Posts Tagged ‘Labour Party’

Memoires of a Life Long Eurosceptic - Gillian Bardinet

Mardi, janvier 31st, 2017

Very instructive and thought provoking as a contribution to the debate that should have taken place before the Referendum but could do well to help shape the final form of Brexit, here are the thoughts of former BCiP member Gillian Bardinet, who confesses herself a romantic historian, starting with the signing of the original treaty which took the UK into the then European Economic Community (EEC):

“Qu’allait-il faire dans cette galère?”
This was my question on January 22nd 1972 when the Conservative P.M. Edward Heath signed the treaty that took Britain into the EEC the European Economic Community, then more often called “The Common Market.”

What was the United Kingdom thinking of? Had no-one in government read the speeches of Europe’s founding father Jean Monnet? In his speeches his determination to create a single European country was explicit. “ Europe has never existed; one must genuinely create Europe.” And how was this to be done?

“Nothing is lasting without institutions” he said. Had no-one among British politicians understood that Robert Schuman’s Coal and Steel pact with Germany was a clear move towards that same goal?

Who had taken notice of the Cassandra warnings issued by the respected Oxford historian, A.J.P. Taylor who had written, 3 years earlier, “Politicians of all parties, seek to turn Great Britain into a purely European Country”?

How many people fully understood this? In January 1972, the answer, one must conclude, was very few.

By June 1975 the numbers had swollen: doubts, even fears were emerging. There was a call for Harold Wilsons’s Labour government to renegotiate the terms of British entry: these calls were as futile and fruitless as those which heralded David Cameron’s doomed quest for reform of the E.U. in 2016. Faced with this situation, the preferred answer, to assuage doubts and fears, was to call a referendum posing the bald question.

“Yes or No to continued membership of the E.E.C.” The popular arguments on both sides were marginally, only marginally, more succinct and better formulated than those of June 2016.

However, within Wilson’s Cabinet were a number of ambitious intellectual sophisticates, notably Roy Jenkins, and the core statement of Her Majesty’s government was one of clever dupery and deception. “The government has established that there is no agreement in the Community on what European unity means beyond a general aspiration to closer co-operation. The government’s view, which is shared by other member states, is that closer co-operation is desirable and must be pursued in a pragmatic way, but there is no support elsewhere in the Community for moves towards a centralized Federal State.”

Before the British referendum, the Belgian Prime Minister, Leo Tindemans had been asked to prepare a report on the possibility of European Union, and Willy Brandt, then Chancellor of Germany, clearly and consistently stated his desire for ultimate political union!

Nonetheless, there was no mention in the official British core statement of a European country or state with all the accompanying paraphernalia of bureaucracy. Emphasis, throughout the country was placed on the benefits of membership of a Common Market.

While this phrase may not have excited French idealists and ambitious continental Europhiles it did appeal to the British voters. From car boot sales to the Antiques Road Show, they do enjoy buying and selling, as Napoleon himself had disparagingly noted! But, they are far less enamoured of creating institutions and above all, of writing constitutions which perforce, reflect the political and intellectual climate of the time, and as seen so clearly in the U.S.A., require frequent amendments and High Court judgements.

As Theresa May so rightly pointed out in her recent speech on Jan. 17th 2017 “ the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement”. She also noted that “ the public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result, supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life”.

However, in the summer of 1975, with a resounding “Yes” to the Common Market, Britain was securely anchored to the emerging European state.

The state? SPQR – The Senate and the People of Rome – a new Roman Republic, a new American Republic? Whichever or whatever, as Jean Monnet himself had declared “nothing can exist without institutions”. And what is a state if not a collection of institutions? The task of creating a European state was one which thrilled disciples of Jean Monnet and the founding fathers. Naturally, they looked back to the ideas of the European Enlightenment, the great period which preceded and profoundly influenced both the French Revolution and the birth of the U.S.A.

Yes, there would be a European state, but would it be a truly federal state as often declared by the Europhiles, or rather, a centralized, unitary state whose nature might disturb if too openly and suddenly revealed? The word “federal” is applied to the systems of government in Germany, in Canada and in the U.S.A. But definitions of the word may vary, and abuse of it is not infrequent. Thomas Jefferson’s comments in 1810 are of great interest to those who seek to understand, and even define, the character of the nascent European state.

“ I have ever been opposed “ he wrote, “to the party so falsely called federalists, because I believe them desirous of introducing into our government, authorities ………. independent of the national will: these always consume the public contributions and oppress the people with labour and poverty. “A federal state is defined as one which marks a clear definition between central and state authority”.

