Varoufakis is wrong

Austerity and class warfare

I like Yanis Varoufakis even if he has chosen to spell his name in an idiosyncratic way. I like his enthusiasm and his style. I like his motorbike and I am personally indebted to his party for giving me time when facing serious problems in Greece in the early part of this century. His party, certainly before they got power, understood their role then in and to society in a way that the established parties of Pasok and New Democracy did not.

Nevertheless, for all my respect, it does not mean I think he is right! And as Yanis would have to admit, there is a big difference between what might be done in theory and what must be done in practice.

A while back, Varoufakis was quoted in the Independent suggesting that “Austerity” is actually a form of class-warfare. While Varoufakis is actually quoting Noam Chomsky (unacknowledged incidentally, or are they really joined at the hip?), his claim remains simplistic and at best, it merely acknowledges that, as a crypto Marxist, Varoufakis thinks class-conflict ought to play a role in the way economic policy has been dictated simply because Marxism says it plays a role in the way history develops. If there is class conflict in recent Austerity programmes then I suspect that is entirely incidental. I think, though, that it is also a bit rich coming from a man with a degree of domestic comfort that makes Mr Corbyn’s tax return look modest.

The poor have suffered from Austerity. That is quite true, but that alone does not make Austerity itself a “class war”. It simply means that Austerity causes casualties and that, as a remedy to the current economic crisis, the Austerity package is not properly thought through. “Austerity” is probably badly named anyway – it is not about being frugal with the national or international economy; it is about reducing public expenditure at a time when we are spending more than we are making. High debt, in other words, is recognised as an impediment to growth and should be curtailed. One way to do this is to increase taxation and the other is to decrease public spending. In fact, while claiming to be pursuing a policy of Austerity until 2015, our Government did not actually reduce public spending by much at all. (and there is an argument that the Government simply abandoned Austerity in 2012 and that this led to our recovery whatever the rhetoric. It again, rather suggests that “Austerity” does not work.)

Greece

In the case of Greece, Austerity has pretty-well destroyed the country, (the debt has gone up rather than down so proving that Austerity was the wrong medicine for the illness) but arguably the greatest destruction has been to impose an Austerity programme from outside and so to compromise Greece’s sovereignty and National self-esteem. To make matters worse, it was imposed by Germany -a country that benefited from debt cancellations after the war. Her post-war growth can be directly attributed to that. More than that, Greece was among the countries that cancelled the debts Germany owed it (one can think of the Viannos and Kalavryta massacres or of the 218 men, women and children slaughtered in Distomo, for example, in 1944 or indeed of the demand, in 1942, for the Greek bank to give Germany an interest-free loan of 476 million Reichsmarks which was used to pay for the military occupation of Greece?) on the understanding that a conference would be held after the reunification of Germany. That conference never happened and the debt Germany owed Greece was never paid (though Germany paid Greek individuals about 115 million Deutschmarks. If repaid now, the total debt to Greece would amount to between $14-$95 billion depending on the way it is calculated. The Syriza government calculated the amount to be 341 billion euros). If Greece had been allowed to devalue its currency, and had been given some form of debt forgiveness, then it would not have had to reduce public spending so suddenly and relentlessly. In practice, this process was interpreted both within Greece and by the International community as a punishment and has stifled growth. No one wants to sit with the naughty boy in the corner.

“Austerity” alone was not the problem. It was the way Austerity was imposed and the failure to keep the government fully on board which explains the problem. In Greece, a series of governments, from PASOK, new democracy to Syriza, has always pandered to its core vote. In the case of Syriza, that is the retired and current civil servants- hence bizzare pension reforms, a reluctance to cut public expense as well as a rise in unreasonable taxes (for instance, while public employees have remained fairly secure, the Self-employed have been penalised- Insurance contributions today often exceed half the monthly earnings and all private businesses are now expected to pay 29% of next year’s earnings! There are instances where the self-employed have to pay up to 70% of their income in taxes and insurance. It is unfair and completely absurd as it simply encourages tax evasion, bankruptcy and prologued unemployment because smaller businesses can no longer afford to take on staff).

