Friday, 27 March 2009

South West MEP presses Gordon Brown to scrap the pound

The South West's only Liberal Democrat MEP, Graham Watson, seems to be on a quest for maximum unpopularity.

And on current form he might just end up taking the whole Lib Dem campaign for the European Parliament elections down with him.

During the Prime Minister's visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week - on the first leg of his pre-G20 'world tour' - Watson used his regulation three minutes speaking time to press Gordon Brown to take Britain into the euro.

Responding to Gordon Brown's address to MEPs, Watson said that he expected the single currency to "emerge stronger from this crisis" and asked the Prime Minister "Will you now work to bring the United Kingdom into the euro in the post-recession period?"

Euro problem

Ever allowing his starry-eyed enthusiasm for EU centralisation to cloud sound economic judgement, Watson's call came despite almost daily evidence that the inflexibility of the euro has exacerbated a boom-bust cycle in some countries and is now making the recession worse for its members.

Neither has the euro prevented banking crises and the need for bailouts among member countries.

Ireland's construction-led economy has collapsed so spectacularly that a leading Irish economist has warned that the country may have to quit the euro. Unemployment in Spain has grown to over 3 million and, in the eurozone as a whole, is at its highest for more than two years.

Markets fear debt defaults in Italy and Greece, where debt has risen to huge proportions of GDP. And European Central Bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, has admitted that the currency bloc is under "extreme strain".

Both Greece and France have already seen major public protests against insufficient action by their governments to relieve the effects of the recession - governments that simply can't afford to replace with cash bailouts and 'stimulus packages' what a drop in the value of their currency would deliver.

Even arch EU fanatic and former European Commission president Jacques Delors admits to pessimism about the euro's future.

This is what Graham Watson MEP bizarrely wants to embroil us in.

It's little wonder that the EU has recently been pushing for the IMF's resources to be increased dramatically, likely hoping that the emergency funding body will help to bail out those countries suffering the worst inside the euro straightjacket.

How much Britain and other EU countries who have wisely kept control of their economies will be asked to splash out via the IMF towards papering over the euro's widening economic cracks remains to be seen.

Sterling boost

Of course, Britain has similar economic problems to those being suffered by other European countries mentioned above.

But thanks to our flexible exchange rate as a result of keeping the pound, Britain's goods and services have at least been made considerably more competitive in world markets right when we needed it most.

The benefit of British exports becoming cheaper due to the recent fall in the value of the pound means that businesses selling to the eurozone have been given a timely boost that would not have been possible had we joined the euro when people like Mr Watson were first campaigning for that change years ago.

Had we followed his advice back then, British companies would today be locked into a fixed exchange rate with the eurozone and facing greater pressure to make cuts to wage costs and jobs instead - just like those inside the euro.

Real lessons

In the face of this recent overwhelming reminder of how unpredictable economic conditions can be, Mr Watson's perverse view seems to be that we should lock ourselves into the 'one-size-fits-none' euro and give up control of key economic levers like our interest and exchange rates.

Not for him has the crisis illuminated, in reality, how critical it is to retain maximum economic flexibility to respond to rapidly changing conditions.

That, of course, can only be achieved by keeping the pound.

No surprise, then, that public opinion remains strongly against Britain joining the euro.

A BBC poll at the start of the year showed that, despite the economic troubles, 71% of people would vote against Britain joining if it were put to a referendum.

Not liberal - Not democrat

Watson's controversial euro demand follows a pledge earlier this month to help Ireland's ruling political party fund a second 'Yes' campaign in any new vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

A second referendum is predicted for this autumn, following the Treaty's rejection by Irish voters last year.

Given Watson tops the list of his party's candidates in the South West, anyone in Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall or Gibraltar voting for the Liberal Democrats is essentially voting to re-elect him.

So far, such a vote stands not just for bullying the Irish people into reversing their clear 'No' vote to the Lisbon Treaty, but also for scrapping the pound.

