Month: March 2016

Flat-Earth Hour

The WWF’s fatuous Earth Hour is a marriage of cynical Green eco-propaganda with scientifically-illiterate virtue-signalling

Every year, it happens. Despite “climate change” justifiably figuring ever-lower in their major concerns reported by people in surveys around the world, every year it still happens.

wwf earth hour 2The World Wildlife Fund, today a wealthy mega-corporation with slick marketing, more concerned with promoting undemocratic one-world government to prevent enterprise-capitalism and free trade moving millions from poverty into prosperity than it is with saving pandas or polar bears – the latter of which are doing just fine, thank you, despite its relentless but mendacious climate-alarmism – enjoins the world to plunge itself into darkness for an hour, to “save the planet”.

This isn’t the place to launch into a detailed exposition of the numerous manifest flaws in the theory of catastrophic global warming being attributable solely to the mere 3% of atmospheric carbon-dioxide that results from all human activity. It would make this an article of 8,000 words rather than 800. But for the purposes of this article, just hold two thoughts in your mind. First, that despite the measured atmospheric concentration of CO2 having continued to rise, global average temperatures have been flat for nearly 19 years. And second, that the Earth’s historical record shows no significant CO2-temperature correlation anyway.

earth hour comp

But, even if you refuse to believe what logic should tell you, that you can no more “fight climate-change” that you can “fight” tomorrow morning’s sunrise: if you uncritically accept the Green orthodoxy: the point to realise about Earth Hour is that your gesture – because, make no mistake, that is what it is, not a “contribution” – will actually be futile.

Firstly, a pinprick one-hour interruption to the overwhelming majority of residential light use that occurs at night will have no emissions-reducing effects whatsoever, on anything. At night, most power stations run at the same capacity as during daytime peak demand periods, and produce electricity (and thus the same barely-measurable amount of greenhouse gas anyway), whether it is being used to create light or not. There is no way sufficiently economically- or technically-feasible to store this excess power produced at night  – which is why electricity generators sell off-peak power so cheaply to run our electric hot water systems at night, which function as virtual batteries. Hydro and gas-fired plants are responsive to fluctuating power demand: but others are not.

Secondly, in Britain, domestic household consumption accounts for only ~30% of overall energy use. Heating and hot water represent ~80% of that ~30%, while lighting accounts for a mere ~9% of it. In other words, under 2.7% of Britain’s energy consumption can be blamed on a recklessly eco-uncaring population “destroying the planet”, as the WWF would have you believe, by having lights switched on at night.

Thirdly, just consider the language used to justify a minusculely-effective measure that will achieve staggeringly little, if anything, apart from potentially more traffic accidents and crime. “Climate change is the most serious threat facing people and nature”, pontificates the WWF. You might, however, think that continued sluggish growth in the global economy, mass-migration from a Middle East mired in religious schism-induced turmoil, and the global threat from expansionist, violent-supremacist Islamist-Jihadism, are far more serious than a now 19 years-halted global average temperature rise of just ~0.8°C in 150 years as the Earth recovers from the nadir of the Little Ice Age.

North Korea good on climate change

Mind you, there is one place on Earth where deep-Green ideology’s eco-argument, flawed as it is, clearly resonates. As the satellite photograph shows, North Korea is the most enthusiastic observer of Earth Hour on the planet. So much so, in fact, that it’s observed every hour – every night. This is what the WWF wants us us to emulate.

If you really feel you’ll be making a contribution to saving Gaia by sitting in the dark or in candlelight for an hour this evening, repeating what, for thousands of years, people suffered out of dire necessity and lack of alternative, go ahead. But all you’ll be doing is unthinking, narcissistic virtue-signalling, telling yourself and your neighbours what a good and caring person you are, while simultaneously demonstrating both your scientific illiteracy and your gullibility to cynical Green eco-propaganda.