Question time

On Question time, Varoufakis identified a number of tax issues in the past that may have needed clarification but certainly do not point to a class war. “To be talking about reducing the state further when effectively what you are doing is reducing taxes like inheritance tax and at the same time you are cutting benefits – that is class war.” A reduction in both corporation and income tax stimulates investment.

keynes 2.jpgThis is, at heart, something proposed by Keynes, even if it is often quoted by people on the Right and even if what most people remember about Keynes is his third option that Governments should borrow money and spend it. President Bush told Congress years’ ago, “To create economic growth and opportunity, we must put money back into the hands of the people who buy goods and create jobs.” Even so, it is worth noting that while reducing the amount of tax paid at the higher end, the Coalition Government was responsible also for raising the tax threshold in 2011, (helping the poor) and I think on principle there are some very solid reasons why we should cut taxes overall -cutting tax for both the rich and the poor, a principle incidentally that is absolutely the sort of thing Mrs Thatcher advocated.

Putting this into practice, though, is tough and events often get in the way of ideology and principles.

Ideal business policy

There are two ways to run a business. To employ as few people as necessary and pay them as much as you can or to employ as many people as possible and pay them each as little as is legally necessary. I much prefer the first model and I have seen the second model in action in both Greece and Russia. It is strikingly obvious that people who are not paid what they are worth, or who are not inspired or encouraged to do the most they can, are frustrated and unhappy. Yet exactly this second model has been rolled out with tremendous success recently in Turkey. A call went out to small businesses to employ more people and, so far, over 1 million workers have moved from welfare to work at minimum wage, with the Government topping up insurance contributions and tax. Once again, one size does not fit all. What might work in Turkey is unlikely to work here, but we should admire Erdogan’s direct appeal to a sense of National Responsibility.

Ideal taxation

Austerity is about a choice between increasing taxation or reducing public spending. I think there is a third way: I think we can reform public spending and also, at the same time, reduce tax.

We should look at what Turkey is doing and be inspired- because we also need our own sense of National Responsibility: specifically, we need to address the ways we collect tax and how we spend the money we get.

So, firstly, we need to recognise the principle that people of all backgrounds should keep as much of the money they earn. As I mentioned, that is something that was dear to the heart of Mrs T and I think it remains a worthy goal. (I was recently told that as a foreigner working in a State university in Russia, I should be taxed at a higher rate than nationals; indeed, I should pay twice the tax. Astonishing! It was made much worse to learn this after a very small amount was paid into my bank account. “I thought you knew” is not really an adequate explanation.) It still seems to be the case that individuals use money more wisely than large institutions and the higher the taxes, the less investment there seems to be, the less incentive there is. We need to look again at incentives to invest in public works.

I think Varoufakis is confused, because there are a number of models that support the principle of reducing tax, mostly to the rich- the laffer curve, beloved of Reagan, which suggests that taxable income changes in response to the percentage taxed, and so allows for the possibility that the less percentage we tax, the more people earn and so in theory, the amount the Government receives would be pretty much the same while the trickle down theory (which suggests favouring the rich ultimately benefits the poor) sounds patronising. In the end, the only moral approach is to reduce taxation overall. But part of that approach must involve a reduction in VAT. VAT is about not class-warfare. It is indifferent to class but it hurts the poor more.

By offering tax cuts to both rich and poor, George Osborne was not quite following the principles of Austerity, but rather reviving Thatcher’s moral vision- to reduce taxation as a whole. He was finally applauded by M. Lagarde who said, “At the IMF we have learned that there is no single best way to reduce the fiscal deficit. We clearly underestimated the growth of the UK economy in our forecasts a year ago.”

