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10 reason to vote “remain” and the question of how we identify ourselves

Ten reasons to vote to stay in the European Union:

  1. To help maintain peace in Europe. The treaty of Rome resolved that by pooling resources they would “preserve and strengthen peace and liberty, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts”. This was signed after two world wars which had engulfed Europe.
  2. Protect the benefits the UK has gained from the free trade area. In addition to easing trade in goods and services this has encouraged investment in the UK by international companies wanting to serve the whole of Europe.
  3. The freedom to live and work in any part of the European Union and cross borders without delay or showing a passport.
  4. The freedom of people to come and live, work or study in the UK benefitting our economy and society in many ways from filling jobs which people here will not do (eg in horticulture) or boosting the standing of our universities.
  5. Law enforcement co-operation including the European Arrest Warrant which has made it much more difficult for British criminals to spend their ill-gotten gains on a Mediterranean beach or elsewhere in Europe.
  6. Structural funds which help more deprived areas including parts of of the UK. £6bn in the next five years for England, Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland.
  7. Retain our influence the rules of trade and social policy by which we would still have to abide even if not a member of the EU.
  8. A stronger voice in the world that comes from part of a larger bloc which can meet and negotiate with China and the United States  as an equal partner.
  9. To safeguard workers’ rights not to be exploited. This includes working hours and holidays.
  10. Maintain a level playing field when British firms bid for contracts in Europe

Those are solid reasons for remaining but above these is the question of identity. Do I feel European: Yes.

For a couple of years I lived in southern Spain. Outside public building three flags flew — those of Andalucia, Spain and the EU — signifying a broader concept of identity than that which seems to drive the Brexit campaigners.

I was born in England and lived most of my life in England, but my mother was Irish and my father identified himself as Scottish. Like many children I wrote my address on the flyleaf of an atlas: New Street, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England, British Isles, Europe, the World.

My father told me not only about the Act of Union but the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France and its continuing influence.

I don’t want my multi-tiered identity torn away by a vote for Brexit by English voters.

I could do something about this. By virtue of my mother’s birth I have dual citizenship and can get an Irish issued European passport. But I would much rather that the vote is to remain in the EU because I believe in ideals of its founding fathers.




If anyone is to blame for Labour not doing better it is the party’s plotters and whingers

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for saying Labour “hung on” in the elections. They did better than that.

In London not only did Sadiq Kahn win handsomely to become mayor, but the party strengthened its hold on the London Assembly by winning Merton and Wandsworth from the Tories and coming close in Havering and Redbridge.

Here in East Anglia, Labour strengthened its hold on three county towns winning more seats in Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge.

If Corbyn has failed to fully define policies is is because he has had to spend too much time trying to placate the rebellious faction of the parliamentary party which has been taking every opportunity to rubbish their own leader. It is time for these people to shut-up and give loyal support or resign.

Scotland was a disaster for Labour and it is a hard problem for even a united party to crack. Simon Jenkins had a suggestion in the Guardian:

The merger of Scottish Labour and Scotland’s nationalists must be on the horizon one day, perhaps when the present generation of former Scottish Labour MPs acknowledges reality. Scotland’s politics must snap out of its tribalism and recover the conventional left-right dichotomy. The success of the impressive Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, can only hasten that day.

That really will not happen, nor would it be a good thing if it did. There is surely space in Scotland for a left-leaning unionist party which would not be achieved by throwing in the towel.

But it also clear that Labour cannot win a Westminster majority alone. Nor would a coalition with small parties work: the only realistic partnership is with the SNP. And that would probably have to be on a confidence and supply basis rather than full coalition.

It is hard for English and Welsh Labour MPs to build a potential governing partnership with the SNP while relationships in Scotland relationships in Scotland are so poor. The solution may well be to cut the ties between the English and Scottish Labour parties and replace it with a relationship more akin to that with the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

If Labour is going to form a Westminster government in the foreseeable future it will have to find a way of working with the SNP and that is a huge challenge for Jeremy Corbyn even if is not having to spend half his time watching his back.


Aleppo: two tragedies 100 years apart

In a bright reading room of the National Archives in Kew I learned of another human disaster in Aleppo and the surrounding area nearly a century ago. Deciphering the faint pencil written war diary of my father’s unit, I discovered that the end of the First World War had tipped him into harrowing events.

