Arrogance in Academia

DawkinsAndBoyleEU

This piece was originally written earlier this year, but I didn’t get around to posting it. However, a talking head piece by Richard Dawkins, someone I admire for his other work in evolutionary biology and promoting atheism, once more reminded me of its relevance in the debate around the EU.

People are getting hot under the collar about this article, but they shouldn’t really. It’s utterly revealing about the bigotry and sweeping generalisations of a certain mindset. In short, it is a clear demonstration of how a free press allows people to show their true colours, and out of anger, to reveal their innermost prejudices.

His caricature of Brexit voters, steeped in stereotypes that could only be possessed by someone wholly out of touch with ordinary people, is one which, had it been applied to any other national, racial, or religious group, would have been countered by howls of revulsion from the brigades of PC virtue-signallers.

So, this is a very useful and revealing piece. It not only betrays the author’s true prejudices, but undermines his own credibility.

In the same way that giving BNP an open platform to discuss its ideas was the best means of defeating it (who could forget Nick Griffin’s car-crash appearance on BBC Question Time?), the best means to expose this kind of bigotry is to give its purveyors a platform—or perhaps a scaffold and enough rope would be more apt.

That last paragraph itself would probably leave Boyle confused.

“Wait, this is a Brexiter who says bad things about the BNP? But if he’s a Brexiter, he’s bound to be a UKIPer, pro BNP and have an instant dislike for anyone vaguely foreign or with a strange accent.”

Rather depressingly, this simpleton’s narrative is one I encounter quite often. It speaks volumes as to the lack of nuanced thinking in some people.

It would perhaps astound Boyle that someone like me could be anti-EU; someone who has something in common with himself; namely an academic, university background in Germanistik; and what is more, someone who shares his clear love of European culture; someone who has been “groomed” by the EU’s Erasmus programme, and under the wings of recipients of Monnet money, to be a helpful promoter of the EU agenda.

Unlike Boyle, however, I make a clear distinction between a supranational organisation and a continent.

But of course, whereas I left the halls of academia to seek my fortune in the heady world of employment in business, he remained in academia, studying the fine works of Goethe, Schiller, Böll, Grass, inter alia, surrounded by his fellow soixante-huitards and successive generations of idealistic youngsters, poised at any moment to throw off the old order and usher in a new utopia.

Given the time, I could explain to Boyle that I love Europe, its people, history, heritage, diversity, and geography. But I particularly love its languages. I especially appreciate being one of the all-too-few (and decreasing number of) Brits who learn foreign languages and treasure the fact that I can travel anywhere in the German-speaking or French-speaking countries and communicate fluently in the local language. My Russian is extremely ropey, but I did learn that as a third foreign language from scratch too.

I treasure this linguistic ability. Not only does it allow me to converse with people in other nations in their native tongue, but it allows me to strike up friendships with people with whom I can only communicate through a mutual foreign language—an especially satisfying experience of bridging the gap in communication between peoples, which has allowed me to share great conversations and laughs with people from Spain, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, and many other nationals, none of whom spoke English, and whose languages I couldn’t speak. It has even enabled me to assist fellow Brits when dealing with foreign companies.

But I could also explain to Boyle that, routed in history and politics as my German, French, and Russian studies were, they also taught me of the histories, but most significantly of political developments in those nations, including the background to the foundation of the EU, and, in politics lectures and seminars in Germany, the development of the EU.

I would tell him that one of the key skills I learnt during the course of my studies was that of arguing a point dispassionately, and therefore of the ability to look at things rationally and objectively, and the ability to change views through rational discourse; but perhaps most importantly, the value of primary sources of information, the ability to think things through from first principles, and most importantly, to think for oneself, rather than to rely on anyone else’s narrative, be it that of a political party or media outlet.

I would tell him that one of the aspects I enjoyed in essay writing was being a little contradictory, almost for fun, when situations allowed for it, by making points and backing them up with references. I had a good appreciation of certain lecturers’ own particular biases and quite enjoyed ‘prodding them’ in essays occasionally. To their credit, they would generally take this the right way and give credit for supporting arguments, perhaps going so far as to reward contrary views.

In one German essay I wrote, critiquing the book Der Aufmacher by German undercover journalist and writer, Günter Wallraff, I delighted in pointing out Wallraff’s hypocrisy and actions he carried out for which he condemned others. I still have the essay. My lecturer’s notes at the end:

“A sophisticated study. Well expressed. Complex sentence structure and choice of words. Perhaps more pro-BILD than the facts warrant.”

Having read it again, it was actually a fairly balanced essay, broadly supportive of Wallraff, but I don’t think that he was used to arguments which were in the least bit supportive of BILD, or more accurately, the journalists who worked at BILD and only maintained their positions, and therefore their livelihoods, by following editorial requirements.

Boyle would be a prime target for such ‘prodding’, but based on what he has written here, I fear he would not have the same patience so clearly exhibited by my great lecturers, or a sufficiently open enough mind to read contrary views.

I remain a passionate advocate of foreign language learning and have done as much ‘selling’ of it to my children as I can.