It’s nearly 140 years now since Thomas Edison patented the first modern light bulb. It allowed us to light our homes and our public spaces like never before. It’s a small but powerful symbol of man’s victory over what for aeons was a terrifying natural phenomenon: darkness, and its companion, the unknown. The WWF’s misguided war on light via its fatuous Flat-Earth Hour is a perfect metaphor for Green-environmentalism: it wants to return us to the Dark Ages.

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The Heseltine Fascination

Chancellor George Osborne’s enduring deference to Michael Heseltine’s 1970s model of state-crony corporatism will lead to poor policy, regionally and nationally

Osborne budget boxUnderstandably, most of this week’s post-Budget reaction focussed on two things – Osborne’s continuing failure to ameliorate Britain’s worsening structural fiscal position, and the introduction of the illiberal (and almost certain to be largely-ineffective) sugar tax.

Less noticed, however, was how two Osborne announcements reveal, not only his ongoing attachment to the 1970s-style state-crony corporatism epitomised by (Lord) Michael Heseltine, but even his enduring fascination for Heseltine himself.

The first instance came just after Osborne’s reference to the Greater London Authority moving towards full retention of its business rates. He added:

“Michael Heseltine has accepted my invitation to lead a Thames Estuary Growth Commission and he will report to me with its ideas next year.”

To anyone familiar with the history of Heseltine’s political-economy, this should have rung warning bells. First, the very name “Thames Estuary Growth Commission” itself carries connotations of the semi-bureaucratic, state-interventionist, “Government picking winners” model of infrastructure development that Heseltine has long so admired (and of which more later).

ebbsfleet-map 2014 v3Second, it recalled Osborne’s previous, and underwhelming, foray into Thames Estuary development. In the 2014 Budget, he announced, to the now habitual fanfare, that “Britain’s first Garden City in 100 years”, including 15,000 houses, would be built at Ebbsfleet. Critics, however, soon pointed out that a mere 15,000 houses hardly amounts to a Garden City, plus the inconvenient fact that Ebbsfleet itself, sitting on a flood-plain with an average height of just 2 metres above sea level, bordering the Thames Estuary, might be a, shall we say, less-than-ideal site for a new Garden City.

 Two years later, just 65 of the planned 15,000 houses have been built.

Then, shortly afterwards, Osborne named-checked the National Infrastructure Commission (beginning to sound familiar?) which he’d established under the aegis of the Treasury last year, and proclaimed the following:

“They recommend much stronger links across northern England. So we are giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Manchester and Leeds”

HS3 would, of course, be an extension of HS2, which is itself far from certain to go ahead, being mired in controversy:

  • Its projected cost has risen inexorably from even the risibly-low estimate of £50 billion once peddled unconvincingly by the Government, which, astonishingly, excluded off-balance-sheet costs.
  • It would have to be funded almost exclusively by borrowing, when the National Debt is already £1.5 trillion and rising.
  • HS2 IEA WellingsIts claims for economic regeneration of the North are dubious.
  • It is, and is likely to remain, beset by planning approval disputes and housing-blight claims, for years.
  • Its claimed service improvements could be met by lower-cost alternatives.

HS2’s flaws were comprehensively and forensically exposed by Dr Richard Wellings’ 2014 paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Heseltine Infrastructure CommissionTurn now to Osborne’s National Infrastructure Commission itself. Who does one find adorning the ranks of its Commissioners? Why, none other than ……. Michael Heseltine.

Heseltine was recruited into the Treasury, with Osborne’s approval, to “advise” on infrastructure development and urban renewal, because of his 2012 report “No Stone Unturned In Pursuit Of Growth” that purported to be a putative blueprint for stimulating economic growth.

In its 89 recommendations, however, over 80 of which the Coalition accepted, it presented in miniature a picture of the interventionist-government corporatist state of the 1960s and 1970s: the decades in which Heseltine cut his political teeth, and for which its practitioners could, despite its manifest flaws, conceive no alternative.

