Tag Archives: politics

The EU and the Big Hate

Yeah, the EU and Britain. This small island, which thinks it is off the coast of North America is vehemently anti-European, and will do almost everything in its power to leave the grand idea of Europe. The Conservatives, two thirds of the current ruling coalition love to fight themselves into a tizzy about the EU idea. While the other political parties are smart enough to keep shtum about their differences over Europe (and other bits of infighting), the Conservatives have not learned from the 1990’s that while the EU is unpopular in the UK, it really does not matter with regards to my daily life.

So this week, Cameron, yet again, went to an EU summit looking like a spoilt child swinging his mummy’s handbag all over the shop. Embarrassing, even though I really agree with what the PM actually had to say. But he does come across really badly whenever it comes to the EU. And the French, who are really just snivelling self serving imbeciles always come across as slick. Damn those cunning French!

Believe it or not, after all that, I am fairly Pro-European. ‘Fairly’ is the good term to use. To be honest, it does not makes a difference to me whether Brussels, London or Washington is making laws, my taxes are not dropping anytime soon. As a floating voter (and we are dangerous bastards) it is the money in my pocket, not the hue of a flag that swings my vote, if I bother to vote at all. And while I have an opinion on Europe, it will not make my mind up when I go to the polls in 2015. In 2010, I am glad we got a coalition, and despite the cock and bull in the press, I think most of the people who voted then believe it was the right choice for that election. Going into a recession meant that no political party came out with any good ideas to get the UK moving. And it is still the case two years later…

Back to the EU. So, I like it? Yes, but…that is it, the ‘but’ bit. I do appreciate and take advantage of the free trade, travel and movement of people part of the EU. In fact, it is one of the best ideals implemented in modern politics over the past two generations. A lot of Brits (except retirees to Spain) really have not taken advantage of this. Lazy language skills can be blamed for this. But I have. In terms of my personal life, cultural activities and business projects, I take advantage of the EU’s free movement of goods, services and people like crazy. You may have noticed all those visits to Poland over the past couple of years, tak?

That part of me would not have been possible if the EU did not exist. It opened my life in so many ways, probably not envisioned by the grandees who thought up the project in the first place. For that, I am eternally grateful, and if Britain was to withdraw from Europe, it would peeve me off. While my personal life would remain intact (although become more tricky), my working side would become an absolute nightmare, well, I will be blunt, impossible.

And I love my films, get it! (Don’t ask about the rewrite…)

But yes, there are things I do not like about the EU. It is undemocratic, there are a lot of institutions and conventions that the UK never voted to join but were shoehorned into and the corruption levels make duck houses seem like…well, mere duck houses…

The EU will probably never face a proper reformation of its financial order as long as the nations resort to petty squabbling. It is sad, because the big EU contributors are probably more aligned then it seems when it comes to reigning in corruption and budgets. But David Cameron’s wibbly wobbly attitude does not help . The last shameful embarrassment in the EU last year looked like a small man playing to some Middle Englanders rather than a Prime Minister actually leading.

From my own opinion I think it is good for Britain to be a net contributor to the EU. The fact that we have peaceful borders and benign neighbours who are unlikely to attack Britain in the near future is something that cannot be measured by the financial contribution we make (in addition to the extremely successful NATO). So, I would rather see a stable Greece sorting out its tax collection system rather than see a Greece mired in strikes and uncertainty.

In the end, Britain is not going to leave the EU anytime soon. And good. But I do worry about the long term political relationship that the UK is building for itself. I do not want to leave the EU, I want to see a strong, democratic institution that does allow for good business and trade and that keeps the peace on the continent. Both from a personal and professional point of view, I have taken advantage of Europe, and it is something that personally benefits me. I believe if more people in the UK had the attachment via people to the continent that I have, the tide of euroscepticism would be a lot less.