Not only has foreign language learning been shown to be extremely beneficial for our mental faculties and to improve our grasp of our own language, but it opens up a world of new experiences and understanding, of travel and employment opportunities, and of music and literature, although I suspect that Boyle and I diverge on literature as a subject of study.

Foreign literature study has been forever poisoned by my experiences dissecting Camus’ La Peste for A level French—sad, because reading the book for pleasure some years later was an altogether more enjoyable experience—to the extent that a fictional book about the outbreak of plague in 20th century Algeria with allegorical references to the Nazi occupation of France could be described as a subject for enjoyment.

I’ve dwelled on the above personal references merely to point out the weakness of Boyle’s arguments. Supposedly, as an Englishman, I fall nicely into his category of “lager louts of Europe.” Hopefully, the above points illustrate the vacuous nature of his assertions.

We’ll gloss over the fact that I’m not keen on lager and not really all that louty. In fact, I’m pretty rubbish at the whole being a lout business—middle class vicar’s son and all that.

But I have gone through the conditioning of middle class academia and I know what that entails. I indulged in it myself at the time—even buying the whole notion of cultural relativism at one point. But then I continued to read, observe events, discuss, and use that pesky, learned ability to think for myself.

Boyle’s portrayal of fellow English people who voted Brexit is not one I recognise at all.

No, it really isn’t.

There is not a single person I know who voted Brexit whom I would describe as the slightest bit xenophobic. And, I suspect my social circles are a little more varied than those of a Cambridge professor—just a hunch. His attitude is one he’s gained from spending too long in an intellectual echo-chamber where the prevailing attitude is that only people who diverge from its group-think are knuckle-dragging bigots.

But make no mistake; as much as I wholly support his right to make an arse of himself publicly, his article is vile and prejudiced and that is perhaps why, in a superb case of people being hoisted on their own petard, it was quite rightly reported by the head of the English Democrats as a hate crime: reference 42/17384/17.

Ultimately though, what makes a small elite think that it should defy the wishes of the people? We all share the same nation—the difference being that ordinary people, away from the “ivory towers” of high acadmia, are rather more exposed to everyday politcial decisions. Even if the public were wrong in its decisions when consulted, it has just as much right to make bad decisions as those in privileged positions do.

There is no politcal consensus and politicians do not always make good decisions. The current state of the world should be a big indicator of this.

And once again, I can’t help noticing that the country which has the highest citizen engagement in regular referenda and through the direct democracy measures of initiative and recall—a country which is the very politcial antithesis of the EU: namely Switzerland—consistently tops the worldwide rankings on a number of measures.

An option for Bremainers?

EU passport

I saw a link to a change.org petition earlier, calling for the EU to offer European (sic) citizenship to UK citizens. While the author of the petition makes the usual conflation of Europe and the EU (I’m now convinced that the bulk of Remainers genuinely don’t know the difference between a continent and a political construct, given how often they use the term Europe when referring to the EU) and seems to be under the impression that we will be “unable travel and work together in a connected Europe”, there is some merit in the petition.

Namely, there may be mutual benefit for UK citizens and the EU to continue to offer UK citizens a way to opt in to EU citizenship.

From the perspective of those who hold dear the notion that nation states are bad and that it would be better to counter the concept of nationalism by, erm, building a larger nation and to counter the (admittedly imperfect) democracy of Westminster by pushing decision-making powers to more remote and, in the case of the Commission, unaccountable politicians, this offers hope. They would still be able to feel part of this great empire-building project and would continue to enjoy the right to live elsewhere in the EU without the inconvenience of first having to find work and fill in pesky forms. And they could keep their EU flag profile pictures too. I say EU flag, but it is of course the flag of the Council of Europe, which is wholly separate from the EU. The EU decided that it liked the flag and would use it as its own flag too.

On the part of the EU, it would have access to a keen and idealistic section of its citizenship living in a non-member nation. It would thereby exert an indirect influence into the UK through these holders of dual citizenship.

Naturally, citizenship carries responsibilities with rights, and it would seem that the fairest way to offer citizenship would be in exchange for a fee. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. This would be in lieu of the UK’s contribution to the EU. We have to pay for our national passports and given that the EU would be making a special case here, it would be perfectly justified in seeking a fee for citizenship.

Imagine the following scenario, based on what we know from the facts:

  • 16,141,241 people voted to remain in the EU.
  • In 2015, the UK contributed £17.8 billion to the EU budget (or £12.8 billion, assuming we use the number after the UK rebate).

If we divide the contribution by the number of Remainers, we arrive at the annual figure of £1,102.77 (or £799.20, based on the rebate figure). That would cover the UK’s contribution in full. That may be a little high, however, for even the most ardent Remainer.

So, to be truly fair to individual Remainers, and to think about it from their perspective and not that of the EU for the time being, we should probably use a figure based on the number of Remain voters proportional to the total population in 2015. The concession to the EU we should make at this point, however, would be to use the gross figure (without rebate), since the reality is that the rebate would no longer apply.

In that case, using the UK population figures for mid 2015 of 65.1 million, we arrive at a personal contribution figure of £273.43 per person per year, or as the Remainers kept telling us during the campaign in the run-up to the referendum, this represents a mere 75p per day per person.