It showed that Heseltine remains an unrepentant apologist and enthusiast for Big Government: that his vision for stimulating economic growth is one of national industrial policy, governmental top-down oversight, regional-quango consensus investment, local council-level enterprise partnerships with spending grants. For Heseltine, Adam Smith’s invisible hand must, it seems, be subsumed within multiple layers of statist-corporatist glove.

Heseltine no stone unturnedHis is an approach that instinctively eschews solutions based on economic liberalisation, deregulation and free markets: like regional pay to mitigate any crowding-out effect of nationally-set pay rates, especially in the public sector, on local job opportunity uptake: like encouraging more non-State free schools and academies, with the freedom to adjust their curricula to make them attractive to students who will be seeking employment in the area: and like, above all, unblocking the planning process in which so many developments can get bogged down.

He appears to favour what he termed “growth funds” being allocated through new Local Enterprise Partnerships. But given that the money would come from people and businesses via the tax system in the first place – Government has no money of its own – quite why government and the local quangocracy would be better judges of investment potential than savers, investors and businesses themselves was not explained. Not much of Gladstone’s enjoinder to let money “fructify in the pockets of the people” there.

Heseltine’s recommendations were roundly criticised at the time by a Professor of Economic Geography at the LSE(!), no less, as “a return to policies, many of them not particularly successful, that were developed in different times, to tackle different challenges”. It’s difficult to suggest these words don’t equally apply in 2016.

The FT’s Janan Ganesh wrote in late 2012 that Heseltine’s prescription for encouraging infrastructure development was very much a Gaullist vision. This still resonates: Heseltine’s vision is more akin to France’s state-dirigisme of Les Grands Prôjets: yet it’s in France where the State’s share of GDP persists at an unsustainably-high 50+%, unemployment is at levels not seen for two decades, and competitiveness continues to fall.

osborne delivers budget 16mar16Osborne’s reverence for Heseltine is misguided, and counter-productive. To stimulate the infrastructure growth of the future, Britain needs, not reheated 1970s-style regional industrial policy predicated on state-interventionism, but a comprehensive supply-side revolution. We need a smaller state, lower, simpler and flatter taxes, less-onerous workplace regulation, a freer and more responsive education system, and a major reform of planning law.

Sadly though, while we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer so ideologically in hock to Heseltine’s state-crony corporatism, that will remain an impossible dream.

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The Incredible Shrinking Chancellor

Formerly seen – not least by himself – as a master strategist and astute political operator, George Osborne’s authority is eroding before our eyes

“Events, dear boy, events”, former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is reputed to have replied when asked to predict the factor most likely to derail his political plans. He meant “the unexpected”: in modern political parlance, the “unknown unknowns” that can, and almost always do, erupt, unforeseen, seemingly out of nowhere, to blow the most carefully-crafted plans off course.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne could be forgiven for spending more time than usual ruefully recalling Macmillan’s remarks at the moment. Because, since the start of 2016, his plans for his own political advancement have been derailed spectacularly, to an extent which, on 1st January, he can surely scarcely have imagined. Yes, partly by some of those unknown unknowns: but, ironically, also by his own blunders. His stature and authority are crumbling astonishingly, virtually on a daily basis.

Osborne with shadesYet, contemplated from Osborne’s New Year’s Day breakfast table, 2016 must have looked satisfyingly promising. First, Budget Day on 16 March would give him the opportunity to continue the centre-leftwards tack started in his 2015 Autumn Statement, designed to capitalise politically on Corbynite Labour’s charge towards hard-Leftism, by hoovering up disaffected Blairites and Labour moderates into the Cameroon social-democracy-leaning Big Tent.

