free trade agreement was “a blank sheet of paper”. It may have gone down well with his audience but it showed a profound, determined ignorance of the way in which trade, not just with the EU but with the wider world, is now regulated. In that world Britain must make its living. Belatedly, UKIP and the wider independence movement is beginning to realise that it must have a credible strategy to deal with that world, if it is to be taken seriously. Slogans and pent-up rage against our political class are of no use but rather a hindrance

The world has changed enormously since 1972 and nowhere more so than in our schools. The Campaign for an Independent Britain has published a booklet on the recently introduced national history curriculum, entitled “Generations Betrayed – Cutting the Roots of our National Identity” It is written by Christopher McGovern, a head teacher of thirty five years’ experience, and explains how the teaching of our national story has been sapped and subverted by political correctness. This method of teaching, sometimes called “history lite” has been increasingly influential over the last forty years.

Schools and teachers will vary but frustrated defenders of our former happy constitution will find here one source of explanation for their lack of success. Without factual, sequential knowledge of our history, those who hear them have no frame of reference.

In England, though not so much in Scotland or Ireland, many share Henry Ford’s view that “History is bunk”, summed up in the demotic by that West Country folk group, The Wurzels

“Never been to school,
Never been to college,
Sooner be dead than fill me ‘ead,
With a load of useless knowledge.
Never couldn’t see
No use in history,
‘cos I weren’t there,
So I don’t care.
So don’t tell I, tell ‘ee!

And with such a leaden, dispiriting, official framework and method of instruction, it is an opinion which is easy to understand. All credit to those teachers who manage to maintain a lively enthusiasm and interest in spite of the way they are told to work.

Against this background, independence campaigners have to produce a narrative which is true, lively, forward-looking and attractive. This requires a great deal of that most difficult effort, actually thinking outside our well-trodden paths of thought – not disregarding our knowledge but realising that it now mostly serves a niche market which shrinks with the years.

We actually have to get to grips with the way countries become independent in the real world and some of what happens is quite counter-intuitive. One of the first things which newly independent Ireland did was to repatriate nearly all of the laws which had been enacted in Westminster during the 120 years when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. This was absolutely necessary for the continuation of orderly government and trade – county councils, district councils, criminal law, civil law, weights and measures, protection of public health and so on. Although they had a new flag and the post boxes had been painted green, the laws governing newly independent Ireland were overwhelmingly those which had come from England – but now able to be repealed or amended over time by their own parliament.

Something similar will need to happen when we leave the EU. Taking just one example: if we simply repeal the European Communities Act 1972 , we will have no laws at all protecting food safety. They all come from an EU Regulation which will no longer apply. Not only will this be an enormous public health hazard here but it will mean that none of our considerable food exports to the EU could clear customs until they had been detained and found wholesome by detailed testing.

We often think of regulation as being a pain in the neck but we need it to keep us from food poisoning and it often promotes real convenience and practical freedom. Your mobile phone still works when you cross borders in most parts of the world – but only because of very detailed regulation. Similarly, if you need a new battery on your travels, you can buy one that will fit. That did not happen by chance but because of regulation on a global scale. For twenty years now, the EU has been legally bound to accept global standards. Britain needs to be represented on the global bodies which make the rules – and where we can have a veto. The EU keeps us off that top table. So we must raise our sights confidently to wider horizons, persuading the majority to do the same.

There are no renegotiations

This cannot be repeated enough times: there are no negotiations. Mr Cameron is perpetrating a charade, an outrageous pretence, going through the motions in order to convince a gullible media and an unknowing electorate that he is striving to deliver a new relationship with the EU.

This has been obvious for well over a year, and increasingly so as time has passed. And now we have confirmation from a “a senior source in Berlin”, who said of the European Council meeting last week, that there was nothing to talk about since, he said, “there haven’t been any negotiations”.

But the Observer, which reported this, doesn’t understand what it is carrying – even though it’s plain enough: there haven’t been any negotiations. Let’s say this again: there haven’t been any negotiations.