Taking the idea further still, the EU could widen out the offer to any citzens of the world, or at least those with some level of European ancestry (to preserve its penchant for racial discrimination), who bought into the EU vision, on a similar basis. This would provide futher funds for the EU and a greater potential workforce for countries concerned about declining populations.

If this sounds like a strange notion, consider that people can and indeed do hold multiple citizenships, and that they would ordinarily have to go through the normal process of paying for a passport to hold that citizenship in any practical and meaningful way in the wider world. Indeed, many nations offer citizenship in exchange for money. Consider also that EU citizenship would offer the same rights across not just one, but 27 other member states (at the time of writing).

But maybe this still doesn’t offer EU fans true buy-in or influence into the EU project.

Perhaps then, an additional EU institution could be added; another parliament perhaps, to represent these “subscription citizens”, which wouldn’t necessarily be bound by traditional notions of geographic constituencies, but could instead assign representatives to virtual constituencies, simply based on one representative for the first x subscribers, another for the next x subscribers, etc.

From the EU’s perspective, it’s worth remembering that only a small proportion of such subscription citizens would actually take the opportunity to live or work elsewhere in the EU, and so the EU could look at the opportunity as a means to make a significant income from these people for very little in return, other than to provide for those who feel they have an emotional connection to the ongoing project to create an empire across Europe a way to preserve their dream.

For my part, I am European by birth, history, and cultural values. I don’t need to belong to an artificial political construct to make me feel European. I don’t need the very symbols of nationhood—the flag and anthem—as a means to show how anti-nationalist and very cosmopolitan I am. I don’t need a supranational organisation as a security blanket or as a means to ostentatiously signal my supposedly progressive outlook.

I’m absolutely relaxed about the right of others to claim citizenship of wherever the hell they like. Not only will it make them happier, which makes me happy as a fellow human, but it will stop the incessant whining of the hardcore few among them.

Opt-in EU citizenship seems to offer a win-win scenario for these people and for the EU itself.

So, for the sake of people like Emily*, please sign the petition.

*Make allowances for her broad, sweeping, racist, anti-American comments and factual errors. She’s upset, damn it.

Is there a real doctor in the house?

This blog entry is in response to a blog post by a certain Doctor Andy Williamson, called 10 points to comsider about Brexit and the EU referendum (see http://www.andywilliamson.com/10-points-to-consider-about-brexit-and-the-eu-referendum/). A friend suggested that I might want to write a response, but it is tough to go over similar ground time and time again.

Nevertheless, since I am on my hols and have some quiet time, I’ve taken the opportunity to address Doctor Williamson’s ten, supposedly frequently made pro-Brexit comments and his responses. The doctor’s original comments and responses are in italics.

So, here goes…

1. We’ll have control over our own laws. No. We won’t, we will still need to harmonise with Europe. The only difference between now and then is that at the moment we get to influence those laws. If we leave we just have to adopt them (See Norway).

Yes, we will. We can have precisly the same relationship with the EU that the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, or any number of the majority of countries around the world have with the EU, if we decide to, following failed negotiations with the EU, by leaving the Single Market. As a major export market for the EU, with a large trade deficit, it is very likely that the EU will want/need to tread carefully with the UK. We hold the cards in this respect. The EU has more to lose if trade barriers are established, so it can be pragmatic and negotiate a good deal with the UK or be irresponsible and put the jobs of thousands of EU citizens at risk. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy; Switzerland and Norway are the 20th and 25th largest respectively. Our prospective deal post Brexit looks likely to be on much better terms than those enjoyed by Switzerland or Norway, who nevertheless manage just fine thank you… but more of that later.

2. British courts can make the final decision. More complex this one but, in short, no. They can’t. At least not any more than now. The European Court of Human Rights (the Daily Mule’s biggest enemy) has nothing to do with the EU. The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of EU law (not national law)… see point 1.

British courts will be able to reclaim judgements over issues currently ruled over by the ECJ. You effectively make this point in your own words. As for the ECHR, we agree that it has nothing to do with the EU, although EU accession does require subscription to the ECHR.  The UK government has touted withdrawal from the ECHR and the establishment of a British Bill of Rights, but this is separate from the debate around the EU. And yes, many of us Brexiters do know the difference—we don’t all rely on newspapers for our information, be they the Daily Mule or the Grauniad, which is no better, but merely has an editorial policy which is probably more in line with your mindset.

3. We can control our own borders. Er… We already do. You remember that passport thing you have to show the man?

We have no legal means to prevent an EU citizen from entering the UK without good cause for doing so. That is indisputable. This leaves us in the situation where Italy and Greece threatened last summer to offer all immigrants their respective nationalities and thereby to allow them to move unhindered out of their countries and onward to their preferred destination countries (after all, a genuine refugee could well feel in danger in Italy or Greece). The ‘man’ (or indeed ‘woman’) couldn’t stop any such person from walking into the UK. A sovereign UK could, as it used to.

4. We can control immigration. In theory, yes, we could. We could pull up the drawbridge and fill in the tunnel too. But it won’t happen because we lose more than we gain.

