Monday, 15 December 2014

Blocked By Carswell!

On this blog we have followed Douglas Carswell on Twitter for many years; when he was a Conservative MP and now as a UKIP MP. However recently (not long after he has joined UKIP) we are now blocked from seeing his twitter feed as the above screenprint illustrates clearly.

To block our Twitter account is obviously his prerogative, but it confuses us why... Our Twitter account rarely uses bad language, never insults nor is gratuitously offensive. In fact our Twitter exchanges with Douglas Carswell have been minimal to say the least.

Yes, this blog has not always been complimentary about Carswell, but given his inconsistent position on aspects of EU membership among other matters then as an elected MP he should expect a degree of scrutiny and questioning.

It's thus strange from the same chap who argued for more internet interaction in politics as per the Plan page 24:
Analogue politics in a digital age.

Never has the expectations gap been so wide. when we book a holiday or buy a DVD we expect choice and immediacy. we browse the internet for options, we click a couple of buttons, and we get what we came for.

Compare this to the experience of applying for a driving licence, or getting planning permission – let alone trying to get a child into a particular school. The technological advances of the past decade have empowered consumers in everything except their dealings with the state.
Previous generations were much readier to accept that what they wanted might not be available and that, even when it was, they would have to queue for it.
But the internet has created almost unlimited capacity, eliminating storage costs and reducing barriers to entry. whatever we want, the chances are that someone somewhere will be selling it. And it is now more feasible than ever to deal with that someone – unless that someone is a government agency.
Odd again when we consider this from page 27 from the Plan:
The web has made it possible, as never before, for a politician to come from outside, appealing directly to voters over the heads of party bigwigs.
Even more odd behaviour when we see this from Carswell's blog in 2013:
Twitter is killing spin
Twitter is a great detector of bull. It is changing the way that news is managed fundamentally. And for the better.
We guess though we shouldn't expect any different. Like every other politician what Carswell says is not what he does. He advocates open primaries as per page 23 of the Plan:
Many of the peculiar features of American democracy – the election of public officials, from the school board to the Sheriff; the fiscal and legislative autonomy of the 50 states; the use of open primaries to select candidates; term limits and recall procedures to control politicians; open congressional hearings for big appointments; local and state-wide referendums – are designed to prevent law-makers from becoming remote.
Yet when he defected to UKIP he was made the UKIP candidate in Clacton with no open primaries and as result of trampling all over UKIP party rules to the detriment of the hard work by Roger Lord.

Presumably UKIP is supposed to be the new anti-establishment politics, but for the life of me I can't see the difference.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas Adverts

If Sainsbury's are to belittle the slaughter of WW1 by using it to sell more Christmas tat, then we might as well have a parody of it.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Guess Me Weight

Following on from our previous post we see an interesting example of Ofcom's wide brief, with a "guess your weight" competition held in central London yesterday. Protesters took rather unusual measures to highlight their objections to an amendment made to the 2003 Communications Act.

This amendment meant that any paid-for pornography bought online will now be regulated by the same guidelines set out by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) as DVDs sold by sex shops, which involves a number of sexual activities, produced by UK film makers, being banned for online broadcast.

As the Telegraph notes:
The new rules were brought in after the Department for Culture, Media and Sport decided that the laws relating to DVDs and online paid-for video porn were inconsistent.
DVDs are regulated by the BBFC, while online porn is regulated by the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) and Ofcom. With the rise of VOD, the DCMS concluded under 18s would be able to access R18 content.
Providers of what is known as On Demand Programme Services ("ODPS") are required by law to notify ATVOD before the service begins, and to advise ATVOD if the service closes or undergoes significant changes.

Despite calling itself an "independent co-regulator" it comes as no surprise to learn that the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) is another example of the complex mixture of Ofcom approved and EU financed regulatory structures:
On 18 March 2010, Ofcom delegated certain of its functions and powers in relation to the regulation of On Demand Programme Services to ATVOD by means of a formal designation. The designation included provision for a review of the arrangements after two years. Accordingly, on 22 March 2012 Ofcom launched such a review and on 15 August 2012 issued a statement confirming the Designation with amendments to give ATVOD greater operational freedom.
And while service providers must pay a fee to ATVOD in relation to each On Demand Programme Service, the fees which are charged by ATVOD are the subject of a public consultation each year and are approved by Ofcom.

