“Fair” and “Balanced”

JD Wetherspoon In or Out

So these are spread out on tables in places owned by JD Wetherspoons. I think it’s worth having a look.

The 15-page document, extracted from Wetherspoon News, contains a number of articles from both sides in the campaign, ostensibly for reasons of balance. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Martin Wolf and Anna Soubrey contribute articles for Remain; Tim Martin, Boris Johnson, Gerard Lyons, and Daniel Hannan MEP contribute articles for leave, while an article by the late Tony Benn may not outright say Leave, but considering its blistering criticism of the EU, can hardly be considered friendly to Remain. 4 for Remain, 4 for Leave, and we could be generous and consider Mr Benn’s neither. Even split, right? But there’s an oddity: Mr Hannan has 3 articles in the document, which makes it 4 pro-Remain articles to 6 pro-Leave articles. That’s not all: several of the articles are spread over multiple pages, which means – you guessed it – 4 pages dedicated to Remain arguments, and 10 pages dedicated to Leave arguments.

Fortunately, the articles are also available online, so we can have a look in more detail.

ElephantAntScales

Let’s look at Mr Martin’s, first. Mr Martin is sympathetic to Scottish independence, so his refutation of Osborne & Cameron’s arguments echo much of what he said during the Scottish referendum. Generally, he’s right on the money when it comes to the failures of the Treasury and the UK government – it’s just when it comes to the EU that I disagree.

For the UK, the European Court is supreme and our laws cannot override its judgements. In addition, laws can only be instigated by the European Commission, whose members are unelected and cannot therefore be removed by voters. There is a European parliament, but it is not really democratic. It is remote from voters, cannot instigate legislation, and the UK, for example, has only 73 MEPs out of a total of 751.

Mr Martin writes about the European Court of Justice as if it is some great colossus that is enforced upon the UK – in fact, it is another institution which is comprised of 28 members, one from each state. The UK’s representative on the ECJ is Christopher Vajda. Mr Martin also has the Commission’s role backwards: they can only suggest legislation, but they cannot enforce it without the agreement of the Council and Parliament. If we’re going to talk about “remoteness,”  then I think the 854 miles between John O’Groats and London is somewhat greater than the 371 miles between London and Brussels.

It is true that the number of UK MEPs is disproportionately low compared to smaller countries – but this is a result of giving those smaller countries greater representation than they would otherwise have:

Apportionment in the European Parliament
Constituency MEPs
2014[23]
Population
in 2013[24]
Population
per MEPs
 Germany 96 80,523,746 838,789
 France 74 65,633,194 886,935
 United Kingdom 73 63,896,071 875,289
 Italy 73 59,685,227 817,606
 Spain 54 46,704,308 864,895
 Poland 51 38,533,299 755,555
 Romania 32 20,020,074 625,627
 Netherlands 26 16,779,575 645,368
 Belgium 21 11,161,642 531,507
 Greece 21 11,062,508 526,786
 Czech Republic 21 10,516,125 500,768
 Portugal 21 10,487,289 499,395
 Hungary 21 9,908,798 471,848
 Sweden 20 9,555,893 477,795
 Austria 18 8,451,860 469,548
 Bulgaria 17 7,284,552 428,503
 Denmark 13 5,602,628 430,971
 Finland 13 5,426,674 417,436
 Slovakia 13 5,410,836 416,218
 Ireland 11 4,591,087 417,372
 Croatia 11 4,262,140 387,467
 Lithuania 11 2,971,905 270,173
 Slovenia 8 2,058,821 257,353
 Latvia 8 2,023,825 252,978
 Estonia 6 1,324,814 220,802
 Cyprus 6 865,878 144,313
 Luxembourg 6 537,039 89,507
 Malta 6 421,364 70,227
total 751 505,701,172 673,370

That doesn’t make the UK remotely unique: France, Spain, Germany, and Italy all have one MEP per every 800,000 citizens or so – and they just so happen to also be the largest countries in the EU. The alternative would be either increasing the number of MEPs to several thousand (of which the UK would have eight hundred!) or redistributing existing seats, which would result in the UK gaining only 9 more seats while countries like Malta would have half of a seat.