Thomas Jefferson rightly feared a unitary centralized state. One of the great unanswered questions concerning the European Union is precisely this: Are the heirs of Jean Monnet seeking to entrench a unitary state? Perhaps.

Monnet himself has been accused of being “occult” or deliberately misleading in order to achieve his aims. No doubt, as both a sophisticated political scientist and an experienced negotiator, he was, but so too, were other great & successful diplomats, whose aim, like that of Jean Monnet, was the protection and nurture of their own countries: one may think back to the protracted & devious marriage negotiations which Elizabeth 1st conducted with her various suitors in order to gain time and wait for the others to declare their hands and with luck make mistakes.

I confess, I am a romantic historian, and like some others, I love to refer back to 1588, 1815 or even, on some dark days to the Witenagemot, the tragic death of Harold at Hastings and the coming of taxation with William Duke of Normany and the Domesday Book!

But, we romantic historians are in a minority among the Leavers of 2016. Less romantic Leavers, include those like Bill Cash, John Redwood and Bernard Jenkin who for years, have seen the threat to British Parliamentary Sovereignty posed by membership of the E.U.

These three are all Conservative MP’s, but there have been and still are Labour MP’s who share their fears. The most eloquent of these is without doubt, the member for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart. Born into a Catholic family in West Germany she had all the natural, one might almost say genetic characteristics of an ardent Europhile, but life in the Westminster Parliament & Chairmanship of a Committee looking into the relationship of Britain with the E.U. led her to consider that her adopted country should remain outside the burgeoning Eurostate.

Could she already and clearly discern the outlines of a unitary Eurostate whose features would be totally at odds with those of the U.K.? Yes, for Gisela Stuart’s strong links to two of the most important features of the Eurostate enabled her to do so. Firstly, and for many surprisingly, there is the influence of the Catholic Church. It was the former Taoisearch, Garret Fitzgerald, who opened my own eyes to this during a casual after dinner conversation in an Oxford College: in answer to my question posed more out of politeness than desire for information – “Why do you think the English are so reluctant to embrace Europe, while the Irish are happy with it?”

He replied immediately and emphatically – “450 years of divorce from Holy, Mother Church.” An interesting reply, and one which led to more investigation of the subject.

The blue flag and the 12 gold stars are one is reliably told, symbols of the Virgin Mary, and of love, harmony and peace. Yes, but the Catholic Church has also been synonymous for more than Garret Fitzgerald’s 450 years with obedience, authoritarianism and hierarchical societies. Both Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle were unswerving Catholics, when the first foundations of the quasi-mystical, overtly political Franco-German treaty was signed in 1963. Since then, its tenets have been adopted in schools, universities and most aspects of civil society in both countries. It is an article of faith.

At the end of what I had considered to be a successful year’s teaching of the political and economic significance of the E.U. my French students gave me a signed post card of the cathedral at Strasbourg and on it was written – “Thank you for an exhilarating year – but Europe is also this.” And this they believed without question.

The history of Britain, at its best has been one of flexibility, not uniformity; of questioning and reappraisal, of opposition to dogmatism.

Secondly, Gisela Stuart is a socialist and I am a life long Eurosceptic because naturally I am deeply worried by many aspects of Euro Socialism which feature of the move to political unity only became open and virtually unchallenged from 1985 with the arrival of Jacques Delors in Brussels. Previously he had been French finance minister from 1981-1984 under the premiership of Pierre Mauroy an old fashioned Socialist party activist who was appointed to this post by the newly elected President of the Republic François Mitterrand. Red Rose in hand, Mitterrand who liked to be compared to Leon Blum, pledged dramatically to bring in Socialism of the 1936 Popular Front variety. For 2 years, no efforts were spared to nationalize, to bring wages up and working hours down, with retirement up to 10 years earlier than anywhere else in Europe. Wealth was to be taxed and redistributed by the central power, the omnipresent state. To many outside the sphere of French Socialism, this experiment seemed to combine the egalitarian zeal of the Jacobins with the disregard for economic reality of the romantic socialists of the 1930’s.