The reasons why there haven’t been any negotiations are three-fold. Firstly, some (but not all) of the headline changes Mr Cameron wants will require treaty change, and the “colleagues” are not disposed to open up treaty talks just for the benefit of a British prime minister.

Secondly, there is nothing to negotiate about, since the “colleagues” are not interested in the ideas Mr Cameron has put forward. They are not even prepared to discuss them. To have a negotiation, people must be sitting on both sides of the table – it takes two to tango. There are no “colleagues” at the table.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is no need for negotiations. The outcome of what has now become a charade (not that it was ever much different) has already been decided. The result is pre-ordained.

What this amounts to is that the “colleagues” are prepared to agree a special status for the UK. This they are provisionally calling “associate membership”, but it may acquire another label. Mr Cameron will go through the pretence of demanding this, and the “colleagues” will pretend to agree to his “demands”, which will be locked into a new treaty, with the process to start in 2018.

Mr Cameron will then come back from Brussels, waving his “piece of paper”, but then to reassure the doubters, he will promise another referendum on the outcome of the new treaty.

He will thus ask the people to trust him in this referendum, which will be treated as giving a (Conservative) government a mandate to negotiated the finer details of this “new relationship”, which may include the promise of reduced contributions, repatriation of powers and many of the other goodies he has already promised.

On this basis, the coming referendum is not going to be about the EU. When it comes to airing the downside of EU membership, we will find Mr Cameron agreeing with us. He will “share our pain”, and claim that his shiny new “relationship” will cure all our evils.

This, of course, makes all the current opinion polls valueless. They are asking the wrong question, of a scenario that won’t even exist by the time we go to the polls. And what we do know of voter behaviour tells us that an ostensibly credible outcome to Mr Cameron’s “negotiations” is worth 20-30 points in the poll, giving the “remains” a clear victory.

The game is on, therefore, to keep up the pretence that there are ongoing negotiations, with the Prime Minister – aided and abetted by the “colleagues” – perpetrating an ever-more elaborate charade, all intended to give the impression of a plucky Prime Minister courageously extracting concessions from a grudging European Union.

The timing will be fine-tuned, to engineer a triumphant return from Brussels at the very last minute, snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat, calculated to inspire a grateful and admiring population to rush to the polls and tick their “remain” boxes.

Perpetrating the charade, we have the Europhiles such as the Centre for European Reform and the likes of Open Europe laboriously pontificating on the faux negotiations. Likely as not, we can also expect the gullible media to fall for it, hook, line and sinker.

For the rest of us, the task is to expose this charade for what it is. The “associate membership” is a second-class option – the worst of all possible worlds, which keeps us locked in embrace of a supranational entity, unable to take our proper place in world affairs.

And, unlike 1975, we have this internet “thingy” to spread our message. When it comes down to it, Mr Cameron has a very weak hand, and will be relying on deception, timing and showmanship to make his case. We can beat this, and if we don’t, it’ll be our own damn fault.

(This article first appeared on and is used by permission of the author)

Mr Cameron, let Parliament see your negotiation proposals

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                           

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)  

News Release

20th October 2015

Peer calls on PM to consult Parliament on the EU re-negotiation before going ‘cap in hand’ to Brussels

The independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has called on David Cameron to put his proposed EU re-negotiation stance to Parliament for debate before taking it to the European Council.

Lord Stoddart said:   “At the moment, Westminster seems to be playing second fiddle to the European Council.  I understand that Mr Cameron is going to write to the President of the Council to set out his proposed negotiations before bringing them to Parliament.  I call upon the Prime Minister to lay his proposals before Parliament in the right and proper manner and to do so before he presents them to the Council.

“I would remind Mr Cameron that he is the Prime Minister of a Government and sovereign Parliament at Westminster and he is subject to the traditional obligation of any Prime Minister, namely to consult Parliament first about this or, for that matter, any other major Governmental policy decision.

“Therefore, I have submitted a written question in the House of Lords, asking if the Prime Minister is going to consult Parliament, before going cap in hand to Brussels.”