The financials on the benefits of mass immigration are hard to prove either way (see https://fullfact.org/immigration/how-immigrants-affect-public-finances/). There is conflicting evidence and it depends on how you measure. What is beyond dispute to people living in areas directly affected by large numbers of immigrants is the real effects on school places, doctors’ surgeries, transport, wage suppression and housing. Witness also the large number of house-building projects on farm land around most towns now.

Irrespective of this, you imply that those who campaign for Brexit wish to stop immigration. We don’t—we’d merely like to control it along meritocratic lines, so we can prioritise welcoming a citizen of any race from anywhere around the world whose skills we need over a probably white, unskilled EU citizen. The latter seems discriminatory and, well, just a bit racist.

Use of straw-men and talk of filling in tunnels and pulling up drawbridges is a little pathetic from an academic, but at least it identifies you as someone reluctant to argue based on facts.

5. Staying in makes terrorism more likely. One of the more facile claims, this is so brilliantly stupid that it is almost genius. Staying in the EU makes us a hotbed for terrorism whilst leaving means we’re all safe. There you have it! The only problem is, it’s not true. First of all, see point 4 above. Then consider that terrorists are just like multi-nationals – they don’t respect national borders, they don’t play fair and they don’t care about you.

Many terrorists have been EU citizens by birth. You’ll find that many identify with a certain faith which transcends mere boundaries and races, but those who come from outside the EU may acquire EU citizenship. Either way, see point 3 above, as this statistically makes terrorism more likely, since we can’t easily prevent potentially high-risk EU citizens from entering the country without good cause. It’s not the physical stops so much as the right to freedom of movement across the Single Market which is the problem. Someone doesn’t have to be transporting Kalashnikovs or nail bombs across borders to be a security threat.

In the EU’s preferred borderless Schengen area, the Paris attacks were carried out by fellow EU citizens who were able to travel unhindered across borders, without even ‘the man’ checking their passports. Had their passports been checked and had they been questioned at the border, their plans may indeed have been thwarted. So yes, while controlled borders won’t can’t guarantee that terrorism will be stopped, they do make it less likely.

However, this isn’t really a strong point I would make for Brexit.

6. We’ll renegotiate free trade deals to replace the EU. We won’t. Certainly not quickly at least. We’ll trade with the EU as a member of the EEA so we get pretty much the same as now but we lose the power to influence any future changes. Again, see Norway. And the US has already made it clear it has no interest in a FTA with a newly isolated and rapidly sinking UK. But if you believe we can do instant deals why don’t you start with Scotland. As it will undoubtedly leave if the UK leaves the EU. As eventually will Northern Ireland. And then Wales… starting to feel like the ugly kid at the school disco yet?

We won’t necessarily trade as a member of the EEA at all. The likelihood will be that the UK government, the day after our vote to leave, contacts partners around the world with whom we trade and asks them if they wish to remain on current terms. It is highly likely that most will. Those that don’t will have to be involved in negotiations on a one-to-one basis, which can be far more easily concluded than those where 28, often conflicting interests must be considered on one side alone. Switzerland has more free trade agreements than the EU does and reacts far more dynamically to events than the EU can. The UK can hardly be called ‘rapidly sinking’ compared to much of the EU! Christ, the self-loathing education we have seen over the last few decades has indeed work well on many of its products, hasn’t it?

What an outgoing US president says in his own interests does not reflect the UK’s interests. Tell me, who is in this US trade agreement line, I mean “queue”. Can you show me it? I would have thought that governments and civil services would work in parallel rather than series.

As for the prospect of another Scottish referendum, despite the assertions of the SNP, all the opinion polls show largely similar views vis-à-vis the EU in England and Scotland. This notion that the SNP has of being able to be more sovereign in the EU, where it would have 6 out of 684 (0.87% of seats for 1.8% of the population) MEPs in the European Parliament post Brexit, none of whom have legislative initiative, compared with 59 out of 650 (9% of seats for 8% of the population) MPs in Westminster, all of whom do have legislative initiative, and many of whom have gone on to be Prime Minister of the UK, is as factually accurate as Braveheart. Not only that, but Scotland would have the status of a minor country in the EU.

With these facts in mind, the stance of the SNP in desiring to rejoin the EU post-Brexit can only be rationally explained by anglophobia.

Nevertheless, if the Scottish people (or Welsh, or Northern Irish for that matter) voted for independence from the UK, I would wish them well. You see, I’m consistent in my belief in empowerment of citizens and decentralisation of political power.

7. We’ll be strutting our stuff as world power again. Newsflash! The UK is a world power. It has a seat on the UN Security Council. It punches enormously above its weight on the international stage. This is in part because of its connectedness to Europe and its power within the EU. Leave and what are you left with? There is momentum building to review the UNSC membership, what do you think are the odds that an isolated UK will still be there?

Blimey! A mere bullet point ago we were ‘rapidly sinking’! Our “punching above our weight” has precisely nothing to do with our EU membership. The UK was a world power and had its seat on the UNSC long before we joined the then Common Market. It is the EU which is seeking to assume control of the roles historically occupied by the UK (and presumably France). I can’t see the UK giving up that seat on the UNSC easily, although the rights, wrongs, and failings of the UN are for another debate. You carry on arguing for the precious 1/28th (3.5%) share in influence at the EU’s “table”, despite us being outside the majority of euro members, who are bound to and moreover need to act in their own best interests. I’ll argue for us regaining our own table once again. We are indeed a top economic and military world power.