His job after the armistice was not celebrating victory over the Turks in the Syrian city but getting food to the survivors of the Armenian genocide.

The television pictures of people streaming towards the Turkish border to escape the current assault on Aleppo are not as horrific as photographs of those of survivors forced to walk from Turkey into the desert. But we cannot measure human suffering in degrees of horror — neither event should have happened. They both shame mankind.

The British newspapers of late 1918 have no eye-witness accounts of the aftermath of the victory at Aleppo. It was said simple that the British had taken Aleppo but the truth is that there were few British soldiers there; it was mostly Arab and Indian cavalry and a motorised Australian unit. Capt Pierre Grant-Adamson had returned from South Africa to join a Royal Army Service Corps horse train.

Other documents at Kew showed that in 1919 he was returned to the UK suffering from “recurrent malaria” but I wonder if that is the whole truth. Subsequent medical boards are sparse on detail.

He spoke of Turkish atrocities but as a child I took those to be a part of the war. There are many questions I now wished I has asked. His behaviour after the war was erratic. He left a wife in South Africa, met my mother when she was nursing him in Ireland (only after she died did I discover that her training was as mental health nurse). He moved from place to place unable to settle and was terrible with money.

Only after the late 1930s did he become more settled. I was born in 1942 when he was in his mid 60s.

Lord Curzon, secretary of state for foreign affairs, told the House of Lords in late 1919 that the British were looking after 12,000 Armenia refugees in the immediate neighbourhood of Aleppo.

In the same debate Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, described how these Armenians had arrived in Aleppo:

….”Set out” means, of course, that they were driven from their homes with the express intention of their being taken somewhere to be settled, were driven for the most part into wild regions over roads of such length and under such conditions of hardship that the survival only of the strongest of them was possible. All the young men before that time had in every single case been taken away, and the old men, the women, and the children were the people who survived to be the victims of the deportation— From the village of E 212 individuals set out, of whom 128 (60 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive; 56 men and 11 women were killed on the road, 3 girls and 9 boys were sold or kidnapped, and 5 people were missing. From the same place another party of 696 people were deported; 321 (46 per cent.) reached Aleppo: 206 men and 57 women were killed en route; 70 girls and young women and 19 boys were sold; 23 were missing. From the village of D a party of 128 were deported, of whom 32 (25 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive: 24 men and 12 women were killed en route; 29 girls and young women and 13 boys were sold; and 18 were missing.

Why the horrors of displacement should visit one city twice in a century can be debated endlessly. All we really know is that it is the responsibility of power seeking rulers, not the people who are forced to flee. The effects touch us all.

New Year’s morning and the first fieldfare of winter

I made a New Year resolution to resume blogging, but what to write about first? The answer fame quickly as Lesley looked out from the kitchen window at the first frost for weeks and asked about a bird pecking fallen apples. As she suspected it was a fieldfare.

We feared the numbers were declining, perhaps with global warming pushing their migration range further north. So we were pleased to see one. Last year numbers were well down on the previous winter and we wondered whether we would see any this winter.

Meantime the goldfinches are gorging on the seeds in the feeders. People keep on asking if we put out niger seeds, which are said to attract the bright little birds.

Out experience is that they will only eat the niger in extremis. If I forget to fill feeders with sunflower hearts and seed mixes, the will go to the special niger feeder and take a few pecks before flying away.

Goldfinch numbers in British gardens have been increasing dramatically (British Trust for Ornithology) and I am not surprised given the way they hog the food.

While the tits fly to a feeder, take a seed and go back to a branch, hold it under a foot and eat, the goldfinches sit on the feeder eating away and scaring off other birds. Other finches and the tits sit on branches watching for their opportunity the moment a seeder perch is free.

My view of the birds this year is such better as I had a telescope as a combined wedding anniversary and Christmas present. I am getting better at pointing it at the right place so expect to see much more of the ways they behave.

Expect more post of birds as I strive to keep this New Year resolution.



Avoiding a Trident debate at Labour conference should allow full discussion

Why the decision that the Labour Party Conference should not debate Trident is such a blow for Corbyn I cannot understand. It is one of those issues which is going to take time to debate and possibly reach a consensus.