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Europe vs UK

So I have seen the news yesterday and today that Britain (or our glorious Prime Minister), for the first time wielded the UK’s veto during a European negotiation. Some have cast Britain and the PM as a pariah amongst the nation’s largest trading partner, and some have decided to break out the warm beer and wave the Union Jack that we have stuck two fingers to the dirty continentals.

Now before I go in, let me state that I am a great believer in the EU, but I think that the whole institution is rotten to the core and really needs to be gutted out. Great ideals, horrible implementation of the practicalities. While some fantastic ideals such as free markets, the free movements of people, free trade, the interlinking of culture and exchange of culture has all been huge positives of the EU. A bloated bureaucracy, an ineffective Parliament and a wasteful sense of spending. The fact that the EU has not signed off its own books in over a decade, it does beggar belief that the EU is now going to sign off the books of its member states. And seemingly, without a whiff of democracy – a dangerous maneuver. I think a strong, Confederate Europe, with democracy and free trade at its heart would do wonders for the continent. Instead, an institution, encumbered by the baggage of World War II and the corruption of the 21st Century, holds many people with disgust in the UK, and increasingly, across the rest of the continent. It is more a meeting of the elites rather than a project for peace.

But David Cameron is no diplomat, and he played right into the hand of the Franco-German axis that has for so long dominated the Union. It is quite clear that removing Britain from the negotiating table made a lot of European leaders happy. And that it left Britain open to blame if there was a failure in the Euro. He could have played his hand far smarter.

What Uncle Dave, our glorious PM did, was play to his own political party. He wanted to avoid a showdown with his domestic politics. So while he returns to backslapping, and good show Dave, the guy took the easy route out.

The Germans, the French and the rest do not care about the Conservative Party (think of them as a nice version of today’s Republican Party in the US or a less cuddly version of the current incarnation of India’s Congress Party) to which David Cameron belongs to. Few people in the UK care about it too. But the EU do care about an electorate of 60 million people. Dave could have played his hand far more deftly. He could have said that he would be happy to have a new treaty, and then put it to referendum if it did not protect Britain’s Interests (read that as the banker’s interests, but that is another story). He would have also solved his domestic political problem in one fell swoop.

That would have really knocked heads in the EU together, as everyone knows how Eurosceptic this country is. The EU leaders would have tailored a deal to ensure that David Cameron would not call a referendum. It would have also brought Britain far deeper into the negotiations, and some real progress would have been made.

Instead, David swung his handbag, and lost. Poorly.

The ego of a few pigs at the top trough have left the world’s largest (and arguably its most successful) trading bloc split. 26 nations against its 2nd/3rd biggest member (depending on where you stop counting). Dave may have won this round, but it is not in Britain’s or Europe’s interests to be divided by the English Channel.

From what I have read about the proposals in the press, it seems there is no real plan to Save the Euro. No fundamental addressing of Europe’s real problem. Bloated, spendthrift governments that ran out of money and a population boom/immigration supply to support this. Europe is stagnant, trying to hold onto its past glories instead of using its heritage and history to be creative and dynamic in the 21st Century. It is a problem that all countries in the EU face (including Britain) and it will not be addressed by a few pen strokes in closed rooms, but a fundamental shift in the attitudes of Europe’s people. What is happening in Greece now, is going to repeat itself across Europe, as populations fall, tax incomes drop and populations age. This is an old continent, that despite its history, of looking beyond its borders is becoming increasingly inward looking and incestuous. There is a brave new world out there, and fundamentally, the EU is far better than a bunch of competing nations. But Europe is lazy. Too much resting on its old money. If Europe want s to thrive in this century, its governments and citizens have got to be prepared to work harder, and smarter…


Filed under britain, europe, money, news, political

The Big Distraction

At the moment it is very important that some overpaid public sector worker gets a lot of free publicity for saying something not that funny but really, not that serious either.

He has probably got a book to sell this Christmas or something.

But that misses the point. On a grand scale.

