A gift at the end of Ramadan!

Turkey has been variously criticised by the EU and pilloried in the recent Referendum debates, but as Ramadan ends, it has announced that over 3 million Syrian refugees are to get automatic Turkish citizenship: this goes much further than Merkel’s demands for harbouring returned migrants and it is a statement of solidarity with the dispossessed that should make the whingers in our own referendum debate hold their heads in shame.

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The care for victims of warfare is a feature of all three of the great religions that come from the middle east and it has been shocking how slowly we have dragged our feet while still whittering on about Christian values.

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As Ramadan finishes tomorrow, therefore, we can celebrate with some satisfaction that at last there is a proper response.

More worryingly, there is news coming from Athens that former German Transport Minister, Peter Ramsauer, part of a delegation headed by the German Vice Chancellor, and already linked to allegations of anti-semitism, apparently told a photographer, I understand, both in German and in english, “don’t touch me, you filthy Greek”. I suppose his bilingual effort was to ensure no one thought this was an accidental bit of racism.

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Peter Ramsauer is known to want to refuse Greek any further bailout money, and he is also famous for making a fuss, rather like the French have occasionally done, about borrowed english words used in modern german, so it is odd he should have translated his bilious comments, if indeed he ever uttered them. He went on to facebook yesterday to claim that he had said nothing. It is all the fault of the photographer “who later appeared to be obviously Greek” and who had pushed him. I wonder how this photographer can have appeared so obviously greek at a later stage? had he not appeared so Greek earlier? The good Dr Ramsauer would be well advised to avoid using the word “obviously” in all instances- as a rule of thumb, if something is “obvious”, it does not need to be mentioned and if it is not “obvious”, then the word is inappropriate.

I had dinner a few nights ago with a German minister who is married to a Greek. Both deeply charming! I wonder how Herr Ramsauer deals with that couple in the vaulted corridors of the Reichstag? The story of this exchange makes some of our own British bigots look positively cuddly.

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Trigger-happy?

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AC Grayling is the founder and first master of what Terry Eagleton earlier called the “odious”  Independent university NCH which was one of the projects advanced by Anthony Seldon, now vice chancellor of University of Buckingham, and welcomed by Boris. Current academics at NCH include Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins Vernon Bogdanon Trevor Nunn and Christopher Peacock. Frankly, Eagleton who championed opportunity for all and objected to private education in principle was a bit rich making his comments as he was then teaching at one of the more expensive private universities in the US. The first students enrolled in 2013 and a wide range of scholarships and bursaries ensured a fairly broad intake, in Grayling’s words, “elitist” but not “exclusive.” These words are often interchangeable and I got into trouble once for using the term elite as a synonym for “best”.  People can be very quick with their interpretation of words and there are fashions in the way they are used and abused.

Here is the text of Grayling’s letter to MPs:

 

29 June 2016

At the urging of many of my students – who come both from the United Kingdom and the European Union – and my own conscience, I write to you to express a respectful but strongly held view that, for the reasons set out below, Parliament should not support a motion to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It is within your democratic remit and duty as a Member of our Parliament to vote on whether to initiate that procedure. By voting not to do so, you will keep the UK in the EU.

The non-binding referendum, its circumstances, and its slim majority achieved in those circumstances, is not an adequate ground for the UK to leave the EU.

The relevant factors and reasons are as follows.

In order for the UK to begin the process of leaving the EU, Parliament has to vote in favour of invoking Article 50. It is possible that complex constitutional issues might have to be settled in advance of such a vote, for example repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act. This is a matter that legal expertise is required to settle. But the key matter in the end is a vote on whether to initiate the Article 50 procedure.

Parliament as presently constituted has a substantial majority in favour of remaining in the EU. Given the following factors:

  • that the referendum was advisory only and non-binding,
  • that the majority for ‘Brexit’ was small (3.8%),
  • that there are major questions about the circumstances of the respective Remain and especially Leave campaigns regarding probity of information, claims and promises made to voters,
  • that a serious risk of break-up of the UK impends upon a ‘Brexit,’
  • that the economic consequences of a ‘Brexit’ are not in the UK’s favour,
  • that a ‘Brexit’ would damage our neighbours and partners in Europe,
  • and that the future of the young of our country is focally implicated in the decision,

For all these reasons and more, there is a powerful case for Parliament to use its discretion to determine that it is not in the UK’s interests to leave the EU.