Secondly, we need to look at both the health service and social security because both systems are spiralling out of control; as we live longer, both long-term health-care as well as welfare dependency cannot be sustained in the present form. We know that is a problem with the current system, but there is also a problem with the way the system deals with those who fall outside the norm- I think it is appalling that we can see homelessness in Britain today, and it is appalling that many people struggle to access a proper doctor outside office hours. We have been seduced into thinking that one size fits all: it does not. We need to have a number of parallel systems -where one system might pick up what the other leaves behind. So, as we need to look again at welfare and health, both currently failing, we are not to embracing class warfare. Quite the reverse and we have a limited time to get this right. We must do more of this, not less.

Bureaucracy

The quick fixes of the last twenty years have, in effect, increased the number of bureaucrats who have managed a form of hybrid care that is neither genuinely private nor fully public. Bureaucracy is an attractive way to put a problem on hold because it is about passing the buck, but every new department that is created adds to the overall bill we must still pay. And in the end, the problem still needs to be addressed.

bureaucracy by TIM.jpg

We need to reign back the Bureaucrats. And what an opportunity we have: just once in a lifetime, there is an event that will actually decrease the numbers of bureaucrats- because Brexit will cull their numbers in Brussels, so we should be careful not to create yet another class of bureaucrats to replace the ones we are “letting go”.

Attracting clever people to generate clever solutions

If we want to improve social equality, then we also have to find both the money to pay for it and the people to run our schemes more imaginatively. We need to do that through an efficient tax system. Our progressive tax system, as it stands, incidentally already taxes the rich more than the poor, but VAT remains a scourge: it is a fairly inflexible tax that hits everyone and hits the poor more than the rich; it is something that we inherited from the EU, even if a rudimentary version of VAT was once introduced here during the war.

We need to attract top business brains to get us out of this mess. We cannot do that if they know they will be penalised themselves by a punitive tax system. (How would they react when they look at their first month’s pay? “I thought you knew” is no way to command confidence) We need to reduce tax overall not increase it, and that is an aim we should nurture across the board. Lower tax means an incentive to invest. Lower tax means attracting the right people who will devise systems that work!

Whether we like it or not, the coming Brexit will create a Government spending spree that would make both Keynes and Michał Kalecki smirk. But that should really be where it stops. Kalecki has emerged from the shadows of post war Poland to be cited both as an inspiration for Keynes and Varoufakis as well as a solution to our current woes. It is from Kalecki that we get the perfidious idea that a tax on the rich might help us. It will simply drive the rich away. The French have tried it. It does not work!

Brexit is change. And change is a chance for new ideas to emerge. It is no time to drive people away, but to invite them to contribute to the new reality of a post-Brexit Britain.

Part of the process of inviting people into Britain to help us and keeping the best people here is getting our taxation system right.

Some clarification:

  1. Rather than a crypto Marxist, Varoufakis calls himself an “erratic” Marxist. So I am being a bit coy here. I should be more direct.
  2. I think the point of this article is a bit lost. (a) Austerity is a fairly aggressive treatment and like chemotherapy, it can cause damage and is often not effective. It does not seem to have been effective in Britain and it has been deeply destructive in Greece and Brazil. But the principle of reducing debt is perfectly sound. It is simply about how it is done. (b) Varoufakis’ claim that “Austerity is class warfare” has become a mantra of the left. In fact, austerity budgets in France and Italy have imposed surcharges on those with incomes over 500,000 and 300,000 euros. Hardly an attack on the poor, but I think equally not a very effective source of revenue.
  3.  I did not address the issue of “retribution”: a theory that says the rich should be taxed more as a punishment for causing the banking crisis. In fact, over 40% of British do not pay any income tax (23 million people) so the burden of taxation has already shifted towards the richer Brits and the top 3,000 earners here (that is 0.01% of the total paying income tax in the UK) contribute 4.2% to total Government revenue as calculated in 2013. At the time the Treasury said, “The rich pay more under this Government than under Labour. The people who pay zero tax are the millions of low earners who have been taken out of paying income tax altogether due to George Osborne increasing the tax free personal allowance.” Across the Atlantic, the richest 1% of Americans pay 1/4 federal tax and nearly 40% income tax. So much for taxation. As spending cuts, however, hit the poor more than they hit the rich, the aim should be to restructure public spending rather than to cut it.
  4. Varoufakis, incidentally, I understand, also wants to reduce VAT. We agree on that of course! He is not so wrong after all.