We see yet another cosy alliance between those which sit on, and have previously sat on, boards across the great number of Ofcom approved regulators.

For example we see that Ruth Evans is the independent ATVOD Chair, and has previously sat on the Deputy Chair of the Office for Communications Consumer Panel for five years and on the Board Director of PhonePay Plus, which regulates premium rate services in the UK.

The Deputy Chair, Nigel Walmsley, was until recently a Council Member of the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Chairman of the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB), and Pete Johnson, the Chief Executive Officer was previously Head of Policy and Business Development at the British Board of Film Classification.

Independent Board Member Robin Foster's profile describes him as having:
... previous experience as a strategy partner at Ofcom, helping to establish Ofcom and playing a key role in Ofcom’s first major strategic reviews of public service broadcasting, telecommunications and spectrum.
Then ODPS have to consider the universal guidelines on child internet safety issued by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS).

Ofcom is not ATVOD's only focus as it notes itself:
Under the terms of its designation as the appropriate regulatory authority for editorial content in On - Demand Programme Services (“ODPS”), one of ATVOD‟s designated functions is to ensure that Service Providers promote, where practicable and by appropriate means, production of and access to European works (within the meaning given in Article 1 (n) of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive („the Directive‟) (section 368C(3) of the Act) 
Thus those protesting might be interested to know that Westminster is largely impotent in this case. The dominating factor, which unsurprisingly the Telegraph fails report, is laid bare in the Statutory Instrument in the Explanatory Notes (page 3):
The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009(a) and 2010(b) implement Directive 2007/65EC of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services(c) (“the AVMS Directive”).
And EU Directive 2010/13/EU (Audiovisual Media Services Directive) states:
It is necessary, in order to avoid distortions of competition, improve legal certainty, help complete the internal market and facilitate the emergence of a single information area, that at least a basic tier of coordinated rules apply to all audiovisual media services, both television broadcasting (i.e. linear audiovisual media services) and on-demand audiovisual media services (i.e. non-linear audiovisual media services).
Confirming once again the UK's submissive role as a European Union member state.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Oftel, Ofcom And BT

With this piece we seek to explore the nature of the regulatory structure of telecommunications within the UK as illustrated in the above diagram. The intention is an attempt at simplicity which is to look at national, EU and international regulation in turn.

However problems emerge in the sense that such dividing lines don't truly exist - the EU for example is a fundamental part of the UK government, as is international governance. This becomes especially so with telecommunications. An example is that the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has a direct relationship with the UK regulatory body The Office of Communications (Ofcom) as do indeed international bodies such as COCOM.

So while we wish to deal with each in turn as an attempt to illustrate clearly the very complex world of telecommunications, we appreciate that there is a very fine line to be drawn between attempting simplicity and being inaccurate. With this in mind the above picture showing the EU as a separate 'cloud' and the following piece should be viewed with EU and international governance in mind, and as a consequence much overlap will occur over the next few pieces.

Yet even on just a domestic basis regulation is continually being updated, the above diagram was relevant until April 2014. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, merged the ineffectual Office of Fair Trade and Competition Commission (established in 1999) to create the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) meaning the diagram now looks more like this below:

Further domestic complexity was brought to the fore by the Scottish independence vote; that despite political and legislative devolution to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there aren't any formal mechanisms which involve the devolved legislatures with representation in telecoms governance and oversight.

Governance at a global, EU, ministerial and and regulator levels exclude representation from the UK's four nations. For example in the Scotland Act 1998 which established a devolved Scottish Parliament, telecoms was kept as a "reserved" matter - a constitutional term meaning that it was to be decided by the UK Parliament as per Section C10:
  1.     Telecommunications and wireless telegraphy.
  2.     Internet services.
  3.     Electronic encryption.
With Scotland rejecting independence recently, telecoms regulation remains a democratic challenge within the UK. Ofcom appointed the Advisory Committee for Scotland (ACS) to advise Ofcom "about the interests and opinions, in relation to communications matters, of persons living in Scotland." However as only an advisory committee it sits to one side, unelected and unaccountable. The same lack of 'devolution adjustment' also applies to Wales and Northern Ireland. This could be consider unsatisfactory when telecoms across the UK have different needs with regard to rural location, broadband and 2G, 3G 4G mobile phone access.

