Posts Tagged ‘England’

EUROPE – WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

June 24, 2016

Living in Europe for 35 years, I greatly appreciated the people and their various ways of life. I was happy to return to live in England, since I imagined that within the European Union we could be one. So now that Britons have dropped a nuclear bomb on the relationship with Europe, I am devastated.

That we should have a constitutional crisis, utter confusion, no government and no plan for the future was eminently foreseeable. Yet a majority of voters, including friends of mine, embarked on this apparently reckless course. Why did the Remain camp fail to convince?

Voters knew David Cameron was no friend of Europe, so he had no credibility in declaring he would campaign “heart and soul” to stay in. No more persuasive were statesmen who urged Britain to stay inside the Union to play a leading role in reforming it. If Britain could not fix the defects before, why hang around? As for experts’ prophecies of economic disaster, voters clearly thought economic forecasting had too bad a track record.

A Leave friend wrote on Facebook “Now we will be back in the driving seat again!!!” Indeed so, and the responsibility rests primarily with Leavers to draw up strategies, act and take care of the people of Britain. Just now, they have no Prime Minister, no government and no plan. We Remainers however must realise that the European Union cannot continue as the framework for relating to the continent. Leavers and Remainers have a joint responsibility to end the chaos and devise new ways of functioning with our neighbours.

As for European leaders, they should take this bombshell as a warning. It is not enough to dwell on the Union’s success in ending post-war animosities and providing a democratic framework for liberated Eastern Europe. The people of Hungary and Poland have elected governments that patently care little for this.

It is not a time for European leaders to close ranks to hold the Union together at all costs. Britons are not the only people who are dissatisfied. Who today expresses enthusiasm for the Union? Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission, has failed to rise to his task. Angela Merkel performs a useful role as a “nice German” at the heart of Europe but will not act decisively as a leader.

However Europe must have smart people able to solve issues such as the bias of the euro system in favour of Germany. Germans’ insistence that other countries should merely act economically as they do is unrealistic. If limited liability laws enable individuals to go bankrupt, renege on debts and eventually return to economic activity, why can this not be done also for Greece?

The European Union has to resolve the chaotic inflows of migrants, the number one issue in the British campaign. There is talk of “defending frontiers”, but the free passage provided by Schengen has been built into infrastructures of airport and road systems, and can scarcely be dismantled. Britain, for all the boasts of the Leavers about regaining sovereignty, has only a handful of coastal patrol craft, and Italy or Greece have even less chance of sealing off their huge coastlines. However Spain does. It pays money to Morocco and Mauritania in return for measures to head off migrants. Such measures do not choke off channels altogether, but manage the flows better.

Financial stability and migration are among the big issues of our time. They need imaginative ideas and cooperation, far more than exasperated reactions to bothersome bureaucrats.

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THE WORLD FACES FIVE ISSUES (ONLY)

December 22, 2013

Like many males at this time of the year, I feel compelled to address the great issues of the world. Fortunately there are only five:

1. Ensuring a properly functioning economy
2. Avoiding war
3. Creating good governance
4. Keeping balance in the environment
5. Managing migrations

There is some linkage. Economic achievement for example will be affected by success in avoiding war.

What about population growth? Important, yes, but it is likely to be regulated automatically by advances in prosperity. That in turn will be influenced by better governance, as is already happening in Africa.

Migration may not seem a top priority. However statistics indicate Africa’s population will probably rise to four billion. How will they interact with the richer but much smaller and declining population of Europe? If just one per cent decide to move to Europe, that’s forty million. If ten per cent come, that’s more than Europe’s whole present population. What are the implications?

I don’t have all the answers, but it’s a nice short list to work on. All the rest is media chatter, including the question whether Arsenal will win the English soccer Premiership, which I must confess does sometimes clutter my mind.

I trust some of the rest of you are working on the same list. If so, we can doubtless look forward to a better 2014. Good luck and Happy New Year.

Actors should be heard – rule number 1

October 19, 2013

Saw Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” at the Oxford Playhouse last night. Saw, not heard, because those of us in the Circle could catch only around half the words spoken by actors of the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS).

The OUDS is a prestigious launching pad for professional acting careers. But perhaps they should first learn elocution. The Playhouse is also a venerable institution, but it should not charge full prices for wanna-be amateurs.

Was the play good? Dunno.

