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13 July 2016

The UK, Europe and Democracy



This article was written by Fred Piechoczek. All views and opinions are strictly his own.


The Evolution of the Modern World

This personal introduction casts a historical perspective on current events. My grandfather was born in the late 1800s, before the automobile, aeroplane, modern medicine and the computer. As a child, I looked at the extraordinary changes during his life and thought I would never experience such amazing change. Yet we have seen even greater change. His father, my great-grandfather, was born into a post-Napoleonic world. The step back from me to my great-grandfather, though longer in time, is shorter in terms of the evolution of human society than the step from my great-grandfather back to the European Middle Ages. This reflects changing times, and we would do well to move with the flow of changing times: we can be glad to be out of the Dark Ages.

Where is Europe Today?

In modern Europe, every European Citizen should be proud of the help the core group of European Union member countries has given to the new members. Poland and the Baltic countries have become prosperous modern economies compared to non-members like Ukraine or Chechnya, living in poverty, torn by war. The European project has been an extraordinary success. After the massive destruction of two world wars, it united the warring lands of Europe to assure peace and prosperity. It has created political stability within the core group that is flowing across into the neighbouring new entrants and adding even greater political stability. Future generations will look back upon European expansion in 2004, when new countries entered, as a gear change that made the future work. The benefits are huge.

The United Kingdom: a Step in Political Evolution

An earlier step on this ladder of political evolution is the United Kingdom. It was an early ‘mini-EU’ in its time. The United Kingdom brought together Saxons and Danes, among others, even a few Normans, added the Welsh, Scots and Irish to form a power-house that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and re-introduced a limited form of democracy from ancient times. This was a step forward, but just a step, showing the benefits of greater political unity over warfare. As we see from history and in the Middle East today, warfare destroys.

What about Democracy?

The European Union is a guarantor of Democracy in more evolved form than that enjoyed in the United Kingdom. The Gulf War shows up the weakness of the United Kingdom’s limited form of democracy. Against the wishes of the majority of the population, sitting members of parliament in Westminster voted to start a war, the Gulf War. The European Parliament did not. The British form of democracy struggles to represent the wishes of the people. After World War II the Liberal Party was disenfranchised by the voting system. It consistently won a substantial portion of votes, but the geographical voting of the constituencies left the Liberals in minority position across most constituencies, such that the Liberals did not gain enough seats to reflect their proportion of support among voters. This can be fixed, as it is in other countries, by adding non-geographical seats to the body of Parliament that balance the vote, giving representation to those who were not ‘first past the post’ in sufficient constituencies to reflect the support they enjoy from the voters. It is this system the European system of democracy that allowed UKIP’s leader,  Nigel Farage, a seat in Europe that he could not win in Westminster under the UK’s geographical constituency system. An argument against this enhancement of the voting system is that it makes it difficult to form governments with majorities. Why? Because they may have to take account of the voters’ representatives in Parliament and form a coalition! Added to the British conundrum, the upper house, the House of Lords, is unelected, as is the British Head of State. The British voters are not in control under the current British system that favours the political elite of the Two Party State. Witness the Gulf War.

Europe's Democratic System of Legislation

The European Union is not ruled by faceless unaccountable bureaucrats whom we do not know. Every European regulation is subject to democratic vote, and surprisingly the British representatives voted for 97% of those regulations in the five years to 2009 and 87% in the following five. Are the European bureaucrats a burden on our finances? Actually, the number of European Union employees is exceeded many times over by the bureaucrats of the Civil Service scattered around the United Kingdom. Do you know them?

Take a look at the list of regulations introduced over the last few years and you may conclude that any reasonable person would support close to 100% of them. The EU has bestowed many valuable rights upon individuals, workers, consumers and other groups. It is true that we live in a more regulated world, but that is not to be laid at the door of the EU, whose legislation has the effect of eliminating and conforming swathes of duplicative and conflicting national rules. Free trade is not free of ‘red tape’.

The Good Old Days

Shall we go back to the good old days of the United Kingdom before we joined Europe? Well, I grew up in those days, a child in the fifties and sixties, an adult in the seventies. The good old days were not so good, although I quite enjoyed them. I saw the demise of the automobile and shipbuilding industries, the decline of the British merchant fleet. Strikes abounded. The business of the ports moved to Rotterdam. Coal mining collapsed amidst strife and strikes, with economic decline continued into the early years of European membership. Even that success story, the City of London, was losing its position in world finance. New oil wealth stoked the value of the pound, making whole industries uncompetitive, and much of the remaining British manufacturing was forced to close. Oil wealth was spilt into restructuring and unemployment. Multinationals survived, precisely because that is what they were, drawing their strength from overseas business. On top of that we shivered under the threat of cold war nuclear weapons aimed directly at us.

How did the UK Recover?

Much of the United Kingdom’s recovery draws upon its position in the European Union. One simple example is becoming the gateway to the European Union for Japanese car manufacturers. Another is the revival of its multi-national financial centre. There is still a long way to go. Look at a map of the European road and rail network to see how it peters out as you cross the Channel. Do not be misled by the story of the fifth biggest economy, which is just one statistical view.

You might need to be a physicist so understand the applications of quantum physics to your smart phone, GPS and PC, but you do not have to be an economist to see the obvious here. And of course, the economists did see it: the storm clouds are upon us.

We can do it if we Unite

Sorry, do what?

Exhortation

The die is not yet cast: stop that throw.

 


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