For six years now, often with my colleague John Domokos, I have been travelling around the UK for our video series Anywhere But Westminster, ostensibly covering politics, but really trying to divine the national mood, if such a thing exists. I look back, and find all sorts of auguries of what has just happened. As an early warning, there was the temporary arrival of the British National party in electoral politics from 2006 onwards, playing on mounting popular anger about immigration from the EU “accession states”, in the midst of Gordon Brown’s “flexible” job market, and a mounting housing crisis.
A few years later, we met builders in South Shields who told us that their hourly rate had come down by £3 thanks to new arrivals from eastern Europe; the mother in Stourbridge who wanted a new school for “our kids”; the former docker in Liverpool who looked at rows of empty warehouses and exclaimed, “Where’s the work?”
For this to happen three rather difficult but not impossible things have to happen. The first is that the Labour leadership need to stop talking about ‘respecting the will of the people’ and focus on how the Leave side are already owning up to their lies and false promises. The second, and perhaps most difficult, is that Labour need to form a united front on the basis of a Remain ticket, involving the LibDems, Greens and SNP. This is the only way the Conservatives and most of the tabloid press will be defeated. Third, the new Conservative leader has to be forced to hold a general election before Article 50 is invoked.
Because we had survived the war intact we did not realise fully the motives or strength of the European search for unity. We underestimated the recovery powers of the continental countries and the great boost that could be given to their industrial development by membership of a common market. We overlooked one of the prime lessons of our own history, that we had been able to spearhead the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, not because of our size—we only had a third of the population of France—but because, at a time when the countries of the continent were fragmented by internal tolls and tariff barriers, we were the biggest single market in Europe. We did not perceive fully how the Commonwealth would evolve and the reduced political and economic role that we would have in it. (For instance, we were taken aback when, in 1957, our proposal for a British-Canadian free trade area was turned down by Ottawa.) Continuing for long to believe that we had a unique part to play on the world scene because of our participation in Churchill’s three interlocking circles, we were concerned that too close a relationship with Europe would weaken our influence in the other two circles, those of the Commonwealth and America. Continue reading
By comparison with the British system, however, this noxious sewer is a crystal spring. Every stream of corporate effluent with which the EU poisons political life has a more malodorous counterpart in the UK. The new Deregulation Act, a meta-law of astonishing scope, scarcely known and scarcely debated, insists that all regulators must now “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”. Rare wildlife, wheelchair ramps, speed limits, children’s lungs: all must establish their contribution to GDP. What else, after all, are they for?
We have a chance now to build Another Europe in which we work with socialists across the EU to end austerity and take on those who attack workers’ rights and avoid taxes.
This is not anti-business. It’s anti-freeloader. If we allow these practices to continue they will undermine the foundations on which all genuine wealth creation is built. It will create an environment that benefits rent-seekers over wealth creators. It is time we brought an end to the new age of the robber barons. The health of our economy demands it.
This is one of the best kept secrets in Europe. It is locked up in the maze of corridors in the European Commission, in a guarded room that only about 40 accredited officials have the right to enter. And then only with paper and pen. Smartphones are not allowed.
This is a stricter safety protocol than even for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) between the European Union and the United States: If members of the European Parliament want to access TTIP documents they can enter the reading room without anyone checking the contents of their pockets.
The secret is a report of about 250 pages. Its title, in the jargon of the Commission, is “Impact Assessment.”
Most of us do not see the brutal parallel universe at the heart of the mainstream economy. But in the Fens, it has been highly visible – along with the transnational organised crime running a part of it. This has made people very angry. Now they want out of Europe – more than two–thirds of voters in Wisbech’s parliamentary constituency said in a 2014 survey that they would favour the UK leaving the EU.
The scene that plays out at the BP garage each day is not simply about migration or the human cost of cheap goods or isolated rogue operators. It is the manifestation of a profound social and economic change that has been enacted in little more than two decades.
From the late 1980s on, new technology allowed employers to eliminate much of the financial risk from their end of the chain. Supermarkets, for example, only reorder stock when a customer buys an item and its barcode is scanned, generating an instruction to their suppliers to replace it by the next day. Orders can double or halve within 24 hours, so workers to process and pack the goods are called in at short notice. This reduces costs and increases profits, since businesses no longer have to keep inventory or pay for full employment. Instead they have outsourced labour provision to agents or gangmasters. Agriculture and food processing pioneered this lean approach to business, but its zero-hours practices have spread to other sectors – to care homes, catering and food service, hotel work, cleaning, construction, and personal services such as nail bars and car washes. …
Blaming immigration rather than the forces that drive it, local people have turned to politicians who promise to curb it. In 2013, Ukip won all four Wisbech seats in the county council elections. There have been tense anti-immigration protests in the town. Both communities felt under attack – eastern Europeans remember how a gang of local teenagers beat up two members of their community in 2006. English residents I met were quick to say that they no longer felt safe or at home in their own town. …
Liberalising trade rules and financial flows has enabled the free movement of goods and capital across Europe – and, with them, people. But while World Trade Organisation rules prescribe global hygiene standards in minute detail, they are largely silent on the social and labour conditions in which the goods are produced.