Thus not unsurprisingly, with this in mind, the demand for an independent Scotland to have a say in telecommunications regulation was made in its White Paper, Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland (page 276):
The government of an independent Scotland will have the powers to properly prioritise the needs of rural Scotland in relation to telecommunications...
Scotland's dissatisfaction with regard to a lack of representation laid bare on page 311 (my emphasis):
We have also felt the impact of other decisions in communications policy that did not take account of Scotland’s circumstances. When 3G mobile licences were auctioned in 2000, an initial coverage target of 80 per cent of the UK population was set. This was increased to 90 per cent of the UK population in December 2010. Despite the efforts of the Scottish Government, a distinct Scottish target was not set. Currently, 3G coverage in Scotland is the lowest of the four UK nations, reaching only 96 per cent on the most optimistic estimates. 
Furthermore, there is a disparity between urban and rural Scotland. Coverage in rural Scotland drops to as low as 92 per cent, demonstrating that there will always be poorer coverage in rural areas unless these areas are given priority in allocating licences.
A contrast could be considered between the lack of telecoms representation by Scotland within Ofcom and with Ofcom's broadcasting responsibility - where the BBC, with its Audience Council Scotland, has a representative member for Scotland on the BBC Trust which is currently Bill Matthews.

To explain Ofcom's lack of coherence we can see that one of the notably observations taken from the above graph as indicated by the arrows is that in terms of its relationships with other interested regulatory bodies Ofcom has a prominent central role to play in UK communications regulation. But it is a role that is always inconsistent.

The lack of consistency has been a consequence of a lively mix of ever evolving nature of technology, of the growth of "regulator watching" and of the ever integration of the EU and international considerations.

Domestically the implementation of privatisation of previously nationalised industries under Margaret Thatcher led to a growth of "regulator watching" with often mixed success for the customer, and this was particularly apparent in telecoms.

Ofcom's predecessor was the telecoms regulator Oftel. Oftel was established under the 1984 Telecoms Act  which had privatised the telecoms market, known as the "Abolition of British Telecommunications’ exclusive privilege". It was the first major privatisation by the then Conservative government.

Oftel was often accused, particularly towards the end of its regulatory life, of being very sympathetic to BT and with good reason. BT's relationship with the regulator Oftel was one of "coercive-diplomacy" rather than a telecoms company being more subservient to an assertive telecoms regulator.

The relative impotency of Oftel largely stemmed from BT remaining intact instead of being broken up; a decision which reflected the government's view on maximising proceeds from shares and future tax revenues on what was the world's biggest telecommunication company. But by remaining effectively as a monopolist telecoms company BT had every incentive to exclude competition by refusing interconnection between networks or threatening competition by fixing interconnection charges as high as possible.

So what followed was "coercive diplomacy" between the powerful monopolistic BT and its less powerful regulator. This somewhat uneven conflict was particularly encouraged by modifications to BT's operating licenses. BT was entitled to reject licence modifications proposed by Oftel under Section 12A of the 1984 Telecoms Act.

Thus despite privatisation, many difficulties were experienced by other companies attempting to enter a market wholly dominated by BT, particularly with its inherent well established infrastructure. A problem acknowledged by Oftel itself in its 1st report of 1984:
BT is competing in a large number of spheres of activity in the telecommunications industry from a position of significant strength, resulting from such factors as its established reputation and its established customer base supported by a selling organisation of extensive scope. Understandably many organisations have been apprehensive about the possibility of effect competition in this situation.
Problematic regulation and promotion of competition could also be seen when Mercury (Cable and Wireless) obtained its licence in 1985.

According to condition 13.1 of BT’s licence at the time, any competitor which had been licensed had to enter into a connection agreement with BT to run a connectable system and therefore needed connection to BT’s network. BT's reluctance to succeeded a measure of market share became apparent in 1985 when Mercury and BT had failed to agree terms for a connection contract.

So Mercury applied to the Director General of Telecommunications (DGT) to make a ruling under the conditions 13.5 and 13.6 of the BT licence. However while the outcome eventually favoured Mercury, who had incurred significant financial costs, the difficulties of overcoming BT's market place dominance meant that UK privatisation of telecommunications remained little more than a duopoly until the early '90s.