In any case, treating the number of seats based on population is a bit close to treating the entire EU as a country, where each country is only considered a region. This may suit the Leave campaign’s rhetoric, but it makes a mockery of the No campaign’s proclamations of Great Britain being a country in its own right.

Overall, Mr Martin’s contribution is commendable in presenting a more positive case than I’m used to – it talks about what the UK could do, advocates continued free movement, and concentrates on optimism while denouncing untruths from the UK Government. It’s just a shame that he falls prey to Euromyths, and ignores the plank in the UK’s eye when it comes to “democracy,” “prosperity,” and “freedom.” We in Scotland will still have to endure the democratic aberration that is the House of Lords; we will still be at the mercy of an establishment which has systematically hidden our wealth and taken our resources; we still have to ask the UK’s permission to even hold a referendum on our independence. The opportunities he cites for a UK outside the EU do not apply for the people of Scotland, who are – once again – being offered absolutely nothing.

The first piece favouring a Remain vote is from David Cameron. Oy.

David_Cameron_official

As during the Scottish Referendum, Mr Cameron speaks a lot of “warnings” with “the future of our country” (what do you mean “we,” paleface?) being “at stake” in a “leap in the dark,” “wrangling,” “uncertainty,” “risk,” in what he calls “the gamble of the century.” See this paragraph?

If you vote to remain in Europe, I can clearly describe what you’re voting for. Our trade links with a reformed Europe and the wider world will grow; we’ll keep on working with our neighbours to make our country safer; and Britain will continue to help set the rules of the market of 500 million people on our doorstep, and have a say over the future of the continent to which we are geographically tied. That’s the picture of “in” – positive and definitive.

That is the entirety of David Cameron’s “positive case for the EU” with no qualifications in his 1,000-word article. The SNP managed to make a 59-page-book without getting out the End is Night sandwich boards, and the Prime Minister couldn’t manage a few more sentences? Once again, I can only think the UK Government are looking at Better Together and, instead of seeing its failure to stop the growth of the independence movement, think “well, they won the referendum, let’s just do what they did” – completely ignoring the salient issue that Better Together lost a 30-point lead over the course of a year, and that the “losers” of that referendum have seen electoral success practically unseen since the introduction of universal suffrage.

Seriously, the state of some of this:

… It’s simply not good enough to assert everything will be all right when jobs and our country’s future are at stake

… This could be crippling for our industries…

… While all this wrangling goes on, there would be huge amounts of uncertainty, and it would have an impact on investment and trade – and, ultimately, your job, the prices you pay and your family’s finances…

… Do those who want to leave support this network of security cooperation? If not, they need to spell out how they intend to keep people safe.

…But think of the things that have threatened us in recent years: the prospect of a nuclear Iran; Russian aggression in Ukraine; the overwhelming impact of the migration crisis; the poison of Islamist extremism and terrorism

Now is not a time for disunity among Western nations…

… We need to be absolutely sure, if we are to put all that at risk, that the future would be better for our country outside the EU than it is today.

In contrast, here’s the SNP leaflet being handed out across Scotland as we speak:

SNPin

No horror stories about terrorism, industrial ruin, economic collapse, and migrant hordes, while still acknowledging some of the more concrete examples of the things the EU safeguards for the people of Scotland.

Ach. Enough of this joker. Who’s next?

FUTURE PRIME MINISTER

Every time I see Boris Johnson, I think of “The Mule” from Isaac Asimov’s “Second Foundation.” If you’ve read it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Ach.

I can’t really deal with half the stuff Mr Johnson says any more than I can deal with the ravings of your average TV historian, but I just want to point out this hilarity:

So I gather they think it’s game over. The Bremainers think they have bombed us into submission. They think that we have just seen the turning point in the referendum campaign, and that the British people are so intimidated by these testimonials – American presidents, business leaders, fat cats of every description – that they now believe the British people will file meekly to the polls in two months’ time and consent to stay in the EU; and thereby to the slow and insidious erosion of democracy in this country.

