Monthly Archives: October 2014

Who should vote in an IN/OUT EU referendum?

Robert  Henderson

Who will be allowed to vote in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU? Will it be anyone resident in Britain? Everyone with citizenship of an EU member state who is resident in Britain?  Everyone resident within the European Economic Area (EEA). Or would it be just  British citizens?  This is a vitally  important issue for the OUT camp  because the broader the franchise, the greater the advantage to those who want Britain to remain a captive of the EU.

Suppose the  qualification to vote in the EU referendum was the same as that for the recent Scottish independence referendum. This  was

“The following groups are entitled to be on the electoral register for the referendum:

  • British citizens resident in Scotland.
  • Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland who have leave to remain in the UK or do not require such leave.
  • Citizens of the Republic of Ireland and other EU countries resident in Scotland.
  • Members of the House of Lords resident in Scotland.
  • Service personnel serving in the UK or overseas with the armed forces who are registered to vote in Scotland.
  • Crown personnel serving outside the UK with HM Government who are registered to vote in Scotland.

The key difference from normal voting arrangements is that the minimum age for voting in the referendum will be 16 instead of 18. This means that people who will be 16 years old by 18 September 2014, and are otherwise eligible, can register to vote.”

That would mean  anyone resident in  Britain who was registered to vote in one or more British elections, whether national, local or for the EU,   would be allowed to vote in the EU referendum . The consequence of that would be to allow millions of people who were not British to vote. There would be Republic of Ireland citizens, EU nationals from EU states other than the RoI  and qualifying Commonwealth citizens  “who  must be resident in the UK and either have leave to enter or remain in the UK or not require such leave”.  All of this covers a surprisingly wide range of nationalities.

To use such a qualification would be greatly to the disadvantage of the OUT side.  This would be for these reasons:

  1. Immigrants of all sorts would have a vested interest in Britain remaining within the EU,  because outside of the EU Britain would be able to properly control her borders provided her politicians had the will. This would potentially, and almost certainly in actuality,  make both future immigration more difficult and reduce  the benefits  available to immigrants.  For example, the bringing into Britain  of relatives could be curtailed or stopped entirely. The total number of immigrants with a nationality other than British resident in Britain is an estimated  five million. Of these around two million are nationals of other EU states.  The foreign born figure is higher with around 8 million foreign born in Britain.
  2. British citizens living abroad would be ineligible. Despite being migrants themselves,  they would be more likely to vote to leave than foreigners living in Britain, not least because many of them would not be intending to live permanently abroad. Their position would be the exact opposite of foreigners living in Britain, who whether or not they intended to stay permanently in Britain,  would have a vested interest in voting for Britain to remain within the EU because it would secure their immediate position in the country.  There an estimated five  million Britons living abroad.  The majority  live outside of the EU.

3.Sixteen and seventeen r olds would be more  likely to vote to stay in the EU than older voters  because they have known nothing else.

The best case scenario

Suppose the best case scenario for an OUT vote  occurs, that only those eligible to vote in general elections were allowed to vote.

The present  eligibility to vote in Britain is this:

To vote in a UK general election a person must be registered to vote and also:

–              be 18 years of age or over on polling day

–              be a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland

–              not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote

Additionally, the following cannot vote in a UK general election:

–              members of the House of Lords (although they can vote at elections to local authorities, devolved legislatures and the European Parliament)

–              EU citizens resident in the UK (although they can vote at elections to local authorities, devolved legislatures and the European Parliament)

–              anyone other than British, Irish and qualifying Commonwealth citizens

–              convicted persons detained in pursuance of their sentences (though remand prisoners, unconvicted prisoners and civil prisoners can vote if they are on the electoral register)

–              anyone found guilty within the previous five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election

That would still leave RoI citizens and qualifying Commonwealth citizens eligible.   Their numbers are considerable.  In addition, British citizenship has been handed out astonishingly casually in recent years with  citizenship being granted to 100-200,000 people a year since 2000.