BT's dominance as underpinned by Section 12A meant it could bypass Oftel by threatening to force the issue to go for consideration by the then Mergers and Monopolies Commission (MMC) - a body which was eventually replaced by the Competition Commission in 1999, (given further powers under the Enterprise Act 2002) and then itself replace by the CMA.

By going to the MMC then open up the possibility of third party challenges to the cosy and convenient alliance of both BT and Oftel. Thus at the time Section 12A gave both strong incentives to negotiate terms to avoid uncertainties outside the charmed world of telecommunications that a third party may induce. The threat of a big stick in the guise of MMC gave each party a mechanism which could be used to bear down pressure on the other.

As a result Oftel was to suffer from "regulatory capture" by BT, eventually becoming as a regulator unfit for purpose. A successor was needed to further open up the telecoms market to competition. That came in the form of Ofcom whose prominence as the major regulator was established by The Communications Act 2003 (TCA)

Yet it was less Oftel's failings as a regulator that led to its demise but more a need to implement a number of EU directives into UK law which resulted in the Communications Act - EU Directives which unsurprisingly sought to further harmonise communications regulation across the European Union under the guise of modernisation but naturally implied a further step towards EU integration. Such EU Directives included; Directive 2002/19/EC, Directive 2002/21/EC, and Directive 2002/22/EC.

Using these EU Directives the then Labour government established Ofcom which inherited the duties of five separate other former regulators - the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) the Independent Television Commission (ITC), Oftel, the Radio Authority and the Radio Communications Agency.

Out of the TCA Ofcom became a "super regulator" and it comes as no surprise given Ofcom's inheritance that it was criticised for having "a too wide a brief". Not for the first time this was less a reflection of EU law and more the habitual enthusiasm of UK governments to gold plate EU law. Thus we have to query whether the initial establishment of Ofcom needed such a wide brief to comply with EU law or whether it was the political nature of the then Labour government which had unwelcome habit of reliance on big state solutions.

However it was not only the wide ranging powers that posed Ofcom problems but the inconsistency of those powers. Despite inheriting the briefs of the ITC, BSC and the Radio Authority it became clear that Ofcom was to have limitations in certain areas for domestic political reasons.

During the Parliamentary debate in 2002 on the Telecommunications Bill, Labour MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell argued in support of the Bill that:
Finally, part 5 gives Ofcom tough competition powers to act concurrently with the Office of Fair Trading. Ofcom will be able to use general competition powers, but we are also retaining, very importantly, sector-specific competition rules for broadcasting—a vital part of protecting markets that do not deliver key policy objectives purely by leaving them to competition alone. Ofcom will have flexibility to use sector-specific powers, but it will not use them where it would be more appropriate for it to use general competition powers.
Reading carefully Tessa Jowell's statement indicates very clearly that the BBC was not to be fully within the remit of Ofcom a single independent regulator for the UK's broadcast media. From the outset its creation is fatally flawed as long as the biggest and most powerful broadcaster is not fully under the supervision of the independent regulator for the UK communications industries.

Other issues which became apparent with the TCA 2003, as is typical of the UK's relationship with the EU, was that it took advantage of EU legislation as an excuse to go further with lawmaking and introduce other controversial parts. An example being, Section 127 of the Act 2003 which makes it:
...an offence to make improper use of a public electronic communications network such as grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or annoying phone calls and emails.
This was used notoriously used against Paul Chambers who joked on Twitter that he would "blow Doncaster airport sky high", a charge which he was subsequently cleared by the Supreme Court in London.

With Ofcom we can see that a consequence of a national regulatory body emboldened by new powers is that they purse paths different from government national bodies unhindered. In the UK this was reflected by Ofcom's decision in 2003 having been established by the TCA 2003, in response to the telecommunications market developing rapidly, to conduct what it called a ‘root-and-branch’ strategic review of the regulatory regime.

Unlike its predecessor Ofcom, determined to breakup BT's monopoly further, concluded in 2005 a major strategic review of the fixed telecommunications sector by using its separate powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 - itself a result of EU Directives. The objective of the review was to determine whether the sector was suffering from competition problems of such a persistent nature that they could not easily be remedied using Ofcom's specific market review powers under the TCA.