Second, David Cameron would round off his tour of European capitals pressing for EU reforms at the Brussels EU Heads of Government Summit over the weekend of 19-21 February. True, he’d return with only trifling and essentially cosmetic reforms. But, accompanied by some lurid Brexit-alarmism, a Cabinet united in campaigning for Remain, and a “helpful” media narrative, they should be just enough to persuade a risk-averse British electorate to vote to stay in the EU. Clearing the way for Cameron to resign in triumph as Prime Minister and Party Leader some time in 2017 or 2018, and leaving Osborne in pole position to see off any  challenge and ascend to No 10.

Except it hasn’t quite worked out like that. In fact, it’s rapidly going pear-shaped. “Events, dear boy, events”.

Take the EU “re-negotiation”. Yes, Cameron did indeed return from Brussels with a “reform” deal: but one of such abject and transparent paucity, ineffectiveness and unenforceability, that it had unravelled, and been both rightly exposed and excoriated for it, within 72 hours. And to such an extent that the Government’s official Remain campaign strategy adopted, almost from Day 1, what had been hoped would be the back-up strategy of Project Fear. Any plausible pretence that there is a “reformed” EU at all has been dropped. Brexit-scaremongering Project Fear, to all intents and purposes, is the  Remain campaign.            

Conservatives - Careers before countryThen, from Osborne’s point of view, came the bombshell. He must surely have reckoned that both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would be reliably on side, fully signed up to the Government’s official position, as fellow-advocates for Britain staying in even the risibly non-“reformed” EU that was on offer: Boris because of his general pro-EU and internationalist outlook, including a desire to see Turkey in the EU, and Gove because of his personal loyalty to Cameron. Before the Brussels summit of 19-21 February, even this political cartoon was circulating: the Party heavy-hitters, including Boris and Gove, lined up, Dad’s Army style, in Captain Camwaring’s pro-EU Home Guard platoon.

Not any more. Because in fact, the opposite happened. Boris, after much public and private agonising, declared for Leave, and Gove, with what must be one of the finest personal statements to grace British politics for a very long time, did the same.

Those two “defections”, I suspect, rocked Osborne back on his heels: not just on account of their unexpectedness, but also because of their implications, both for the EU Referendum itself, and consequentially, for Osborne’s own political future. On the Leave campaign, to Boris’ public appeal is added Gove’s principled integrity and intellectual heft. They make the outcome of the Referendum far closer and far less predictable: that the Government and Remain could actually lose it, and that Leave could triumph in a vote for Brexit, really isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.

If that happens, despite his bluster, Cameron would, politically, be Dead Man Walking: and given that their political ideologies and fortunes have been so inextricably linked for 25 years, that means Osborne would too. Even with a wafer-thin Remain win, Cameron’s credibility, and thus Osborne’s, will be seriously damaged: the latter’s, possibly fatally, with intra-Party talk already being that the next leader will almost certainly have to come from the Party’s pro-Brexit wing.

osborne looking grimNo wonder Osborne has suddenly seemed such diminished figure, thrown off balance, ever since. His prospects of following his planned and mapped-out route of a smooth ascent to No 10 in the wake of a benignly-departing David Cameron have suffered a severe blow: they may even be receding, a victim of Boris’ burgeoning popularity with Party members and activists since his ostentatious and publicity-maximising conversion to the Brexit cause.

And it gets worse. Because, intriguingly, in only the barely three weeks that have elapsed since the denouement of these events, a gaffe-prone Osborne has been either been caught out and had to retract hubristic claims, or forced to execute a sharp policy U-turn in an humiliating climb-down, or experienced an open challenge to his authority and rebellion from his own backbenchers, on no fewer than seven separate issues.

First, the Google tax deal. A clearly pleased-with-himself Osborne made extravagant claims for the £130 million agreement he had reached with Google, presumably on the calculation of reaping political capital from the vocal lobby opposed to any (entirely legal) tax-avoidance by multinationals. That soon unravelled, however, with the revelation that it covered a full 10 years of back taxes and amounted to an effective tax rate of only 3%, against the UK standard corporation tax rate of 20%. It concluded with scathing criticism of Osborne from his own backbenchers, both the Commons Public Accounts and Treasury Committees launching separate inquiries, and both Google and HMRC being asked to re-appear before themGoogle, meanwhile, are reportedly furious with Osborne for making self-aggrandising claims which have given them additional poor publicity.