If there had been a debate this week, it is unclear what it would have been about. It could have been about the UK abandoning nuclear weapons. That is how it has been framed in much of the media.

But it could also be about how or whether to replace the existing Trident systems. That is not the same as nuclear disarmament.

The existing Trident was designed during the Cold War with Russia, a part of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) deference strategy. The world and the UK’s strategic needs have changed since then but the proposed Trident replacement appears to be a more modern version of the old one.

A full and open debate in the whole county, not only the Labour Party, is needed before a decision is made. We should hear what military experts as well as politicians think. It may be that the conclusion is that the UK needs nuclear weapons but that a Trident replacement does not meet the country’s strategic needs in a much changed world.

Or it could be to continue patching up the existing Trident submarines and kick a replacement decision further into the future.

Corbyn is quite clear that his personal view is there should be full nuclear disarmament and many support that view. Referendum and parliamentary elections in Scotland has made it clear that that is not a fringe position. The SNP wants a Scotland with no nuclear weapons in its arsenal and none stationed there if it gains independence.

Let’s have a full and open debate before there is a vote at Westminster next year.

Osborne: robbing the poor to pay foreign businesses

George Osborne is looking increasing like one of the most profligate Chancellors of the Exchequer we have ever had, robbing the poor to pay foreign businesses.

  • Hinkley Point C nuclear power station £24.5bn
  • HS2 (high speed rail link from London to the North £46.2bn
  • Trident replacement £23.4bn

All those figures are almost certainly under estimates but still total close on £10obn, nearly enough to run the entire national health service for a year.

Hinkley Point is only possible by bribing the French state-owned EDF electricity company with the promise of  £92 Per megawatt-hour (to rise with inflation) which is twice the current wholesale electricity price. And then he promises the Chinese communist government to guarantee a loan. The private sector and bankers have looked at the scheme and won’t touch it.

If Hinkley Point goes ahead Sizewell C in Suffolk is almost certain to follow with a similar price and guarantees. Both these power stations are on low-lying coastal land subject to storms and total surges. Fukushima was safe until the tsunami.

HS2. The need for this project is hotly disputed with campaigners suggesting better ways of improving the rail infrastructure. Osborne has invited Chinese business to tender for work on the project.

Trident. Even the military is questioning whether this would be money well spent. One study of military opinion found “significant concerns about the costs and role of Trident. The funding crisis facing the Ministry of Defence means that spending on nuclear weapons is increasingly seen as unjustifiable when conventional equipment is needed and many in the armed forces have lost their jobs.” It looks like applying a cold war solution to the UK’s defence in a very different world. A US design for the submarines’ power plants is part of the plan.

Why Osborne thinks any of these projects is value for money or the British economy remains a mystery. In his budget this year Osborne cut £12 from the welfare budget.

I have bought a new car (petrol) and want to know how the engine is programed

I bought a new VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) car a couple of weeks ago. At my wife’s insistence our new Skoda has a petrol engine. She will not go near a diesel engined car if she can possibly avoid it.

Diesel fumes make her feel ill and her ability to detect them seems almost extrasensory. Sometimes when we are following a couple of hundred metres behind another car she will reach out and turn the ventilation control to recycle.

Invariably when I get close enough to see the back of the car clearly it turns out to be a diesel.

We wanted our new car to be as green as possible and be in the zero tax band. That is difficult with a petrol card. One which looked suitable turned out not to be available with the automatic transmission wanted.

The other zero tax car we looked at was a hybrid but a test drive ruled it out.

In the end our choice was between a VW Polo and the Skoda Fabia which share the same engine and automatic transmission and are in the lowest band where tax is payable. The Polo had one feature we wanted but after a talk with our broker who told us it would cost £75 a year less to insure the Fabia the decision was made. The reason seems to be the Fabia’s collision avoidance system.

We went into our search for a new car with open minds and looked at a lot of cars, One thing was very clear, the officially claimed petrol consumption figures are nonsense: everyone has known this for years. They are only useful to show a comparison between cars which all have to go through the some rolling road test which has little in common with the way humans drive.

The official combined mpg for our new car is 61.4. In reality we are getting about 10 mpg less.

At the heart of the Volkswagen diesel scandal is the computer program which runs the car. Clearly the settings are designed to get the best under rolling road test conditions.