Jaques Delors, a former banker, was passionately interested in labour law and rose thanks to union activity. A practising Catholic, he was revered by fellow left-wing Catholics who had helped to elect Mitterrand in 1981. Delors was a committed socialist planner and when Mitterrand’s Blum like experiment failed in France in 1983, Delors dispatched to Brussels, was delighted: far from any sense of failure, he whole-heartedly embraced the challenge of establishing socialism, under the guise of social democracy throughout Europe. There would be no re-appraisal of things past; in Europe “les acquis” however outdated and unfit for purpose were and still are, sacrosanct.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, where neither Heath nor Wilson had prevailed against “the robber barons of the system” – the trades unions who had virtually held the country hostage, Margaret Thatcher was creating the conditions in which the British people could create jobs and wealth and recover their self-esteem.

Despite the fact that a clash of opinions between Delors and Thatcher looked inevitable, this was not initially a period of Euroscepticism , but rather one of Euro optimism with British MEP’s representing their own constituencies, holding surgeries, maintaining close contact with the electorate. Such people as Henry Plumb MEP for the Cotswolds, and Diana Elles in the Thames Valley to mention two whom I met and admired personally, were having an impact on the debates within the European Parliament. Margaret Thatcher herself was to declare “ We British are as much heirs to the legacy of European culture as any other nation”.

But, when Jacques Delors addressed the T.U.C. Congress in Bournemouth, ostensibly inviting the members to join with their European brothers under European Law, the gloves were off. Was Europe really to encroach on national territory in this way and to this extent? The immediate result was Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech in Sept 1988 in which she notably declared, ”We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. Definitions of the state clearly differed and the fear expressed by the British P.M. was exacerbated by the fact that as she said, “decisions will be taken by an appointed bureaucracy.” Where did this leave the era of the local British MEP in his cosy constituency office, talking to his electors about the impact of European projects on British agriculture or industry?

Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher also mentioned Europe’s Christian legacy “with its recognition of the unique and spiritual nature of the individual”. To many this might seem to be a definition of Protestant man and woman, with “ clear beliefs in personal liberty.” Would it be unfair to see in this part of her speech, a natural reference to the Reformation as opposed to the enforced uniformity and obedience of the Roman Catholic world?

Two visions of what was still at that time the European Community, not yet the Union: two visions which would lead to acrimony across Europe, splits within the British Conservative party and ultimately to Brexit. January 24th 2017 The British Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a Parliamentary vote on the triggering of article 50. Many “Leavers” are dismayed by this decision, but surely it should be seen as the restoration of sovereignty to the elected chamber, to the elected and accountable representatives of the people. The role of the over-mighty, unelected House of Lords will no doubt come in for some close scrutiny of its own!

As a Eurosceptic, I salute this decision. I trust that now we shall have the debate we should have had during the referendum campaign. I trust that we shall have talk of government by consent, that we shall talk of the need to have laws which are accepted because, debated and not arbitrarily imposed from above and beyond. I trust that now we shall pay more heed to those in poorer areas who, unfashionably, by voting “Leave” were seeking the comfort of a land in which social trust engenders, as it has done for centuries, a society of stability and serenity. Fear and incomprehension gave rise to too much emotion in the pre-referendum days. There is no need, no justification to hold a second referendum, falling into the Euro mode of voting and voting again until the answer suits the Euro citadel in Brussels.

To those who voted “Remain” perhaps thinking wistfully of the delights of Umbria, Courcheval or the Dordogne, may I say, that in very many ways I believe it is Great Britain which has shown itself to be the land of liberty, equality and fraternity, the land which, as with the agrarian and industrial revolutions, is in the vanguard. Time now to make the very best of the freedom & responsibility which Brexit has delivered.

Gillian Bardinet
Former Member, BCiP.

The Corbyn Phenomenon

Mercredi, septembre 9th, 2015

New research from YouGov Profiles suggests that supporters of Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader are united by personality and attitude as much as their policy positions:

There has been a lot of confusion about where exactly Jeremy Corbyn’s support is coming from. Depending on which newspaper you read, his supporters are depicted as one of old-fashioned socialists following union orders, affluent Islington drawing-room liberals, excitable young social media types, or even Tories in disguise.

In order to help cast some light on what is really driving the Corbyn phenomenon, we’ve taken a look at YouGov’s detailed profile data of a group of 3,735 eligible voters in the Labour leadership election. We’ve broken it down to see if we can unpick what holds Corbyn’s supporters together as a group – and what distinguishes them from supporters of his rivals.

