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Saturday 2 February 2019

Gibraltar was only ever part of Spain for 212 years

Spanish governments are always out of favour with their voters. With a quarter of the nation's young people out of work due to the disastrous economic management of the EU, raising spurious claims over the sovereignty of Gibraltar has been a perennial favourite, usually combined with some rather jejune and silly naval provocations. Brexit has brought it out again, with a puerile Spanish addendum to post-Brexit travel arrangements.

However, the British Overseas Territory, which has been under British sovereign protection now for 306 years and has voted twice to reject Spanish claims, was only ever a part of the Spanish realm for 212 years - the shortest epoch of sovereignty in the Rock's history. Following the fall of the Western Empire, Gibraltar has experienced the sovereignty of
Visigoths       414 to 711       -  297 years
Moors           711 to 1462     -  751 years
Spain          1501 to 1713     -  212 years
UK             1713 to 2019     -  306 years
The Rock has its own unique ethnic mix, language and customs. Under international principles of self-determination, the people of Gibraltar are very clear, and have asserted their wishes democratically with overwhelming clarity, that they wish to remain under the Union flag.

That's all.

Friday 1 February 2019

You can smell the fear in Brussels

The EU's unelected officials are thugs and bullies, used to throwing their weight around without any voters behind them to teach them sense. They exist in a vacuum, in a rarefied world of pretence and privilege that rarely brings them into contact with reality. Hence they are glacial in reacting to risks and threats, such as the coming financial crisis which will engulf the Eurozone. But like all bullies, when fronted up, when challenged, when thwarted they freeze.

The United Kingdom Parliament has stood firm against their attempts to 'punish' the UK. They are now faced with either modifying or removing the Backstop to the UK's satisfaction or seeing us leave in a Clean Brexit. That is the reality, and one can smell the fear in Brussels. Sure, we have made mistakes. Our biggest was to entrust the draft treaty negotiations to a child. As Fraser Nelson writes in the Telegraph
This time, she needs a proper team. Leaving it to a civil servant, Olly Robbins, was always going to lead to disaster. The mess he led her into – agreeing a “backstop” arrangement with the EU that Britain might be stuck in forever – was never going to pass through Parliament. She’s taking Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, whom MPs trust to spot any trap in the EU small print.
Well, there are still plenty of Robbins' mistakes in the draft treaty, but none we can't live with in the short term. We can pick the bones out of it as and when we must.

Parliament's backbone is strengthened if it has public opinion behind it, and the polls are now swinging to a public preference for a Clean Brexit. The British have seen the nasty face of the EU, the bullying, the arrogance and the intransigence and have turned against it. People are prepared to take the hit and get it over with. Yet again, British people have more faith in themselves than do many of their MPs.

Most of all, the unelected officials are now worrying about getting money out of us. Yesterday the threat shifted subtly to 'If you don't pay us you won't get a trade deal', to which we must reply 'Well, no trade deal, no geld'.

We really do want to continue the best possible relations with all the nations of Europe, but they really need to wise up - the trolls, fools and poseurs in the Berlaymont, the folie de grandeur that infects Brussels, with all its silly little medals and petty distinctions, is not serving them well.

Thursday 31 January 2019

They're starting to get it

I suspect every primary school child in Colchester leaves with a firm knowledge of just two periods in the ancient town's history - the Roman occupation and the Civil War. The town has any number of scars from the latter; the Siege House, with the musket balls still embedded in its timbers ringed in red, or the new (well, 17th century) brick top to a medieval church tower, blown up with its gunner and supply of gunpowder during the siege. Parties of small children are taken proudly to the rear castle wall, against which Lucas and Lisle were shot to death. The bias was, I recall, still tinged with the Royalist hubris that held the town against Parliamentary forces (and the wishes of the townspeople) for some time. The town has a school named for one of the executed siege commanders, but none for the Roundhead commander who won.

That such traces of ancient difference still subside in our breasts became clearer many years ago with the first acquaintance of a lifelong friend I met at university. He is a Cavalier from Worcester - I a Roundhead from Suffolk. It is not a conscious self-definition and we have rarely even spoken of it, but it remains ingrained nonetheless.  There is a strong trace of 17th century East Anglian Puritan in me that rejects all corruption, asserts the responsibility of privilege, loves Justice over Law and above all strives for an equitable (but not equal) Realm. My great friend is a scofflaw, a shameless abuser of privilege and position, a serial breaker of road traffic regulations and an unembarrassed wielder of sharp elbows, not above undetectable petty theft. We are, as the Irish say, fierce friends.

