Monday, May 09, 2005

Brussels says: Vote for EU constitution or risk new Holocaust

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph reported that Margot Wallstrom, a senior European Commissioner marked VE Day by accusing Eurosceptics of risking a return to the Holocaust by clinging to "nationalistic pride".
Margot Wallstrom, the commissioner who must sell the draft constitution to voters, argued that politicians who resisted pooling national sovereignty risked a return to Nazi horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. Her fellow commissioners also issued a joint declaration, stating that EU citizens should pay tribute to the dead of the Second World War by voting Yes to the draft constitution for Europe.

It's exactly these kind of statements that reflect how fundamentally the EU project has lost its way. It was a lack of democracy that allowed Nazism to spread, and a lack of respect for national sovereignity that allowed the Nazis to invade Europe.

Hitler ultimately was not elected by a free majority, he was appointed by Hindenberg, and when he moved to dismantle every vestige of democracy, the German people stood by and did nothing. Furthermore, any surviving political parties soon fell into line and supported the Nazis.

The European Commission which is not elected, is governing over more and more of our daily lives, yet national governments across Europe have been feeble in their dissent, worried that they will be the odd ones out in their opposition. From where I'm standing, it looks like history is repeating itself. An over centralised government and a political elite falling over themselves to conform. The only difference is that Germans risked their lives opposing Hitler whereas Europeans are voluntarily ceding their independence.

Incidentally, there's a very interesting piece on Blog Critics on the same subject.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A stranger in my own country

I have recently returned from a 12 day trip to the United States, and it has made me look at my country of birth (the UK) in a very different light.

My first trip to the US was in 1995. I returned having enjoyed my trip but happy to be home. America's obsession with guns, commercialism and personal liberty was I felt, a little extreme. We Europeans seemed more civilised, had a welfare state, and didn't execute people.

Ten years on, I realise how naive I was. Gerard Baker's article which appeared in the Times at the end of April sums up just how much things have changed. He describes the UK where political debate is limited to an increasingly narrow range of issues. Where there was once competitive debate, a political concensus has built up where fundamental issues such as Europe and reducing the size of the State are off-limits. And where there is competitive debate, it centres around more Government, not less. Every aspect of day to day life, from performance targets of local police to school meals is dictated by central Government. Every time a problem arises such as anti-social behaviour or a rise in hospital waiting lists, the solution is always the same: Legislate!

Increasingly, the legislation is not coming from Parliament but from Brussels. The House of Commons has become little more than a rubber stamp for European law. Don't like the new laws? Tough, you can't vote on them! The European Union may have been invented to stifle extremism out of European politics, but it has also stifled debate.

The United States may be a country with some unsavoury elements but it has a diversity of opinion that as a European I can only envy. Time and time again, I heard discussions that have become taboo in Europe: abortion, the importance of giving back power to States and the role of faith-based politics. Maybe it's the sheer size of the place that makes this possible. After all, when you spend time in Liberal Massachusetts or Washington DC, you can be forgiven for thinking that these bible bashing gun-toting extremists are a figment of Europe's imagination.

But it's more than this. It's a "live and let live" political culture that thrives on difference rather than feeling threatened by it. Nobody gets this across better than Mark Steyn:
"Because Texans, Vermonters and Georgians all agree that they're Americans, they're happy to go their own way in matters of capital punishment, income tax, gay civil unions: that's a dynamic, creative federalism. Because Greeks, Scots and Austrians still regard each other as foreign, a European identity has to be imposed from top down, as if by harmonizing tax codes and passport design you can harmonize a bunch of foreigners into one nationality, regulate a European consciousness into being: that's not federalism, but a stagnant over-centralization."

And the winner is....

I was initially disinterested in this election. I expected Labour to have a somewhat reduced majority, the Lib Dems to make huge gains, and the Tories to win maybe a few seats. When I woke up to the election results the next morning, I was surprised to see that there was no overall winner.

Yes, Tony Blair's party may have won its third term in office, but they weren't exactly victorious. Polling less then 10 million votes, Labour won, but with the lowest ever share of the vote for any governing party! Still, the War in Iraq didn't turn out to be as divisive an issue as the press made it out to be. Muslims by and large stayed loyal to Labour. It seems that ultimately, it was the day to day issues that mattered most to them.

The Tories managed to gain 33 seats but did not make the breakthrough they expected, their share of the vote has been stuck at around 33% for the last three elections. The Tories fought a negative campaign which didn't endear them to voters, Michael Howard's personality proved to be a liability.

The Liberal Democrats were the main gainers in this election in terms of the popular vote - up from 19% to 23%. For so long a centrist party, they positioned themselves to the left of Labour, particularly in their opposition to the Iraq war. This helped them to win votes from disaffected Labour voters, but it also helped them to lose votes in traditionally strong Tory seats where they are seen as too left wing.

All the political parties are now faced with a dilemma:

Labour badly needs to continue its modernisation of public services and stay in the political centre in order to retain the Tory voters it won over in 1997. Unfortunately, with Labour's majority slashed, the authority of the Prime Minister has taken a battering and the MP's on the left of his party are in no mood for compromise.

The Liberal Democrats are in some ways in the worst situation of all. If they want to avoid being more than a protest party, they will have to make up their mind about what they stand for. If they want to position themselves to the left of Labour, they will have to risk losing votes in some of the traditionally Tory constituencies. On the other hand, there is also a danger that in four years time, the Iraq war may be a distant memory and with Gordon Brown in charge, wayward Labour voters may have returned to the fold.

And then there are the Tories who in some ways have the most to gain...if they play their cards right. Whilst immigration is uppermost in many voters minds, the Tories muddled the issue by trying to be populist and opposing immigration on principle. As a result of this and their negative campaigning in general, they have come across as a "nasty" party. What they should have done is campaigned for fairness. Fair play, for so long a fundamental part of what Britain stands for has been undermined by New Labour, it's something the Tories neglected to campaign for. Fairness, so we have an immigration system that admits skilled workers and not terrorist sympathisers. Fairness, so we have a criminal justice system that puts the victim before the offender, fairness that ensures we are governed by our elected MP's and not be an unelected Government in Brussels, and fairness that ensures hard working people don't have their earnings confiscated by an increasingly pervasive Nanny State. It may be a centre right message, but it's a positive one nonetheless, and one that Labour with its rebellious MPs will find hard to counter.

But ultimately, there is one further factor that will help the Tories. With the Economy looking shaky, any economic downturn tends to be blamed on the Governing party. Labour may lose their reputation for economic competence, and the Tories will be able to capitalise on this. From this point of view, this election may turn out to be an one the Tories were glad to lose!