The Party Line is……….Exit Strategy

We came, we saw, we voted and we left.  In the tumult of the hours that followed the result, that decision was cross-examined with the voraciousness of a person questioning his identity. Had we changed so much? Had we been so eager to leave that we had become something dark and twisted? What was next for us?

There can be no doubt, last Thursday’s vote was a watershed moment in British politics as despite all the warnings and trepidation, we voted to leave an organisation that had been an integral part of the British political system for the last 40 years.

It seemed that the decision took everyone by surprise, not least the voters who took to social media to express their disbelief, their dissatisfaction and their anger. The enfranchised but largely absent younger generation accused the older generation of robbing them of their future and their elders accused them of seeking to preserve the status quo at the expense of British sovereignty.

Division and infighting was not limited to the voters, as the politicians of all parties dissolved into factions and threw many of their colleagues to the press wolves. As the strongest advocate of the remain argument, the first casualty was Prime Minister Cameron albeit with a proviso to leave in October. Sensing opportunity, dissatisfied Labour MP’s have launched an abortive coup attempt against their leader Jeremy Corbyn and it seems that before long he will have to defend his administration from a rival within the party.

Amidst all the shock, political infighting and market uncertainty, the principal problem of delivering on the exit vote moved from an afterthought to the prime concern of the UK Government. Despite all the contingency planning, there is still a lot to do before the UK can officially leave the European Union.

A coherent plan and resulting legislatory changes are required before the UK can activate Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Committees are currently being drawn up to make such a plan a legal reality.

David Cameron, in moving quickly to resign his premiership has made one of the shrewdest political moves of his career. In making this move, he both physically abdicates responsibility for the next phase in the exit while at the same time perceptually abdicating responsibility for its potential failure and after effects.

The Brexiteers, newly legitimized by the vote are now the frontrunners to administer the new process as their dissenting voices now become the perceived democratic voice of the nation. They now have the burden of making the vote a reality placed upon their shoulders. The earliest indications seem to be that they were so unprepared for the prospect of winning the referendum vote that they didn’t feel it necessary to plan for the eventuality.  The centrist politicians within the campaign who have campaigned hard over the months are now losing political ground every day by not presenting the next stage in the process to the British people.

The only one still speaking is the right-wing leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, emboldened by both the vindication of his parties’ core aim and the prospect of now losing his job has taken the opportunity to vociferously attack the EU in speeches and prose. As the only one speaking from the campaign he devalues the legitimacy of the moderate Brexit argument with his right wing barracking of the EU.

The longer he continues to act without censure, the more the leaders of the EU are likely to make our exit harder. Moderate voices must act and show the EU that the British people are not a bunch of anti- EU zealots.

These moderate voices now have their own problems, in the forthcoming Conservative leadership contest with each member of the Brexit campaign now vying for a seat at the top table.  One may win, or none may win as the party could vote to select a candidate independent of the campaign to administer the next stage in the process and carry the UK forward alone.

The problem now is that the resignation of the Prime Minister and his commitment not to activate article 50 of the treaty of Lisbon have placed the next stage in the process on hold for the next four months. Europe cannot push us out and likewise we cannot see what the consequences of the result are. It is a quandary which creates a lot of uncertainty in both political society and financial markets.

Our former European partners also fall victim to this quandary, as continued UK presence within the EU makes it a poisoned partnership and drags the other nations into our uncertainty.  The EU cannot afford to keep us in but they also cannot be seen to accelerate our exit as it would give other dissenting nations the opportunity to voice their own concerns about the European experiment.

A nation reluctant to move quickly to the exit door and an entity motivated to move them out as quickly as possible with undoubtedly come into conflict. With the exit process taking potentially up to two years, European haste and British reluctance to proceed without a coherent plan will continue to make the environment of the EU a very uncertain place.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is…………Decision time

Friday’s Britain will be a very different place to Thursday’s one. The political shockwave will reverberate around the UK and the corridors of power in Europe, it will be a watershed moment in British politics as the nation decides its own destiny.

In or Out? Are decisions rarely ever that simple?

We claw at the truth of each argument like a man in the dark searching for a light switch, groping anything in search of illumination. It is an old struggle that the political establishment in Britain have been keen to maintain as it keeps them in power.

Every individual of voting age in the UK needs to make their own selective judgment on this issue and right or wrong, at least their vote will be theirs and not the politicians or the doomsayers.

I say doomsayers, because regardless of their politics there have been prophets of doom on both sides preaching Armageddon both social and economic. Leaving or remaining in the EU was always going to be a leap in the dark and as such it has brought out those previously unseen divisions in Britain’s political and social structures.

Understanding should be at the heart of every political debate, except this one. This referendum is all about one thing and one thing only: emotion. We are at our heart, emotional beings with clearly defined boundaries and precepts, we know what is right for us and what is wrong for us and by appealing to our emotions the political parties in this campaign bring these precepts to the fore.

What sort of place do you want Britain to be? Do you want to stay in the EU or do you want to leave it? These are the issues at the heart of the debate and they are deeply emotional questions.

The problem is that decisions made purely on emotion are not always the best decisions. However in the clamour for your vote, the rival campaigns have lost the ability to win the argument through legitimate means and can now only win points by emotion. That is not to say that we have not been bombarded by arguments, statistics and estimates to the point where we are saturated by them.

I’m not here to continue this trend, I wouldn’t know where to start and wouldn’t presume to judge your feelings or predisposition on the EU. Do I need to? If you’re anything like me you’ve probably already made up your mind on which way you will vote.