No doubt this will cause anxiety among those MPs who think that a simple majority in a referendum confers a moral, even though not legal, obligation to treat the referendum outcome as prescriptive and binding. This is far from being so, for the following reasons.

First, in most jurisdictions major constitutional change requires a supermajority or two-thirds majority to effect them (as e.g. in the USA and Germany), whether in a legislature or in referendums. In Switzerland, which alone among developed nations employs frequent referendums in its ‘semi-direct’ democracy, major decisions require a double majority of the electorate and the cantons.

For a very major change such as exiting the EU, it is not acceptable to have matters decided by a small simple majority. So great a change requires a significant degree of genuine consensus, at the minimum such as a 60% majority would reflect.

Second, a referendum is in essence a decision by crowd acclamation. You will of course well understand that there is an excellent reason why most advanced and mature polities do not have systems of ‘direct democracy’ but instead have systems of representative democracy, in which legislators are not delegates sent by their constituents but agents tasked and empowered to investigate, debate and decide on behalf of their constituents. This reason is that rule by crowd acclamation is a very poor method of government.

Consider: suppose that every item of proposed legislation were decided by referendums, which would therefore occur very frequently. Bills on health and safety in manufacturing industry, on reform of higher education, on the use of chemicals in water treatment plants, on regulation of air traffic over the nation’s airports – bills proposed by government and drafted in detail by civil servants – would be presented to the public, who would then vote. Would that work?

Very obviously, not. The expertise, patience and time that most of the public could bring to the task would be extremely limited; the lack of expertise, especially, would be a serious, perhaps disastrous, handicap. And very soon turnouts in referendums would plummet to single figures, rendering their democratic value nugatory.

Now I beg: really do consider the implications of the foregoing thought. Referendums are snapshots of sentiment at a given point in time. Government by referendum is government by crowd acclamation: not democracy, but ochlocracy. That is exactly why we have representative democracy. If referendums would be a poor way to decide on health and safety, air traffic control, or education, they are an exceedingly poor way to decide a matter as momentous as membership of the EU. This is and should be a matter for Parliament, taking all factors into account.

Moreover: the circumstances of the campaigns and the consequences of the vote itself must be considered. There was a great deal of misinformation, distortion, and false promises, much of it quickly revealed in the immediate aftermath of the vote, and resiled upon even by those who had made those claims and promises. Tabloid urgings for Brexit were followed, in the very same tabloids, immediately after the vote by information on its consequences which shocked readers. We have seen much reported about the post-vote regrets of people who had voted for ‘Brexit,’ – including some high-profile individuals who before the vote had been urging it in their newspapers.

These factors add up to this: that there are grave doubts about whether the basis on which votes were cast, especially among many who voted for ‘Brexit,’ are good grounds for Members of Parliament to resign their competence and duty to consider whether the UK should leave the EU. On the contrary: these considerations make it all the more imperative that Parliament should exercise its sovereign responsibility in the matter.

There is a formal online petition requesting a second referendum. If this petition is genuine and not the result of fraudulent computer hacking, it is the most extraordinary phenomenon: as I write these words it stands, only a few days after the vote itself, at over four million signatures. However if Parliament were to exercise its responsibility in voting down a proposal to trigger the Article 50 procedure, no second referendum would be necessary.

Some have suggested that a following general election, in which each MP made clear his or her standpoint on Remain or Leave, would provide a definitive conclusion to Parliament’s decision on the matter. However this is not constitutionally necessary: Parliament is sovereign: an election would merely prolong uncertainty.

One of the most important reasons why Parliament must take a bold sovereign stand on the outcome of this small-majority advisory referendum, is the interests of the young. We know that the Remain and Leave votes divided along the fault lines of age, educational level, and geography. There is every reason to urge that the wishes and interests of the young – the younger, more aspirational creators of the country’s future – should be given most weight. Parliament should protect those interests and respect those wishes. Some say that any among the young who could vote but did not, have only themselves to blame. This argument will not do. Those young people might have legitimately thought that their elders would not be so foolish as to betray the future by a ‘Brexit’ vote. But punishing them with a ‘Brexit’ is not the right response. The sober judgment of Parliament should be on their side.

You might think that Parliament’s discretion not to trigger the Article 50 procedure would leave matters hanging in the air, with continued uncertainty and the instability and political upheaval that it would bring.

Not so.

