Friday, 17 November 2017

Sorry, Europe, but our ways are simply better

The WEF, the World Economic Forum, has recently published its global competitiveness index. The overall rankings are pretty approximate - due to a misuse and misunderstanding of components such as productivity. No-one actually believes the UK is less productive than France. Their productivity measure doesn't include development or use of the world's biggest web platforms or apps, predominantly in English, nor many new IT driven services, just stuff like making widgets. EU nations with high productivity scores are generally late web and IT adopters with workforces poorly adapted to the coming AI challenges. No one will be re-writing software manuals in Czech or Hungarian, probably not even in French or German, so our EU chums had better either up their English classes or adopt AI translators to do the job for them. 

The real meat of the WEF report is in components such as the world ranking of Judicial Independence. Take a look yourself. We are 6th - Rwanda is 23rd, Germany 24th, France 28th, Saudi Arabia 30th, India 53rd, Spain 58th and Italy 65th. Telling us what we already knew - that the EU operate a system of political courts, where there is no real justice, just the judicial arm of the State. If the State is benign and acts in the interests of the people, the argument goes, there is no need for the courts to be independent. We have the Common Law and Equity - they have versions of the Code Napoleon. 

Likewise our constitution. We don't have one. We're not the nth Republic. We settled on our flag in 1703, not five minutes ago when their constitution was also written on a word processor. Fraser Nelson makes the point in the Telegraph - quoting a fatuous comment from the Dutcher Rutte, proving he, too, has no idea how the UK actually works.  

So when, as the Telegraph also reports, David Davis caught the heel of the jackboot in Germany yesterday, it doesn't mean what they think. David told his audience "Shared values are more important than our membership of particular institutions. Values of democracy, of the rule of law, of human rights", perhaps not quite meaning that the sharing was equal, implying perhaps that the EU had more to learn from the UK's shared values than we have from theirs. The German dogs barked. "If you are so committed to our common values, our common interests, our common approach, then why are you leaving the European Union?" demanded the moderator, Herr Krach. 

Because, Herr Krach, we're a mature and stable democracy whose people are committed to freedom of thought, to independent justice, to self-determination and to accountable government. Because when we uphold the idea of one man one vote we don't mean that the one man is Herr Juncker. Because, simply, our ways are better than yours but you don't realise it.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

If Tory Remoaners bring down the government, voters will tear the throat from the party

There must be a temptation amongst MPs closeted in the plush and rarefied atmosphere of Westminster to imagine themselves inviolable from the wrath of voters, immune from the tensions and passions in the nation clearly audible from social media. Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, Antionette Sandbach, Dominic Grieve and others may even now be building their future infamy - a future of derision, loathing and contempt - if their jejune and anti-democratic posturing, their preening narcissistic self-regard, their contemptuous dismissal of the popular will, brings down this fragile government and disrupts the Brexit process.

If they do so, the people will turn upon the Conservative party and tear its throat out. Tories will be more rare in the Commons than LibDems. They will have consigned their own party to the dustbin of history, and destroyed for themselves and their families any personal prospect of help or support from their peers. They will be shunned like wet lepers, regarded more lowly than the ordure on our shoes, despised and scorned. 

They are playing not with their own pathetic petty careers, not with their own overweening mediocrity, but with the future of our nation. And that's bloody serious.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Venting popular steam and keeping the State under control

Each country has somewhere in its traditions, unless utterly repressed by a totalitarian state and its secret police, versions of letting off steam, of warning off the ruling classes or unpopular characters, and of reminding the authorities that democracy is a delicate bloom that must not be abused. In England this was traditionally 5th November; darkness, fires, masks and disguises so that participants can't be identified, and burning effigies. Today Lewes is the only one I know that maintains the full threat of years past - and I bet the local council are doing everything they can to close it down. 

Here the equivalent is Perchtennacht, the night of the Perchtenlauf or the run of the devils. The costumes are elaborate and frightening, there is a complete lack of English style health and safety, and the Perchten are violent and dangerous. They carry sticks, clubs and chains. Traditionally, this was when a village got rid of an unwanted member - a nonce, a cheat, a deviant - by hitting them with sticks, chains and whips. Hard. You see, not to be out and lining the route of the run is an admission that you're not part of the community, so it's obligatory to be there.  



In recent years most of the sting has been taken out of the tradition. Slightly anti-social offenders still get their knuckles sharply rapped with a stick, or get a poke in the kidneys as a gentle reminder, but death and serious injury are rare these days. Organisers are obliged to maintain an identity register, so miscreants can be named, and police maintain a presence. In V√∂lkermarkt last night, however, the old ways were back. It was a riot. Two people targeted by the Perchten were seriously injured and it took the police an hour to restore order. Other people were injured as they fled violent assaults. 

Because this is Austria, no-one is calling for Perchtennacht to be banned and many are speculating whether the targets will now quietly move. Here it's still a reminder to the authorities that if they don't act, if they ignore long-building public disquiet, then people will do the job themselves. It's also a reminder to everyone (including me) of the importance of spending lots of time in the pub, greeting and chatting to anyone you meet and building friendships and trust ... you're either a member of the community, or you aren't. 

When, in the years after the German surrender, this part of Austria was occupied by the British army, a local maid and a lad from the Inniskillings fell in love. When his battalion was due to return home, he deserted. The whole community including the Mayor conspired to hide him until the end of the occupation, when they married and he spent the rest of his life here, dying only very recently. I talk to his daughter most mornings as she walks the dog. 

This is still a country in which local communities are not scared of their own power. I wish my England were the same.