You are reading my blog, so I assume you want to know my view and over the past few months I’ve expressed my feelings on the referendum, how it’s been conducted and the fundamental arguments involved.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Today I can confirm that I will be voting for the UK to leave the European Union.

Now that the shock of this knowledge has sunk in, I’ll explain why.

In any scientific experiment there are things that work and things that don’t. If the things that work outweigh the things that don’t the experiment succeeds and vice versa. The weight of either determines the success of failure of the experiment. The EU is an experiment in political and fiscal union.

While the EU started out as an experiment that worked, the number of adaptations made to it over the years as it has expanded has stopped it functioning as a viable political entity. It is a clunky inefficient organisation that does not exercise its political authority in a manner which benefits all. If it did, there would be no discord and federal union would be a practical reality.

Of course the central tenets of free movement and integration between countries are worthwhile goals, we live in a globalized world and co-operation helps achieve the highest of human goals, but these tenets must be executed correctly and in a manner that benefits all.

Citizens must be able to say to their leaders “your approach is not working, try something different” without fear of being labelled reactionary or as some have called Brexiters racist. Legitimate concerns have been raised and without practical redress, risk the whole structure of democracy in our country.

Claims, Suppositions and Estimates have been bandied around as facts and words like could, should and may have become ever more frequent words in the political lexicon. Saying that we should not undertake a course of action because of a fear of the consequences of what may happen is no argument. If I didn’t do things because I feared what may happen I wouldn’t do very much at all. I am are aware of both the risks of both leaving and remaining but neither will stop me from choosing what I believe to be correct.

I will make an important point here: I believe in the idea of the European Union, but the idea has been practised incorrectly in my view and is need of serious reform.  The problem is that the European Union is seemingly unwilling to embrace the need to reform its political structures, its reluctant to say that its wrong. Mr Cameron’s failed attempts to obtain a deal with the EU that was in the best interests of Britain is the best evidence of this failure to change.

We need a consensus in the EU for practical reform, but any such consensus is being overwhelmed by the actions of the larger economic powers within the organisation: France and Germany. Both of these nations have become so blinkered, so focussed on EU integration that they have lost sight of the fundamental precept of the Union: the idea of community.

Don’t get me wrong, we could stay in and try to effect real change from within the Union, but such a change has to be in our national interest otherwise why bother. All signs point to a similar reluctance to change as highlighted earlier and I believe that any attempt to reform the EU will be widely opposed and shouted down. I honestly believe that a vote to remain on Thursday will not be the end of the debate and this issue will continue to rear its head in the politics of the next 50 years.

Who knows? A decision to leave the EU on Thursday may prompt a seismic shift in the politics of the Union, shocking it out of apathy and into practical action. If this occurs and the resultant Union reform is successful, I will be the first to campaign for Britain’s return to this organisation.

All political schisms are fraught with uncertainty, no decision is without risk both short and long-term.  I am of the firm belief that when something is important to you, you do it regardless of the risks involved and Britain’s future is important to me. I want to see this country prosper and find its place in the world. I want us to become the Great Britain that I’ve always read about in the history books, becoming a greater world power and force for good.

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© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is………..Security

Security. Peace. Freedom to exist without fear of terror. Fundamental truths that exist at the very heart of good government. Fundamental truths which are under threat on an almost hourly basis.

In a globalised world where individuals can move freely between countries, internal security and external security have a symbiotic relationship where one determines the success of the other.

Maintaining this relationship has become a substantial drain on the resources of nation states, particularly those who expose themselves directly in both militaristic and diplomatic actions in those rogue nations and regimes. Exerting this influence leaves them vulnerable to reprisals, both in their spheres of influence and at home.

There are however, mechanisms in place between the various countries in the world to both combat the increasing threats and to disseminate information across the various law enforcement agencies which operate in each nation.

At no previous point in history has there been such vulnerability in international security with truly international threats manifesting themselves around the globe. Terrorist organisations seemingly operating without borders and using increasingly covert methods of spreading their messages of fear.

Intelligence, both for and counter plays an increasingly large part of the international response to these sorts of threats.  Anticipating and countering threats before they occur forms a vital part of this, saving lives and preventing tragedies.

Mutual defence treaties need to be maintained to prevent the rise of a larger foreign power with hostile intent and to provide a check against further acts of terror. 27 mid-size nations defending the interests of a small client nation have a greater chance of stopping a bigger nation exerting its agenda, being hostile or otherwise.

The mere presence of these sorts of treaties and international agencies keeps the complex spider web of international interdependency working.

But with every success using these methods, there are failures like Orlando, Paris and Amsterdam.

Terrorists and criminals hiding in plain sight, integrating themselves surreptitiously within minority communities until the need arises to perpetrate their acts.

Far too often, these individuals exploit legislation designed for altruistic methods, such as the European Union’s free movement of individuals within its borders doctrine. Organisations like Islamic State have used the smokescreen of the immigration crisis and the Syrian civil war to place individuals from their organisations into these countries, exploiting the compassionate nature of the European Union. For every altruistic act, there are those who wish to exploit it, for nefarious and corrupting aims.

Migration of individuals from these at risk countries, is being closely monitored by agencies both foreign and domestic but one has to ask the question, where do we draw the line? When does the terror threat become so severe that we pull up the drawbridge and look to our own security?

It is a political issue that speaks to the heart of every community within the European Union. When does the Union allow too much terrorist activity to occur for it to remain a viable secure entity?