To first generation immigrants granted British citizenship can be added  millions of their descendants who automatically have British citizenship . They will  generally favour Britain remaining within the EU  for the same reasons as first generation immigrants will.

This all adds up to the a substantial handicap for the OUT side before any campaign started. Nonetheless, it is the most the OUT side can hope for.

Only a Tory government or a coalition between Tories and Ukip  are likely to  deliver a referendum. They would probably favour the same qualifications to vote as those used at a general election. Any broader suffrage should be resisted implacably, because the broader the franchise, the less chance of obtaining a vote to leave the EU.

 

 

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Film reviews – The drama of the everyday – Locke and Last Orders

Robert Henderson

Locke main cast – Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke,  Ruth Wilson as Katrina (voice),  Olivia Colman as Bethan (voice), Andrew Scott as Donal (voice),  Ben Daniels as Gareth (voice),  Tom Holland as Eddie (voice),

Director:  Steven Knight

Last orders main  cast – Michael Caine as  Jack Dodds,  Tom Courtenay as  Vic Tucker,  David Hemmings  as  Lenny,  Bob Hoskins as Ray Johnson,  Helen Mirren as  Amy Dodds, Ray Winstone as  Vince Dodds

Director: Fred Schepisi

Perhaps the rarest of  films are those which make gripping dramas out of ordinary life. Unsurprising  because everyday existence does not obviously lend itself to drama. Locke and Last Orders are two  films which show how wrongheaded this idea is by producing gripping and in the case of Last Orders poignant stories from the everyday.

They are very different films. Locke concerns a few hours in someone’s life: Last Orders encompasses a period running from just before the Second World War to the 1990s.  Locke has only one actor on screen: Last orders  follows the lives of half a dozen characters.  Yet set apart as they are on the surface both share a  general similarity of being about  things which could happen to anyone.

Apart from a minute or two at the beginning and end  of the film the entire on screen action  of Locke consists of the eponymous character Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) in his car driving and making and receiving phone calls about his work and private life.  Sounds tedious and limited in dramatic scope with precious little opportunity for  character development?  Don’t you believe it.

Locke is in circumstance Hell. He is a foreman in charge of a building site.  The next day he is due to supervise a huge concrete “pour”, that is  concrete  poured  on site to create a large structure, a very demanding technical task. . But  Locke will not be at the “pour” because he is headed for a hospital where a woman (Bethan) with whom he had a one-night-stand is about to give birth to his child. To add to these  worries his wife Katrina knows nothing of the other woman or impending child and she and their son are expecting him home where Locke  and his son are supposed to  watch a football match together.

Why has he sacrificed so much for a woman he barely knows and a child he has not wanted?   Locke was abandoned by his father soon after his birth and did not meet him until he had reached adulthood and with whom he never came to terms when they did meet as adults. This provides the impetus for  Locke behaving in this quixotic  way because he does he does not want this child to be deserted by its father.  His uneasy relationship with his father also provides a hook for Locke to have imaginary conversations with his father while he drives.  These are  the only weak and sentimental  things in the film.  They  would have been better left out and the circumstances left to speak for themselves .  But  they are  a small blemish.

So far so traumatic, but it gets far worse.   Locke rings one of his workers at the site to get him to do the last minute checking he should have done and to prepare him to oversee the “ concrete pour” in Locke’s place.  But the worker Donal has a drink inside him and does not feel confident of taking Locke’s place.   Locke rings Bethan to say he is on the way.  He speaks to his son and wife saying he will not be home in time for the match.  He discovers that a road he needed closed to allow the concrete to be delivered  has not been closed. He  speaks to his boss  who pleads with him to be there to supervise the concrete “pour” and  eventually  fires him when he realises that Locke will not be at the site to supervise the “pour”.

As Locke  drives he also has the stress of breaking  the news to his wife that he is going to see a woman who is having his child and tries desperately to explain to his son why he will not be home. After several phone calls his wife  decides to throw him out of the house.

As this  seeming never ending barrage of stress hits Locke he keeps his cool and   provides solutions to the practical  difficulties he faces but fails with his relationships. By the end of the film Locke has lost his wife, his home and his job but gained a son and a resolution in his mind of his relationship with his father.