The outcome of the strategic review meant that BT offered a host of undertakings to Ofcom by which it agreed to set up a separate network access division called Openreach (a so-called "BT group business") and also to offer its wholesale products on an equivalent basis to both external customers (Cable and Wireless, Carphone Warehouse etc) and its own downstream divisions. The undertakings have brought about a fundamental shift in the way in which BT had conduct business with all its customers, meaning all were now on a more equal footing in terms of wholesale access.

Thus despite the EU inspiration behind TCA and the Enterprise Act, from a regulatory perspective, the establishment of Openreach and its relationship to external customers is currently unique to the UK and is being actively studied by regulators in other European countries who experience similar competition problems arising from the presence of a large incumbent telecommunications operator.

The term "super-regulator" though does not mean Ofcom is the only regulator when it involves telecommunications, there are at least sixteen others and the list below demonstrates with great clarity the criticism that Ofcom has a brief which is too wide, and a reflection of the diversity of telecoms: it has its tentacles everywhere:
1)   Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
2)   Telephony Preference Service (TPS)
3)   Ombudsman Services
4)   Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme
(CISAS)
5)   PhonepayPlus
6)   Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
7)   UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS)
8)   UK Safer Internet Centre
9)   Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)
10) NICC - UK home of network interoperability standards
11) Go On UK - "empowering everyone in the UK to reach their digital potential"
12) NGN UK - dormant now part of OTA
13) Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA)
14) Gambling Commission
15) Information Commissioner's Office
16) British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)
Not surprisingly with sixteen different organisations we have a complex mixture of Ofcom approved and EU financed regulatory structures. An example of the myriad structure can be found with the Internet Watch Foundation which came to media attention when it censored a Wikipedia page over an entry regarding an album cover by the German band The Scorpions. Here we see a registered charity, which works very closely with Ofcom (although Ofcom has no powers to regulate the internet) and receives EU funding. Susie Hargreaves the Chief Executive has also joined the BBFC’s Consultative Council.

Further evidence of the diversity and Ofcom's overreaching remit comes via the Advertising Standards Agency which describes a system as being one of "co-regulation of broadcast advertising" - it is self-regulation within a co-regulatory framework. It is underpinned by an enabling statutory instrument, The Contracting Out (Functions Relating to Broadcast Advertising) and Specification of Relevant Functions Order 2004 and a formal Deed between Ofcom and the ASA (Broadcast), BCAP and Basbof.

Interestingly Ruth Sawtell who is on ASA Council is also a non-executive director of PhonepayPlus, the regulator of premium rate telephone services.

In addition to the hydra nature of Ofcom, and its regulatory offspring, telecommunications are also responsibilities imbued within various government ministries and the agencies for which they are responsible, requiring within government itself a need for coordination as the table below illustrates (click to enlarge):

Thus it's apparent that even on a domestic basis telecoms regulation is diverse, overlapping and often incoherent. In the next piece we will move our focus away from domestic regulatory structures and turn our sights on the EU's role in UK telecommunications regulation.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The M4 Motorway And Immigration?

 
It's a fair point to make the case that the significant influx of immigrants in the last 10 years has in a number of cases put intolerable pressure on public services in various parts of the country. Thus we see that Farage attempts to make this point as a reason for being late on Friday at a venue in South Wales:
Nigel Farage today blamed immigrants for clogging up Britain's roads after traffic jams meant he missed an event charging Ukip supporters to meet him.

The Ukip leader said he arrived too late for a £25-a-head drinks reception in Port Talbot because the UK's 'open door immigration' policy meant that the M4 'is not as navigable as it used to be'.
However while we're not sure where exactly Farage was held up on the M4, we would query his assertion 'that open door immigration has meant that the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be'.

Like most motorways, the M4 suffers from congestion at busy periods in various locations along its route and has done so for a long time. Particular problem locations are between Reading and Slough and then around Bristol - with junctions connecting with the M32 and the M5.

More notoriously though the bottlenecks intensify as the M4 travels through South Wales as any regular commuter knows. Not long after crossing the (second) Severn bridge, the M4 becomes two lanes around Newport and Cardiff traveling through the Brynglas Tunnels.

To give an indication of how long this section has been an issue an M4 relief road to bypass the tunnels was proposed back in 1991, way before "open door immigration policy".