It is a vital issue in government and has been drawn to the heart of the EU referendum debate in the campaigns of both the Brexit and Remain campaigns. Dire prognostications of doom have been made, should the vote lean towards the exit door with assumptions being made that our security services will be unable to cope with ongoing international threats without the support of our partners within the European Union. What they fail to state is that the bulk of the organisations designed to counter these threats do not depend on Britain remaining in the European Union, they are instead internationally independent agencies. The failure of the Brexit campaign to explain this obvious distinction explains why the Remain campaign are winning the security argument.

But in utilising these sorts of sentiments, they are engendering a climate of fear to what should be a legitimate question: Can the EU provide for Britain’s future security, when it perceptibly cannot manage its own?

In a globalised world, we cannot simply baton down the hatches and expect to survive the storm unscathed, we must take a positive assertive role in preserving our own security. International Co-operation and intelligence resource pooling enables us to do this and should form the bedrock of what we do to counter external threats.

Relationships of this nature thrive on co-operation between nations and although the EU referendum may result in us leaving this political union, our greater spirit of co-operation with our neighbours in this area should continue as it is mutually beneficial for all.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is………Immigration.

Throughout the centuries, groups of people have traveled across the continents of the Earth. Some have done so for political reasons, some social and some economic. Often a key factor in this is the need to migrate to avoid financial/personal calamity.

Migrants from many countries have made Europe their home for centuries and as the EU has expanded so has the number of migrants coming into it. The unrest and civil war in Syria and other outlying countries has exacerbated the upward curve in migration figures, which has in no small part led to the current crisis.  Images of personal tragedy in the media have become grim reminders of the risks that these migrants have to endure to find a better life.

A central tenet of the European Union since day one has been the free and unrestricted movement of the individuals within its borders. It has become the sociological underpinning on which the union has built its economic and political success.

As this migration has increased the burdens on member states have increased, forcing them to accept larger and larger groups of these at risk individuals. Stresses, both economic and sociological structures have endangered the stability of these states exposing them to more extreme politics.

It is a trend that has not gone unnoticed by the many member states, in particular the UK who have looked to address the problem of uncontrolled migration in renewed negotiations with the EU. These negotiations and the eventual agreement brokered triggered the proposed referendum in the UK as to whether EU membership should continue.

This referendum is the greatest challenge to the EU since its founding.  Legitimate concerns about the direction of the EU have been raised which if unanswered will be only to its detriment.

Key to this has been the battleground of immigration and the free movement of individuals, it has been the central pillar of the EU experiment and is vital to its success. The problem is that this policy has failed to anticipate the population explosion in Europe. Since its founding the population of the European Union has rocketed to just over 508 million individuals.

508 million individuals….. it seems an insane number doesn’t it? All the signs are that this will increase exponentially over the next 25 years as new states join the European Union. Many of these states are in economic collapse with record levels of poverty and unemployment, yet are allowed into the EU. This “perfect storm” of circumstantial forces has prompted many to migrate both legally and illegally to those more affluent member states.

Speaking plainly, these potential member states are simply not ready to be part of the European Union and the fact that large numbers of their respective populations choose to leave these countries is the best illustration of that lack of preparedness. Checking mechanisms which exist in the Union to ensure preparedness are often rushed in the drive toward greater inclusion. Migration remains a practical necessity in the globalized world, but migration without effective conditions of limitation will likewise be detrimental to the long term success of the EU.

Policies implemented by the UK government that have attempted to control migration into the UK by these increased numbers of migrants have utterly failed under the weight of political and judicial pressure from this free movement obsessed Union. Unwanted migration, coupled with the overtly “ever closer union” agenda being pursued by the EU has resulted in the current groundswell of anti-EU sentiment being expressed by elements of the British parliament and its populous. The practical expression of this sentiment is the current EU referendum on membership and it has become a key campaign issue in the political manifesto’s of both the Brexit and the Stronger In Europe groups.

I’m not saying that EU idealism is unwarranted, every citizen wants long term security and prosperity for themselves and their children. The governments of Europe have done what they thought was best to avoid a repeat of the two world wars of the 20th Century and what they have achieved is truly admirable. The problem is that the idealism has clouded their judgment and prevented them from seeing that the world has changed and as a result requires a fresh approach to meet these new challenges.

UK exit or continued inclusion could signal the sorts of reforms which address this issue in the long term or it could be a case of out of sight out of mind as the EU continues on its current course regardless.  The proximity of the referendum has drawn this issue to the forefront of British politics with campaigning reaching fever pitch over the next few weeks. A similar ideological referendum on a larger scale needs to occur in the EU with the free movement of individuals at its heart.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Should Barack Obama have intervened in the European Union referendum debate?

The United States of America has intervened in the political affairs of a foreign power.  These are powerful words, full of intent and purpose. So often in the world the U.S has flexed its political and military muscles to bring about change in a foreign power over the 20th and 21st centuries.

The thing that separates this intervention from the countless others is that this intervention is not in the affairs of a lesser power in a far off land, where the political system is skewed or slanted towards a specific type of politics, this intervention is in a country of similar political and international stature to the U.S.  I’m talking about the United Kingdom and Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate.

So why intervene?

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America and the first black man to hold the office is running out of time.  In the waning months of his second term as president, he knows that his time is almost up. The vultures are circling; ready to pick apart the carcass of his presidency once he becomes a private citizen again. He has faced a heavily Republican senate, eager to block any and all legislation, a partisan populous not ready to face the harsher realities of the post crash world and an international community filled with crises and division.