Maybe clause six but never clause eight!

There is a thing going round Westminster today called “the wrecking amendment” and it wrecks in two ways. Firstly, if it goes through, it will seriously damage the chances of triggering article 50 (which may well be the intention) and secondly, it assumes a power to which Parliament has no right. The “wrecking” amendment is not clause 6 which rightly, in my opinion, states that EU nationals living in the UK should be guaranteed the right to live here. The labour amendment, however, suggests (I think wrongly) that this right should be guaranteed on the date that Article 50 is triggered.

Instead, I think these rights should be unilaterally accepted before we even enter into negotiations. This approach represents a mark of good-will, a moral standard and a commitment to the wider concept of European integration that I trust the referendum will never scupper. Indeed, despite news today that Mr Farage’s marriage is on the rocks, he led the way in marrying a German national, setting out in quite domestic terms, a commitment to European identity that seemed at odds with his vigorous campaign against the power of Brussels. Of course, I do not share most of Mr Farage’s views, assumptions or political ambitions, but I know that on a personal level he has proven to be a good man and he remains one of the best speakers in the UK. Indeed, I have heard him praised by members of our own Conservative cabinet, who point to his personal discretion and his sense of honour. this is to say nothing about my reservations about his brand of demagogy and his confusion of democracy and populism but when Mr Farage finally retires and where, we will be the poorer for it when he is fully eclipsed by the dreadful people currently taking on the leadership of UKIP.

And here is the core of the “wrecking amendment” because it is put forward by people who think a statement is more important than a credible achievement. King Canute was a twit. He was in his own way quite as mad as King Lear raging against the elements on the moor. Words are just words if they can never be translated into actions, but more than that, words are a record of what we should do, and they can cripple progress if they are actually proven to be meaningless. I salute clause 6 with reservations, but I hope clause 8 will be fully rejected as the absurdity and arrogance that it represents. It is silly to bind the EU to accept both article 50 and clause 8! It makes the whole thing a joke and that is how it will be seen. More than that, I do not really think it will not wreck the Brexit plan. It simply makes us look unrealistic.It puts us in the same boat as Varoufakis- teasing an entire contin ent with some sort of limp gamesmanship. It did notwork for Varoufakis. I cannot see it working for us.

yiannis

Clause 6 should be a moral statement, and nothing at all to do with the Brexit treaty negotiations. It should be a Statement of our National Integrity. To place clause 6 in the context of article 50, or to balance clause 6 with clause 8 is no more than Mrs May is already planning- to negotiate a frankly demeaning tit for tat deal on the care of our respective nationals living abroad. What folly!

“Britain’s punishment”

“Britain must not get a better deal than the members who stay fully committed – otherwise this is not punishment.

What an extraordinary comment by Sylvie Goulard MEP who acts like some sort of haughty Au Pair, trying hard to play “Nanny”. She goes on to suggest that when we leave the EU, we must also shoulder a leaving bill of between £42 and £50 billion. It is outrageous to be charged for leaving the shop.

It is more outrageous to be told this by the Au Pair.

In Moscow, I found it hard when I went into a department store that I was obliged to go through the whole shopping-centre rather than simply exit by the door I had mistakenly entered. It is like being steered through duty free, or window-shopping in Amsterdam in the hope we will be tempted by something. But this is worse. And more than that, it is shameless when a gathering clan of European politicians are openly talking of “punishment”.

The “punishment” is already in the wording of the Referendum- we are to “leave” the EU club. I think that is punishment enough! But this ridiculous lady thinks we should have additional punishment as well, and that any payments that are demanded of us must also be couched in the language of punishment? It beggars belief!

If she wants to fleece a customer who says he will not return, at least try to do it with finesse. To bar the door and demand a ransom for leaving. That is frankly communist! It is the stuff of the old USSR!

