Wednesday, 23 December 2015


I've long known of and admired Tony Benn's five questions, and in recent discussions on Twitter I've realised that they underpin the basic reason why I want Britain to leave the EU.  In case you need reminding, the quote is:
“The House will forgive me for quoting five democratic questions that I have developed during my life. If one meets a powerful person--Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler--one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”
I can't answer the last two in relation to the EU.  I'm unsure of the third, although I have my suspicions as to whose interests they serve (hint: not the voting public).  But it is the last question that is the killer.  Much as I disliked Blair and Brown and feel disappointed in Cameron, I know what I have to do in order to eject them and (in the cases of Blair and Brown) did precisely that.  So while I may have disliked the fact that Blair was elected into a position of power over me, I accepted the process.  Jean-Claude Juncker is a different matter entirely; I had no say in his appointment and I have no way of expressing my dissatisfaction with his work.

So there, in a nutshell, is my reason for wanting to leave.  I want to live in a democracy. 

That overrules everything else.  Talk for as long as you want about trivia like whether migrants should wait 6 months or 4 years for in-work benefits, I'm not bothered.  I want to have a vote as to who exercises power over me. 

I can understand that leaving will be very disruptive, and potentially quite expensive.  Well, principles are expensive, but you have to get the basics right.  Issues like "are we a democracy" are part of the foundations of our political system; everything else is built on them and it is essential that we get them right.  In time, the benefits of secure foundations will show. 

(Footnote: you may wish to relish this post, in which I praise the utterings of a hard-left politician.  It doesn't happen often.  I disagree with much that Benn said and did, but on the subjects of democracy and parliamentary privilege he was spot on)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Not Enough

OK, I've read David Cameron's letter on the subject of EU reform.  You should, too.  I've thought about it for a bit (yes, you should, too...).  It's not enough; even if he is given everything he wants, I'll still be voting to leave.  And we know, of course, that he won't be given it all, even though he will claim that he has. 

My reason is quite simple; he has approached EU reform from entirely the wrong direction.  He has identified areas that are within the sphere of EU policy and which are - today - causing some political friction.  He then asks for special terms for the UK in those areas.  That is ok insofar as it goes, but this is the run-up to an in/out referendum; it is a once-and-for-all opportunity to look at our position in the EU as an institution.  We last had a referendum on this subject 40 years ago - we should therefore be looking to the issues that may arise over the next 40+ years, the kind of issues that our experience since 1973 shows are likely to arise from the nature of the EU and the way in which it operates.  So we need to be a lot more ambitious than this. 

What we should be doing is the reverse of what Cameron has done.  Instead of identifying areas that we want to push the EU back from, we should be identifying the areas where we agree that the EU should have primacy in policy, and defining those areas carefully.  Then, any area not covered by those definitions is to be automatically excluded.  This is based on simple experience; the progress of the EU over the years has been characterised by a  steady growth in the areas of "competence" of the EU, and our relationship has been one of weary resistance, constant damage limitation.

He hints at this, with the request for an exclusion for the UK from the principle of "ever closer union".  But that highlights my other point; these reforms should be for all, not just the UK.  As it stands, even if he is allowed this, every other member will be committed to ever closer union and that will be the direction of the EU from then on.  The EU will continue to identify "competences" that it should acquire and will work on that.  What, exactly, will the UK opt-out from "ever closer union" mean then?  We will carry on with endless rearguard action, still slipping on the ratchet of integration.

So no, I'm not persuaded.  What would have brought me on board would have been a list of defined areas - trade between member states and the ability for EU citizens to live and work in other EU states (for example) - and a treaty commitment that the EU does not have and is not to seek competence in any other area.  Then, we could have done the same to the UK Government, and to local councils.  We could have renewed our democracy, defined the purpose of our institutions, and reinvigorated them both.  Instead, we just have a list of whinges that we want special treatment for. 

Vote OUT, then.  Let's have a Brexit. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

A Quandary, Surely?

I do have a little sympathy for the senior figures within Labour on one small, specific point.  It must be really upsetting to hold dearly to a set of views which you hold to be true and right, and also to know that when you stand up and honestly tell the world that you hold those views, they reject you:

...but when you spin the truth so as to present yourself as having a different set of views and conceal your socialism, you get elected instantly...