Like a prize-fighter who knows his fighting days are over, Barack Obama has nothing to lose and can throw everything he’s got at his presidency. His conservative, compassionate stance has gone and has been replaced by a rushed desire to achieve lasting impact in his few remaining months as president.  He has vehemently spoken out on gun crime, on international terrorism, the economy and has pushed through significant diplomatic changes to the United States relationship with Cuba, paving the way for the greatest change in political relations between the two countries for half a century.

Intervention in European Affairs

Turning his attention away from domestic affairs to Europe and the UK could be seen by many as a dramatic overstepping of his presidential authority.  Indeed the rebukes since his initial speeches from the Brexiteers have been as stinging as they have been numerous.  By all means intervene in a foreign power, but save that intervention for a third world country or a dictatorship but don’t intervene in the affairs of an international partner, particularly one who you enjoy a “special relationship” with.

It’s easy to rebuke him, call him a hypocrite and ignore him, but as objective individuals we must look beyond the words to the real aims of his intervention in this integrally British issue.

We’ve already mentioned one point that is a key motivator for him: preserving the “special relationship”. The US has a vested interest in keeping Britain strong and an international power because we can achieve what they cannot: we can tread the fine lines of Europe, work in American interests and still be seen as an independent nation.

Our country provides a vital exporting and importing market to the US with many companies depending on British wealth and spending power to finance them.  Should the UK leave the EU, the United States will have to renegotiate its existing trade agreements with a newly independent UK. Renegotiation takes time and could cause damage to world financial markets, particularly across the European Union.

British influence on the EU cannot be understated, we are one of three key leading nations in the greater European alliance, the others being France and Germany. Our voice carries a significant weight and provides additional strength to the EU message.  As a significant political partner, America cannot help but see this and obviously make the logical leap that Britain outside of the EU is a weaker EU.

Playing the long game

You get the sense that America is playing a long game, keeping the EU strong enough while it readies itself for the inevitable confrontation with the newly resurgent Russian Federation.  A strong EU preserving its borders can accomplish more politically than NATO could in military terms, drawing other territories into the union and strengthening its existing members. Other nations in the EU have dithered in the past on larger world concerns like Iraq and Afghanistan but the UK has not, we have been prepared to move forward where others have been reticent to do so.

That voice in the EU could be used to motivate it to pursue the eventual military action which will undoubtedly occur as the two great superpowers continue to butt heads.

On the other hand, President Obama could be a pawn in a European game designed to keep Britain in the EU in exchange for certain US concessions across the territories.  The statements and speeches have been public but the real politics may be completely secret.

Is he right to do so?

Putting speculation aside, the ethics of President Obama’s intervention in this debate are questionable at best. We are not a dictatorship or a totalitarian society, British democracy has been key too much of the worlds greater democracy and indeed the US owes its constitution and political system to our political system.  Intervening in this debate is ill advised and would only be considered by the US if the issue itself were so serious and so game changing that not intervening would be perceptibly catastrophic to American long term interests.

Whether his intervention proves to be a catalyst for a remain landslide or it provokes the opposite response, he has thrown his hat into the centre of the ring and it is up to us now as voters to decide whether this is right or wrong.

What do you think?

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

1st July 2016- Brave New World or Apocalypse Now?

It is the 1st July 2016, the political maneuvering,  celebrity endorsements, speech making and campaigning are over and the fate of the UK in the European Union has been settled.  Amidst the mass of column inches, the “we were right” statements and hurried speculation about the future, what changes can the voters of this country expect, regardless of the result?

The days in the lead up to the referendum will be so frenzied that many of the UK’s voters and political commentators will be saturated and likely sick of the process that many will shut down completely in the post referendum haze.

The EU referendum is the most profound political change to affect the UK in the last quarter century, that much is undeniable but will the common voter care after the vote has been decided?

The popular perception is that a vote to remain in the EU means that nothing will change, that the status quo will continue and things will remain as they are.  This will in all likelihood not be the case, as fallout from the vote sets in. Regardless of the result, changes will occur, many will be subtle but many more will be shattering to the existing political, social and economical structures that exist in this country at present.

The first casualties will undoubtedly be the “Brexiteers” .i.e. those MP’s who elected to join the Brexit campaign since its inception. Cabinet ministers should remain largely unaffected, with the exception of Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary who will probably end up being reshuffled out of the cabinet after the referendum result.  In some senses, he will get off lightly as rebels like Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith who so publicly opposed the Prime Minister in the campaign will face pressure to resign their seats in favour of Cameronites.

The strongest proponent of the remain campaign, the Prime Minister will enjoy an upsurge in popularity amongst the voters and will look to solidify his power base as he moves forward into the final years of his term.

In staying out of the referendum spotlight, the Labour party has ensured that it will remain largely unaffected by either a remain or exit result. In a classic case of political opportunism, Jeremy Corbyn has been keen for the party to remain unified in its desire to remain in the EU. They can afford to let the Conservative party carry all of the debating and infighting, then claim that they are above such petty conflict.

Emboldened by the vote of confidence, the Prime Minister can use the good feeling to hold renewed discussions with the other leaders of the European Union about the UK’s place within it. However in winning the referendum vote, the Prime Minister must check his ego at the door and will most likely claim that he has been given a strong mandate for reforming the EU by the voters.  Whether the leaders of the EU will be keen to have these sorts of discussions with him are anyone’s guess.

Economic uncertainty is almost a given in the aftermath of the EU referendum, as many investors will look to second guess the financial markets both before and after the vote has been cast.  Such a period of uncertainty could be highly detrimental to the UK economy, given its fragile status.  We will not see a panic in the same vein of the 2008-9 financial crash but can expect a drop in the value of investments at all levels of the financial services market.