For me, only one thing matters now- far more than posturing about what sort of “Brexit” we would prefer- that we behave decently and promptly to the EU citizens resident here, no matter what the EU politicians propose, and if this is a demonstration of their bilious response, we need to set the moral compass well and truly in advance. Let us not sink to this vicious nasty spiteful tit for tat. This is not a game anyone will leave with dignity. We must rise above it.

We have had a bad start, let’s be honest. And it will not get better if Brexit talks stall in the face of imminent French and German elections. We need to deal with our issues of regulating the British market to take over from what the EU market was once doing- and we need to do that quickly no matter what sort of Brexit we ultimately agree politically. We need to co-operation of both France and Germany to do this, but instead we are triggering article 50 when both these two countries could not be more distracted! What folly!

Yet that folly is not what Madam Goulard criticises. In fact, almost no one recognises this particular folly! Instead, the post-referendum language that both sides have continued to wield is of hostility and threats, a giant game of chicken that oddly people in parliament believe might have a set of rules. There are no rules or certainly none that favour us. And more than that, if just one of the 27 states objects to any deal we arrange, maybe because they do not, or rarely trade with us anyway, they have the power to veto the whole process. This is not a game of cat and mouse- this is about a rat in the lion’s den and the rat is trying vainly to dictate terms.

Yet…the EU is, without doubt, also behaving very badly.

I have said before that the EU should be ashamed of the Referendum vote- that it was reason enough to expect Mr Junker to resign. He failed to provide Cameron with enough leverage to take into the Referendum anyway. Yet he remains.

But there is much more to madam Goulard’s pronouncements that meets the eye. This is a woman who is keen on the ever-closer integration of Europe (she is already president of Mouvement Européen-France), was advisor to Romano Prodi when he was President, who wants, indeed, to be President herself of that EU, who is confident enough to write not only in French but also for the FT in English. This is an ambitious lady.

It is worth looking at m Goulard’s approach to other difficult EU states-

About Greece, she repeats the integrationist line: “I believe in the team game. We should not even consider the case of losing a member state. It is not in the interest of the Greeks. It is not in the interest of the eurozone. But this requires effort from both sides. The Greek government should admit that any decision taken must be passed in the Greek parliament as well as the German and the French parliaments. Perhaps Europe should make some more positive steps. Both sides should agree that their future is common and be prepared to correct past mistakes.” She has pushed for greater transparency in negotiations, seemingly a good thing, but when all is said and done, even her recommendations and good will come with an acidic put-down.

Vague

She wrote about and took a major role in reversing the Greek Referendum (and arguably Grexit would have been better for Greece and almost certainly for Europe): “Sur le fond, Tsipras est resté très vague”, she said and indeed, let’s admit it privately, he really was, but it is not something we should ever say in public, surely! What condescension! Quelle folie! Tant d’agressions! But while Tsipras could be bullied into remaining in the EU, Mrs May, who frankly has been even vaguer (-extrêmement vague) at least until yesterday, has made it clear she is off and that no deal is better than a bad deal. It is not that surprising that Madam Goulard has, therefore, hit the presses today. What a thoroughly disagreeable woman she is.

sylvie goulard by TIM.jpg

Greece takes responsibility

There is news today of refugees accepted in Greece because they had been raped by Police and security guards ( or specifically, a “government official” κυβερνητικό αξιωματούχο) in Syria. The newly established ΣΥΔ has, to date, taken on 30 cases, 9 of which it has accepted immediately according to the article which I am reprinting below.