What to do.  Hmmm.  Toughie. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Same old Labour

So, there won't be a Labour-SNP coalition.  Unequivocally, no.  It will not happen:
"Ed Miliband has ruled out a Labour-SNP coalition in the event of a hung Parliament after May's election."
Well, that's the message he wanted to send, anyway.  But that's just the BBC's summary.  What did he actually say?
The Labour leader said any alliance would "not happen" as there were "big differences" between the two parties
Ah, see, that's not quite the same, is it?  An alliance will not happen because there are differences between the parties... at the moment.  This isn't a statement of principle, this is a procedural point, that the two parties cannot in practice be reconciled because there are policy differences (as of today, anyway).  The day after an election, when the keys to No. 10 are dangling in front of them, who is to say that Ed might not be "persuaded" to adjust his views on areas where Labour and the SNP differ?  Then, the "big differences" between the parties would have evaporated, clearing the way for an alliance.

Then, immediately after that, there is the "clarification" as to what he really meant:
"There will be no SNP ministers in any government I lead"
None of that rules out the two parties co-operating on the floor of the House to secure specific policy aims, and (in particular) to exclude a Tory government.  It just means that Milliband intends to get his way in Cabinet.  This isn't a promise to the electorate, it is the first shot in the coalition negotiations - a warning to the SNP not to set their sights too high. 

So it's the same old Labour that we are used to from the Blair days.  Say whatever is necessary to get into power, but always make sure to leave yourself a little wriggle room.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Driving the technology forwards

I'm a big fan of technology, and its tendency to keep advancing.  I could hardly be otherwise, of course, given that I make my living from that same tendency.  I'm also quite a keen driver (as you may have noticed), so when the two come together you would think I would be doubly keen.  So why am I worried about the prospect of the driverless car?

Many worry that driverless cars won't be safe - that the technology won't be good enough.  After all, Windows crashes all the time, right?  Why wouldn't a Windows-powered car?  Well, I reckon the technology will be better than most drivers.  I suspect it already is, but that's mainly because I've seen what most drivers are like...

There is the old chestnut of driverless cars taking all the fun out of it, of course.  I don't subscribe to that, either; I think that driving will bifurcate into the mundane day-to-day stuff like getting to and from the office and the shops, which driverless cars will do, and recreational stuff like heading for a country pub in the summer with the roof down, for which we will still use sports cars and the like.  The main difference will probably be that the sports cars will all be carefully-preserved classics, which may not be a bad thing at all.

Then there are the ethical concerns, raised in various articles and recently mentioned by His Clarksonness himself in the Top Gear news section.  Essentially, this assumes that the car will have to make choices, and in some situations one of the options might be to sacrifice itself for the greater good.  A situation such as (say) a gaggle of children running out in front of the car, too close to stop in time, and the choice is to rely on the brakes and (inevitably) slaughter many kiddies, or to use the lamppost for additional braking and probably destroy the car and kill the driver in the process.  It would be somewhat galling if the car you paid a lot of money for decided to kill you, but I doubt that would ever actually happen.  Our wonderful lawmakers can be expected simply to slap an ultra-low speed limit anywhere that there might be pedestrians, so that the stopping distance is so short as to avoid the problem entirely.  Ta-dah...!

The real problem that worries me came to mind while I was thinking through the ethical one, and it is this.  At the moment, we teach children to cross the road only when they can walk to the other side before the oncoming cars reach them.  The reason for this is simple, if you think about it; the oncoming driver might be asleep, fiddling with the radio, chatting, on the phone, texting, daydreaming, or any combination of these, so there is a distinct risk s/he might not notice you starting to cross.  Therefore, you need to choose an option that fails safe, so you only walk if you will still survive even if the driver is comatose.

Once we reach a situation where most or all of the cars on the road are driverless,  this assumption will no longer apply.  We can confidently step out, knowing that the oncoming car will brake to let us cross.  The alternative is to program the cars to kill jaywalkers, which I doubt will happen.  Now, let's apply some knowledge of human nature, and think this through.  Imagine a busy town centre high street.  Shops on either side, pedestrians on the pavements, and a busy road through the middle.  How many pedestrians are going to wait for a gap in the traffic, and how many are going to make their own gap by stepping in front?  I think it's safe to say that a lot are going to take the latter option.

So, from the point of view of the driver/passenger, roads like that are going to be a nightmare - emergency stop after emergency stop.  The car's systems, by offering a level of reliability that humans cannot manage, will have effectively handed right of way to any pedestrian who feels like crossing the road.

The result will have to be the closure of all town centre roads, and their conversion to pedestrian precincts.  To keep the shops trading, they will have to provide plenty of car parks at the edge of the pedestrianised areas, and all the towns where the main roads pass through the centre will have to have bypasses built.

Actually, on further thought, that might not be a bad thing at all...