Two significant news stories, widely reported this week but seemingly ignored by the general public. And it was not the damp squib of a National Strike that supposedly hit the UK on Wednesday.

Firstly, something close to home. The possible collapse of the Euro. Our esteemed Governor of Wonga has told the UK’s banks to not pay bonuses to its staff or dividends to its shareholders, but to use its cash for possible fall out in case the currency collapses.

I, you and the rest of the world know that is not going to happen. So bonuses will be paid, a currency could well crash and come 2012, the taxpayer will have to bail out these banks again. As someone once told me, it is like an abusive relationship.

Or there will be another run on these banks.

As a saver, I am watching this like a hawk. If I think my bank is going to go bust, then my cash goes back under my mattress. Better to loose out to inflation than to loose everything.

Secondly, the expulsion of Iranian diplomat and the collapse of Iran/UK relations.

This may seem like another spat between two mutually antagonistic governments. Or is this the forbearance of something more sinister.

After the disaster that was Iraq, the close run in Libya and the continuing stagnation in Afghanistan, do we really need to go gunning for another tin-pot, oil-rich/strategic country? The UK is broke enough, plus far too weak to go on some democratic crusade?

But of course common sense and listening to its population’s wishes never enters our elected leaders’ minds. Otherwise, they would not have bailed out the banks in the first place. Nor would they get distracted by an overpaid television presenters carefully chosen words…

I suppose Christmas is here, and it is good to get a jolly distraction or two towards the public before the reality hits us next year. More wars, more state aids for the rich and more crap dolloped on the rest of the population. I suppose it is a gift to live in such enlightened times, when the obvious is there for us to see, but the majority of pepple are too busy jerking off on their social media to care too much.

But as I said, I will be keeping an eye on the banks. I do have a fair amount of cash that could go down the plug hole.

Oh, and a war with Iran. Nothing frightens me more. It really would make Iraq look like a picnic. But of curse, you do not see any politicians on the front lines, so I suppose it is okay then. Right?

And tomorrow, former glamour model on the television tells us that she thinks all the wheelchair bound should be denied access to air pumps so the tyres on the wheelchairs cannot be pumped up.

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7 Billion!

Right now there are seven billion people on the planet. That is 7,000,000,000 people, and that figure is increasing all the time. It is twelve years since the last time humans have passed the 6 billion milestone and if you look at world population it was in 1804 that we hit 1 billion people. If disease and famine stay in check. In other words, no major natural disasters or wars come to wipre us off, we are looking at another 2 billion people and probably 3 billion people by the middle of the century. Many people say this is gping to be a disaster for human kind, others say this is an opportunity. The UN believe it is going to be a challenge. But whatever, the world’s population growth is slowing. We are never going to hit another billion so quickly. Even at worst case estimates, the world’s population is probably going to stabilise by the middle of the century.

For me, I have been living in a period of extreme population grwoth. When I was young, I remember the number four and a half billion that was bandied around. According to the BBC, I was around the 4.4 billionth person alive on the globe. Check out the widget it is really cool to place yourself in the number.

So what now for all of us?

Is it a time to be glum?

Is it a time to be optimistic?

Is it a time to be worried?

Whatever, we as a species and as a society have to deal with seven billion people and growing (more slowly) people on the planet. It is a fallacy to state that it will be the poor countries that will cause the burdens on Earth. The amount of resources someone like me uses in Europe depletes the planet of far more richness than someone in India or Nigeria. And remember, for many countries where there are food shortages, very rarely is it to do with weather related disturbances. This year’s famine in the Horn of Africa is specifically linked to the conflict as well as the drought. And while India suffers from malnutrition, it is also a net food exporter. Bad governance and mismanagement are to blame for many of the worlds problems, not the simple statistic of overpopulation.