The role of Locke is as demanding a part as could be imagined because the character is centre stage throughout and has to carry the film utterly  for the rest of the cast, which includes some fine actors,  cannot in the nature of things make much  impact because they are simply disembodied voices who appear only in short bursts . Hardy carries it off  immaculately. In fact, this film is made for him because he has great screen presence and exudes self-possession.

This is a  gripping film made from what looks like on paper extremely unpromising  material.  There is no disaster to keep up the tension, just the net of  circumstances remorselessly closing.

Last orders (released 2001)  is centred around as starry a cast of British actors as you are likely to find in a film, namely,  Michael Caine,  Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings,  Bob Hoskins,  Helen Mirren,  Ray Winstone. Often when a cast has so many heavyweight  actors it just does not work either because the actors’  egos clash or the roles they have are too small for them.  Not here. Probably because they are all actors brought up in the English repertory tradition they know how to play as a team.

Vic ,  Lenny ,  Ray  and Vince are on a sentimental journey to scatter the ashes of their old friend Jack Dodds  in Margate.   This is a story with solid  workingclass roots. Jack was an East End butcher ,  Ray  (Bob Hoskins) is a professional gambler and  Jack’s best friend  since they fought together in the second world war; Lenny (David Hemmings) is  a still belligerent  former  boxer;  Vic (Tom Courtenay) a quiet character who is an undertaker and Jack’s adopted son Vince (Ray Winstone), a car dealer whose real family  perished in a wartime bombing .

On the journey they stop at various places which were significant in Jack’s life. They reminisce about Jack and the times they had together.  This leads  to flashbacks to various times in their lives and in the lives of  Jack and his wife Amy.   We see the characters in their vigorous hopeful youth before the second world war and  their  subsequent messy way through their lives , lives  full of disappointments and betrayals as well as friendship, love and loyalty.   Old tensions  gradually emerge  and arguments break out, but  these are superficially smoothed over and  Jack’s ashes are scattered  amongst forced sentimentality.

Counterpoised to the four on the trip is Jack’s wife Amy on a journey of her own. For fifty years she has unfailingly  visited her mentally retarded daughter  June (Laura Morelli) in a home, while her husband could barely acknowledge the daughter’s existence, a fact which has tainted their marriage.  The daughter is so severely handicapped she does not even recognise her mother.  At the end of the film Amy decides that 50 years of visiting is enough and sees June one last time.

By the time they have scattered the ashes Vic ,  Lenny ,  Ray  and Vince are all  diminished.  The journey has not been about Jack but themselves.    They have tried to fill their lives  with significance but  either circumstances or their own weaknesses and limitations have prevented it.   They are left only with a sense of unfocused regret.

Little needs to be said about the  acting other than it is uniformly first rate with Caine producing one of his very best performances  with  Helen Mirren  deeply sympathetic as Jack’s wife.

More than a century and a half ago, the American idealist Henry Thoreau said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”    That is as true today as it was when Thoreau said it,  although  the desperation will have different causes and effects in different times and places.  Locke and Last Orders are,  in their  very different ways,   studies in desperation, of people living lives which are not in their control or even worse potentially within their control but not controlled.

Civitas meeting  2 10 2014 – Should we seek to remain in the EU for trade only?

Sole speaker Ronald Stewart-Brown (Trade Policy and Research Centre)

Robert Henderson

I knew what a malformed disaster Stewart –Brown’s  plan for Britain to  have nothing more than a trade relationship the EU was going to be when he started his talk by warning against the Great Satan  of Protectionism by citing the example of the protectionist measures taking during the Depression of the 1930s. In fact, it was the protectionist measures taken by Britain, together with  Britain moving from the Gold Billion Standard and the Keynsian public spending  on things such as council housing which  allowed Britain to recover more quickly than other  large industrialised nations. (I go into this in more detail in my email to Stewart-Brown  which I reproduce at the bottom of this post).