Then as we move further on towards Port Talbot, the motorway again reduces down two lanes and junctions 40 and 41 have been temporarily closed as an attempt to improve traffic flow - to local residents dismay.

As the National Transport Plan for Wales noted in 2010:
South-east Wales is densely populated, with significant conurbations at Cardiff and Newport and smaller urban areas nearby. Local and long-distance traffic converge in this region, particularly around the M4 motorway
In addition:
...the motorway around Newport does not conform to today’s motorway standards. It lacks continuous hard shoulders, has closely spaced junctions with sub-standard slip road visibility and narrows to a restricted two lane section through the Brynglas Tunnels. Heavy congestion occurs along this stretch and either side of it at peak hours.
Thus when we factor in that Farage was traveling early on a Friday evening is it any wonder he experienced significant delays. There was of course the train - Brunel built it for a reason.

Yet it's a worrying trend and reflection of UKIP's desire to be a single issue party on immigration that, rather than policy and detail, problems are increasingly being put down to immigration alone. Not only does it lend the party to ridicule but it is toxifying the eurosceptic debate.

That said in the short term UKIP have more pressing matters to attend to.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Stamp Duty

 
I've made my feelings clear before, in rather robust terms, on the complete lunacy of stamp duty on the housing market. Owen Paterson with the launch of his think-tank, UK2020 a month ago acknowledged the problems inherent with it

Stamp duty completely distorts the housing market by having absurd cliff hangers meaning an extra penny on a house price can cost thousands extra. Trying to sell a house, for example, which is worth just over £250,000 then becomes a nightmare. It means a jump in duty from 1% to 3%, which obviously becomes a deterrent to anyone attempting to try to sell or buy a house within a significant range of the £250,000 bracket. At the very least if we are to retain the tax it has to be altered.

It is welcome therefore that in the Autumn statement that Osborne is attempting to iron out the stamp duty 'jumps'
The chancellor said that from midnight the current system, where the amount owed jumps at certain price levels, would be replaced by a graduated rate, working in a similar way to income tax.
Clearly with the 2015 election in mind Osbourne's headline plan has a multitude of benefits; mainly appealing to "middle England" who are attempting to successfully sell their house, the headline of a tax cut and an attempt to outflank Labour on proposals of the mansion tax:
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the headline announcements were "real electioneering" by the Conservative chancellor, saying the stamp duty proposals were the Tories' "own version of the mansion tax" proposed by Labour and the Lib Dems.
Thus we can see, along with Article 48 on immigration, Conservative policy is beginning to take shape six months before an election. Policy not aspiration. Contrast this with Ukip whose 'non-existent' policies are in a mess, and unlike the Iron Lady whom Farage alleges he admires, he is for turning, often, and with embarrassing consequences.

Whatever we think of either party, what is clear is with the steady rolling out of policy Tory candidates and PPCs will be prepared well in advance, particularly in hustings. However UKIP PPCs will have a manifesto dumped on them just weeks before and any policies contained within liable to be changed on the whim of its leader. We are thus seeing a repeat of what's gone on many times before. Its grassroot support deserves much better.

That aside we also see the cynicism of the Tories. Osborne could not have been unaware that stamp duty was fundamentally broken, he's been informed before. Thus it is very interesting that he attempts to address the issue particularly just before an election. He's allowed a broken system, and all the difficulties it entails for the rest of us, to continue right until an impending election when he makes the necessary amendments purely for political purposes.

This is of course further evidence that the only mechanism which concentrates politicians' minds is the threat of being removed from office before an impending election. Thus the current representative system of being "lied to on Thursday and ignored on Friday for another five years" does not work. Above all else we need another way.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Cameron, Article 48 And Donald Tusk

Little noticed or mentioned by the UK media but yesterday was the last day of the outgoing President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy. It's interesting that a quick Google news search shows mainly non-UK media outlets at the top of the list reporting the news. Clearly with no obvious "UK flag" to put on the story it gets tucked away unnoticed in the UK.

The lack of coverage provides a stark contrast to 5 years ago when van Rompuy was first chosen for the job. Then we had much salivation by the UK media over whether Tony Blair would be chosen for the job. A prospect that was always a non-starter.