The conflicts that will rise up in the future are access to potable water and energy use. We have already seen in the Middle East over the last decade the results of both resources being under pressure. The answer to both is simple yet complex, but intricately linked. Cheap renewable energy is going to have to be used. That and a real development of Hydrogen production to wean humanity off oil. This will directly link into the second process – desalinisation. The Earth is covered in water, just a lot of it is salty. We are not short of water, just short of getting it cheaply. Once these problems can be solved, the rest of the solutions will fall into place.

We have to adapt, we have to change. Yes, the world is going to get more crowded, the competition for resources and life will get thicker. But this is also an incredibly lucky time to be alive. More people means more minds, more ideas and more ways that humanity will grow both spiritually and mentally. And yes, while there are increased risks and conflicts, the opportunities are also limitless. Look how innovative the last twenty or thirty years have been. We have steam rolled the industrial age down and are now in the information age. This is all due to the inventiveness of individuals, that we would not have had if our population was smaller. The amount of minds leads to a diversity of thoughts and processes and will ultimately enrich humanity. We are going through a unique period of inventiveness and humanity will not move so far forward again. It is time for us as a people to stop worrying and to start using, the numbers around us. Because one day, the population of Earht is going to drop back. And by that time, we will all be in a very different place.

So to the world’s seven billion, rejoice, embrace and go forth! It is time to look at the possibilities. And hey, to the new-borns of today, good luck! We are all going to need it!


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Britain vs Europe – Which System is Better?

Ah, the European Union. From British shores, it is that big conglomerate thing with a funny blue flag that takes hard earning tax payers cash and doles it out to lazy continental scum to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes all day. I kid you not, that would be as accurate a description of the EU from a relatively sober member of the British public.

(European Parliament in Strasbourg – most Brits would spit at the institution, if we could be bothered to)

My view? Well, I will get to that in a minute.

For better or for worse, Britain is a part of the EU. But we are not a part of some of its major systems. Britain famously has kept Sterling and almost as significantly, we are not a part of the Schengen system of borderless travel. Now for me, I have never really cared either way, as my travels in the rest of Europe have been relatively minimal over the past decade. But recently and currently, I am heading off to Europe a hell of a lot. I have already gone four times this year to Europe and will be heading there another two times before 2012 swings in. That is an incredible change in my own travel patterns and has made m think and question Britain’s take toward the EU, how it compares and the good and the bad between the two. For whatever Britain’s membership of the EU, in effect the relationship between the two is similar to Hong Kong’s relationship with China – One Country, Two Systems.

Let us tackle the question of the Euro. At the moment, with the debt crisis engulfing the Eurozone, it is very unfashionable to talk about Britain exchanging Sterling for the Euro. But it is my belief that eventually, Britain will adopt the Euro in some way or another. It maybe another generation to go, but at some point, Britain will relinquish total control over its currency and join the Euro. Why? Money talks, and in the end, that is the only reason why Britain today is a part of the EU – cash. The bulk of our trade is with Europe and that counts for everything, The EU, despite its cumbersome nature has allowed British firms to take advantage of the huge internal market that exists. It is the fundamental reason for Britain being tied to Europe, and it will reach its logical conclusion with the adoption of the Euro. But that will take time.

Do I think the Euro is a good thing? In practice, yes, I do. From the viewpoint of a simple traveller, it is a pain to handle different currencies over such a small geographical area. It would also make comparing the cost of goods and services a lot easier. It would remove the commission costs and fudged exchange rates that I have to pay every time I go abroad, which this year could rack up to around £30 – not an insignificant amount. I would love to see Britain join the Euro for these practical reasons. I have no notions of our currency or a loss of sovereignty. As currency is no longer linked to gold, they are in the end, just pieces of paper for governments to manipulate.

And it was a real pain on my road trip this year, passing through four countries and having to deal with four different currencies. If they all had the Euro, my life would have been a doddle!

At the moment however, the monetary governance of the EU is pathetic. Some countries were let into the Eurozone on political rather than economic grounds. To be honest, the political posturing of the EU has to be replaced by cold hard economic sense before the currency could be seen as fit to join.