If that is indeed the view of the Remain campaign, they are crowing too soon. They are perhaps ignoring the resilience and thoughtfulness of many middle-of-the-roaders. One senior public servant – a man of no political party, and who had previously been on the fence – texted me after the US intervention and said he had been so outraged at President Obama’s “back of the queue” remark that he had instantly decided to vote Leave.

Mr Johnson reminds us time and time again of the Bremainers (I love that band) utilising to make sure the people are “intimidated” into “meekly” voting remain. Then he says stuff like this:

You may have noticed, however, that the euro crisis is far from over, and that the EU remains a gigantic engine of job destruction

… a whole generation of young people has been sacrificed to the Moloch of the euro…

Remember that twice in the last five years, the EU has removed a democratically elected government – in Italy and Greece – and installed Brussels-approved technocrats. It is a narcotic tyranny. They want to go on with the work of building a unitary state, in a way that is anti-democratic and ultimately very dangerous

… And eventually – when we are unable to take it any more – the UK will utter a faint sheepish cough of protest.

The losers are the hundreds of millions of Europeans whose only power is their vote – their ability to sack their governments at elections. That power is being taken away. It is indefensible, and it will lead to real trouble

“Don’t listen to THEIR scaremongering – listen to OUR scaremongering!”

Glad that’s sorted.

"Mum? Dad? Friends?"

I think at this point the “real” real Nick Clegg would prefer this to the reality.

Next up is our second Bremainer (I think I’m going to stop using that phrase) in Nick Clegg. And… it isn’t too bad. I’m no fan of Mr Clegg’s, certainly not after everything he did in the Coalition and the Scottish referendum campaign, but he at least attempts to engage with the issues by listing “The Five Big Fat Lies Being Perpetuated by Brexit’s Project Fib.” He does it pretty well.

I have to give him his due with this rather excellent insight into the folly of Leave trying to out-Fear Project Fear 2:

If you believed everything the Eurosceptics said, you would think Britain was some impotent basket case, its leaders toothless, its businesses drowning in bureaucracy, and its fate in the hands of stern-faced Germans and perfidious Frenchmen all hellbent on helping hordes of dodgy foreigners clamber up the white cliffs of Dover.

But it isn’t. We are not a bulldog in a muzzle, unable to bark. We are the world’s fifth largest economy. We sit at the top table of world affairs, from the G8 to Nato and the UN Security Council. We are among the world leaders in everything from green technologies and gaming to television dramas and top-flight football. All these things are enabled by our membership of the EU, not diminished by it.

I don’t share Mr Clegg’s dedication to the UK, for obvious reasons, but I do appreciate him shining a light on the notion of British impotence as part of the EU. In the decades since it joined the EU, the UK has gone on a different course from other nations – its successes, and failures, are its own. That is because the EU is not the UK – not all unions are created equal.

Unfortunately, we’re back on the Leave Train – this time, from BEYOND THE GRAVE.

Ghost of Tonys Past

“My son did WHAT!?!

(It’s important to note, of course, that the article published was written in 2001 – back when the Euro was the big decision, Gerhard Schroder was the German Chancellor, and girl bands roamed the earth. As such, while it technically isn’t a “Remain” or “Leave” article, the fact the header chooses to concentrate on how Mr Benn “criticised the EU for its lack of democracy” suggests that Wetherspoons has claimed it for Leave.)

So we come to the Remainimator (I regret nothing!) and a left-wing case for Euroscepticism is one we’ve had to face up here in Scotland courtesy of Jim Sillars. Unlike Mr Sillars, of course, Mr Benn is not here to defend the inclusion of a 15-year-old article in a debate taking place in 2016. Nonetheless, it’s yet another read that will leave a bitter taste for Scottish independence supporters, with all its talk of “steady erosion of the power of electors,” giving up “control of our independence,” and losing “the right of self government” to “those we did not elect and cannot remove.” Once again, it’s all about who you mean by “we.”

