An Englishman of forty years residence in Wales pontificates about politics (slightly off-message), films and trivia. Secretary of Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats. Candidate for Neath in the Westminster elections of 1997 & 2017 and the Welsh general election of 2016.
Tuesday, 23 February 2016
EU referendum (final instalment for the time being)
I want to come back to Michael Gove's reasons for wanting to leave the EU. The full thing is here. Comments on selected passages (in italics) follow.
My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.
At present we have a virtual elected dictatorship, there being no consistent opposition in the House of Commons. If corruption is not already flourishing (and the financial pages suggest that this government is as much in thrall to the bankers as Gordon Brown ever was) then all the conditions exist for it to do so. If Michael Gove believed in a fair voting system for Westminster, his argument would carry more weight, but it seems he does not.
But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We elected David Cameron and his ministers (though Scots would dispute this). As I hoped to demonstrate in earlier posts, Mr Cameron needs only the support of one or two heads of government of other EU nations to block measures such as tightening vehicle pollution limits or abolishing mobile phone roving charges. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT VAT may be reduced as an emergency measure such as when the country is in or on the brink of recession. How an emergency is defined could be open to interpretation! But I do have sympathy with this point, even though I don't see the Conservatives wanting to reduce regressive taxes any time soon. cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, Surely a trading bloc larger than an individual nation has more power to combat dumping? What failed in the case of Tata was government awareness of the situation and/or willingness to pursue our steel-makers' case within the EU at an early stage. Other EU nations have similar problems and I'm sure we could have made common cause. Mr Gove may be referring to direct state aid. If so, I am surprised that a "dry" Conservative should contemplate such a thing. The restrictions on state aid were quite rightly brought in (largely at UK behest, I believe) to produce a fair market across the Union and prevent fellow-members distorting competition by propping up, for example, inefficient state airlines. cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed That is down to private builders who are sitting on undeveloped land banks. One cannot see that changing in a non-EU Britain. Or is Mr Gove saying that the EU prevents us from restoring powers to local authorities to build social housing? and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I would like to see a worked example. we set up the first free parliament That was in Iceland, surely, and the Isle of Man's Tynwald also has claims. If Mr Gove objects that qualification for membership of those bodies was restricted, then he should note that New Zealand beat us to granting universal suffrage. By way of contrast, the European Union, despite the undoubted idealism of its founders and the good intentions of so many leaders, has proved a failure on so many fronts. The euro has created economic misery for Europe’s poorest people. No, national governments' short-sighted populist economic policies created those failures. The low interest rates which obtained when the euro launched may have encouraged feckless financial policies, but where national chancellors were responsible, as in Germany, there was no long-lasting misery. One notes that Germany achieved a record budget surplus last year. Is the pound to blame for our continuing deficit? European Union regulation has entrenched mass unemployment. In my estimation, those EU countries which suffer from high unemployment are those in which corruption is entrenched and where too many influential citizens are allowed to escape taxation EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders.
The increase in refugee movement has been caused by the destabilisation of the Middle East, to which both the Blair-Brown and Cameron governments have contributed. The EU is responsible only to the extent that it recognised a government-in-waiting which had no prospect of success but increased the fission in Syria. On the other hand, the EU continues to support civil society in Afghanistan which should help to stem emigration from that country.
The EU is built to keep power and control with the elites rather than the people. Things are changing. A process of increased transparency and parliamentary accountability has begun, which I date from the accession of the Nordic nations. Even in France, the electorate is beginning to question the imperial aspirations of some of "the elite". We have rather more friends on the continent than inward-looking conservatives believe. This growing EU bureaucracy holds us back in every area. EU rules dictate everything from the maximum size of containers in which olive oil may be sold (five litres) to the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds (five kilometres).
Mr Gove mocks the trivial rules and standards, but he does not acknowledge the power of the EU to curb the power of virtual monopolies such as Google and Microsoft.
ECJ judgements on data protection issues hobble the growth of internet companies. Not the successful entrepreneurs who speak at LibDem conferences. As a minister I’ve seen hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk, none of which were requested by the UK Parliament, none of which I or any other British politician could alter in any way and none of which made us freer, richer or fairer.
Mr Gove underplays the role of parliament, which admittedly does not examine statutory instruments as thoroughly as it should.
It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do, or to use their judgment about the right course of action for the people of this country. I have long had concerns about our membership of the EU but the experience of Government has only deepened my conviction that we need change. Every single day, every single minister is told: ‘Yes Minister, I understand, but I’m afraid that’s against EU rules’. Surely a criticism of our senior civil service and the multinational consultants who are largely taking over from them. France and Germany would not be so feeble.
We can take back the billions we give to the EU, Only if we break entirely from the EU. An association agreement would require a financial contribution. the money which is squandered on grand parliamentary buildings On one wasteful parliamentary building in Strasbourg - there I would agree. Liberals in the European Parliament have a good record in voting to have this abandoned. It seems that other parties and ministers (including Conservative ones) do not wish to upset the French. and bureaucratic follies, The commission is rather more efficient than the British civil service and invest it in science and technology, schools and apprenticeships. We can get rid of the regulations which big business uses to crush competition and instead support new start-up businesses and creative talent. We can forge trade deals and partnerships with nations across the globe, helping developing countries to grow and benefiting from faster and better access to new markets.
We are the world’s fifth largest economy, Germany is the fourth largest and is quite happy to remain in the EU. The suggestion that we might overtake Germany in terms of GDP by 2030 is now discounted. with the best armed forces of any nation, In terms of quality, maybe, but not quantity and they continue to be run down - but an irrelevant point more Nobel Prizes than any European country and more world-leading universities than any European country. Also irrelevant. Whether in or out, there is still a problem of converting research into product. Our economy is more dynamic than the Eurozone, Depends on what you mean by "dynamic" we have the most attractive capital city on the globe, Debatable the greatest “soft power” and global influence of any state As great as tiny Norway? and a leadership role in NATO and the UN. Are we really too small, too weak and too powerless to make a success of self-rule? We are also heavily indebted. Part of our ability to sustain a deficit and therefore rising borrowing at tolerable interest rates is because we are part of a cooperative bloc. At the time of writing, the pound's value abroad has plunged because of the uncertainty created by the manoeuverings of various politicians in advance of the referendum.
For me, the future of industry within the EU is important, but only one part of my rationale for remaining. The rest is probably the real reason that chancers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson want out - financial regulation and the social chapter.
That is enough EU for the time being. I am sure I will be repeating myself on the subject three months or so down the line. In the meantime, the Welsh difficulties in health, housing, education and the economy should be preoccupying us.