Pipe dream or inevitability

Larry Elliot wrote a piece of click bait in the Guardian on why since Britain is not a basket case, it should not rejoin the EU. He also argued that the growing strongman nationalism, and racism amongst some member states is a reason for avoiding the EU.

I wrote a reply which I shortened and offered to the Guardian, and was eventually published on Another Europe’s  web site. I have also posted a copy on my Medium blog, outside the paywall.

I argued that the economy was in a poor state, certainly worse than it might have been and quoted the OBR and my “Remain” article, from this blog, posted in 2016 that the 4% growth underperformance was about where the forecasters had predicted.

I pointed out that his investment successes were selective good news, and only talk about yesterdays driving technology. He like most seem to fail to recognise that we have already missed the boat on renewable energy manufacturing.

I conclude by arguing that the UK is not inoculated from the racism inherent in authoritarian rule. It must be fought not avoided, starting by the repeal of Tories immigration laws.

I really conclude by stating that rejoining the EU is an inevitability not a pipe dream. …

Living with the Troubles

Living with the Troubles

I went to the IWM on Friday and visited the “Living with the Troubles” exhibition. I was 14 when the Government sent in the Army presented as protecting the civil rights marchers from a sectarian and violent police force and 43 when the Good Friday agreement was signed; I lived in London, also working in government buildings for much of that time. This exhibition though is about NI and the experiences of those who lived there and participated in, or tolerated and survived the Troubles.

There was one picture documenting the aftermath of a riot in Belfast, taken from a height showing a large area of dereliction. We see similar pictures today from war zones, but I believe that this was a symbol or symptom of underinvestment and community poverty. There were similar sites in London and Liverpool and similar imagery is available in the film/musical, “the Commitments”. It’s hard to remember the poverty and inequality that existed in the UK in the 1960s/1970s and at the end of the decade I went to university, one of the 4% of the school leaving cadre that went to university i.e. I was not trapped in that poverty, but I do remember the installation of central heating and the later demolition of the house’s coal bunkers. (We didn’t have an outside toilet though 🙂 ).

Thinking about the issue of poverty in Northern Ireland, I went to looking for some economic statistics on income and wealth and found a 2019 paper, “The Northern Ireland Economy: Problems and Prospects: FitzGerald and Morgenroth July 31st 2019, Trinity Economics Papers”. I summarise the abstract as follows, “Low productivity has led to low growth, worse than Scotland and East Germany”; they do not quote comparative figures to Eire. They argue that a lack of investment in plant and human capital is the cause. The paper was written before the exact terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement on the location of the customs border was known. Northern Ireland has benefited from the advantages of being within the UK economy and the single market of the European Union and has become one of the fastest growing regions within the UK. The paper also seems to ignore the subsidy from Eire which have become available since Brexit.

I also found a blog article at the unconventional soldier that summarises aspects of the exhibition and adds the soldier’s personal photos to the story. The unconventional soldier quotes the exhibition curator as stating the purpose of the exhibition is to show how hard it is to discover the truth and that all participants have to allow their once-enemies a voice.

The IWM’s site also has a picture gallery, called “20 Images of the Troubles”, here is another picture from the exhibition, this one is part of the web advertising.

The closing video, consisting of landscapes and quotes, shows that despite nearly 40 years of an “absence of war” the sectarianism behind the politics is not over and peace and co-existence yet to become the reality. The Good Friday agreement entrenches the sectarian divide into NI’s constitution. It maybe that this settlement has reached its end but the video suggests large elements of the population may not yet be ready to move on. Our hope must be with the young, noting that the census results of 2021 have 50% of the population being under 40. Sadly, the old men of violence and the ultra-expressive sectarians seem still able to recruit to their cause. Let’s hope that the young can over come this and build a political leadership interested in inter-community peace.

I learned things and am glad I went.