8. The economy will thrive if we’re outside the EU. Seriously? It’s not even worth bothering trying to answer this one! The statement is just so blatantly devoid of logic. We’re not Norway. we sold off most of the family silver years ago. And what’s left is rapidly being outsourced and sold off too. And that great shining generator of wealth (for a small few), the financial sector? That will move to Frankfurt, did you ever see a bank with loyalty? (OK, I accept that this could be seen as a plus). In short, if we leave, we get to live through a fire sale at the sunset of a once great economic and political power.

We’re back to the doom-mongering, I see. Well, I suppose the unrestrained patriotism couldn’t last long. There you go, bringing Norway into it again. Indeed, we’re not Norway—we’re a much bigger economic power on the world stage, but make up your mind; is Norway a positive or a negative model?

All the negatives you insist on being an accurate assessment of the UK have happened and are presumably continuing to happen while we’ve been a member of the EU. We’ll take it as read that I have a little more faith than you in the UK. Your scenarios of doom don’t appear to reflect reality. The financial sector (I assume you mean ‘centre’, as there are existing financial sectors in all EU nations) could have moved to Frankfurt at any time and indeed the very same assertion was made in an attempt to cajole us into joining the euro.

It is nonetheless worth pointing out, that the record of small, independent countries around the world is extremely good, and since you insist on invoking Norway as an example, would you care to tell me which non-EU European country (along with Switzerland) is in the top five wealthiest per capita not only in Europe, but in the world? Then perhaps, moving away from money matters to the more important measures, would you like to take a guess which three non-EU European nations are in the top five happiest countries in the world according to the UN? Go on… Have a go.

9. The EU is incompetent, badly run and a drain on resources. Yes. It is. It is beyond incompetent in many cases. But we’re stuck with it one way or the other – leaving does not change that. It might be hard to change it but at least it’s possible from the inside (now more than ever). What can we do from outside? It’s also worth pondering that many of the problems with supposed-EU dictates lie in the local implementation (remember, it was the UK’s fault it didn’t impose the moratorium in immigration in 2004, as Germany and others did).

We’re largely in agreement here, only your advice appears to be akin to the poor advice given to victims of domestic abuse to stay and to try to change their partners. I’m more inclined to go down the ‘get the feck out of there’ route. What can we do from the outside? The same as every other country outside the EU does. It may have escaped your notice, but several less powerful countries thrive outside the EU.

You claim that many of the problems with “supposed-EU dictates” lie in the local implementation of them. OK, fine. Even if we grant you that, in what way would having EU dictates implemented better locally be better than having none?

But the EU does issue dictates. They aren’t supposed dictates, but absolutely meet the dictionary definition.

A moritorium on immigration is as useful as Cameron’s negotiated farce of a handbrake on benefits for EU migrants, except that the latter needs to be pulled by the EU itself—it’s merely temporary and kicks the issue into the long grass.

10. What’s it ever done for us anyway? Nothing much. Other than working time directives and other ways that protect your rights at work, protect your children. Then there’s consumer protection and European peace. Not to mention the wholesale transition of Eastern Europe from volatile authoritarian states into thriving democracies. Maybe you don’t care about any of those things. But you should. In short, the idea of leaving the EU is somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide.

Are you seriously going to attempt to claim that workers’ and children’s rights didn’t exist before we joined the EU, and that they wouldn’t have been implemented in the course of the last forty years but by the grace of the EU in its benevolence? Again, you’re supposedly an academic, for Chrissake! At least make the tiniest effort to attempt to retain the illusion of impartiality! Just how much EU funding do you receive, by the way? Just interested.

Sweden, before it joined the EU, had some of the most progressive social policies in the world, which far exceeded those of any EU country. All modern, developed economies have various measures of protection of rights. These are driven by societal pressures in a connected world and have nothing to do with the EU. To claim that such rights would otherwise not be enjoyed by UK citizens when such rights are enjoyed by Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, is simply ridiculous.

So, that’s the good doctor’s points dealt with individually. Most telling, however, as to his own bigotry was one of the opening paragraphs…

“Well, what exactly is the motivation not to be part of a modern Europe? It feels like a naïve and shortsighted hark back to the glory days of Empire, with a worryingly modern dose of isolationist xenophobia. It’s regressive. Hardly a platform for the future.”

This marks the doctor’s post out clearly as an appeal to virtue signallers everywhere through blatant straw-man portrayals of opponents of the EU. In effect, the doctor is making the following statement.

“If you believe in the EU, you must be a forward-thinking, liberal-minded, good ‘un. If you’re anti-EU, you’re stuck in the Victorian era, hate foreigners, and want to shut out the world.”

Well, perhaps this will be effective in bringing in a lot of young minds to the doctor’s side—that class of student who, sheep-like, falls in line with the prevailing group mentality and de rigeur opinion; those happy many, who like to be seen to have the right opinions rather than having to go through the trouble of examining evidence and thinking things through for themselves. It is, after all, far better and easier to be handed your socially-acceptable opinions, à la carte. And we see this now all too clearly and too often in institutions of higher education, where to have an original thought or to deviate from received knowledge was once considered positive or at least worthy of discussion, but is now more likely to see you no-platformed and sworn at by the mouthy, unwashed, “safe-space” numpties.