I'm starting to really understand how some in Better Together felt in finding themselves on the same side as certain people...

I think I’m starting to really understand how some in Better Together felt in finding themselves on the same side as certain people…

Next up is another Remainpresentative (oh no, it’s a virus that spreads by language!) the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf. It’s somewhere in-between Messrs Cameron and Clegg’s: it has the doom-and-gloom of the former balanced by a bit more (if dry) positive facts of the latter. It’s just unfortunate that a lot of the arguments mirror those he himself employed against Scottish independence – the difference being here they have merit. Perhaps this is because, as a UK citizen, he actually understands the UK’s position in the EU, where he simply could not understand Scotland’s position in the UK – at least, not as pro-independent Scots do. With friends like these, eh?

Next up is the UK Government Party’s MP for Broxtowe, Anna Soubry.

… I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist. I’m not made of stone, dammit!

In any case, Anna Soubry was the last of our Remainateers (that’s enough, Aly), and for the sake of our campaign I’ll leave it at that. It doesn’t help Remain save to show that there are many different constituent parts.

DannyTheLion

So we come on to Daniel Hannan MEP, one of the leaders in the charge out of the EU. If you’ve never heard of him, Mr Hannan is the Secretary-General of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament, a host that includes such groups as Poland’s Law and Justice, Finland’s Finns Party, France’s National Front, and several other members of the UK Government Party. Like a lot of True Brit Party members, Mr Hannan seems to be all over the place in terms of policy. He supports localism, proportional representation and power of recall, and drug decriminalisation, while he opposed the Iraq invasion & Libyan intervention. On the other hand, he called anti-austerity protesting “empty, futile, self-righteous indignation,” supported the invasion of Afghanistan, considers the NHS a dreadful mistake, and withdrew his endorsement of Barack Obama less than two years into his first term when he proved to be less conservative than he hoped.

And boy, does he start with a bang:

EXPOSED. PRO-EU CHEER LEADERS IN THE PAY OF BRUSSELS:
Euro MP DANIEL HANNAN reveals the REAL reason charities, quangos and lobbyists are desperate to keep Britain in the EU
• EU pays charities to back more EU powers on issues such as environment
• Throws cash at groups who pay it lip service – so they can claim to listen
• Officials pay EU 21% tax – so make decisions for others but don’t feel them
• Thousands died because EU bowed to lobbying from diesel car faction

Wow. This ought to be good.

A recent public letter warning against Brexit argued that EU laws have ‘a hugely positive effect’ on the environment. It was signed by the heads of a dozen green pressure groups including Natural England, the Green Alliance, the RSPB and the Natural Environment Research Council. What was not mentioned was that the European Commission funds eight of the 12 organisations directly.
Of course, ‘protect our countryside’ sounds so much prettier than ‘protect our grants’, but you can’t help wondering which issue motivated them more.

(Deep breath)

Protecting the countryside is what the grants are for, you great galloping galoot.

Spare a thought for Mr. Hannan: as a member of the UK Government Party, he simply cannot imagine anyone being motivated for reasons other than greed. When he looks at others, all he sees is a mirror reflected back. he doesn’t understand that, yes, some people actually are more motivated to protect their countryside than they are to protect their grants. That’s why they’re charities, and not businesses.

It’s pretty low to attack the characters of charities by insinuating they’re more interested in profit than their cause, but Mr Hannan manages to go lower. Much lower.

‘The NSPCC has pledged its support, as have One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam,’ he said, looking pleased with himself.

‘Environmental organisations support the treaty provisions on sustainable development, and even the commission of bishops supports the treaty. This is a coalition, not of ideology, but integrity.’

Integrity? It turned out every organisation he cited was in receipt of EU subventions. Hardly surprising, then, that they should dutifully endorse a treaty supported by their paymasters.

What was surprising was the extent of their financial dependency. When I asked the European Commission how much money it had paid these organisations, it emerged that Action Aid, the NSPCC, One World Action and Oxfam had among them been given €43 million in a single year.