Foreign investors could on the other hand be keen to put their money into the economy, taking advantage of a foreseeable period of economic uncertainty to make a fast buck.  Legislation may need to be enacted by the UK government to forestall this sort of fire sale in the UK.

An EU keen to reform its financial instruments may look to lessen current financial constraints as a sort of placation of the UK after a positive referendum result. Then again, the EU could look to punish the UK for its attempts to leave “the EU club”.

The area which will be the least affected, at least in the immediate aftermath of the vote would be the UK’s current sociological landscape. Economic migration and immigration will continue in the way that it always has, but the UK will be subject to larger sociological strain as both membership of the EU expands and the tide of immigration continues.  Remaining in the EU will not change the day to day sociological structures; people will still pay tax, attend hospitals and pay benefits.

Current commitments to EU legislation will continue, with the possibility of increased legislation in the weeks and months following the vote.

And now to the other side of the coin, what would happen if the vote endorsed the Brexit?

Would the vote to leave signal the swift exit of the Prime Minister? There is always a possibility that this will happen. Losing such a high profile vote would harm his credibility as both a world leader and leader of the Conservative party. Since Cameron has already said that this term will be his last as Prime Minister, the best option for the victorious Brexiters would be to keep him in power and consolidate their powerbase to take over once the term is over. Choosing this course would give the illusion of a strong and unified party to the general public and could fend off a renewed assault from the Labour party.

While the Prime Minister could remain a paper tiger for the rest of his premiership, other prominent remain politicians would fall into the sights of the Brexiters, chief among them being George Osborne.  Consolidation of power base and its eventual use could easily force the Chancellor out of his position and stop him from making any succession overtures when Cameron’s term ends.

The bombshell of a British exit from the European Union would ripple through Europe. Borders which remained open under the old way would be closed, legislation which affected Britain and British interests would become null and void and many Euro politicians would be out of a job.

The status of those individuals from the EU who live and work in this country as part of the free movement of workers and individuals would need to be quantified. Would they now be effectively deported? Or would a general amnesty on those already here and working here be agreed?

Radical changes to the current working visa system would not in all likelihood occur, but significantly more checks would be conducted with greater emphasis on excluding those individuals who were not here to work, or key workers. An Australian style points system would be favorable in this instance.  Asylum seekers and those fleeing war (like those in Syria) would still be welcome in this country, but benefit tourists would find it far harder to enter the UK.

The question of whether the UK would still allow the resettlement of Syrian migrants leads us to a larger question: Would the international status of the UK change if it were independent from the EU?

The simple answer is No. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and enjoys a prominent political and economic status within the international community. Changes made would be only evolutionary as the UK embraces its new status as independent from the EU.

Media speculation makes wild claims that the cost of holidays and travel within the EU would increase dramatically as a result of Brexit, but many of the countries of the EU rely on the income of British tourists so it is not in their final interests for these costs to increase.

As stated previously either referendum result would most likely cause a dip in the financial markets. The idea that many prominent financial institutions would up sticks; move to the continent in the event of a Brexit is pure media speculation and is ultimately not cost effective.  Large multi-nationals have a vested interest in trading in UK financial markets and have been aware of the referendum for some time now; it is naive to think that they haven’t made financial plans to remain in this market. Firms cannot afford to ignore the UK because as mentioned it’s the fifth largest economy in the world.

Signing up to the Single Market formed the basis of the last referendum on the EU and it is this battleground where the UK must make its presence felt.  Trade deficits and agreements need to be maintained and the UK will need to renegotiate entry into the Single market as an independent nation rather than a member of the EU. Other countries within Europe but independent of the EU have such agreements but they are far smaller economies but the UK would be a different kettle of fish. An agreement is vital and must be reached quickly, whether this comes at a cost of further concessions is a problem for the politicians to solve.

So, this brings us back to our initial question: Will the 1st July 2016 inaugurate the start of a brave new world or an apocalypse now?

Speculation can be made that either event will occur because we are in uncharted territory.  Will either result be in the best interests of the UK? We can say with some degree of surety that it will: Britain is a unique country in the world with a proud history and a place at the top tables of the world as a world leader.  This tradition will continue because the people of this nation will make it so.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

The Resignation of Iain Duncan Smith: A second Conservative civil war?

The year is 1990, the Berlin Wall has fallen and Communism is in retreat around the globe, Apartheid is crumbling in South Africa and the Gulf war begins. In the UK a dominant Margaret Thatcher survives a leadership challenge from inside the Conservative Party by a huge margin.  Despite the poll tax riots and low approval ratings Thatcher remains confident in her leadership of the country and her party.

Beneath the surface however, it is a Conservative party filled with deep unrest, be it from grassroots party members through to cabinet colleagues.  Senior members were unhappy with her support for the poll tax and had big differences of opinion on the UK’s place in the European community.

One such figure was Geoffrey Howe the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the last surviving member of the 1979 cabinet.  Howe was unhappy with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to agree a timetable for the UK to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.  On the 1st November 1990, Mr Howe resigned from the Conservative party and his position as Deputy Prime Minister.

This one event triggered a cataclysm of acrimonious resignations, party in fighting and a leadership challenge that would result in Mrs Thatcher would be ousted from the Conservative party.  Bringing to an end an 11 year tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Flash forward to early 2016: A dominant Conservative party has won a huge majority at the General Election sweeping aside all opposition.  David Cameron negotiates a new agreement with the EU which he deems to be the best deal for Britain and calls for a referendum in which the British People will confirm that belief.  His chancellor George Osborne delivers an early budget including a reform of pension tax relief and ending in a number of cuts to disability benefits.