But the doctor has let slip his poor judgement and own prejudices. No doubt there are some who favour Brexit because they fit the doctor’s description, but I must admit, I haven’t met any of the Colonel Blimp would-be types.

No, quite the opposite in fact.

Speaking personally…

1. I’m not motivated not to be part of modern Europe.
2. The EU is a political construct; Europe is a continent.
3. I love Europe. I want the French people, Germans, Italians, Greeks, and British to have their politicians directly accountable to them. It’s hardly a radical proposal!
4. Nobody is harking back to the glory days of empire, except perhaps those who are looking to BUILD A FECKIN’ EMPIRE IN EUROPE! Pot, kettle, black.
5. Isolationism includes putting up borders and privileging people within those borders. The EU does precisely this by forcing the UK to discriminate in favour of unskilled EU citizens over skilled non-EU citizens. That seems rather more xenophobic.

Frankly, I don’t give a toss how it feels to Doctor W, because that’s wholly subjective. The doctor either utterly misunderstands my and many others’ motivating factors for campaigning for Brexit or he’s seeking to misrepresent them. Neither is especially good from an academic.

Many of us favour Brexit to increase political accountability, to bring decision-making closer to the people, and to ensure that the taxes we raise under the goverment we elect are used in ways we can influence. Furthermore, we seek to move away from the protectionist EU and embrace the wider world, welcoming talented and useful people to our shores from across the globe.

We recognise the EU for what it has become, not for what we might wish it were.

As I posted in a recent Facebook post…

If you’re going to decry people for nationalism and harking back to the days of empire while voting to remain in an anti-democratic political construct whose core purpose is to build a large, single, protectionist state through the acquisition of neighbouring countries… you haven’t really thought this through properly, have you?

Doctor Williamson… I’m afraid that my advice for others would be to urgently seek a second opinion!

What the Varoufakis he on about?

I recently watched this interview between Yanis Varoufakis and Owen Jones and was once again struck by an-all-too-common mindset on the part of Varoufakis.

I am so bored of this rather tiresome narrative and slur that those of us who value democracy and self-determination of nations are xenophobic, racist, or ultra-nationalist.

When did concepts of self-determination and democratic accountability become negative?

Here’s a thing for Varoufakis to consider. If an independent UK gets Boris Johnson and is unhappy with him and his government, guess what… We can vote him out of power in the next general election. Can we say the same about the EU Commission—the body which is part of the troika which has destroyed Varoufakis’ own country’s economy and democracy?

So, Varoufakis is trying to democratise the EU in the face of all the historic evidence, vested interests, and lobby groups involved. He’s right that the contempt is for political elites, but there’s also a hell of a lot of contempt for those who want to remove people’s sense of belonging to a nation state, which does not at all preclude friendship and partnership between nation states; and based on opinion polls, there’s quite a bit of public contempt for idealistic open-border advocates too. He may indeed find that it is precisely this latter development which is causing the resurgence of the extreme right, which, contrary to his rather bigoted view, many of us who favour Brexit vociferously oppose. For my part, I have growing contempt for idealists who think we should all share their utopian views in the face of all the contrary evidence and experience.

Why does he consider the notion that people like to belong to a group with whom they share cultural values, history, laws, and traditions, i.e. a nation state, a negative thing? I thought we were all in favour of maintaining cultural differences. The nation state is a natural and long-established state of affairs around the world. Most people are perfectly happy with and identify with the nation state, but are also perfectly capable of not hating other nations. Most people take the view that each nation, and even smaller subdivisions within nations, have their own ways, and see that rather as a point of interest, rather than a negative thing. In other words, we follow the maxims ‘live and let live’ and ‘vive la différence’.

Most people can identify with this sense of positive patriotism at times of national celebration or during international sporting events, such as the Olympics. If you support a national sports team passionately, you understand this. Your love of your own team and pride in its achievements don’t mean you hate other teams. Indeed, a good fan will recognise the positives in other teams and seek to learn from these.

One thing I find that internationalists (or continentalists, in this case) overlook is where their endgame inevitably leads them. In seeking to undermine the nation state and surplant it with a large political union, they are merely looking to create a larger, more powerful nation state in the long run—precisely the kind of empire-building they’ve traditionally opposed, and all entailing the shift of power from being closest to the people to increasingly remote levels away from people.

His argument against the notion of the nation state is as nonsenical as claiming that love for your family necessitates hatred of other families. It’s utterly bizarre!

He goes on to say

“[The Commission] can not be dismissed by anybody, and as Tony Benn said, ‘Unless you are able to ask those who make decisions over you, ‘how do I get rid of you?’ and get a meaningful answer, you don’t have a democracy.’ So that’s what’s important to do in Europe. We have to do it to give more sovereignty and more degrees of freedom to our national parliaments.”

He’s just made the precisely the argument I, and many others, make for Brexit. The difference is, he is under the rather bizarre delusion that the EU is capable of reform; reform which has been known about for decades (as a former pro-EUer, I know this all too well). How much longer is he going to put his idealism before the welfare of his own people and other members of the EU?