And there's very little either liberal or democratic about that.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Lords flop as EU 'snoopers charter' is approved

An EU Directive forcing the recording of data relating to every email sent and every website visited cleared a final hurdle towards becoming law yesterday.

In the process, the House of Lords revealed itself, sadly, to be an almost complete waste of space when it comes to holding the government to acceptable democratic practice and providing some form of check and balance against extreme and unnecessary laws.

A Communications Data Bill enforcing the blanket retention of data about everyone's internet and email usage was shelved back in October after additional plans it contained to collate the information in a huge central database came under heavy fire from the Information Commissioner, the (now former) Director of Public Prosecutions and the Government's own reviewer of terrorism laws.

Back door law

Under pressure from the EU to implement by 15 March the data retention elements of the Bill that were required by the EU Directive, the government schemed to enforce retention by the back door via a Statutory Instrument.

Yesterday, that draft Statutory Instrument (hat tip Open Europe for the link) made an appearance in the House of Lords.

According to an accompanying article yesterday on ConservativeHome by Shadow Security Minister, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, the Tories are opposed to the plans.

Sadly, that's not so much on the grounds that the blanket storage of the everyday web and email activity of millions of law-abiding people is wrong and unnecessary in principle.

Merely, it seems, on the grounds of concern about who will have access to it.

Nevertheless, Neville-Jones wrote; "I have tabled a motion calling on the Government to withdraw this instrument and bring forward primary legislation on the retention of communications data that will enable detailed – and rigorous – Parliamentary scrutiny to take place."

'No show' peers scandal

But when it came to the vote on her motion, the Baroness was unfortunately just four votes short. Consequently, the regulations were approved.

Bad enough in itself. But it's when you look at the voting record that the tale becomes utterly exasperating.

The Tory motion to strike down the regulations was supported by 55 Conservatives (out of 197 Conservative peers in total), 12 Crossbenchers (out of 205), and 18 (out of 72) Lib Dems. Together with two UKIP peers and one Independent Labour, plus a Bishop, that was 89.

Four Crossbenchers voted with 89 Labour peers, making 93 in support of the regulations as they stood.

This reveals that 196 opposition peers didn't vote (nevermind 189 Crossbenchers), yet the blocking motion failed by just four.

What a complete shambles.

Setting this number against the 127 Labour peers who also didn't vote (but would presumably have voted in favour of the regulations),
blocking these sinister communications snooping plans was on the face of it eminently winnable.

Had a few more of the missing 196 opposition peers bothered to turn up.

Explanations needed

So where exactly were our 'noble' peers?

Given the critical nature of this vote - due to a toxic combination of the excessive snooping content of the regulations and the undemocratic 'EU-plus-Statutory Instrument' way in which they were being imposed - the scale on which people have been failed democratically by Conservative and Lib Dem peers is considerable.

An urgent explanation is required from those parties as to what on earth happened that so few of their peers were present and an opportunity to block these sinister regulations was squandered.

Broken democracy

It's hard to conclude anything from the progress of these communications data retention regulations but that our so-called democratic system is today broken - virtually ineffective.

To twist an old slogan, Westminster isn't working.

The combination of the blanket monitoring content of these proposals and the undemocratic way in which they have been imposed makes this an issue that doesn't only impinge seriously on our liberties but, worse, brings the whole idea of credible democracy still existing here in Britain, and indeed Europe, into further disrepute.

The political elite, it seems, can get away with doing anything, and in any shady way, yet hardly anyone in Westminster - parliamentarians or even the media - appears to be especially interested.

And then they wonder why so few people, in response, are interested in voting when it comes to elections.

Urgent need for change

Unless this erosion of democracy is soon stemmed, only radical change to our democratic structures - not merely a change of faces at the top - will be able to rebuild faith in responsive government.