Second, the claims of extra tax revenue from the lower top rate. Osborne boasted  that an additional £8 billion in tax revenue had been generated from the reduction in the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%, attributing the entire amount to the rate change. Unfortunately for him, that was quickly challenged as “precarious” by none other than the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on the grounds that it ignored any deferment factor and was more a one-off gain than a systemically-permanent windfall. We have heard no more about it.

Third, the planned tax-raid on pensions. Osborne had been planning a very Gordon-Brownian stealth-tax: to abolish higher-rate tax relief on pensions, and lower the threshold at which money invested in a pension pot starts to attract high, almost penal, rates of tax. The entirely predictable backbench uproar duly ensued, with Osborne’s plans being rightly denounced as simultaneously both economically-incompetent – disincentivizing prudent retirement saving – and politically-inept – targeting a natural Tory electoral constituency. They have been dropped.

hinkley Point comp 2Fourth, Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station. This was announced with much fanfare by Osborne on his September 2015 trade visit to China. The deal, was, though, subject to a £2 billion taxpayer guarantee to EDF, without which they would have struggled to secure project finance, and immediately attracted informed criticism because of its capital intensiveness and cost per MWh of output. It’s now emerged that the building cost has roughly trebled, the strike-price per MWh for its output has doubled, and the start date has been put back 8 years: all within 6 months. The calls for it to be scrapped as an expensive and uneconomic white elephant are growing.

G20 vs EU How Do They Cope via Julia H-BFifth, the G20 warning against Brexit. At Osborne’s initiative, the plan was for the G20 group of advanced economies to warn Britain against exit from the EU. That quickly collapsed, to widespread derision, when commentators pointed out the inconvenient fact that 16 of the 20 G20 countries are actually outside the EU, yet self-evidently still manage to be in the top 20 economies globally. Prompting the question: how could they then credibly warn Britain, the 5th largest, that it must be inside the EU to ensure its very survival? Silence.

Sixth, this week’s Sunday Trading liberalisation débacle. Despite being warned of the likelihood of both the SNP yet again ignoring their pledge not to vote in Westminster on what are devolved matters in Scotland, and an incipient Tory backbench rebellion, Osborne nevertheless determined to push the Bill through the Commons. When it became apparent that the SNP and Osborne’s own backbenchers would indeed carry out their threats, there was a ham-fisted attempt to water down the Bill’s provisions, culminating in an humiliating rebuff from the Speaker who refused to accept a related Motion.  SNP MPs duly supported Labour, the Tory rebels duly rebelled, and an embarrassing defeat for the Government, plus the loss of the liberalisation measures, was the outcome.

Seventh, another Tory backbench revolt, against another Osborne tax rise, this time on motor fuel duty. Despite 74% of the pump cost of a litre of diesel or petrol now comprising tax, Osborne, it appears, had planned to use next Wednesday’s Budget to increase the duty even further. Cue the now normal resistance movement, by up to 150 MPs, and the plans for a hike in the duty are reportedly being shelved.

These kinds of setbacks aren’t unprecedented: Osborne has had wobbles before. Think of the Pasty Tax in the 2012 Omnishambles Budget: a previous attempt to raise fuel duty with effect from January 2013 which similarly had to be abandoned on backbench pressure: and the tax-credits imbroglio of 2015, when an Osborne converted, we were told, to “listening mode” was equally forced into an embarrassing retreat.

osborne looking grim 2But Osborne’s present troubles look and feel different, quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitatively, because they’ve been coming thick and fast – no fewer than seven, and in just three weeks, which, I’d venture to suggest, is unprecedented. Qualitatively, because they contain an element which hasn’t been present in earlier iterations – a ready willingness, particularly among Tory backbenchers, not merely to voice misgivings, but vocally and robustly to resist, rebel, criticise and take to the media to denounce the Chancellor’s proposals in no uncertain terms, both as economically-disadvantageous and politically-inept.