In debating and voting on whether to trigger the Article 50 procedure, it can be made clear that Parliament has noted

  • the outcome of the advisory referendum,
  • the small size of the majority of actual votes cast (thus, not the majority of the electorate),
  • the circumstances of the campaigns,
  • the consequences both already actual and in prospect, for the future interest, unity and prosperity of the UK,
  • and the impact on our neighbours in Europe:

and that it is exercising its democratic duty to take a view and to vote accordingly. If the vote is to not trigger the ‘Brexit’ procedure, our partners in Europe can be informed and normality can be restored.

The EU is flawed and has problems. But as a powerful member of one of the three great blocs in the world, the UK can do much to help it get better, and to work within it to help all its members realize the great ideals of peace, prosperity and co-operation for which the EU exists.

Let us not absent ourselves from this beautiful endeavour. Let us not injure it by refusing to be part of it, thereby also damaging ourselves and the hopes of our young.

Please – you have both the ability and the duty to use your own discretion in this matter. I very respectfully urge you to use the first and obey the second. The future truly depends on it.

Yours sincerely,

Professor A. C. Grayling

Master of the College

 

 

Importance of History

I attended an exhibition day on Wednesday at my old school, Ratcliffe College, and I was able to publicly thank the outgoing headmaster Gareth Lloyd for the spectacular turnaround in the School’s fortunes over the 7 years he has held the post. I will post some of my talk at a later date but the key point in all the speeches throughout the day made by the Headmaster, Fr President, the Chairman of the Governors and coincidentally by me too, was the importance of kindness. That is something that has been conspicuously absent in the referendum debate and the subsequent and chaotic fallout as politicians have scrambled over one another to sabotage the future.

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The occasion at Ratcliffe was, of course, dominated by talk of Brexit and quite alot of discussion about UKIP and my role in the UKIP story. (I think some people had rather cleverly checked me out on the internet) I was fairly honest in my response: while there are many good people attracted to UKIP and while its leader remains one of the few great orators in the country, it is, nevertheless, controlled by a balding militant thuggery snatched from the BNP and NF. This may have been a party ruled by bullies and twits, but it also attracted spectacular and honourable people like Douglas Carswell and Councillor Sean Connors. I count Sean as a good friend and a very honourable man. I also have time for Mark Reckless, now a member of the Welsh assembly. Credit where credit is due.farage ukipper flat

I joined UKIP with the intention of playing a leading role in the way it developed, or identifying and exposing the racism that everyone told me was there. In fact, I was offered both opportunities at about the same time. I chose to expose the racism.

The rise in racist and extremist abuse since the Referendum means that there are many who believe the racism in UKIP is endorsed by the “Leave” result. It is not, and there are many people in UKIP, who would be appalled by the suggestion that they have anything to do with, or would ever condone racism. More than that, there is extremism on both sides: my point is that it feels it has been sanctioned, and that is a message that needs to be addressed and condemned.

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As a Conservative, I find the libertarian aims of UKIP fairly laudable, but this is mixed with long-standing and often ill-considered ravings about the EU that in the end informed and dictated the tone of the recent referendum as well as giving structure to Conservative euro-scepticism, whether Farage was part of the official Leave campaign or not. I was in some difficulty throughout the campaign because I believed and continue to believe that, while the EU is seriously damaged, the European project, nevertheless, and because of our shared history, remains a fundamentally sound one. I felt that the Remain campaign was emphasising the wrong things (fear and greed), appealing to the wrong people (experts) and singing to a songsheet promoted by Farage. In the few debates I attended, the “remain” pitch was made by people peddling weak claims about something that had long since been dismissed as folly. In contrast some brilliant people, particularly our local MP Chris Heaton Harris, made a reasoned and impassioned case for “Leave”. And Chris was fairly unique in specifically saying he would not play the immigration card. If Chris had dictated the terms of the debate, I would have been a “Be-Leaver”. Indeed, at Chris’s encouragement, I contributed animated adverts at no cost specifically to draw attention to the appalling treatment by Europe of our fishing industry, something we must address whether we are “in” or “out”.

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I was also appalled and have spoken and written about the abuse of Greece by Germany in particular (Greece had a referendum and Europe made it have another when the result was judged to be “wrong”). Our debate about Sovereignty was made clearer by seeing the sovereignty of Greece ripped away.