Like the Thatcher government, the Conservative party of 2016 is deeply divided over Europe and Britain’s place in it, there is also concern that the policy of austerity is failing to address overriding economic issues. Factional lines have been drawn within the party and where there was once unity there is now discord and open opposition.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Minister, resigns in disgust at the watering down of proposed disability cuts and the compromises made.  His assertion being that the withdrawals and compromises are obviously an attempt to appease middle to high income voters who traditionally vote conservative and to keep them on side ahead of the EU referendum.

It is an assertion that is backed by many colleagues within the party, but rejected by even more.  Impartial observers cannot hearken back to the Thatcher government and wonder, will history repeat itself? Will the Conservative party implode as it did before?

The old saying “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” has never been more right. David Cameron, aware of the damage one resignation can do and the tenuous nature of the situation has been keen to smooth things over with those individuals who question both the budget and the Conservative parties’ role in Mr Duncan Smith’s resignation.

Whether the Conservative party slides into civil war and leadership contests will be determined by what David Cameron and his colleagues do next. Civil War in the party benefits nobody. The only winners from such a dangerous course may well be the Labour party, still licking its wounds from its worst election performance for a decade.

If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I’d be praying for more of the same resignations and infighting from the Conservatives. Only that could get me into power.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Brexit Vs Bremain- The First Fortnight: Speeches, Statements and Skulduggery

Two weeks can be a long time in politics, hell two minutes can be a long time in politics. Careers can be broken, made and remade; politicians can go from the flavor of the month to the poor cousin and vice versa. It has been more than two weeks since David Cameron announced the EU referendum and a serious contest has gradually emerged from all the bravado and maneuvering.  In the grand scheme that is the EU referendum two weeks is a small amount of time, but these two weeks determines the flavor of the next six months and beyond.

Keen to make an immediate gain in the contest were the Bremain campaign, who exploited their existing connections in the business world to produce a 200 business strong letter in The Times newspaper voicing their businesses support for staying in the EU.  The implication of this being that their businesses and their employees would both support this intention.

Prominent members of the Brexit campaign made statements in the press denouncing this as governmental propaganda, also citing the notable absence of two thirds of the UK’s main FTSE 100 companies from the letter. It is clear that many of the UK’s businesses remain undecided on whether exit from the EU is good for the UK.

Outside of the campaigns the director of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth was forced to resign after expressing pro Brexit opinions. It was an exit that the campaign rounded on, with cries of double standards and accusations of governmental pressure being brought to bear on the BCC. Some have expressed the belief that Mr Longworth was made to resign by the Brexit campaign rather than the Bremain, as a political bear trap that the government was made to step into, however the truth remains elusive in this regard.

Boris Johnson and the other politicians in the Brexit campaign have been keen to stress the presence of Project Fear: a concerted governmental effort to make the general public so afraid of the consequences of an EU exit that they are forced to vote to remain.  It was a campaign that was very effective in the Scottish referendum and could quite easily be in operation here in the UK.

A major consequence of the EU referendum has been the dropping by the government of plans to reform pension’s tax relief. It is an abandonment of plans that smacks of electioneering, in so much as higher and additional rate taxpayers are the bedrock of the conservative party and to bring these changes now could result in a revenge EU exit vote from them.

It has been a long time since wholesale appeasement was the flavor of the month in British politics, but with so many interested parties in this referendum debate we can expect a climate of voter grabbing headlines, statements in both parliament and the media all designed to gain one thing above all: Your Vote. It’s up to you to decide how you use it.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

What would happen if a government or political party decided to tell the whole truth?

In today’s political arena, the truth is often the first casualty in the rush to sway popular opinion. The rise of spin has worked in tandem with a very old practice, the practice of rhetoric.

Rhetoric was in itself a product of the Ancient Greeks who used it as a way of increasing status in the community while persuading the populous to come around to your point of view.

It was taught in Athens and many of the Greek islands and gradually passed on to the Roman Empire and after the dark ages where it was used by the fledgling politicians and statesman of the Middle Ages.

Following the enlightenment, the growth of political thought and expression defined itself in the English Civil War, The French Revolution and The American War of Independence.

In our modern age, rhetoric has never been more popular as a tool, but the use of rhetoric is more and more becoming a way of distracting the general populous from the real truth of political action.

The competing superpowers of the USA and Russia used rhetoric and spin to turn their political standpoints against each other, spreading lies and disinformation to undermine their respective enemies.

It may have been perceived that the end of the cold war would have brought an end to this practice, but as the walls came down the tactics became more clandestine. Controversial governmental policies pushed the need for spin and rhetoric to the fore as governments attempted to justify their actions.

In some cases, the truths they are attempting to justify are so politically damaging, that they have to be cloaked in lies and spin to be explained to the public. The more terrifying truths are merely not expressed; instead they are classified as being in the national interest and promptly buried.

It also remains a prominent force in the practice of electioneering where increasingly it has been used by political parties to make light of the weaknesses in their opponents policies and political record.

Current affairs shows are full of politicians using spin and rhetoric to confirm /deny their actions, make beneficial coincidences seem like part of their plans and to distinguish themselves as being different from other political parties.

Politics is primarily the art of discourse, the reasoned debate that exists within a community of individuals. The rise of modern political society has supplanted this in favour of a defacto schoolyard game of one-upmanship, where one party blames another for the failings of the country.