While there are many reasons to be critical of Tsipras and the Syriza government,  and while I think their management of the economy is a disaster, I applaud their record on human rights. Indeed, recent news of the EU’s irritation about a Christmas payout to pensioners highlights the fact that Syriza are determined to take responsibility for the society they are running rather than cow-tow to a discredited EU.

tsipras-tim

It has now been 16 years since Necati was assaulted in Greece and over 5 years since the ECHR found against Greece. This story, in other words, I think, draws a line under what happened. Progress has been made.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necati_Zontul

http://www.redress.org/case-docket/necati-zontul-v-greece-

https://oxford.indymedia.org.uk/2007/08/377964.html

https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/06/343170.html

http://indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/12/330586.html?c=on

Tsipras

Αθήνα

Δεκτό έγινε το αίτημα για διεθνή προστασία ομοφυλόφιλου πρόσφυγα από τη Συρία, ο οποίος είχε δεχτεί στη χώρα του ακραίες διακρίσεις για τον σεξουαλικό του προσανατολισμό και βία που έφτασαν μέχρι και επανειλημμένους βιασμούς του από κυβερνητικό αξιωματούχο.

Την υπόθεση έκανε γνωστή το Σωματείο Υποστήριξης Διεμφυλικών (ΣΥΔ), αναγνωρισμένο μη κερδοσκοπικό σωματείο εθελοντικού χαρακτήρα για την προστασία των δικαιωμάτων της τρανς κοινότητας.

Η συνέντευξη του πρόσφυγα έγινε στις 19 Δεκεμβρίου στην Υπηρεσία Ασύλου με την παρουσία των ειδικών συμβούλων του ΣΥΔ, σε θέματα ασύλου, Άννας Κουρουπού (Γενική Γραμματέας) και Άννας Απέργη (Γραμματέας Περιφέρειας ΣΥΔ), που έδωσαν όλο το περίγραμμα των λόγων που ο αιτών έπρεπε να τύχει διεθνούς προστασίας ασύλου, ενώ κατατέθηκε υποστηρικτικό Υπόμνημα από το ΣΥΔ που εξηγεί αναλυτικά τη νομική βάση του αιτήματος της συμμετοχής του σε ιδιαίτερη κοινωνική ομάδα λόγω κινδύνου δίωξης ή της σωματικής του ακεραιότητας λόγω σεξουαλικού προσανατολισμού.

Το ΣΥΔ από την αρχή του 2016 έχει υποστηρίξει περίπου 30 υποθέσεις αιτούντων διεθνούς προστασίας ασύλου λόγω σεξουαλικού προσανατολισμού και ταυτότητας φύλου, εκ των οποίων εννέα έγιναν δεκτές στον πρώτο βαθμό, σε άλλες δύο υποθέσεις έγινε δεκτό αίτημα μετεγκατάστασης σε άλλη χώρα, τρεις απερρίφθησαν στον πρώτο βαθμό εκ των οποίων μία θα υποστηριχθεί και στον δεύτερο βαθμό, ενώ οι υπόλοιπες εκκρεμούν προς εξέταση.

Newsroom ΔΟΛ

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.

ratcliffe cloisters

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.

RobertBlay threats

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”.

lord-lawson

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.

coburn

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.

adam

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.

hitler

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.

Cameron gets his place in history

cameron.jpgNot a triumphal end to Cameron’s tenure sadly, but there are many things we can be proud of- not least the fastest growing Western Economy and his social vision which saw Gay marriage pushed through despite the whinging of many backbench MPs in the party who saw fit to misquote scripture (see my previous blog on this!). Against the odds, Cameron won the last election and secured Scotland in the UK. Triumphal! It now falls to someone else, maybe, and I hope, Boris, to patch up the problems left behind. A great man who has achieved great things leaves behind a problem that is perhaps even bigger than any of his successes.

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I am inclined to think that, despite the serious wobble with the pound as Brexit hit the headlines, we can still work with Brexit. And, moreover, I think there is a future outside the EU. The debate certainly puts issues firmly on the table, and now I hope Europe will also take these same issues seriously, because if the EU fails to reform under this pressure, then we have made an even bigger miscalculation and we have given even more backbone to the monster growing on our doorstep or at least across the channel! Let’s be frank, the EU has had and has ignored warnings in the past- Greece should have been a wake-up call, but the response from Merkel and her cronies was arrogant and wrong. Brexit is altogether a bigger thing and cannot or should not be so lightly tossed off. Barking orders at Britain, as she barked at Greece, will simply not do. (And we thank God we do not have Varoufakis to make a case to Merkel, the man who might have a charismatic presence but who thought Game theory should ever be taken seriously).