The exhibition closes on the 7th January, so if you want to see it, you’d best get in quick. …

A party with socialists in it

A party with socialists in it

Over a year ago, I read Simon Hannah’s book, “A Party with Socialists in it, a history of the Labour Left.” I found it fascinating, informative, and well-paced. I read the 1st edition, which unlike the later edition is missing the final chapter on the 2019 election and the fall of Corbyn. I made some notes; this article is an effective if personal review and includes some comments from my memories and family diaries. It covers, post-war defence issues and Bevan, Wilson’s National Plan together with his fatal intra-party compromise on the 1st EU referendum, Bennism, his near mysticism and the Falklands War, the influence of Trotskyism, my views on Labour's lost youth, the continued factionalism and the weaponisation of party democracy, and the conflict between workers control of the factories (and offices) and a national plan. I was glad to be reminded that a central demand for socialists is worker's control of industry, and I muse on how to achieve that while also implementing a national plan.

The book reinforces questions of why, if a left winger, we still bother with the Labour Party? This disgraceful catalogue of the behaviour of Labour’s right wing over the decades just reinforces the question as to why we persist.

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The (EU) reform train is at the platform

The (EU) reform train is at the platform

The Guardian reports, “European Commission president said Brexit could be fixed because leaders had ‘goofed it up’” This has caused some excitement in the Brexit fantasist camp. This article is poor though, as ever, focusing on the UK, provoking both Sunak’s extremely rapid and intellectually vapid rebuttal and a ‘senior Labour source’ confirming that Labour will not rejoin the single market. They all fail to take account of the EU’s needs to prepare to accelerate the admission process for the Western Balkans and Ukraine/Moldova. Von der Leyen is also arguably speaking to the über-federalists who will not make a choice between enlargement and integration, or if they do, choose integration. She was also not talking in the short term. Although I expect she is hoping for a more rapid return than Starmer/Reeves’s “not in 50 years”.

In the short term, we can examine the European Parliament (EP) Resolution calling for a Convention, see also the full text published on the EP site, which is arguably  the manifesto of the Federalists, and “Sailing the High Seas” aka the Report of the French &  German experts which foresees that the EU needs a pause on integration and to offer those not ready for next steps confidence that they belong.

It’ll be a difficult choice.

The EU needs to avoid the idea of an a-la carte choice to EU membership with each member state negotiating its preferred opt outs. One of the fuels for British exceptionalism was the four opt-outs, and the expectation that more could be obtained. “Sailing the high seas” proposes tiers of membership, a bit more prix fixe and less a-la carte. The EP resolution confirms the indivisibility of the four freedoms of the single market.

The Union needs greater economic integration, even if only to pay for the Ukraine war, and for that to happen they need to change the way decisions are taken and change the goals of the Union’s current economic management regime. Enlargement also is a reason for increasing the decision making speed of the Union and its institutions. The size of the union budget is too small to perform effective demand management. At the moment, it is prohibited from raising direct taxes and thus the Union’s economic policy tools are exclusively monetary and thus mainly impact on euro zone states. The EP resolution proposes to reinforce full employment as an equal goal to the current debt management goals.

One of the key proposals in the EP resolution are about decision making and the powers of the Council. The EP proposals removes the member state veto from many areas of decision making and transforms many of them from Council decision to a Parliamentary co-decision.

The EP resolution carried by a slim majority with large parts of the EPP abstaining may not have the political weight it should, but it calls for a significant extension of competencies, which is what the EU refers to its areas of jurisdiction.

The list of extensions is extensive including exclusive Union competence for the environment and biodiversity as well as negotiations on climate change. It proposes to establish shared competences on public health matters and the protection and improvement of human health, especially cross-border health threats, civil protection, industry, and education especially when transnational issues such as mutual recognition of degrees, grades, competences and qualifications are concerned.

The Parliament proposes to further develop Union shared competences in the areas of energy, foreign affairs, external security and defence, external border policy in the area of freedom, security and justice, and cross-border infrastructure.