When I challenged him on this,  instead of admitting that he had misrepresented the protectionist effects in the Depression,  he simply blithely ignored what he had said and feebly added that unemployment had not been cured before WW2.  In fact, the level of unemployment in 1939 was around 10 per cent, the type of level it had been at  during  most of the  1920s when the Free Trade mania was still dominating British politics.

This type of historical ignorance  or the wilful denial of historical  reality is part of the stock-in-trade of the laissez faire worshippers and makes most of what they say on  economics a literal nonsense because the doctrine itself denies reality. Human beings are not the base advantage seeking automata  beloved of classical economists; individuals will not normally  have anything approaching perfect knowledge of a market. Instead, they will be doing what humans have evolved to do, being social animals who care most about relationships with other humans, raising their children and so on.

Stewart-Brown’s plan was to have Britain effectively  leave the EU but remain in a customs union with it.  This he advocated because he thought  this would (appeal to the British electorate; (2) would avoid the major manufacturers such as those making cars in Britain panicking at the prospect of EU trade barriers being raised against them and  (3)reassure the rest of the world that world trade would not be  disturbed. ( Strange  how we are so often told that Britain is hugely insignificant in the world economy these days by the class of people Stewart-Brown comes from,  but when it suits their purposes Britain is suddenly a massive influence on that economy. They make it up as they go along).

The idea that the other 27 members of the EU would fall down at Britain’s feet  and agree to such an arrangement is   risible, as several of the audience pointed out. But even if it did take place,  Britain would not be simply in a trading block because (1) the other EU members would keep introducing new rules and regulations, for example, health and safety legislation, into the remit of the Customs Union administration even though they  would have nothing to do with trade and (2) most British politicians would be only too happy to go along with this re-establishment of ever tighter EU tentacles around Britain because they do not want Britain to be detached from the EU.  The head of Civitas, David Green also  pointed out the incongruity between Stewart-Brown’s plans for a custom’s union and  his plea for free trade. This disconcerted Stewart-Brown, and all he could find to say was that  he was proposing what he thought was possible.

The nadir of the Stewart-Brown’s address came when he rather curiously  claimed that Britain  would get what he was proposing because a custom’s union which allowed the EU members’ goods and services to come to freely into Britain would give Britain —wait for it … “the moral high ground”.  What does he expect if the other EU members do not fall into line below this, in internationalist eyes, crushing fact? That such malefactors  will be, as Michael Wharton delighted in saying, “brought before the bar of world opinion”?  It was sublimely naïve.  I managed to have a second go at him and pointed out that the whole movement of global politics was away from the  unnatural internationalist ideas which had held sway in varying degrees since 1945 towards the natural state of humanity, which is tribal and catered for by the nation state.  In particular I cited China as being a and economic and political Goliath which had shown repeatedly in recent times that it would not play the internationalist game, vide its persistent refusal to let the Renmimbi  rise in value, despite being pressed strongly by the USA to do so.

Judged by their questions to him the audience was widely unsatisfied  with Stewart-Brown’s ideas , which were strong on wishful thinking and very short on realism.  Stewart-Brown was also very keen on saying a consultation most be started on this and an investigation begun on that. He struck me as the type who would never come to the point where the end-game would actually begin.

There was one audience contribution which may have more than ordinary significance. The erstwhile Tory MP David Heathcoat-Amory was scathing in his condemnation of Cameron’s negotiating position on the EU, saying it was essential Britain went into the negotiations with the clear intention of asking for a vote to leave if nothing substantial was conceded.  He also supported Stewart-Brown’s idea of just being in a customs Union, but   only if those negotiating made it made clear Britain would simply walk away from the EU if no agreement was reached. Heathcoat-Amory may  represent a strong band of thinking amongst current Tory MPs.

It was all too familiarly depressing, Stewart-Brown is yet another person with some public influence who  really is not fit to have any hand in deciding what Britain’s relationship with the EU should be simply because he has been captured by the laissez faire ideology and is, I suspect, an internationalist at heart.