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The negative legacy that Cameron leaves behind is the one, however, that will probably enter the history books, particularly if Nicola Sturgeon follows through- Cameron will be the man who fractured the EU and who broke up the United Kingdom. The double whammy in union-break-ups! Going back a bit to the infamous “purring” story, there is a hint of hubris in this story that must be evident to a man like Boris steeped in the classics. I hope that was partly in his mind when he was paying tribute to the PM yesterday. Nobility will emerge! And I wonder whether there is room to consider a salvage operation that leaves Scotland and Northern Ireland in the EU? As nothing is clear, nothing can be ruled out!

The EU debate had been going on even before Cameron entered politics as an advisor, but he witnessed the damage it did at first-hand to the tail-end of the Thatcher Government and throughout the Major administration. Blair had a better ride but some close calls from Europe too, especially in 2006 when other EU countries acted fast enough to spare Blair his own Referendum chaos; Blair was lucky in power in a way that the last two Conservative Prime Ministers have not been but I hope, and I presume, nevertheless, that Cameron, like Sir John Major, and in contrast to Blair, will mature into a Statesman of stature once he leaves office. To this end, Cameron sent a letter round today with the following, which I think makes it clear he already has his eye on the bigger picture:

The British people have made a choice. That not only needs to be respected, but those on the losing side of the argument, myself included, should help to make it work.

Federalism vs Nationalism

As I write, I note that Lord Feldman is stepping down as Chairman of the Conservative party at the same time David Cameron quits in October. Their successors will have quite a juggling act ahead, because whatever Britain does next, the mess in our own backyard across the channel shows no signs of going away. They are victims of something that has been going on for about 20 years now.

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Today’s BREXIT news is just one example, albeit a dramatic one, of the collision between Federalism and Nationalism that has been building up for a few years now across the EU, and looks set to continue with the Spanish referendum, as well as calls in France for a referendum and a revival in Greece of GREXIT ambitions as a third bailout inches forward.

We could try some cod-psychology and say that the rise of Nationalism is a response to some wider global phenomenon, but the truth is that we have no way, at the moment, of judging where it comes from, except that across Europe and beyond, there is a genuine wave of far-right activism, seen most strikingly in the recent Presidential election in Austria, while Jobbik has had tremendous success in Hungary (where it organises a uniformed guard to police Roma areas), as has Poland’s “Law and Justice” Government which came to power in October, the Swiss People’s party, Marine Le Pen’s Front national, the “Freedom party”in the Netherlands, and the Danish People’s party scoring 21% in the last election- Then there are “The Finns”, the Sweden Democrats and down in Greece, the abominable Χρυσή Αυγή as well as our own UKIP here in the UK. I am not sure about how Nationalist is “Our Slovakia” but it did quite well in the last election, and, of course, Germany has its own Nationalist party called “Alternative for Germany” AfD, led by a fairly ferocious woman called Frauke Petry who thinks it is legitimate to shoot refugees (“the use of armed force is there as a last resort”) and that women (I assume she means German women) should have at least three children. there are less successful but equally vocal right wing movements in Italy (the Northern League), the IRL in Estonia, the LDPR in Russia, Slovak Nationalists, Attack, Svoboda, Serbian Radicals and the HČSP, otherwise known rather worryingly as the Croatian “Pure” Party founded by war criminal Ante Pavelic which currently says it is against “NATO, the EU and Gay Marriage”.

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There has also, oddly, at about the same time, been a surge in committed socialism as seen in the rise of Tsipras and Corbyn, two people who I am sure mean well but who manage power with a spectacular mix of arrogance and incompetence. The arrogance comes from the size of the  popular vote that thrust them into office (we should be careful not to confuse legitimacy with popularity) and the incompetence- well, that is clearly a natural gift in each case. Both have a certain charm. I might enjoy having these men round for tea, and I am sure their conversation would be tremendous fun, but I would not trust either to run my country. Indeed, I think neither Tsipras nor Corbyn ever expected to be elected and so both could offer all manner of promises and absurdities to their respective electorate that they now have to make good and neither was fully prepared for the job. Today, both men seem mostly committed to dithering or forgetting to wear a proper tie.