Church of England and women – time to change the voting rules

November 22, 2012

The Church of England did not vote against women bishops, it voted heavily in favour. What turned victory into defeat was the over-conservative, cumbersome system of voting.
The House of Bishops voted 44 to 3 in favour. The House of Clergy voted 148 to 45 in favour. The House of Laity voted 132 to 74 in favour, just short of a two-thirds majority. But the rules said a two-thirds majority was necessary in all three votes. So the motion was defeated (by lay people not the clergy), and nothing will change.
The requirement of a two-thirds majority weights the vote heavily in favour of the status quo. Putting the vote to three different bodies, all of which are required to have two thirds majorities, is a further invitation for somebody to find fault and block it.
If you ask people if they are in favour of something, and they say yes, and then you ask “Are you over there in favour too?” and received the answer again yes, then ask a third time “But what about you others?” eventually some small group will have second thoughts and say “Well, actually no.” It is asking for obstruction.
The Church of England reacted in a modern way sympathetic to women’s expectations when the question of women bishops came up. Its spirit is in the right place. The anachronistic and conservative voting system however made yes mean no.
Time for a change to the rules.

LIBERATING AND CONVENIENT

August 23, 2012

Whilst I’ve been away from the UK in Europe, I’ve crossed frontiers a dozen times, and never had to show a passport or identity card, nor declare goods to customs. Eurozone citizens crossing with me did not have to lose money through changing currencies. I lost 8% to the money-changers by having to change sterling.

When I return to the UK on Sunday, I will have show an identity card at Trieste airport as I leave the Schengen zone. When I arrive in the UK two hours later, I will have to queue to show my identity card again.

I’m still trying to discover the supposed benefits of British insularity. Our currency is devalued far more than the euro is. Staying outside Schengen means we are excluded from sharing of security information.

Nobody likes too much regulation, but that’s not the sole preserve of the European Union – national governments do it too. Democratic accountability in the EU? Maybe not great, but Britain has a first-past-the-post voting system that usually gives exclusive power to a party winning around a third of the votes. Not supremely democratic either.

At least I have not only British nationality, but also Swiss, so like most Europeans I can travel around with a small plastic identity card in my wallet rather than a passport. Switzerland doesn’t even belong to the EU, but it has adapted itself to many EU norms and remains safe even after opening up its frontiers within Schengen.

In most respects I love living in England, the place where I was born and grew up, so I’m working hard on my insularity. But for the moment, I don’t quite get it. Just now, I find European harmonisation liberating and convenient.

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

April 28, 2012

Since water authorities declared a drought in south-east England a month ago, the heavens have opened and torrential rain has bucketed down. Rivers swell, roads flood, the ground is sodden, and humans splash through puddles and squalls.

Yet the drought is as bad as ever, hosepipes remain banned (not quite a priority just now), and users must cut back on consumption, according to the water companies. Why? Because they draw their water through boreholes from groundwater. And these groundwaters have been running low for some time. Meanwhile, the water that falls from the heavens is drunk by growing plants, evaporates or runs away into rivers and the sea.

In the neighbouring area to the west, the rain pours down too. Plants eagerly suck up what they can, and doubtless some evaporates too. But there is no drought, nor any restriction on consumption – in fact no shortage of water at all. The reason? They get their water from reservoirs, into which much of the rain falling over surrounding hillsides is gathered. The reservoirs are nearly full.

In the southeast, they plead lack of reservoirs. So what? For thousands of years, peasants have found ways of steering scarce water long distances to where it is needed. Romans constructed aqueducts from far-off hills to supply whole towns. Ancient Constantinople built huge cisterns in the city centre. Today’s gardeners feed rainwater off roofs into butts. And there are some reservoirs in this part of England, just not many.

We certainly shouldn’t waste water. But nor should the water providers squander the huge supplies they are being presented with by the heavens.

The water companies are privately-owned, but consumers have no choice. Each company serves an area on its own. The result is a bureaucracy which reacts as bureaucracies do in a shortage: tell people not to use it. That’s not good enough. How about some innovative thinking and investment in new facilities? The water is there to be taken.

Numbers, damned statistics and egg on journalists’ faces: cautionary tales

March 1, 2012

If you read a headline that eating a bacon sandwich a day increases your risk of cancer by 20%, that’s sounds bad. Not according to Tim Harford, columnist of the Financial Times.

At a seminar of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, he gave a hair-raising account of the pitfalls awaiting journalists tempted to use juicy statistics in news stories.

So what cancer was involved? It turned out to be bowel cancer. How many people get bowel cancer in the UK? Four in 100. So a 20% increase means five in 100. Is that so much different? Is the bacon sandwich factor significant? Hardly.

A British Prime Minister announced that his government would spend £300 million over five years on care for pre-school children. Seemed a lot. But divided by five, the amount each year was £60 million. Around one million pre-school children in the UK qualified, so that made £60 per child per year. Which was about 20 pence per day.

“Not much childcare to be bought for that,” notes Harford.

These are his tips for journalists dealing with numbers:
– Is it true?
– What’s really being said? Does the statistic exactly define what’s measured?
– What’s the bigger story – the context, the history, the period of time?

Mmm. After 50 minutes of his harrowing tales, I think I’ll avoid numbers altogether. I’m just going to look silly.


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