This EU path that Britain and Europe are currently travelling of remote, ever more centralised law-making together with increasingly powerless - and perhaps therefore frequently absent - national parliamentarians, cannot lead to an appealing destination.

Healthy and responsive democracy is the only true guarantor of stability and prosperity on our continent, whatever the occupants of several lavish glass palaces in Brussels may like to tell themselves about their grandiose, 1950s-styled superstate project.

Refusal by so many of our MPs to recognise how democracy is being downtrodden by the EU - to recognise how serious are the dangers of the malaise its methods are spreading throughout the post-war European democracies that have ensured over sixty years of peace - cannot go on.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

New No2EU 'party' launches for Euro Elections

This morning another new and interesting entrant to the 4 June European Parliament elections has been launched in a House of Commons meeting room.

Called No2EU - Yes to Democracy, the "EU-critical electoral alliance" describes itself as a "new trade union-backed electoral platform of progressive campaigning groups".

Chairing the new platform of candidates is Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union chief Bob Crow, providing in the form of the RMT's over 80,000 members a level of backing that could give the platform a massive head start in local-level campaigning.

Joining the RMT in the alliance are leading figures in the CWU, T&G and Unison unions, Trade Unionists Against the EU Constitution and the Liberal Party.

The political stance of the group is a combination of opposition to the Lisbon Treaty and the EU-led privatisation of public services, support for workers' rights and protest at the corrupt EU gravy train.

On this last point - most interestingly of the Euro Elections launches so far - the group is pledging not to take their seats as MEPs, should they win any.

Other areas of interest include EU militarisation and the EU's assault on civil liberties.

In the context of high levels of opposition to the Lisbon Treaty and disgust over the treatment of Ireland after their 'No' vote, the recent Lindsey oil refinery strikes about the exclusion of British workers in favour of foreign labour, recent renewed attempts to privatise the Royal Mail to meet the requirements of the EU's postal services Directives, and high levels of public irritation about politicians milking excessive expenses, the No2EU platform has huge potential.

By further openly admitting that little of consequence towards their objectives can be changed from the "expensive fraud" European Parliament and refusing to cash in anyway by taking up any million-pound MEP seats they win, the No2EU alliance also has a powerful opportunity to be seen as the most trustworthy and reliable of those on the ballot paper bidding for the anti-EU vote.

The result may be that the group could slide neatly into a productive, left-leaning niche comprised of traditional Labour supporters, former Lib Dem voters dismayed by Nick Clegg's failure to support a promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty plus the recent Lib Dem pledge to help bully the Irish people into reversing their clear 'No' to Lisbon, together with any naturally left-leaning or even simply disillusioned UKIP voters.

Altogether, No2EU - Yes to Democracy looks to be the 'party' to watch in the run up to the 4 June vote.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Libertas launch Euro-Election campaign

Libertas have today announced that they will be standing candidates in Britain for the European Parliament elections on 4 June.

Founded by businessman Declan Ganley, Libertas played a key role in the successful 'No' campaign to the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland's referendum last year.

Now a pan-EU political party, planning to stand candidates in all 27 EU member countries in the forthcoming Euro Elections, Libertas today announced their UK leader - Robin Matthews, a former soldier. But they have not yet published a manifesto.

Electoral challenges

Ganley has claimed repeatedly that he is not a 'eurosceptic'. His frequent recitations of long discredited pro-EU mantras about the EU's benefits have portrayed Libertas as aiming for position to the pro-EU side of the Tories.

While Ganley has also repeatedly made some very good points about the EU's impact on democracy, electorally it's hard to see where such a position leaves Libertas in this country.

With a resolutely pro-EU outlook, Libertas certainly aren't likely to attract many UKIP votes. Those who still remain loyal to the Tories during Euro Elections are likely to stay that way, especially given their party's similar anti-Lisbon / pro-referendum stance.

Libertas might well scrape some votes from the Lib Dems and Labour but that's unlikely to get them very far.