It is apparently quite straightforward to get the settings changed for either economy or performance: just put “car chipping” into Google to see the huge number of businesses offering this service. But the car makers say this invalidates their guarantees: a restrictive practice?

Our Fabia, in fact, has two program settings: “normal” and “sport” which changes the speeds at which gear changes take place and reduces fuel economy.

I can see good reasons for not tinkering with the program. But we need to know how petrol cars as well as diesels are programed.


Nice to see The Observer airing its policy differences as publicly as Labour

To be a fly-on-the-wall at the Observer’s editorial meetings last week must have been a treat. Today, long-serving writer Ed Vulliamy is given space to say why he disagrees with the paper’s stance on Jeremy Corbyn. He writes:

I felt we let down many readers and others by not embracing at least the spirit of the result, propelled as it was by moral principles of equality, peace and justice. These are no longer tap-room dreams but belong to a mass movement in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe.

And on the business pages, William Keegan the veteran economics editor, writes, under the headline Modern capitalism needs an opponent. It needs Jeremy Corbyn:

But there is little doubt that Corbyn is there because his rivals in the leadership race failed to distinguish themselves sufficiently from the Tories: suddenly there has been a grassroots revolt against austerity, especially among the young. As Corbyn says, austerity was not inevitable: it was a political decision.

Andrew Rawnsley, the political editor, sticks by his anti-Corbyn line:

Jeremy Corbyn’s first week as Labour leader hasn’t gone as planned, because it wasn’t planned. It has been authentic, all right; authentically amateurish. For sure, even if his debut had been sparkling, he would never have got warm reviews from his many enemies at Westminster and in the media. What’s more interesting is that even sympathisers have been taken aback by the absence of preparation for the transition and the shambles that has ensued

He predicts there will a “crunch point between leader and parliamentary party”.  It will certainly be interesting.

I could come as early as the party conference at the end of the month when we will see how much support the majority of the parliamentary party has among the wider party. On the evidence of the ballot it is limited.

As a diversion it is good to see a newspaper airing its policy differences as widely as the Labour party has done in the past week.

Why is Waitrose adopting pricing habits that gave Tesco a bad name?

Waitrose charges £3.65 for a pack of Percol Colombian ground coffee but has a “special offer” of two packs for £5. Just up the road in Ipswich, Lidl is selling Percol Colombian ground coffee for £2.49 a pack.

On the face of it Lidl is cheaper by a tiny margin but look at the packs more carefully. Waitrose has reduced the size of its packs to 200g while you get 227g for your money in Lidl.

Why is Waitress adopting the pricing tactics which make shopping an exercise in constant mental gymnastics and turned so many people off Tesco?

Note for those who don’t like doing mental arithmetic in every supermarket aisle: Waitrose £12.50 a kilo. Lidl £10.97 a kilo.

Is part of the Labour party joining with much of the media in trying to destabilise Corbyn?

It looks as if there are people in the Labour Party setting Jeremy Corbyn up to fail by demanding clear policies on a range of subjects including Europe and the Economy.

It is unreasonable to expect him and his largely novice shadow team to be able to come up with detailed policies in his first week. They all have to develop greater  understanding of their briefs and listen to what the membership and supporters think.

The people who have just lost, largely because they disregarded the party when drawing up policy, should be the first to understand that a consensual approach will take time. The party conference also has to be taken into account — that was part of the winning pledge.

It takes place at the end of this month and should be seen to have an influence over policy.

Policies drawn up this week or next in haste would be sure to fall apart under scrutiny. And that would be the deposed a chance to get back into power.

Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, is the latest to snipe, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “So far this week I do not know where he is going, what he stands for.” Among other things Darling wants to know what the economic policy is.

The objective is clear: a more equal society reversing the trend of recent decades under Labour and Conservative governments to greater wealth inequality.

There has been pressure to define a range of policies. I was glad there will be support for continued EU membership but a full policy takes time especially as Cameron has yet to fully define his objectives in forthcoming negotiations.

In pressing for clear policies now the anti-Corbyn minority in the Labour Party is joining with much of the mainstream media in trying to destabilise the new leader. They can only be thinking that if they can get him out of the job they can take over again.

It would be better that they sulked quietly and thought about how they could again be part of the leadership team of the changed party. If they are ever to have influence again they have to accept the party is now very different.