So today we have a new President, and Van Rompuy's replacement is Poland's Donald Tusk:
Poland's Donald Tusk takes over as European Council president Monday, the first person from the former Soviet-dominated east to take a top Brussels role, with a mandate to revive the economy and deal with a resurgent Russia
Tusk will be a different proposition, with his roots in Poland's anti-communist Solidarity trade union, at a time when the European Union faces a mounting challenge from Russia over Ukraine.
However why this matters to the UK, and more specifically to Cameron, is Tusk is Polish and he has previous with Cameron over immigration:
The Polish prime minister has lashed out at David Cameron’s calls to scrap the overseas payments of child benefit for the children of UK-based immigrants, calling them “unwarranted and unacceptable”.

Speaking at a press conference, Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s centre-right government, vented Polish anger over the Prime Minister’s proposals made in a speech on Sunday that singled out Poles, and promised Poland would veto the changes to EU treaties the proposed adjustments to child benefit laws would require.
As we noted in our previous piece for Cameron to achieve treaty changes via Article 48 he has to have the approval of the other 27 member states at a European Council and here we can expect likely objections to Cameron's proposal to limit immigration to come from countries such as Poland.

But first Cameron's proposals have to be put on the European Council agenda for it to be put to the vote. And the agenda is set by the President. And the President is now Polish.

Cameron's attempt at using Article 48 to remove himself from a hook has just become far more difficult.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Penny Mordaunt: Debasing The Political Debate?

It's a rather sad indictment of the media's coverage that MP for Portsmouth North Penny Mordaunt's joke speech in the Commons makes the front page of a Sunday newspaper. This at a time when a proper debate is ongoing in the wake of Owen Paterson's and Cameron's speeches earlier this week regarding our membership of the EU and immigration.

We're not sure that a slightly silly speech by Penny Mordaunt as a "bet" on behalf of her constituents warrants front page coverage. But we have long given up on the media having a sensible debate on anything serious as Evan Davis demonstrated on BBC's Newsnight earlier this week.

However this blog rather more fondly remembers her gallant efforts to remove a certain Andrew Andronikou as administrator to Portsmouth Football Club, efforts which turned out to be successful.

Andronikou had previously been an administrator at Swindon Town FC and memories of his time there are less than kind to this blogger. If we were to be very generous we could consider that he had a questionable integrity. In our original post we slightly pulled our punches and it is the only post which has been published on here that was "legalled" before publishing.

So here on TBF we are entirely grateful for the efforts of Penny Mordaunt...

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The EU Game Cameron Plays

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to all matters EU, Cameron - the cast iron Prime Minister - is not to be trusted.

Yet he is also a man under political pressure not only from his own party but what he perceives as the UKIP threat for his general election chances. This is evident with his 2017 referendum promise which was made under duress while he had previously been anxious to avoid one at all costs.

So as we enter the final straight leading up to May 2015 we had a much-hyped speech on immigration yesterday. Its purpose not only to try to win the election but form the basis of winning an EU referendum in 2017.

In his speech we had the typical Cameron flourishes which were a rehash of his "commitments" over the Lisbon Treaty. With Lisbon he was repeatedly asked what would happen if it was ratified by all member states before he came to power. "We won't let matters rest there" was his response, which as we all know, letting matters rest there was precisely what he did. A U-turn that almost certainly cost him the 2010 election.

Yesterday we had a variation of the same theme.
If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out.
Cameron repeated the "I rule nothing out" during the questions and answers session which followed his speech. Cameron hinting he would consider exit but not actually specifying it and we think it's fair to assume that he won't.

However the more interesting point concerned how Cameron was going to attempt to wriggle himself out of the hole which he has very firmly plonked himself in, namely that any reforms to satisfy eurosceptics needs treaty change and that can't be done in the two years he proposed, if at all.

Cameron acknowledged during the Q&A session following his speech that his whole package required treaty change (my transcript):
Guardian: Patrick Wintour from the Guardian. You’ve cited Open Europe in your speech. Open Europe’s figures show that even if you’re on the minimum wage and you lose your tax credits a Pole or a Bulgarian will still have a financial incentive to come to the UK. Why are you sure that these measures will repel people from coming to the UK and secondly does this require Treaty change in your mind

Cameron: The answer to the second question is yes. These changes taken together they will require some Treaty changes. There’s a debate in Europe about exactly which bits of legislation which bits of the Treaty you’ll need to change but there’s no doubt this package as a whole will require some Treaty change. And I’m confident we can negotiate that.
Such arguments have been made often on the internet so it's refreshing to see Cameron finally and publicly coming to the same conclusion. It's also interesting that his numerous references to Open Europe effectively outs it as the europhile organistion that it is and that its own purpose is to keep the UK in the EU.