The latter charge being especially ironic, and wounding. Because Osborne is, above all else, a Political Chancellor, far too prone to seeing virtually every aspect of economic and fiscal stewardship through the prism of partisan political triangulation. The shameless stealing of Blairite clothing in the form of a National Living Wage (aka, arbitrarily raising the floor price of labour to employers by State diktat) is but the latest example.

Osborne has long been lauded – not least by himself – as a political master-strategist. But, in truth, his excessive concentration on it, to the detriment of his economic and fiscal stewardship, has had decidedly mixed results. He’s been allowed to get away with increasing the National Debt by more in five years than even that preposterous antithesis of fiscal rectitude, Gordon Brown, managed in thirteen, largely because, when only 6% of the population know the difference between deficit and debt, few votes were risked by it.

Yet being master-strategist for two elections, 2010’s not won, even against Brown, and 2015’s, not expected to be won, but won mainly out of voters’ fear of a Labour-SNP government, tell a different story. As does the prevalence of the “austerity” narrative, despite the lamentable pace of deficit reduction. During the 2010-2015 Coalition, the overall rate of public spending reduction was a miserable 0.4% pa in real terms: supposed political master-strategist Osborne, however, succeeded in being portrayed as the heartless architect of Victorian-workhouse austerity, for the macro-fiscal equivalent of reducing a weekly £200 shopping bill by 80p.

So the last month’s acceleration in the decline of Osborne’s standing is partly an overdue reckoning: but its litany of serial hubris, politico-economic miscalculation, U-turn and climb-down, in just 20-odd days since the shock of Boris’ & Gove’s defection to the Brexit cause, have notably exacerbated its visibility. The wider appreciation of his Brown-like inveterate political-meddling and fiscal neo-Keynesianism, stealth-taxes and all, mean that the “Osbrowneomics” and “Osbrowne” memes are gaining wider currency.

osborne looking hauntedAs each successive Tory backbench anti-Osborne rebellion yields results, his critics are becoming more emboldened. They’re getting a taste for it, scenting blood. Osborne suddenly looks at bay, haunted, error-prone, wan, vulnerable, yesterday’s future, a fast-diminishing figure, in a way few can have predicted on 1st January.

He really is The Incredible Shrinking Chancellor, his stature and authority crumbling daily before our eyes.

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Does Democracy End At Dover?

To support English Votes For English Laws, yet argue that the UK should stay in the EU, isn’t merely politically inconsistent, but intellectually incoherent

Conservative Party MPs, coming as they do overwhelmingly from English constituencies, have discovered a new enthusiasm for more representative democracy in the current Westminster Parliament. Whether this is solely out of high-minded philosophical principle, or from rather grubbier psephological considerations, one cannot say: but that the election to Westminster, at the May 2015 General Election, of 56 Scottish National Party MPs has re-awakened awareness among English MPs of the iniquities of the West Lothian Question is an indisputable fact.

SNP MPs HoC May 15To their credit, they’re right to be concerned. Despite the SNP’s pre-election pledges that its MPs wouldn’t use their votes in Westminster on issues affecting England which are devolved matters in Scotland, it wasn’t long before those promises were being broken. Scottish MPs have been inventive – some might say speciously so – in deploying a tortuously-constructed argument, that policies intended to apply only in England can somehow also have unexpected and (conveniently unspecified) adverse knock-on effects in Scotland, as a rationale for resiling from their prior commitment.