For those who imagine our common past allegiances are so distant as to be diluted to homeopathic proportions in our blood, don't be so sure. Allister Heath in the Telegraph also finds echoes of the 17th century in the divisions I have also described so comprehensively in previous posts. Against the hubristic decadence of the New Elite are
 ... the New Radicals: a heterodox bunch who are often uncomfortable revolutionaries. They look on, aghast, at our elites’s fin-de-siecle delusions, at their breathtaking self-satisfaction, and dream of the day that they can put them back in their place. Many New Radicals used to trust our institutions and were once small-c conservatives themselves; today, they believe the “system” to be broken, controlled by a selfish, morally-corrupt establishment committed to lining its own pockets.
The next stage of course is for our political allegiances to align with the nation's new bipartisan divisions - Roundhead or Cavalier, Caesarian plebeian or Pompeian patrician. Our Commons chamber is made for it, and every atom of DNA in our being is hard wired for a two party political system. Heath fears some form of destructive Corbynism, but, Puritan leveller that I am, I see in Corbyn a potential ally to the New Radical cause. I find myself nearer in many things to Jeremy Corbyn than to Boris Johnson. And if that surprises you, you still don't get it.  

Wednesday 30 January 2019

UK puts Brussels on the back foot

I am a happier man today. The Commons defeat of the Grieve and Cooper amendments yesterday was a slap for the Remainers, and the Brady amendment now passes the negotiating advantage to Britain. Our parliamentary system must be both confusing and frustrating to the unelected officials in Brussels, for whom the decisions of their own puppet parliament are always agreed well in advance of  MEPs voting, and there are no surprises in the chamber.

In past weeks Brussels have shrugged their shoulders and pretended to ask 'what the UK wanted'. Well, yesterday made it clear; NO backstop, but otherwise we'll take the deal. It's a clear message both to Brussels and the world; either withdraw this nasty and unnecessary little attempt to fracture the United Kingdom, or put tens of thousands of German auto workers out of work.

Although Brussels may appear united, this far from the case. The artificial backstop bears all the hallmarks of Selmayr, making an attempt to punish the UK. However, it will be the nations of Europe, not the unelected officials of the Berlaymont, who will actually pay the price for no deal - and now we'll see whether they're prepared to take the hit to satisfy little Martin's infantile spite.

It puts Brussels on the back foot, and the UK in the position of being the responsible mature democracy seeking a negotiated solution. A flat refusal from Brussels will not be a good look for the EU. 

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Robbing democratic rights

There is a circular letter going the rounds which I reproduce below:
SIR – A “Citizens’ Assembly” can break the current impasse on Brexit, and recreate trust in representative democracy.
On Brexit, public debates too often reflect two unreconciled blocs of opinion. We urgently need a more diverse range of views to be weighed, taken seriously, and debated to a conclusion. A Citizens’ Assembly does that. Experience shows it works in reaching conclusions which carry public confidence, and in reconciling division.
Many feel a disconnection between Parliament and the public. The answer is not to weaponise the idea of “the people” against their elected representatives. It is to involve the electorate in a debate which influences and shapes a final parliamentary decision, without removing the decision from it.
It is not too late. The process could be completed in three months. There would need to be an extension of the Article 50 notice.
Lasting cynicism about national politics will be a likely outcome of 
how Brexit was done. It is in our 
hands to avoid that. Referring Brexit 
to a Citizens’ Assembly would reconnect with the public and revitalise the parliamentary process. We urge our political leaders to make this happen now.
Yes. We mentioned this sort of thing in our series of pieces on renewing democracy over Christmas:
Deliberative Democracy
This is the favourite of the Remain side, who think that voters in their natural state are not fit to make important decisions. The schemes on offer vary, but all involve some sort of 'sortition' - the use of a voters' panel, a bit like Blair's focus groups, to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us. But only of course after being lectured by experts on the right choice to make. The experts would be neutral in the same way that the BBC is neutral.