Do we need to be in a political union with New Zealand, the U.S.A., Australia, or Japan to be on friendly terms? No, we are bound by broadly aligned, common values.

“The retreat to the nation state is never going to benefit the Left.”

But Varoufakis seems to suffer under the bizarre delusion that adherence to an organisation which is governed predominantly by the Right and is subjected to the highest levels of lobbying from multinationals will benefit the Left.

Frankly, I don’t give a stuff what will or won’t benefit the Left. I won’t vote to benefit the political Left or the political Right. I’ll vote on principles and on the basis of making decision-makers accountable to voters, and at the closest possible level.

If that means we get a government of Left or Right, I won’t care, because that government will do either good things and be re-elected, or it will do bad things, and be ousted. That’s national democracy for you – political Darwinism, if you like. Varoufakis on the other hand, appears to be a political creationist and expects everyone else to share his vision/beliefs. No thanks, I want accountable politicians and on a level where decision-making is responsive, quick, and decisive; not cumbersome, slow, and indecisive.

And I want to live in a confident, positive, and outward-looking UK, which doesn’t believe that the world stops at the EU’s borders and in forcing unwilling European people into a giant, political, undemocratic empire against their will.

Obama Doesn’t Care

So, the big O has landed in Europe on his farewell tour, and has kindly popped in to do David Cameron a favour by invoking the memory of his fallen compatriots to galvanise support for the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

The tens of thousands of American soldiers who are are laid to rest across Europe deserve Europe’s eternal gratitude. Of that there is no doubt, and some of us make an effort to remind people of this on an ongoing basis and in the face of the all-too-prevalent, de rigueur, anti-American sentiment which pervades Europe.

Nevertheless, those soldiers died in defence of freedom and democracy. Obama may not grasp the ins-and-outs of the mechanics of the European Union, and be speaking from an understandable perspective of self-interest, but the European Union is fundamentally anti-American on a purely constitutional level. It is the antithesis of everything the Founding Fathers believed in.

Can you for one second honestly imagine a scenario where the U.S. public would be happy to send billions of dollars to, lets say Mexico City, and be subjected to laws created by a panel of unelected politicians there in return; their money being spent in Mexico, without any accountability to U.S. citizens, in an attempt to build up the economy of a country which may be massively less productive than the U.S. economy, and unprepared to reform. Oh, and the more the U.S. economy improves, the more it has to contribute?

Can you imagine that U.S. citizens would put up with this for decades, with constant lip-service paid to the notion of reforming this supranational organisation?

“Yes, we know that the American Union is a profoundly undemocratic and corrupt organisation, but we need to be in it to reform it.”

The maxim “no taxation without representation” was a perfectly legitimate expression of grievance on the part of the then American colonists in response to British governance of their lands.

In the European Union, in which Brits are net contributors, we are in a similar scenario, although even then, in Georgian Britain the government was at least accountable to some voters – The EU Commission doesn’t even come up to scratch on that level!

MEPs nominally represent voters, but they can’t legislate, but only express approval/disapproval of proposals from the EU Commission. Do you think a parallel situation in the late 18th century would have placated those colonists?

Did the notion of remaining in the British Empire with a view to reforming it placate the thirst for self-determination and the establishment of a state with a renewed sense of purpose, based on European Enlightenment values and secularism?

Certainly not.

Those of us who retain our belief in these core concepts understand and applaud the actions of the American revolutionaries. And let’s not forget that they were prepared to go not to the ballot box to press for these fundamental freedoms, but to their deaths.

We are in a situation where we can express similar sentiments of a desire for the restoration of local accountability of our own politicians and for restoration of our traditional rights of self-determination, so callously surrendered in the past, without the people’s consent, under the deceitful premise of a ‘common market’, and in the interests of the vanity and career progression of politicians, or to assure their place in the history books.

So while I hope that Obama’s outspoken support for the continuation of Britain’s membership of the European Union is one based solely on self-interest on the basis of American influence on the EU via the UK (in particular with regard to matters of defence) rather than any alleged animosity he may harbour towards the UK for personal, familial reasons, I’m sure he’ll understand if many of us think back to how the founders of his nation reacted in the face of disenfranchisement and, if not take to the barracades, take to the urns.

We never want to have to take to the battlefield to restore liberty in Europe again, but the actions of the European Union, in trampling over core principles of democracy are making this not less, but more likely at some point in the future.

For all Donald Trump’s foolish rhetoric in threatening to pull out of NATO, we know that the U.S. would stand by the defence of liberty in Europe if push came to shove, but trust me, nobody wishes to see the spilling of any more American blood on European soil as Europe once again loses sight of and becomes complacent over the core tenets of democracy.

Many of us see the threats ahead of a European Union, forced together without the full consent of its constituent peoples at a time when political power should be moving down to communities, not to increasingly remote and unaccountable levels. There is no historic precedent for the peaceful, long-term success of any such unions. They invariably end in revolutions, and more often than not revolutions of the bloodiest kind.