The pursuit of controversial policies like the Iraq war, the War on Terror and austerity has made the public very sceptical, a climate which has not been favourable to politics in Britain as a whole.

Amidst this malaise of spin, the understanding and faith in the political parties shown by the general public has never been lower. Voting turnouts at elections have never been lower, entire sections of society have become estranged from politics as distrust of politicians has grown. This estrangement can only grow as time goes on and as it does, more extreme political standpoints may become more palatable to the unhappy populous.

The practices used have created this climate, but what if these practices were abandoned in favour of a new practice: telling the public the unequivocal complete truth.

We talk of truth, but what does that mean in a political sphere?

In a political sphere we are talking about the full disclosure of those things which could be beneficial or detrimental to the government of a country. No distinction would be made, all truths would be told and it would be the responsibility of the voting populous to determine if those truths make the incumbent party not worthy of voting for.

This need not be limited to things happening in the present, past acts undertaken by previous governments could be fully disclosed and not disclosed after a certain period of time as currently practiced.

That being said, a certain level of truth telling exists in modern government anyway you just have to move past the spin to find it. The truths of statistics, budgets and expenditure are not easily recoverable but they are there, it is a question of what is done with those truths (for example the recent parliamentary expenses scandal). Politicians recognise the need for truth in all spheres of politics however their policies do not go far enough.

The level of detriment of the truth would decide the path of the political party, nay the political system of the country. Alliances with other world powers could be shown to be alliances of convenience rather than actual friendship. The behind the scenes practices of government could be revealed, relationships between parties, companies and fundamental truths about how the country is run could be exposed.

The effect on that countries status in international politics is more of a hit and miss scenario. Some countries may welcome the chance to deal with a country which tells the absolute truth, whereas other more restrictive governments would actively shy away from dealing with this country. This aversion to telling the truth may in turn lead to their own populations asking why?

A tremendous amount of initial damage would undoubtedly be done to the political system of that particular country, however after the dust settles this culture of truth telling might actually find its way into the political systems. Fundamental changes would be made to the way a political party conducts itself both internally and externally. Election politics would never be the same, as parties would move away from the current schoolyard fight to reasoned engagement with the voting individuals of the country.

The truth would result in a clearer understanding of what each party does and how that could affect the determination of the country they are attempting to win the right to run. This could reenergise the voting population’s interest in the political process, lead to greater voter turnout at elections and greater faith in the systems of the respective governments.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Would Great Britain be better off if it left the European Union?

The European Union is and remains an experiment in unification. Not a conquest of nations in the classical sense, rather a unification of systems to create one simple system for everyone. The ultimate aim of which is to create a United Europe.

It was born out of the need to harmonise trade between nations in the post-war economies of Europe, but the idea was hijacked by countries like Belgium and the Netherlands and turned into a means of political co-operation between countries which had once been enemies. As the idea augmented itself in a series of treaties (most notably, the Treaty of Rome (1957)) additional political and sociological institutions were created. Trade between countries was legitimised in the creation of the European Economic Community, a sphere of influence which allowed for the free movement of people and goods across the burgeoning number of member states.

A European Parliament was created, made up of directly elected MEP’s. These individuals were elected by the populations of the member states every 5 years. An attempt was made to create a single market to reinforce the European Economic Community, which encountered more issues, issues which were not resolved for many years.

Together with the Economic and Political codes, civilian laws were created. The European Court of human rights was created to protect these laws and legal rights of its citizens by enshrining them in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Over the years, other countries joined the union as its influence increased. The collapse of communism in the east of Europe resulted in a large number of nations finding common cause with the European Union as it embodied many of the rights and responsibilities which had so long been denied them under the yoke of the Communist Soviet Union. These fledgling nations, while still finding their feet have been largely taken under the wing of founding members like Germany and France.

These newly freed Eastern European nations who had suffered under the oppression of the communist party were ill equipped to enter such a union of powers and many struggled in poverty.

The EEC was quick to see this and proposed the creation of the European Economic Area, a twofold system which would replace the existing EEC with a much more powerful European Union and create a single market, allowing for the free trade of goods and services, as was attempted previously.

In the economic life of any business, there are four distinct cycles, Expansion, Boom, Recession and Contraction. The EU had experienced its expansion and was midway through its boom as the twentieth century drew to a close.

Mindful of the potential for economic recession and the need to pursue a more federalised European Union, the EU created the European Monetary Institute, the forerunner to the European Central Bank. The other part of this two pronged federalisation was the creation of the Euro.

A new single currency for the entire European Union, the Euro was rolled out in several stages with referendums being held in the member states of the EU confirm their acceptance. Of these countries, only the UK, Denmark and latterly Sweden refused to adopt the new currency. Historic currencies such as the Deutschemark and the Franc were removed and replaced with the new European Currency.

For a time, this brave new world was successful, but economic union brought with it a very obvious and detrimental problem. The Euro relied on the economies of its member states, economies which would and could be manipulated by opportunistic accountants and governments.

This cooking of the books, is no more obviously illustrated than in the economic recession in Greece in 2008. A weak economy, combined with the onset of the larger global economic crisis, caused a debt crisis in Greece where the country could not be counted on to repay its sovereign debts. This economic distrust caused the government to vastly overspend, become corrupt and it was the population of Greece which suffered. The extent of the creative accounting was only revealed two years later in 2010.