And then the other big visible part of Europe. Schengen. Here is an example of what borderless travel actually looks like:

(Right foot in Slovakia, Left foot in Hungary)

And Schengen is easy! International boundaries have become no more than lines in the tarmac. The only way you know you have changed countries is a sign saying Poland Welcomes Careful Drivers, and a bleep on your mobile phone when the network changes. It is a joy to whistle past boundaries that once upon a time were the result of deep political and ideological differences. Nowadays they are marker points of linguistic flurries. Joy!

But should the UK join Schengen.

I am in two minds about this. While the Euro, I think is a good thing and with reform could become a source of strength for the UK, Schengen I am more ambiguous. I think I am 60% in favour of Schengen. Like I have said, life is easy, it is a doddle to whisk from country to country and you really do feel that there is one EU rather than lots of itty-bitty countries. It is nice, and it is one of the (successful and) defining characteristics of European Integration and the peace that has held since the end of WWII and later on since the fall of Communism in Europe. But, Schengen has certain things about it that I do not like.

First the need for an ID Card system. One thing about the UK is the complete lack of paperwork needed. I do not have to carry my licence/insurance with me when I drive. It is assumed that I would not be on the road without them, and if I am stopped by the police, they have to do the leg-work to find out if I am legal or not. The presumption of innocent until proven guilty is what rules the UK’s governance. Thankfully, we do not have an ID Card system, despite Lord Blair’s resolve in trying to foist one onto us. Do not worry, we, are under surveillance, as it was the UK that invented the Police Force. Collectively we are just as scrutinised as any of our European cousins, but on an individual basis, life is remarkably free. In Schengen, I have to have some photo ID on me, which means as I do not have an ID Card, I have to always carry my passport. Even to pop out to the shops to buy a loaf of bread. And this is considered normal.

In the UK, no. My wallet contains cash, not my identification. It means that I am less likely to loose my ID, and so I am less likely to get screwed over.

So, as much as I love Schengen, I do not like the idea of ID Cards that come with it. I think there is a greater good that results from having free borders, but not from being obliged into burdening the individual with more paperwork.

So is the EU a good thing? For me, overall, I think it is a good thing. There are a lot of rights and freedoms that more recent British governments would have eroded had it not been for the EU. I think the freedom of movement for people, goods and capital is essential and should be broadened. It has made life for me very easy with regards to regular travel across Europe, something that the EU had in mind when it was first formed all those years ago. Along with NATO, it has helped to keep the peace in Europe for longer than any other system of governance. But the EU is cumbersome, and if it was not for difficult Britain, it would probably be far too uniform. I think it is a good thing there is no one size fits all Europe, but an EU that blends and flows according to the whims of its citizens. Personally, I think the whole institution should follow a Confederational model (rather than a Federal plan), but that kind of organisation would take aeons to achieve. But the good outweighs the bad, and as I jet off again this week to Poland for another trip to that (now) fairly cold country, I think to myself, thank goodness for the EU. It makes my life a lot more simple!


Filed under britain, europe, places, poland, political, travel

The Guru – The Student Returns

The Student Returns to the Guru, for more advice, a little older, but is she any wiser this time round?

Click to Watch!

Part 2 to last week’s edition, this is possibly my favourite episode of the Guru series so far. It was fun to shoot, by that time both Marie Claire (the Student) and Sippy (my venerable Guru) had swung into their roles and it was a hell of a lot of fun to see the two go for it.

In fact, there seems to be a pattern developing here. When the ‘guest’ is some sort of caricature, the episode flows well, but when the guest is a normal guy off the street, the episode feels clumsy. Mmm, I think this may influence how my future Guru episodes are shot. Anyway, for now, I hope you enjoy this little titbit.

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The Guru and the Student Loan

Oh yes, freshers week is over, it is time to knuckle down and get back to lectures. And to remind yourself that you are now in debt to the tune of…a shedload of cash!

Click to watch!


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