Modern Europe has also seen a rise in political idealism, what I imagine Mrs Thatcher would have called “Federalism”, most notably in the personnas of Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and of Frau Merkel, all of whom, I think, are deeply mistaken in the way they see the European project and their own roles within it. Of course, with hindsight, I am sure they might have surrendered more to David Cameron in the months before the Referendum, but that is the problem with so many of these people- they are locked into a belief that their own ideology, and their own authority moreover, whether European, far Right or far left, is of paramount importance to their overall identity. People are bigger than these passing belief structures, and the only way to tackle such ideologues is to be big enough to bend slightly. The EU was defeated by BREXIT because it was perceived to be undemocratic and inflexible, which quite bluntly is a valid belief.

I think it does not automatically now fall to others within the EU to sort out its future. We still have a role to play in what happens, and we have an interest in the way our neighbours operate. It can no longer be “business as usual” and it is not just about our future!

The Aegean idea

There are 47,500 migrants stranded in Greece at the moment. These are the ones who are counted and regarded as part of the ongoing “EU migration” process. There are countless more who have found a way of hovering on the fringes of Greek society, making a buck in the cinemas near Omonia and begging or stealing whatever they can to get by. Certainly the current agreement does nothing for them and does little to sort out the squalor that remains in Idomeni. All it will do at best is to send a signal to the people who manage the boats in Turkey that this Aegean crossing is closed. After 4 years, that is modest progress, but I was talking about the dangers of this people-smuggling issue nearly 15 years ago and no one paid much attention to me then.

So what is changing now?

An agreement about illegal migration to Greece may well have taken place, but to implement it will involve the movement of countless judges and lawyers from Athens to the islands, as well as the 2300 experts cited by Tsipras and imported from mainland europe to oversee the process, because presumably each of the migrants landing on Samos or Lesbos or wherever will demand and be entitled to a legally responsible decision before being shipped back to Turkey (lest the plan fall foul of the declarations made by the UN under the Geneva Convention). More than that, the EU deal will not process back those refugees already on Greek soil- Turkey ruled that out on 10th March!merkel

I find it hard to see how Greece will be able to manage this in practice, so whether the deal with Turkey and the EU is morally or legally sound, it still faces a practical problem. What has taken months of legal work in Athens so far will now be done in a matter of hours in makeshift courts along the seafront of Samos- I doubt it somehow! As I understand it, however, the Syrians who are deported from Turkey to the EU will be sent to specific EU countries to be processed, so this might ease the burden on Greece  in the long run and that thought alone might energise the process a bit.

Amnesty calls the EU/turkey agreement a “historic blow to human rights”, though to be fair, when I was in Greece, Amnesty had been infiltrated by some very peculiar people, some of whom were certainly illegal migrants. So, as Christine Keeler might have said, “They would say that, wouldn’t they!”

It seems unclear, at the moment, whether Greece is also being awarded extra funds to deal with this. If not, I await the outcry from Athens (a) that Turkey is being unfairly awarded 6 billion euros and (b) that this much hyped agreement merely moves the problem from one country to another. It might deter the boats in the Aegean, but it will hardly stop the boats already arriving again in Malta from Libya and Tunisia..

And it does not answer the moral question at all- why should a country like Turkey accommodate so many more refugees/migrants than the 28 different countries currently in the EU? I worry that we have somehow shifted all discussions away from the bigger picture and we are focused only on making a quick “deal”- in other words, have we just all become barrow-boys or costermongers in some sort of market-place… oh yes, we have! And wasn’t it once called “the Common Market”?

Whatever trading we do, we must not forget the bigger picture. We need a moral centre, not just a tidy profit or a quick solution.