But it was Farage’s silence over racism and his indulgence of the powerful thugs in his party that convinced me this campaign would head in the wrong direction and that we might threaten or might leave Europe for the wrong reasons sending a very confused message. This has proven to be the case. The overall debate was controlled by Farage, and while Boris fought hard to wrestle the mantle from his shoulders, he must have found it tough to swallow the nonsense about Turkey’s accession and the £350 million that now Farage says he never endorsed (It was, nevertheless, in the literature I was given a year ago by UKIP). Believe me, I would have done the same thing – Boris had no choice and to his credit, I think, and in the end, Boris made the Leave campaign his own. More than that, he managed personally to avoid any hint of racism and indeed, as far as he was able, temper the debate.

I feared that whoever brought down a man as powerful as Farage was unfortunately doomed. And my fears have been fulfilled. Boris is a brave and noble man. He has taken one for the team.

BECAUSE there could have been nothing worse than giving Farage a place at the negotiating table or rewarding him with a role in government. Knight him and let him leave!

Farage demonstrated to me last year very clearly that he is a man wholly without honour and that those who follow his lead, also abandon honour and integrity. When one of his elected cronies made a foul and public racist comment against a sitting politician, Farage dismissed it as a joke.

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More than that, when I took a stand to support Humza Yousaf, the Scottish minister for Europe, my family was attacked by a sinister local UKIP councillor who thought that a smear and a distortion of facts was an effective and proper response to my resignation. He offered no apology, and nor did his master, Farage.

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Both promised to write to me after the election and neither did. Both promised to resign and neither did. Both said exactly what they thought the public wanted to hear at the time and then they did their own thing. This is demagogy and not democracy.

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Referendums

People do not always read the lessons of history. For example, both Napoleon and Hitler turned to the Plebiscite, today’s “referendum” to justify their actions. It may be a tool for democracy but it is also a weapon of tyranny. Today, the web is filled with cries of “foul”, and whimpers from people who felt they voted the wrong way, and now regret their vote, or claim that 63% of the youth vote simply did not bother to vote. Some people blame Jeremy Corbyn and others blame the Glastonbury festival for that!

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A blueprint for tomorrow

But the Leave vote has happened and we should be looking forward to finding solutions that reflect the reality – ensuring at the same time that Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar are fully anchored to the UK, and also keep their place in Europe. There is even a case for London to retain its place as the financial hub of the EU while at the same time, pulling back the tide of EU bureaucracy from the shires. The EU is either a supra-national entity or it is dependent on the Nation-state. I think this is an opportunity to show the way the EU can work around Nationality and work with rather than against National and regional sovereignty. It should not be a case of choosing the EU over our nation but of accommodating both if necessary and at various levels of association. This is also a blueprint for establishing fully devolved and fully accountable local parliaments. I wrote a few days ago about the absurdity of pitching Nationalism against Federalism. Actually, with some flexibility and some grace, we can embrace the best of both.

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Our contribution to the EU

There are points to be made in favour of Europe and we may have to visit these over the negotiations. We need to look at ways to effect reconciliation rather than to drive a hard-bargain and we need to emphasise our overall contribution to the European project rather than posture as Farage has done and claim that European ministers have never had proper jobs. At the top of the list of contributions we have made to Europe is the Charter of human rights, the very thing that irritated so many people in my own party. The draft for this was written by a man called Maxwell Fyfe who became the Conservative Home secretary in Churchill’s peace-time cabinet. This was seen as the bedrock of a new EU-wide set of values, and it became our own in time. It was a British vision that anticipated the repeal of hanging, the institution of equality laws and the eradication of torture. This is a cornerstone to the modern Europe and I have successfully taken a case through the ECHR and helped to redefine the way the law is interpreted both internationally and nationally. I have a personal stake in this Charter.

Our role in History

More than that, I believe we have consistently gone to the aid of Europe in crisis, and to that end, fought two wars in Europe. Today, the Greek sovereignty issue is demonstration enough of the depth of crisis in Europe. Immigrants come and go and the immigration issue is actually a passing problem while the sovereignty issue drives to the heart of current EU abuse. It is not a time to be turning our back on Brussels but a time to engage fully with what happens across the channel and ensure that a long term-view, and that fairness, common-sense and goodwill are paramount. When Lord Fyfe wrote the charter, we were not a member of the EU. That clearly did not prevent us from playing a decisive role in the way the EU was established and the values it promoted.

Our Future

Whatever our legal relationship with the EU project, I think we should be determined to  play a pivotal role in securing the values we hold dear. It is in Europe’s interest and in ours to see that Europe works properly. It is not working properly now and nor are we. We can both do better and we need to work together.