Email sent to after Civitas meeting –  I will post any reply here

Mr Ronald Stewart-Brown

Trade Policy and Research Centre

29 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BL

Email Ronald@tprc.org.uk

2 10 2014

Dear Mr Stewart-Brown,

A few thoughts on your Civitas talk today. Your commitment to free trade and doubtless free markets  generally is a gigantic stumbling block  to producing a realistic plan for Britain to remove herself from the EU.

How far you are entrapped within the free trade ideology was shown by your claim that the  great mistake in the  Depression was to engage in protectionism. In fact, that  was what protected Britain from the worst of the Depression years, along with coming off the Gold Bullion Standard, large scale state action which included building 500,000 council houses in the period  and the fact that British banks had already undergone considerable consolidation and thereby avoided the horrors that the USA experienced with their huge number of small banks, thousands of which went to the wall. The fact that Britain also had a national welfare system can also be thrown into the mix for it both gave the  unemployed an income  and making those who feared being unemployed less uncertain. These things probably kept consumption levels  significantly higher than they would otherwise have been.

In 1933 the unemployment rate was around 23% of the workforce; by 1939 it was around 10 per cent, the sort of figure incidentally that it had been throughout the 1920s when the free trade mania was still dominating British politics.  It is also true that Britain between 1950 and the early 1970s enjoyed a period of considerable growth and very  low unemployment behind protectionist barriers and great state involvement in the economy.

The reality of laissez faire economics is it is an intellectually incoherent doctrine – see my “Free markets and “free trade” =  elite propaganda” essay below – which does not do what its proponents claim. In fact it leads countries which practice it into dangerously distorting their economies which greatly undermines their self-sufficiency and leave any country unwise enough to go down this path open to manipulation by foreign powers and potentially to shortages of vital goods and services.

To imagine as you do that countries will abide by treaties is dangerously naive. At the present time we are seeing throughout the world a strong movement towards protectionism, whether that be overtly or by covert means such as hideously complex and time consuming bureaucratic procedures or the use of justice systems to intimidate foreign companies – China is a past master at this, but the USA is no slouch either with its laws against trading with certain countries in certain goods and the absurd fines US regulators and courts hand out to foreign companies. In the case of the EU, to believe that your plan would succeed because quote “We shall have the moral high ground” is wishful thinking on stilts. As several people pointed out it only takes one member state to veto a proposal. To expect 27 EU states to all refrain from doing so is wildly improbable.

But there is an even bigger issue. As I pointed out at the talk, there is strong reasons to believe the EU will not remain intact as a group of supposedly democratic states. To begin most of the EU states do not have any great democratic history. The largest apart from Britain – Germany, France, Spain, Italy – all date their present constitutional arrangements  in decades not  centuries. They and most of the smaller states are naturally  democratically fragile. Also,  since the current recession stated, it is debatable whether Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal have been democracies so controlled have they been by ECB diktats. There is also the madness of the EU’s attempt to lure  the Ukraine into the Brussels net and the ongoing mess with is the Euro – see my separate email on the Euro.  Any of these circumstances could lead to anything from individual members casting aside any pretence at democracy to the entire EU blowing apart. Consequently the path you advocate with the UK still tied into the EU economic process in the shape of membership of a customs union is fraught with danger. Much better that Britain leaves the coils of the EU entirely and makes its way in the world as the vast majority of countries do. That way if the EU blows up we will not have any legal ties and obligations to it.

Finally, there is the question of winning an in/out referendum. The British may not like the EU,  but neither do they like globalism. It will be impossible to win a referendum on Britain’s membership of  the EU if the electorate know that all they are being asked to do is to swap the overlordship of Brussels for the  ideological despotism of free trade and mass immigration. (The laissez faire approach involved in globalisation is those with power enforcing an ideology by refusing to act to protect what the vast majority of human beings regard and have always regarded as the interests of their country and themselves.  It is a tyranny caused by the neglect of the rightful use of state power for the common good.) If a referendum is to be won it will have to be on the basis of Britain being master in its own house to stop further mass immigration and to protect strategically important industries.

Yours sincerely,

 

Robert Henderson

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