» Europe ¦ What You Can Get Away With

wpid-wp-1416472228398.jpegAs I’m sure my regular readers have noticed, I’m currently a student in the Department of Government at the University of Essex. The University and the Department have recently been honoured with the appointment of the first Regius Professorship of Political Science which has been granted to David Sanders, who has lectured in the department since 1975 and been one of the most important figures in British political science in that time.

Last night, he delivered his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor: “The Reluctant Europeans: Britain and the EU, 1973-2015″ I naturally went along to hear it, and there were lots of interesting points made. The University were filming the lecture and the discussion that followed, so I would expect it to be available in full on their site soon. Until that is available, I did get pictures of many of the slides that illustrated and expanded his points, which you can see here.

The main thrust of the lecture was looking at how Britain has always been a more reluctant member of the EU than other countries and trying to explain why that is so. Support for the EU is lower amongst both the general population and the political elite in the UK than it is in the other member states, and Sanders believes that there are seven main reasons for this. He calls these seven stories that we tell ourselves, and they are:

  • Our historic conception of British foreign policy sees Britain as a world power, not just a European one, and we don’t want to be constrained by Europe.
  • A perceived economic disadvantage, where the rest of Europe does better out of free trade than we do
  • A sense of constitutional disempowerment – Europe as the remote and uncontrollable behemoth – coupled with a story of ‘we never signed up for this’
  • A widespread belief that the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court were imposted on us by the EU, and that the decisions made there go against the authoritarian instincts of many Britons
  • The issues and perceived problems caused by immigration, and by mainstream politicians ceding discussion of immigration to the extremes for many years
  • Beliefs about the relative transparency and efficiency of the British state compared to Europe, and beliefs that Britain implements rules more rigorously than other EU states
  • Inconsistent messages from mainstream parties, reflecting their internal divisions over Europe, have led to no consistent pro-European message to lead public opinion
  • There’s more information on each of those points, including some YouGov polling on questions relating to them, on the slides Professor Sanders used during the lecture.

    I’m not going to go into too much more detail as I’ll likely miss out important points as I wasn’t taking notes, and the whole lecture should be available soon for you to see, I hope. However, he did conclude the lecture with a discussion of points that both those pro- and anti-Europe should take note of in advance of any referendum that may occur. There are issues that both sides haven’t addressed that could be crucial in any campaign – for those in favour, they’re mostly centred around the list above, but for those against, there is strong evidence that the financial benefits of being in the EU are much bigger than the costs, and that the most enthusiastic supporters of Europe are the young, particularly those with friends and family living or working elsewhere in the EU. Support and opposition to EU membership in the UK is affected by external factors which cut across all demographic groups, and the prospect of success in any referendum could be strongly affected by any shocks that might occur in the run up to it.

    After the lecture, there was a very interesting panel discussion, chaired by Essex graduate John Bercow MP, and featuring Professor Anthony King, Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor Dame Helen Wallace and David Sanders. Again, a lack of notes prevents me from covering it in detail, but Anthony King made a very interesting point about how the key difference between any future EU referendum and the 1975 one would be that the popular attitude towards the political class has fundamentally changed since then. In 1975, the party leaders’ endorsement of a Yes vote helped to secure the victory, but it’s unlikely it would have the same effect now as it did then, especially having seen what happened in the Scottish referendum. There was also some discussion of what might happen in the effect of strong regional and national differences in a referendum, especially the scenario where Scotland and Wales vote to stay in the EU but are outvoted by England.

    All in all, it was a very interesting evening, and definitely worth watching if and when the University make it available.

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    Victory in Europe – What Cameron and Osborne actually negotiated and agreed over the UK’s contribution to the EU.
    Leadership in question – Good piece by Chris Dillow on how the search for strong leaders is a search for a false god. The one thing rarer than talent is the ability to spot talent.”
    A Few Questions About the Culture: An Interview with Iain Banks – What it says on the title, really: talking in depth with Iain Banks about how the idea of the Culture developed in his work.
    How to waste a staggering £15bn – David Boyle has some interesting facts about transport policy.
    Dark vistas – A rather bleak, but possibly accurate, look forward to the next election and the Parliament that follows it from Lewis Baston.

    And for your bonus video this time, if you haven’t seen Too Many Cooks yet, you’re possibly still sane.

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    Here’s 2013’s first set of links:

    In an EU referendum, what does NO mean? – Jon Worth looks at Cameron’s latest European strategy and wonders where it might lead.
    Behaving in politics as if we were normal people – “prefigurative action” – Jon Worth again, this time on the disconnect between politics and real life.
    20 obsolete English words that should make a comeback – It might jargogle at first, and using them could make you seem ludibrious, but ignore those who brabble about the perissology and think how illecebrous it could make you. You might kench at least.
    Happy New Year – Jim Bliss explains the lifecycle of a typical blog in a few paragraphs.
    Crazy Cat Person – Just a nice story of adopting rescued cats. See? I can share non-cynical heart-warming stuff too.

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    And neither of them is the old ‘is the plural referendums or referenda?’

    1) Various people push the ‘we need a referendum on Europe because the people haven’t had their say on it since 1975′ argument. If that is the case, shouldn’t we also be having referendums on our membership of NATO, the UN, the Commonwealth and who knows what else? The people have never been given a say on those, and if you’re really concerned with the popular will, then surely those questions should come first?