CTOE has called on the Council to agree to a convention and demands, “that any treaty revision process ought to include citizen participation, deliberation and consultation from the start and not wait until it will again be too late: failed ratification referendums.” It also observes that, “the proposals regarding the democratic life of the EU remain deceptively modest”.

The train maybe leaving the station; it’s certainly the case that the EU’s member states have little interest in supporting Britain’s political parties as they gather the courage to move beyond triangulation despite the polling evidence on the British people being ready and wanting to rejoin.

Here are my notes and links on Von Der Leyen’s speech, initially focused on a EuroIntelligence piece. I have been tracking these developments in wiki articles, EU Reform and Sailing the High Seas, … . …

Arguments about PR in the UK.

Arguments about PR in the UK.

I got involved in a debate, sort of. Labour has decided that FPTP weakens trust in politics, but that fixing it is not a first term priority; many careerists in the Party oppose changing the voting system but the argument against PR that it enables the far right and claiming that PR’s supporters do so because of this is dishonest.

We should have PR because everyone’s vote is equal, Parties will then need to address all their voters, not just those that live in swing seats! Good PR systems do not require to be gamed to get the result a voter wants i.e. voters vote for whom they want and do not need to guess what others will do. Finally, government coalitions are negotiated after the election, in a Parliament, and with a mandate, not in secret, in Party offices.

In making this argument, I stated that Parliaments must make governments. Some may argue and more frequently apply this to Executive Mayors, that restricting government making (or mayor/council leader making) to several hundred MPs and Mayors/leaders to even fewer councillors is undemocratic. I don’t agree.

I think governments should be elected/appointed by Parliaments, and so reject the need to balance a vote for government with a vote for an MP. 

The German system makes each vote worth the same as others; although you might want to argue that their minimum threshold required for representation makes this untrue but I don’t. Any AMS system where the number of additional members equals or exceeds the geographic members and the size is relatively large meets the test of equality of votes and also minimises any ‘wasted’ votes.

I was asked to name an election where a far-right candidate won on 1st past the post and named Trump in 2020. I was criticised for calling Trump a fascist as it is generally accepted in the circles that I mix that fascism is a particularly vicious form of antidemocratic, anti-working class politics. I agree that Trump 2020 was not a fascist, it was my critics initial carelessness with the word that led me to reply in that way.

Ben-Ghiat in her book, “Strongmen” shows fascism is less of a threat than it once was, it’s been replaced by military dictators and latterly by vicious kleptocracies and is more often described as authoritarianism or totalitarianism. We also need to look at the work of Juan Linz on Presidencies and Parliaments, he favours the latter because they can compromise and effectively recall governments. Ben-Ghiat highlights seventeen dictators and authoritarians, eight of whom came to power through elections. Too many did so by winning nationwide presidential elections with or without transfers and what is common is that these elections create a large constituency (and in the USA & UK, majorities) who will not consent to their opponents having that power, even with legal checks and balances. Parliamentary systems elected with fair votes are a better means of expressing the solidarity needed to defeat these people. 

The problem is elections with only one winner!

Democracy is about more than voting, it requires rights, checks & balances, and recall. Directly elected governments, led by Mayors or Presidents have shown repeatedly that they are vulnerable to corruption and often decline into authoritarian rules. As said, Ben-Ghiat lists seventeen, eight of whom came to power through election.

You can’t build a good society, based on taking control of the state, one committee at a time, each with a one vote majority based on an electoral system where votes in the legislature are won on a simple plurality.

So, sure, I think that Parliaments electing/appointing/firing governments is democratic.

  1. My notes on Linz and his work, https://davelevy.info/wiki/on-presidentialism/
  2. Strongmen: Mussolini to the present, Author: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Pub date: 2020/11/10, Publisher: WW Norton & Company
  3. Image Credit: from unsplash by Mark Stucky