Nevertheless, as we saw from the Kilroy bandwagon during the 2004 Euro Elections, anything can happen if you can attract a couple of celebrities. Especially if, like Ganley, you also have plenty of cash.

There are undoubtedly opportunities for Libertas in other countries such as Germany or Belgium where a mainstream EU-critical / pro-referendum party has never been an option for voters.

Mixed messages

Such positioning problems here in Britain may be the reason why postings today on the Libertas website paint a rather different picture of the party's stance compared to Declan Ganley's previous statements.

They say little that British eurosceptics would disagree with.

In particular, under the headline "Why vote Libertas UK", it says: "We want to return powers to Britain and take back control of our own destiny."

But it is the impression that messages are being tailored - in conflicting directions - for different national audiences that remains a worry. It's unclear where that leaves the claim that "Libertas voters in Germany, France, Bulgaria and all the other states will be voting for the same thing as you."

Perhaps the manifesto, when it comes, will illuminate how the apparently conflicting ideas of being a pro-EU party that supports taking back powers to nation states come together.

The big question for prospective voters is: which does Libertas mean? If elected to the European Parliament, which outlook would prevail overall?

Friday, 6 March 2009

Lib Dem pledge to bully Ireland over Lisbon

A vote for the Liberal Democrats at the European Parliament elections on 4 June is a vote to bully the Irish people into reversing their clear 'No' vote to the Lisbon Treaty.

That's the message being sent today by Graham Watson MEP, according to this article in the Irish Times.

As the leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, Watson has pledged "to help fund a major campaign in favour of the Lisbon Treaty" when the Irish government calls a second referendum, which is expected in the autumn.

Expressing his group's support for the Irish government and EU elite plan to ignore the previous referendum result and make the Irish people vote a second time on the same treaty, Mr Watson said "It would be our great pleasure to support Fianna Fáil if they wanted us to, either in the referendum campaign in the autumn or any other campaign".

Watson tops the Liberal Democrat list of candidates for the South-West of England euro-constituency, which covers Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon and Cornwall, and which also includes Gibraltar.

Credibility chasm

In the article, Mr Watson also rehearses the inevitable scare-mongering that a second 'No' vote to the Lisbon Treaty would force Ireland to leave the EU - a line so weak that its lack of credibility is far more likely to be a hindrance to securing a 'Yes' vote in any referendum than a help.

"It is very difficult to see any country being able to stay in if they have had two Nos from the people," he burbles.
Not so difficult for anyone who has read the EU treaty, however.

The reality is that if the Lisbon Treaty is not ratified by every single EU member country, it doesn't become law, and the EU continues to exist - and every country continues to be a member of the EU - on the basis of the current, post-Nice, treaty.

That contains no clause under which a member country can be thrown out of the EU.

Any decision as to the extent of Ireland's participation in the European Union after a second 'No' vote will be entirely down to the Irish government.

Unless Watson is revealing that it is the position of Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, that he will take Ireland out of the EU altogether if there is a second 'No' vote, then Watson is either blowing smoke or exposing his ignorance.

Time for change

In truth, a second 'No' to the Lisbon Treaty from Ireland would be a welcome earthquake for the entire EU structure as we know it today. And Ireland would be far from alone in administering that much-needed shake of the foundations.

Not only has the Polish president said that he will not sign the Lisbon Treaty into law until Ireland has settled its position, but the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, has expressed a similar stance.

The treaty also looks set to remain an outstanding issue in Germany for some months yet, while its impact on the German constitution is studied by that country's constitutional court.

What's more, by May 2010 a Conservative government may be in power in Britain with the policy of rescinding Britain's ratification of the treaty if it has not yet been approved by every other EU member country.

But before the events of the autumn and spring 2010 unfold, Graham Watson perhaps ought to be more concerned about how popular his support for bullying the Irish people into reversing their already clearly expressed view on the Lisbon Treaty is going to be with South West voters, come the elections on 4 June.