And so the issue of an exclusively English Parliament, or English Votes for English Laws, has come back into prominence. Irrespective of the precise method that will eventually be chosen to implement EVEL, English MPs are rightly re-asserting a fundamental principle: that the laws governing the citizens of a polity can legitimately be those, and only those, made by, and only by, the representatives directly elected by the citizens of that polity, and whom they can remove from office via the ballot-box at the next election.

So far, so democratically-exemplary. But after this point, things start to get more tricky. Because many of those English MPs have also declared that they will both campaign, and vote, for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. And the EU, as a polity, is a very, very long way from being democratically-exemplary.

To understand why, we have to consider the very concept itself of the demos. The collection of people, almost always most-definable territorially, whose citizens – even when not mutually-acquainted, or ethnically-homogeneous, or religiously-affiliated – nevertheless feel that they do share enough of a common identity, set of values, and sense of being (even distant) co-partners in a joint enterprise, that they will accept one legislature, and one body of laws, as being legitimate to govern them all.

There’s undoubtedly a strong English, and even a strong British demos. Superficially, I might not appear to have much in common with someone of a different ethnicity in Birmingham, or a different religious-affiliation in Bradford: but the point is, I do feel sufficiently like them, and sufficiently part of the same collective political enterprise with them, that I’m prepared to live politically-alongside them, under a democratically-elected government chosen by us all, and a body of laws, made only by that government or its similarly-elected predecessors, applying equally to us all. Even to the extent of consenting to part of my income or wealth being abstracted by a government which we have together elected, and redistributed to them if they’re in need. That’s what the demos means.

But there’s no EU-wide equivalent of this. I don’t feel remotely xenophobic or hostile towards someone in, say, Bialystok, or Bologna, or Bilbao: but, crucially, I also don’t feel anything remotely approaching such a sufficient degree of affinity, or sense of co-partnership with them in a common “European” political enterprise, that I want or am prepared to consent to be part of the same pan-European political space, under the same pan-European government, and the same pan-European body of laws.

There is little evidence of such unwillingness being anything other than strongly reciprocated, among hundreds of millions of people, all over Europe. That does not, as the EU likes to pretend, equate to “xenophobia”, or “nationalism”. It means merely that the criteria which must be fulfilled for a democratically-legitimate polity encompassing all 28 EU member-states to emerge and subsist aren’t capable of fulfilment by popular consent.

The ineluctable conclusion, therefore, is that, as history has so often proved but the EU is philosophically-resolved to ignore, the territorially-defined sovereign nation-state, governed exclusively by its own legislature that is democratically-elected by universal suffrage, is the largest political entity in which the pre-conditions required for a politically-legitimate demos can be fulfilled. To emphasise, there is no “European” demos.

So, I contend, the European Union is democratically-illegitimate as a concept at the fundamental level of political theory, even before we confront the physical democratic deficit of the European Parliament as its purported legislature.

Interior EU Parliament

To start with, even the basic numerical comparisons are strikingly unfavourable. The entire aggregate UK electorate elects a full 100% of Westminster MPs: but no more than a mere 9.7% of MEPs. The average number of electors represented by a Westminster MP is c.68,000: but for each of the UK’s 73 MEPs, that figure is c.840,000. (Intriguingly, the equivalent Luxembourg figure is c.77,000). How any UK MEP can properly represent and address the EU-relevant concerns of nearly 840,000 constituents is a moot point. But an irrelevant one: because even their theoretical ability to do so is so severely constrained by the democratic deficit of the Parliament itself.

EU Parl processMembers of the European Parliament, despite being elected, must be among the most politically-emasculated and impotent legislators in the democratic world.  MEPs, whether individually or collectively, can neither initiate, propose, reject outright, or repeal EU legislation. Those are all rights reserved exclusively to the unelected, and therefore both lacking-in-mandate and democratically-unaccountable, members of the EU Commission.