So, can organisations in receipt of such colossal subs aidies (sic) legitimately claim to be independent? Can they even describe themselves as charities, at least in the sense that we commonly understand the word?

What can you say to that? Seriously, what can you say?

Oh, and that thing about thousands dying “because EU bowed to lobbying from diesel car faction”? Here’s his explanation for that:

Lobbying by big business was also at the heart of perhaps the worst scandal ever to hit the car industry when it emerged last year that Volkswagen had been programming some of its diesel engines to cheat emissions tests. The discovery was, of course, a terrible blow to the company, but it raised another question.

Why had the EU, almost uniquely in the world, adopted standards that promoted diesel engines? While the American and Japanese governments were encouraging hybrid and electric cars, the EU struck out in a very different direction, enforcing emissions standards that focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of nitrogen oxide.

The diesel market was almost dead in the late Eighties, when Volkswagen revived the technology with its turbocharged direct injection (TDI) engines. European car manufacturers saw a market opportunity and set about lobbying for Brussels rules that would give them an advantage over their rivals.

It wasn’t an easy case to make. Diesel emits four times more NO2 than petrol and 22 times more of the tiny pollutants that penetrate our lungs, brains and hearts.

Yet, although diesel is generally the filthier fuel, it does produce 15 per cent less CO2 than petrol. And so a massive operation was begun to sell the new standard as part of the Kyoto climate change process to reduce CO2 emissions. Health risks were overlooked, and the conversation was skilfully turned to global warming.

It worked. During the mid-Nineties, the car companies negotiated a deal with the European Commission which prioritised a cut in CO2 emissions over the more immediate health problems caused by exhaust fumes — an arrangement announced in 1998 by Neil Kinnock, the then Transport Commissioner.

According to Simon Birkett, of Clean Air in London: ‘It was practically an order to switch to diesel. The European car fleet was transformed from being almost entirely petrol to predominantly diesel. Britain, Germany, France and Italy offered subsidies and sweeteners to persuade car makers and the public to buy diesel.’

As a result, diesel cars went from less than 10 per cent of the UK market in 1995 to more than half in 2012, with equivalent rises in other EU states. Because the industry had been savvy enough to make its case in terms of climate change, the ministers and pressure groups who might have scrutinised what was happening gave carmakers the benefit of the doubt— up until the shock of the 2015 Volkwagen revelations.

In short, the EU was lobbied by a vested interest and adopted rules that increased air pollution and led to the needless deaths of thousands of European citizens.

No one set out deliberately to kill. No doubt the Brussels-based lobbyists acting for the car giants genuinely convinced themselves that they were saving the planet. Still, EU policy ended up killing many innocent people, in the commercial interest of one industrial sector. It was a terrible blunder.

Yes, you read that right: Daniel Hannan turned Volkswagen illegally cheating emissions tests into an attack on the EU. He’s blaming the EU for Volkswagen breaking the law.

Normal people have to try to overcome the cognitive dissonance required to lie like that. But to UK Government Party members like Mr Hannan, it’s just part of their character. Quite why the Leave campaign consider him one of their shining lights is beyond me, considering how easily his arguments are countered:

Hannan’s argument isn’t just weak. It is based on two false facts.

First, Hannan states: “Here’s a scary statistic: in 2006, the EU accounted for 65% of ALL our exports. Today, that figure today has fallen to 45%”. [1 min 33 sec mark]

It might be a scary statistic – if it was true. In fact, the EU accounted for 54% of our exports in 2006, according to the ONS – the source Hannan purports to get his information from. In that year, we exported £211.06bn to the EU and £179.34bn to other countries. What’s more, there was an upward blip in exports to the EU in 2006 as you can see from the table below. It would, therefore, be fairer to use 2005 or 2004 figures in both of which years EU exports accounted for 52% of exports.*

… Second, Hannan says in his video: “According to the IMF, every region of the world is now growing except Europe”. [2 min 10 sec mark] In fact, according to the latest IMF forecast, the EU will grow 1.9% this year. What’s more, two regions are forecast to shrink. The CIS, which includes Russia, is predicted to suffer a 2.7% fall and LatIn America/Caribbean a 0.3% drop. So Hannan’s statement contains a double error.