It’s in all our interests that this is avoided, and if Brexit can be the catalyst for the peaceful break-up of the European Union, while there is still the possibility of such a break-up, and its replacement with a loose, multi-lateral organisation of co-operating, independent states, we may find that it is precisely this which prevents future generations of Americans from being laid to rest in European soil.

 

The Deluded Left’s Guide to EUtopia

This week saw Corbyn come out publicly in favour of UK’s continued membership of the EU, much to the chagrin of many of his former comrades on the left of the Labour Party, who have consistently opposed the EU since before the UK’s accession into the Common Market back in 1973.

I actually understand Corbyn’s public ‘change of heart’ on the EU since becoming leader. It’s actually an oddly pragmatic strategy for someone as normally idealistic as he. Quite simply, he needs to keep the parliamentary Labour Party and the NEC on side or risk being ousted.

Moreover, while a good many people from the older middle class (still reeling from being deceived in 1973, as they see it) oppose continued membership of the EU, much of the younger middle class, despite being completely ignorant of the mechanics of the EU, will be Bremainers. This younger generation of the middle class will vote to remain in the EU, even if for no other reason than because they follow the old simplistic narrative which equates pro-EU with a pro-European, internationalist, modern, cosmopolitan outlook, and anti-EU sentiment as isolationist, nationalistic, or blind jingoistic sentiment; or more simply, because they see that the establishment and big business, with some exceptions, support continued EU membership and will therefore vote accordingly, without bothering to look into things for themselves.

That these people don’t see the effect or injustices in the real world consequences of an undemocratic, supranational, corrupt, and ineffective organisation at the beck and call of multinationals is down to their own ignorance, but ignorant or not, they still have a vote and, as responsible members of the middle class, most likely will vote, so their voice matters to the party they traditionally support, and by extension to Jeremy Corbyn, whose party’s support matters to him if he has any hope of gaining power over the country.

I’m sure that Corbyn’s true feelings are the ones he voiced prior to becoming leader, and those he shared with the likes of Tony Benn and Bob Crow, and I note his careful use of language in his ostensibly pro-remain speech on Thursday, saying “the Party believes…” rather than “I believe…”

But here’s what I find particularly bizarre and illogical about the stance of the UK’s Guardian-reading middle classes I constantly come up against…

So many of them genuinely believe that it will be easier to achieve a ‘social Europe’ in an organisation in which:

  1. Two thirds of the states within the organisation have right-of-centre governments.
  2. The majority of leaders of those states are right-of-centre politicians.
  3. All politicians in the Commission are unaccountable to the public via the ballot box and therefore have no motivation to please the public.
  4. The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is a right-of-centre politician from Luxembourg, who presided over Luxembourg’s transformation into a centre of corporate tax avoidance.
  5. MEPs have no legislative initiative, so even if the European Parliament were predominantly left-of-centre (it isn’t), it would still have no powers to advance new legislation.
  6. The UK government, whose Prime Minister speaks for the UK in the European Council is a right-of-centre politician.
  7. The ministers which represent the UK in the Council of Ministers are right-of-centre politicians.
  8. Brussels is crammed with big business lobby groups, all of whom have the ear of the Commission.

than it would be to do the following:

  1. Win a General Election in an independent UK, in which a left-of-centre government would be free to enact all kinds of ‘progressive’ legislation it is currently forbidden from doing through EU anti-competition laws.

Yes, apparently, regardless of all these factors, many on the left believe it would be easier to enact more progressive legislation in the UK through the medium of the EU by miraculously gaining a simultaneous majority of left-of-centre electoral victories across the 28 member states, having a majority of left-of-centre politicians appointed to the Commission, and a majority of left-of-centre MEPs in the European Parliament.

They tell me that they will vote to remain in the EU as a bulwark against the Tory government, because they fear what kind of legislation a Tory government in full, sovereign control would enact. That’s right: in their mind, it is better to have an unaccountable, supranational organisation trample over democracy–something which we have already seen in Greece and Italy.

I’m sure that they’re not motivated in the slightest by short-termism and that they’ve considered carefully what might happen if Corbyn gains power and then is prevented from enacting all kinds of his socialist ideals by the European Union. How deliciously ironic would that be?

It is futile to remind such people that any government which removed workers’ rights, most of which existed pre-UK accession to the Common Market, would not only face a mass backbench rebellion from MPs in their own party, in fear of their own constituents, and in all likelihood would consequently fail to get any such legislation through parliament; but at the very next General Election, any such government would be crushed through the ballot box by the British electorate, which has form in ousting governments which go a little too right-of-centre-y in the past.

But no. Much of the middle class Left will vote for a more largely right-of-centre, undemocratic organisation to make sure an elected, national right-of-centre government can’t be too right-of-centre.

The cliché goes that the Left is driven by idealism above pragmatism; that “if you’re not liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative when you’re 35, you have no brain.”*

But that, right there, is some impressive self-delusion. Presumably, they must be happy with how well the EU has prevented the worst Tory ravages, as they see them, to date.

Onward, comrades!

*The earliest known attribution of this phrase is to Prime Minister of France between 1847-1848, François Guizot: “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” It has been ‘localised’ according to its re-use over the years and is often falsely attributed to Churchill amongst others.