To me, this all sounds too much like the pointless design Charettes I have encountered. The architect generally conducts them to convince planners / clients that his or her ideas have community support. They involve the architect talking to a room of people for a very long time with tons of slides and display boards and then asking them at the end which shade of Farringdon Grey, of the three offered, they would like as a finish to the front door?
The fact that the signatories that one knows - Rowan Williams, Dan Snow, Matthew Taylor - are all prominent Remainers tells you all you need to know. The real purpose of their 'Citizens Assembly' is to reverse the most significant vote in British history - 17.4m citizens under universal suffrage voting to Leave the EU in a secret ballot. And with the usual unashamed mendacity of the Remain side they have the front to claim that a panel of 250 people selected by them to determine the nation's future (with suitable 'expert' advice, of course) will 'recreate trust in representative democracy'.

It's a bit like asking some street spiv doing the three cup trick 'Is it fair?' and believing the answer 'Course it's fair guv'.

They really are desperate if they're bringing forward their longer term plans to undermine the fundamental defences of our democracy - universal suffrage, the secret ballot, the right to associate - so rapidly, before the BBC and the MSM have laid a thick mat of propaganda.

Sunday 27 January 2019

The Elephant

It wasn't long after the wall came down in 1989 that I went exploring in eastern Europe. Trains for the most part - they allow you to see things up close, people, infrastructure, traffic, industry, residences. Hotels were still soviet-era, with scorching steam heating in uninsulated tired rooms decorated in politburo formica 1950s style. City centres that had been fought over still bore the scars of shell, shrapnel and small arms fire in the ashlar and brickwork, but around the back and above first floor level on the facades. The easily visible damage was patched.

It must have been twenty years on when I went back for the first time and the change was stupendous. The cars on the streets were new - or newish, mostly under ten years old. Bright shopfronts and consumer goods and services had swamped the historic city centres and everywhere, everywhere, were the same concrete, glass and steel shopping malls filled with exactly the same outlets. Prosperity, of a sort, had arrived. The youngsters wore a simulacrum of what they were wearing in Paris or Munich, at least in the individual parts. The ensemble effect was still a little experimental, not quite as finessed. Boots for the snow, not trainers, for example.

Some old traces remained. On the sidings outside Budapest station small mountains of coal and logs to feed the station's heating covered a two hectare plot. British stations heated, if you were lucky, a waiting room and the staff side of the ticket office. European stations heated everything - the whole station complex other than the platforms. Restaurant, barbers, newsagents, offices and counters. In Budapest the waiting room was large, with solid oak benches in rows like a church seating perhaps 200 - and it was full, in the harsh winter in which I returned, with the poor and elderly. As I watched, a railway official pointed to several persons, alone and in couples, and made the 'out' gesture. They picked up their bags and left, to be replaced by others who drifted in quietly. It reminded me of the children's boating pond in Colchester castle park and 'come in number 14!' Clearly there was a free warmth rationing system in place, understood by the rail officials and the elderly poor. Max parking 2 hours, no return within 1 hour or something.

These were the people who had not been lifted onto the elephant's back, at least not then. For the youngsters, their enthusiasm for the new Europe was understandable. It was an H&M, McDonalds, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Svarovski, Adidas, Burger King, C&A, Converse, Hervis, KFC, Levis, Nike, Pizza Hut, Schwarzkopf, Sony, Superdry, Swatch, TGI Fridays, Body Shop, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara paradise of post-soviet consumer choice; the same lines, the same stores in the same chrome and glass malls in every city in Europe.

The success of the global corporates in creating new markets for their cars, white goods, phones and consumer goods not only in eastern Europe but throughout what we used to call the second world has been remarkable. They have created a new middle class, hungry for the manna of the factories and plants throughout the globe. Billions have been lifted out of absolute poverty and enough wealth created to allow them to buy 3g phones even in the meanest favelas and barrios.

This has come at a cost. It has been the older, less skilled, less 'agile' in the new terminology, who have paid. Non-metropolitan. C1,C2,D,E in the UK - rural drivers in France. Those who have never seen an upswing since the 2008 crisis, those who have little to lose. From the elephant's forehead to the valley floor of his trunk, these are the losers from globalisation. The corporates have moved their factories from Japan to Wales, then from Wales to Bulgaria, and will soon move again from Bulgaria to Ecuador or Kenya. At each move leaving in their wake broken communities, debt and worklessness, upheaval and disconnection. Coupled with 'State capture' - the takeover of democratic structures by a new privileged, patrician establishment - it is inevitable that social and economic stresses and tensions will roil.

We have a duty, all of us who can still think and write and hold dialogue between us, to resolve this. There MUST come a system of reform and renewal that re-balances power, a change that includes the currently excluded. Those that have captured the State must learn to share - to devolve, decentralise, empower. But above all to recognise that we are One Nation.