THE SELECTORATE
The first thing to remember is that the relatively few people eligible to vote in the Labour leadership election – 400,000 odd until a few weeks ago, now more like 600,000 – are not remotely representative of the rest of the country. In most respects, there is more that unites the supporters of the four candidates than divides them: as a group they are much more political, more left wing and more partisan than the country at large.

labours-selectorate

Our sampling for the different supporter groups took place in the first week of August, about a week before registration closed and the ballot papers went out. We know from the Labour Party that as many as 200,000 additional members joined in that final week, around half last-minute union sign-ups and the other half divided between new £3 members and new full members. We don’t have data on the makeup of these latest groups, but there is no evidence that they follow a different pattern to the pre-existing majority - and any individual tranche would have to be wildly different in order to affect the larger picture.

DEMOGRAPHICS
When you start looking into the demographics of the supporters of the four leaders, clear differences start to emerge. In terms of income and social grade, the order is Kendall > Cooper > Burnham > Corbyn from higher up to lower down the scale; and in terms of how active they are on social media, Corbyn’s supporters are far ahead of the other three candidates. Interestingly, a supporter of Corbyn is almost twice as likely to have voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 as supporters of the other candidates.

The combination of factors suggests that Corbyn supporters comprise a coalition of traditional ‘old Labour’ members and a more mobile protest vote.

supporter-demographics

POLITICAL OUTLOOK
Politically speaking, the distinction is more clear cut: compared to the other candidates Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are much more likely to see themselves as actively ‘left wing’ rather than simply ‘left of centre’.

how-left-wing

Corbyn supporters take a much more unanimous line on issues concerning the size of the state such as nationalisation of the railways and healthcare. In many cases, majorities of the other candidates’ supporters also support the same policy positions but express them with less conviction and are less uncompromising in how they would like them to be implemented.

More specifically, Corbyn supporters are nearly twice as likely to be opposed to RAF participation in airstrikes against Islamic State, and feel negative towards the royal family as an institution.

supporters-issues1

Most of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters (51%) agree with the statement that “the United States is the greatest single threat to world peace”, compared to just 36% of Andy Burnham’s supporters, 18% of Yvette Cooper’s supporters and 15% of Liz Kendall’s. The continuing influence of the Iraq War as an issue is palpable in these numbers.

OUTLOOK AND PERSONALITY
Most intriguing of all however are the differences between the candidates’ supporters in terms of personality and general outlook. This is long-term profile data that was collected over time, not in the context of the Labour leadership race or even politics. It suggests something important about Jeremy Corbyn’s mixed appeal.

outlook-and-personality

Each of those four general life attitudes is significantly more likely to be found among Corbyn supporters than supporters of the other three candidates. At first, the loose positivity of being a ‘dreamer’ seems to clash with the almost militant-sounding statements that the ‘world is controlled by a secretive elite’ and ‘I don’t like being told what to do.’ But in the context of a perceived political elite who have defined a permissible ‘centre ground’ and who reject as extremist any ideas outside it, it makes perfect sense. It’s not necessarily about specific policies - they are intuitively more attracted to non-conformist alternatives and Jeremy Corbyn appeals to their broader world view.

mental-strengths

What’s more, when asked to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, Corbyn supporters self-identify as much stronger in verbal intelligence and imagination than for example Yvette Cooper’s supporters, who score themselves higher than average on mathematical intelligence and processing speed. Put simply, this group is not going to be ‘reasoned with’ - they are looking to be inspired.

Elections are always about change, and this is a group who are particularly keen for something different. The fact Jeremy Corbyn has been so dismissed by the establishment has helped him to acquire the enviable mantle of the ‘change candidate’. In specific policy terms, it is true that Corbynites are on the fringe rather than the mainstream; but in terms of mood and personality, they represent a longing for an alternative that has an appeal far beyond the Left of the Labour Party.

NOTE: Our sampling for the different supporter groups took place in the first week of August, about a week before registration closed and the ballot papers went out. We know from the Labour Party that as many as 200,000 additional members joined in that final week, around half last-minute union sign-ups and the other half divided between new £3 members and new full members. We don’t have data on the makeup of these latest groups, but any individual tranche would have to be wildly different from in order to affect the overall picture.

France24 Debate: UK Elections - Main Parties’ Support Eroding

Mardi, avril 7th, 2015

View this France24.com debate on a “Divided Britain” - UK Elections: Support for the Main Parties Eroding - and involving Jeremy Stubbs, Chairman of British Conservatives in Paris, Evan O’Connell, Vice-Chair Labour Party in France, Melissa Bell a France 24 journalist and John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University.

http://m.france24.com/en/20150406-the-debate-UK-elex-partone/