And it isn’t just the EU Mr Hannan has targeted: he spoke falsely about welfare:

The original version of this Telegraph blog, on welfare, contained no fewer than five factual mistakes. When I, and many others, pointed them out, his response was to (grudgingly) correct one (the change has been noted), remove one blatantly untrue statement entirely (without noting the change), and to tinker (again, without noting the changes) with two more so as to convert them from flat wrong to merely deliberately misleading. Even after all that, the “corrected” article contains two clear factual errors (I leave these as an exercise for the reader – but I will note that if Mr Hannan says that a statistic is “truly eye-popping”, that probably means it’s incorrect).

So it’s not surprising that when I corrected his colleagues Douglas Carswell MP and Stewart Jackson MP, on twitter and in this article, on the subject of EU migration and benefit tourism, Mr Hannan didn’t want to actually argue about the facts or the evidence on this topic.

And on poverty:

A poorer society will more be equal for the obvious reason that there are fewer assets to spread. That doesn’t make it equal in other ways: hunter-gatherer tribes often have huge gradations of status, including concubinage and hereditary slavery. But inequalities of physical wealth are a product of, well, wealth… In other words, as a result of (the Other Party’s) recession, egalitarians got their way. The materialism that they rail against declined.

And about the NHS:

And, of course, about Scotland:

So what has gone wrong? In truth, it began in the 1970s, as the shipyards and steel mills closed. A similar process of deindustrialization was unfolding across the developed world, but Scotland was unusual in not having a direct link between taxation, representation and expenditure. Under an odd financial formula, it was automatically entitled to a disproportionate share of UK public spending. Because Scotland was therefore, in effect, spending English taxes, it became completely rational for Scots to vote for high-spending politicians. The public sector became more and more bloated, eventually accounting for 71 per cent of Scottish GDP — a figure that even the USSR never managed.

Funny how that “deindustrialization” (note the American spelling) didn’t seem to take place in Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, or Canada, and that countries like France and Germany reversed those trends in recent decades – almost as if the largest de-industrialisation in the world might not have been inevitable at all. And how, pray tell, was Scotland “spending English taxes” when we didn’t even have a Scottish parliament? How on earth would voting for “high-spending politicians” have mattered when those same “high-spending politicians” didn’t get into government until 1997? Dare I even ask where this 71% of Scottish GDP came from – keeping in mind that the Scottish government does not have complete control over Scotland’s economy?

You know what, we’re done here. Daniel Hannan contributes 3 articles full of this nonsense. 6 pages of this booklet. There’s one page from Gerard Lyons (also for Leave), but I can’t be bothered.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re a greater glutton for punishment than I am. But I did do one last thing: I did a search through the articles for certain words, to see how often they occurred.

UK: 87
Britain: 64
British: 24

Understandable, given this referendum is explicitly about the United Kingdom. But what about the constituent nations?

England: 2
English: 2
Scotland: 0
Scottish: 0
Scots: 0
Wales: 0
Welsh: 0
Northern Ireland: 0
Northern Irish: 0

If anything, it’s surprising that “English” and “England” are mentioned at all: both mentions of England refer to specific groups, namely the Bank of England and Natural England, and both appearances of “English” refer to the language, not the people. But this belies the issue that I think every voter must keep in mind as they vote in this referendum – that it is not about the nations which comprise the UK. This is about the UK itself. And since it is Parliament, not the people, which has sovereignty in the United Kingdom, the control will go to Westminster – not the people.

And that’s perfectly fine. Let’s just not pretend that the people of Scotland – or, indeed, the common people of Wales, Northern Ireland or even England – will be getting anything from a Leave vote.

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One thought on ““Fair” and “Balanced”

  1. BampotsUtd.wordpress.com says:

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