The global economic crisis of 2009, magnified the problems that the EU faced in creating a fiscal union. Many economies in the Euro Zone suffered the same problems as Greece, having to draw on funds directly from the Eurozone Bailout Fund, set up to prop up countries which encountered these problems. The pockets of the Eurozone Bailout Fund, while deep were not infinite and more and more the better performing economies like France, Germany and the UK were called upon to provide more money to fund the failing economies.

One can argue that the global financial crisis has not ended as yet, but with debt levels rising across all the member states of the EU the need for greater austerity has never been more prevalent. The UK especially, as one of the first EU members to emerge from the crisis has been quick to attempt a re-think of its obligations and responsibilities as an EU member.

Enlivened by this need for austerity, political debate in the UK has never been stronger and the European Union remains a central issue to the policies of many political parties.

The UK government mindful of the will of its people has offered to stage a referendum on EU membership in 2017. Attempting to get ahead of the curve, I will now ask the question:

Would Britain be better off if it left the European Union Entirely?

To analyse the effect of such a clean break, we need to consider the practicalities of removing an institution which has loomed large over Britain in the last 30 years, magnified especially in the last 10.

The immediate effect of the removal of the EU from Britain would mostly likely be a devaluation in the value of Sterling. Short term economic uncertainty would devalue a lot of UK based shares but these devaluations will probably only be temporary. The markets and sterling would eventually recover, though damage would be caused to the overall economy.

The removal of the EU does not mean that trade would cease irrevocably, it instead means the removal from the industrial constraints of the EU. Trade would continue albeit in a changed fashion than previously existed.

London, as the chief financial port of Britain would struggle with the withdrawal of foreign investors as the EEA would be substituted for a UK centric sphere of influence. Multinational companies which have bases in the UK would most likely withdraw their offices from the UK or failing that, employ more resources to meet this new import/export market. The extent of multinational company involvement in the UK would seem to push the latter course of action as the most suitable, as the cost of withdrawing from the UK entirely would dwarf any potential expenditure on meeting the new market.

The creation of the new independent financial market would allow the UK to position itself as a competitor to the EU and other countries. This competitiveness may lead to many companies relocating to the UK’s newly attractive economy. A stronger economy would in turn increase the UK spending power in its dealings with the rest of the world.

Additionally, Britain would be free of its financial obligations to the EU, chief among them the EU Budget, which drains over £7 billion from the UK economy and is set to rise in 2015. It would also be able to determine its own agricultural and industrial quotas which would dovetail the economic expansion and cash injections into the economy.

The need to create new institutions to meet this change would not be as necessary in the legal sector because the UK has pre-existing institutions set up to meet the resultant demand from the loss of the EU. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom would now become the highest court in the land, replacing the European Court of Human Rights.

Additionally, the European Convention on Human Rights would cease to be valid in the UK, prompting a realignment of many institutions which have dealings with the population of the UK such as the police service. A new UK only convention on human rights would have to be drawn up, which would in all likelihood would need to be by existing legal entities in the UK. It would then only be passed into statute by parliament after a referendum of the population.

Speaking of referendums, the hot potato of any UK referendum on EU membership would be Immigration. It is the sole preoccupation of this nation’s press and recently the political parties of the UK. The rise of the UK independence party, which bases most of its manifesto on immigration has shown the other parties that immigration is central to the winning of the next general election.

The European Union, in its provision of the European Economic area prides itself on the free movement of individuals between member states. It is this movement of individuals that has overwhelmed the welfare state, polarising the opinions of UK Citizens and allowing UKIP to gain a foothold where it would previously have been ostracised.

Removal of the UK from the European Economic Area would rid it of the need to accept individuals from those countries. However migrants will always find ways to enter the UK, such as claiming asylum and these ways must be better regulated to ensure that this system is not abused and is used by individuals who actually deserve to be there. This absence would allow the welfare system to sharpen up its act, refining its processes to ensure maximum efficiency with the excess funds being ploughed back into the systems themselves.

Historically, the end of the EU in the UK would be a turning point in world affairs where the old would end and be replaced by something new. This change in direction may prove the start of a perceptual change of how the UK is perceived globally. Alliances would need to be redefined to suit this change, but would this affect the membership of the UK in NATO? Probably not, as this is a mutual co-operation organisation rather than a mutual dependency organisation.

Ironically the biggest political casualty of the UK leaving the EU would be the UK Independence party, which currently holds 24 Members of the European Parliament and only one British Member of Parliament. Its biggest political campaign selling point is leaving the EU, if we left the EU the party would be forced to reinvent itself. Disturbingly, this reinvention could take a more Nationalist turn or alternatively removal of the EU from British politics could destroy it completely.

Parliamentary speech writers in the UK would struggle to write speeches for the remaining political parties without the EU. However, without the EU to serve as scapegoat for many of this countries failings the buck would stop with them and the British people could be less than forgiving.

A thorough examination of the perils and pitfalls of exiting the EU would need to be conducted and is most likely already being conducted at the highest levels of the UK parliament. Contingency plans are already being created should the UK vote positively to leave the EU. Likewise, a negative vote is being considered where the UK would need to pursue a more aggressive approach in its dealings with the EU. We have two years, let’s hope they are ready either way.

So, would leaving the EU be the right thing to do for the UK? Undoubtedly, yes it would. As I said at the start the European Union is an experiment in unification and in any scientific experiment there are failures and side effects. The side effects of conducting this experiment in unification are ultimately causing detriment to its overall validity. Simply put the EU is the cause of its own problems, problems which the UK can ill afford to endure. Going solo, could remove its susceptibility to these issues and herald the beginning of a new era of prosperity for the UK as it strikes out on its own.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.