Saturday, 3 August 2013

Papers please

On Radio 4's Any Questions today, the matter of Government owned vans driving through areas with high levels of recent immigration, displaying messages designed to encourage illegal immigrants to return voluntarily to their countries of origin, was discussed. The vans are bearing posters with the following message on: "In this country illegally? Go home or face arrest." The questioner in the radio show audience compared this message to 1970s style racist graffiti. Some of the panel, such as Independent journalist Owen Jones, agreed, although former Tory Home Office minister Michael Howard expressed the view that to be against illegal immigration did not necessarily make one a racist.
The use of these vans is clearly a stunt on the part of the Conservative Party, aimed at impressing the Daily Mail reading, potential UKIP voting demographic.
However, another aspect of this populist PR campaign which was not even mentioned on Any Questions was the action taken by police at various railway and tube stations throughout London over the last few days, to stop passers by and ask them to produce identification to show they were legally entitled to be in the country. Even where this has been covered on TV and radio news programmes, the main disapproval expressed by commentators has been of the fact that the police have been focussing their attention on non-white members of the public. But while this racial profiling is obviously a very great cause for concern in itself, another worrying aspect is the fact that the police apparently now feel comfortable to stop ordinary law abiding citizens going about their daily business and ask them to produce identification papers. This is something that has always been anathema to the British way of thinking about the role of police; indeed, when the last Labour government attempted to bring in ID cards, they could not even get enough support within their own parliamentary party to get the bill through parliament.
I'm not sure how many of those that the police pulled aside to ask for ID actually obliged them by producing their passports, driving licences, immigration papers or whatever else was being asked for. They were all fully entitled to simply refuse and walk away, and unless the police had sufficient reason to suspect them of an offense, there would have been nothing the police could do to stop them. If people now believe that they are obliged to provide evidence of their right to be on the streets any time some over zealous copper decides they don't look British enough, that is perhaps the most worrying aspect of this whole sorry affair.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Why I don't like the EU

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent today, expressing my concerns about the threat to the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, the elected representatives of the people of the United Kingdom, posed by our membership of the EU. The email was addressed to a radio phone-in show presenter who had claimed that everyone who called his show to express opposition to EU membership did so on the basis of a fear or dislike of foreigners:

I would describe myself as being against the EU and my reasons are, I think, entirely devoid of any xenophobic basis. The undemocratic nature of that institution is my only ground for opposition. There are two main reasons for my objection to the UK's membership of the European Union: the first (and lesser of the two) is the sheer size of the institution. In a democracy, the amount of power held by each member of the electorate is, obviously, inversely proportionate to the size of the electorate. The number of people that need to agree with me, if I am to succeed in getting my views represented at government level, increases by an order of magnitude when the government in question is a continent-wide one. Of course, one could argue that this disadvantage is outweighed by the increase in the power and reach of government. A Europe-wide government is able to exert far more control and to wield far more influence in the world than a mere national one. But then, one could counter this argument by citing the increase in inefficiency that inevitably comes with an increase in size and scale.
The second reason for my objection to UK membership of the EU is, in my view, by far the more salient one. It is to do with the huge diversity of native languages spoken by EU citizens. There is no unified language for the EU and, consequently, neither is there a coherent public debate about the issues on which the EU legislates and over which its policies hold sway. Debates take place within individual countries about these issues but, as a rule, if I write an article or a blog post espousing a particular political viewpoint, or if you run a campaign to try and publicise a political issue, our efforts to try and persuade our fellow citizens as to the rightness of our respective causes are unlikely to have any significant effect outside of the UK. This is even more true for citizens of countries that speak less widely understood languages than English. An individual, a political party, a pressure group or campaigning organisation in, say, Slovenia, has little chance of making an impact on the majority of the EU electorate (an impact which would then be reflected in the voting decisions of that electorate) because of the language barrier. You may feel that I am exaggerating the extent of the insularity of social and political debate within European nations, but I don't believe so. How often do you read an article, watch a TV show, listen to a radio programme or even read a blog post written in a language other than English, even in translation? Even with the translation technology available today (eg. Google Translate), there simply isn't the degree of mutual comprehension to enable the kind of trans-continental public conversation and debate which should underpin a viable and democratically healthy electorate.
The effect of this inability of the citizens of Europe to have a coherent debate on the social and political issues that affect them is that power is devolved away from the ordinary citizens, each one of whom lacks the linguistic means to persuade significant numbers to support his or her viewpoint on any particular issue, and into the hands of the political elite gathered in the debating chambers of Brussels and Strasbourg and their associated institutions. Hence the European Union is characterised by a 'top-down' style of governance, and this situation persists in spite of all attempts to enhance the level of democratic accountability of its institutions. Democracy should be a 'bottom up' affair in which the legitimacy of government arises from the prior deliberations of those who are governed. Without a linguistic basis for such electorate-wide deliberations, the legitimacy of the entire European Union project is, in my view, at the very least, questionable.
I have heard you on several occasions asking anti-EU callers to your radio show to explain just which EU laws are causing them such consternation. When they have difficulty in coming up with any dramatic examples of Brussels-inspired oppression, you triumphantly point out that they are actually getting themselves unneccessarily worked up over something that really doesn't matter that much since, after all, it only affects such unimportant things as post-office privatisation and the number of weekly domestic refuse collections. This is, in my opinion, extremely unfair and short-sighted. Imagine if we lived under a relatively benevolent dictatorship, one which, say, respected human rights, didn't over-tax us and didn't lead us into unneccessary wars. Would you take the view that anyone campaigning for the right to freely elect our own leader was some kind of reactionary nutcase? Yet this is precisely analagous to your stance towards Gerard Batten (a UKIP MEP) and various other callers who failed to impress you with smoking gun examples of EU tyranny.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Michael Gove

I heard on the radio tonight that education secretary Michael Gove is proposing that children spend more time in school, with shorter holidays and longer school days. He claims this will particularly help 'poor' children, as it will enable them to increase their level of education. It is, in my view, designed to increase the role of schools as a form of childcare enabling parents to spend more time at work. In the case of 2-parent families it will increase the logic of both parents going out to work full time and in the case of single parent families it will mean there is no excuse for the parent not to be at work once the child/children are old enough to be in school.
Yet again, the government is bringing in measures to encourage stay-at-home Mums or Dads to enter the workplace (following recent tax breaks for working parents to help with child-care costs, not matched with any help for couples who choose to have one parent stay at home and look after the children). And since when have conservatives believed in increasing the amount of time that children spend in the care of the State? In fact, conservatives used to believe that the family was the bedrock of society but this bunch seem to have decided that the market should be awarded that role instead. Parents, it seems, should be enabled to spend as much of their time as possible creating wealth, while the children are prepared as thoroughly as possible for their own future roles as producers and consumers. Why not just cut out the middle man and send children back into the workplace, Dickensian style.
Having said all that, since we do live in a world where many parents do struggle to balance work with home life, there is an argument for making childcare less expensive and extending school hours does seem like an obvious way of tackling this issue. However, I do not think it should be compulsory, but it should be available for those children whose parents wish to take advantage of it. Indeed, many schools already run optional breakfast clubs and after school clubs.
As for Gove's proposal to shorten summer holidays, how typical of the current regime of millionaires to not appear to have any concerns about the fact that the cost of family holidays during the period when schools are closed would go up even higher than their current highly inflated levels.