In the European Parliament, it’s the appointed, not elected, members of the European Commission, meeting in private, who have the sole right to propose, repeal or amend the corpus of EU laws, directives and regulation that constitute up to 70% of the new legislation having application in the United Kingdom. As the graphic shows, the Parliament’s role is barely even consultative: its legislative influence, I’d suggest, is, in practice, negligible.

Contrast that with the Westminster Parliament, where any MP may introduce a Private Member’s Bill, and moreover, via one of no fewer than three different methods available. Two of the greatest social reforms of the last 50 years – the decriminalisation and legalisation of both homosexuality and abortion – were both the outcome of Private Members’ Bills.

To pretend that this sham legislature somehow equates to, or confers on the EU, any democratic legitimacy whatsoever, is little short of a linguistic travesty. It is truly a Potemkin Parliament, rendering the European Union democratically-illegitimate in practice.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest, yet most perverse and least-deserved achievements of the EU is somehow to have convinced so many citizens of its member-states that, while, yes, there may be an element of democratic deficit about it, this is:

  • just an accidental by-product of the EU fulfilling its main aims of friendship and trade via economic co-operation; and/or-
  • regrettably necessary anyway to ensure the smooth functioning of the trading bloc.

To propagate this myth is a grotesque lie, and is cynically to stand both history and truth on their heads. For, as anyone with knowledge of the EU’s founding and history knows, not only was the EU primarily a political-integration project right from the start, with trade and economic convergence being merely its ostensible purpose to conceal that: but it was also deliberately conceived, designed and constituted specifically to be, not just undemocratic, but anti-democratic.

The EU’s founding fathers, particularly Monnet and Spinelli, were profoundly distrustful of voters, and viscerally antithetical to nation-state democracy. Building on original semi-utopian pan-European ideas circulating in the 1920s and 30s, they drew from the two World Wars the wrong conclusion: that it was the mere existence of nation-states in themselves, rather than the emergence within some of them (and only some of them, remember – when did Switzerland, Luxembourg or Norway last launch an aggressive war?) of fundamentally bad ideas like aggressive Communism, Prussian-Militarism, or Fascism, that inevitably led to war. It is this same self-delusion and deception that today leads the EU to claim implausibly that it, rather than NATO, has been and is the guarantor of a Europe at peace.

Monnet on subterfuge 2They set out, therefore, to promote the creation of a supra-national political entity in which the decisions and preferences of the citizens of sovereign democratic nation-states, expressed through the ballot-box, would be bypassed, ignored and ultimately superfluous, enabling rule by an appointed class of technocrats-bureaucrats, immune to the caprices of voters and the need to obtain their consent.

That ethos still prevails in the EU of today. It isn’t even particularly concealed or denied. It was expressed perfectly by the former President of the European Commission, the Maoist Jose-Manuel Barroso when insisting only a few years ago that “democracy is dangerous”. The EU’s democratic deficit is neither accidental, nor incidental. It is deliberate and fundamental to it, and was designed-in from the start.

This, then, is the gimcrack-polity, demos-lacking, democratically-flawed in both concept and practice, artificially constructed and imposed top-down by successive cadres of an unelected, unaccountable, largely self-selecting, pluralism-contemptuous, voter-consent-averse, bureaucratic-technocratic elite, and maintaining a near-powerless Potemkin Parliament as a sham legislature to provide a wholly unconvincing facade of democratic legitimacy, inside which so many of those English MPs who enthusiastically support EVEL – ostensibly in the name of representative democracy, remember –  nevertheless fully intend to vote to keep the United Kingdom locked..

F Scott Fitzgerald speculated that the ability to hold two contradictory opinions at the same time and still function was the mark of a first-rate intelligence: Leon Festinger suggested, on the other hand, that it was a strong indicator of cognitive dissonance. As far as those English MPs simultaneously supporting both EVEL and the UK’s continued membership of the EU are concerned, my inclination is to regard Festinger’s explanation as the more likely. Because their stance isn’t merely politically inconsistent: it’s also manifestly intellectually incoherent.

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