    2) For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that the referendum on Scottish independence is won by the No/pro-Union side and Scotland stays in the UK. Let’s also assume that there’s a UK-wide referendum on EU membership in the not too distant future. The result of that referendum is a UK-wide majority in favour of leaving the EU, but in Scotland (and possibly Wales and Northern Ireland too) there’s a clear majority in favour of remaining in the EU. Politically, what happens next?

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    One of the distinguishing traits of a senior politician is to be in possession of a circle of loquacious friends, always ready to talk to the press about things they don’t feel ready to talk about personally in public. Michael Gove’s friends have been talkative this weekend, telling the Daily Mail all about his views on the European Union.

    It’s pretty much just Gove throwing a bone to the Tory Right, of course, saying he’d vote for the UK to leave to the EU, coupled with complaints about how those horrible human rights laws stop him from doing exactly what he wants. This helps us to show us how Gove suffers from two of the problems that befall many of the anti-EU brigade: first, the inability to understand the difference between the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European court; and second, the odd way in which conservatives who talk about limiting state power have an aversion to human rights conventions that protect the power of the citizen against an over-mighty state.

    This is just Gove trying to shift the Overton window a few more inches to the right, rather than some major shift in Tory policy – after all, if he was serious about this he’d have said it himself at the Tory conference last week rather than leaving it to some anonymous friends to talk to the Daily Mail. However, the question we should ask if it’s all right for senior Tories to talk about ending our membership of the European Union, why is it so wrong for senior Liberal Democrats to talk about the possibility of ending the coalition?

    As I talked about a few weeks ago, the party’s negotiating position in any internal Government discussions is weakened by the insistence that the Coalition must not be allowed to end early:

    By saying – explicitly or implicitly – that nothing short of Cameron falling under the proverbial bus or it’s equivalent will make the Liberal Democrats walk away from the negotiating table, the party is drastically weakening its hand in any discussion. It emboldens the Tories to push further to the right, as there’s no counterforce to draw them to the centre if the Liberal Democrats have hidden their most powerful weapon in negotiations. Leaving aside my position that it should end now, I’m not saying that Clegg and Alexander should be threatening to walk out over everything, but if their counterparts don’t believe it’s possible that they will, then they’re dangerously weakened in negotiations.

    In the same way that Gove doesn’t state his anti-EU views publicly, we don’t need Clegg giving regular speeches about bringing the coalition down. However, the response to something like Gove’s comments should be senior party figures (other than Lord Oakeshott) pointing out that the natural response to any Tory moves to quit the EU would be the Liberal Democrats quitting the coalition. Both domestically and internationally, the Tories are willing to do their negotiations in public, and Liberal Democrats need to be willing to do that.

    If Clegg won’t do it himself, then others need to be given a licence to do so. It’s the role Vince Cable’s carried out at some times, and Chris Huhne did too, but too many other party figures seem to be too tightly wedded to the policy of not rocking the boat. As we’re seeing now over policies like rights for shares, that polite acquiescence is letting dangerous and illiberal policies head towards the statute book, and the party should be willing to fight fire with fire and match the Tory strategy. Otherwise, all the public associates us with is meekly rolling over for whatever the Tories want, unable to walk at any no matter what. The public need to know what the red lines are, and Liberal Democrat silence on them gives the impression they don’t exist.

    There’s little else to learn from Michael Gove, but sometimes he’s a useful example.

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    Lose your money in the best ever IPO, praise China, cry woe for Europe, then renounce scarcity and move into education.

    Prospectus for Silicon Valley’s next hot tech IPO, where nothing could possibly go wrong – “Trust us: Once you invest in Ponzify, you’ll have a difficult time investing your money anywhere else ever again.”
    British parliamentarians queue up up to suck up to Chinese tyranny – Jonathan Calder finds some disturbing behaviour from elected representatives.
    The failure of European centrism: Towards a hypothesis of historical recurrence – Fantastic post from Nosemonkey, looking at the current crisis in Europe, historical roots and parallels for it, and the dangerous road this leads us all down.
    The end of artificial scarcity – Fascinating post on the FT’s Alphaville blog, but I’m sure an economist will be along in the comments to tell me why it’s all wrong.
    Back to basics? It’s time to start basing education policy on evidence, not fads and dogma – I do wonder sometimes if Tom Chivers is at the Telegraph on an exchange programme from somewhere much more sensible than their commentary usually is.

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    Greens, conservatives, drugs, proboscis monkeys and liquid democracy. How’s that mix suit you?

    Don’t vote Green until they drop the anti-science zealotry – Tom Chivers explains, yet again, why GM crops are not the horrible bogeyman that some like to portray them as.
    You don’t have to be a leftie to think Beecroft is wrong – Flip Chart Fairy Tales explains how conservatism can support models of capitalism other than the most rapacious ones.
    Take it from an ex-addict, outlawing drugs does not work – “When society hates and fears you, criminal conviction means little.”
    Declan Ganley and the need for nuance – Nosemonkey returns to blogging with an interesting perspective.
    Liquid Democracy: The Future Of #ldconf – Spineless Liberal looks at the Liquid Feedback system I linked to in an earlier post and suggests a use for it here. I can hear the ‘ooh, that’s far too much change for my liking’ objections already. After all, why use something efficient when you can waste people’s time with a meeting?

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