A complex web of small rules widely obeyed – from paying your tax to insuring your car, to giving workers proper breaks – are the threads that weave a democratic social contract and a protective state. Many people in Wisbech have become more rightwing, in protest at what they see. The collapse of totalitarian structures of state control in former-Soviet eastern Europe has combined with a shrinking of state in the west. This shrinking of the state has created the vacuum into which organised crime has rushed.
The gangsters on England’s doorstep
The European Parliament has voted in favour of an EU-wide embargo on selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
A resolution calling for a ban on all weapons sales to the country was passed by 359 votes to 212, with 31 MEPs abstaining.
The non-binding motion calls on member states to stop selling weapons to the country, which is currently conducting a widely-criticised military operation in neighbouring Yemen marked by high civilian casualties.
The majority went to Asia and to the crisis region of the Middle East. Between the Persian Gulf and the Bosphorus, imports of heavy weapons – the SIPRI report is concerned only with these – rose by 61 percent. Between 2011 and 2015, India was the only country to import more weapons that Saudi Arabia – a land with just 30 million inhabitants. Compared with 2006–2010, the oil sheikhdom’s arms purchases have almost trebled. Number four in the list of the biggest importers of arms is the United Arab Emirates, with a population of barely five million. Turkey is number six.
“The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.” — Ban Ki-moon
Statement on the Global Day Against Military Spending (GDAMS), 13 April 2015, part of the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS). The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of military spending and alternatives.
Across the EU, governments spend a total of 255 Billion euro on the military. This is grossly excessive and contributes to insecurity for many people around the world.
Physicians for Social Responsibility’s (PRS) study concluds that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the 9/11 attacks is at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as 2 million.
It is heavily critical of the figure most widely cited by mainstream media as authoritative, namely, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) estimate of 110,000 dead. According to the PSR study, the much-disputed Lancet study that estimated 655,000 Iraq deaths up to 2006 (and over a million until today by extrapolation) was likely to be far more accurate than IBC’s figures.
total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.
In Seumas Milnes’s piece ‘The demonisation of Russia risks paving the way for war‘, he argues that “Ukraine – along with Isis – is being used to revive the doctrines of liberal interventionism and even neoconservatism, discredited on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Hundreds of US troops are arriving in Ukraine and Britain is sending 75 military advisers of its own. This is a direct violation of last month’s Minsk agreement, negotiated with France and Germany – Article 10 requires the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Ukraine.
But when the latest Minsk ceasefire breaks down, as it surely will, there is a real risk that Ukraine’s proxy conflict could turn into full-scale international war.
Ukraine is now divided and Russia has occupied Crimea. The following information and analyses were quite helpful for me to understand the situation and shape my thoughts.
Roeline Knottnerus, “The EU trade and Investment Agenda“, Transnational Institute, 26 March 2013
The EU’s launch of negotiations for Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs) with four Arab countries in transition – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia – looks set to entrench an economic model that was one of the root causes of the Arab Spring.
Download The EU trade and Investment Agenda: quashing the aspirations of the Arab Spring? (PDF: 221.58 KB)
Frank Slijper, “Guns, Debt and Corruption“, Transnational Institute, 14 April 2013
High levels of military spending played a key role in the unfolding economic crisis in Europe and continues to undermine efforts to resolve it.
Frank Slijper, “Europe’s guns, debt and corruption“, Open Democracy, 27 April 2013
As social infrastructure is being slashed throughout most of Europe, spending on weapon systems has hardly been reduced. Perversely, military lobbyists warn of ‘disaster’ if any further cuts are made to military spending. But the real disaster has emerged from years of high military spending and corrupt arms deals. This second of two essays on military spending and the EU crisis, explores the role of the European arms trade, corruption and the role of arms exporting countries in fuelling a debt crisis, and why these ‘odious’ debts need to be written off.
Frank Slijper, “Austerity in Europe? Tighten the military belt“, Open Democracy, 6 May 2013
Five years into the economic crisis in Europe and the elephant in the room is the role of military spending in causing and perpetuating the economic crisis. As social infrastructure is slashed, spending on weapon systems has hardly been reduced. Part one of two essays on military spending and the EU crisis.