So...how to remove himself from a hole? Well we get a very clear indication of how he is attempting to do it from the superb analysis by Richard North of Cameron's speech:
What the Prime Minister has done is narrow down the "reform" spectrum to cover one subject, and one subject only – immigration. To be more specific, it has been narrowed down to freedom of movement.
This has a number of positives for Cameron. By linking the freedom of movement to the issue of benefits, has made Cameron try to look somewhat tougher on both. Then by concentrating largely on immigration he's turning his fire on UKIP.

With UKIP exiting the EU arena and going for the anti-immigrant vote as its sole purpose, topped off by an all round aggressive undertone that by Farage's admission alienates half the electorate, it's an understandable strategy from Cameron. It's not the definite "ins" or the definite "outs" which matter, it's the more sensitive "don't knows", "couldn't care less", and "could be persuaded either way" votes which win a referendum.

Thus by proposing what "appears" to be more a moderate sensible solutions to a concerned electorate rather than one of a more robust and alienating policy of repatriation (nevermind confusion) it would leave UKIP with nowhere else to go. It's a similar scenario to countries such as Cuba whose economy used to rely mainly on one export- sugar. Any failure for whatever reason in the product and you're buggered.

Another positive for Cameron is that there are mechanisms within EU membership which are "already possible without treaty change, or even additional EU legislation". Those which do require treaty change conveniently can be achieved via Article 48 without the need for an IGC (Intergovernmental Conference):
...Article 48 – which deals with treaty change – also allows for a "simplified procedure". Potentially, this would allow the procedure to be completed on a rainy afternoon in Brussels, perhaps on the margins of a European Council. There is, though, a small condition. The changes permissible are confined to Part Three of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which, just as it happens, include freedom of movement. Against all the odds, therefore, Cameron could pull off a quickie treaty and come home in triumph, waving a piece of paper.
What we can see here therefore is Cameron relying on the rather misleadingly named "self-amending" parts of the Lisbon Treaty. He will attempt to return from 'negotiations' claiming he's reformed the EU via Article 48, in this Cameron is attempting to do "a Chamberlain". It's as transparent as it's dishonest.

However there are also some significant negatives with Cameron's strategy. The hurdles for Cameron are not over. Article 48 is limited to what it can and can't do and it cannot just change the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on a whim as and when, despite some of the eurosceptic rhetoric.

While Article 48 by-passes the need for a complex full-blown EU treaty and an IGC, any amendments still require the UK Parliament's permission (along with the other 27 member states):
The amendments shall enter into force after being ratified by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
And under Article 48.7 we can see an implicit approval clause
Any initiative taken by the European Council on the basis of the first or the second subparagraph shall be notified to the national Parliaments. If a national Parliament makes known its opposition within six months of the date of such notification, the decision referred to in the first or the second subparagraph shall not be adopted. In the absence of opposition, the European Council may adopt the decision. 
In short it means Parliament always agrees to amendments unless it specifically objects within a certain time period. Therefore as we can see from Article 48 the key point is that Parliament still has a say in any potential amendments to the Lisbon Treaty.

Thus we could be in an interesting position where Cameron's much fabled "piece of paper" is rejected by Parliament. Realistically this is unlikely. With all main parties supporting EU membership, the likelihood is Parliament will support it, but with lots of pantomime - Labour and the Lib Dems complaining it didn't go far enough. Here would be a repeat of ERM membership - all parties supported it, for example Labour as represented by a future Chancellor known as Gordon Brown in 1990 although their criticisim was that membership didn't go far enough:
We needed an investment Budget to deal with the problems of training in industry, a Budget that would pave the way for negotiations to enter the European monetary system [ERM], a Budget that would do something about the problems that industry now faces, with investment flat and falling away.
While permission from the UK parliament maybe assured, Cameron also requires unanimity within the European Council as this Parliamentary document makes clear in its conclusions; "...any Treaty revision by means of simplified procedures, and any changes to decision procedures by means of passerelles, will be subject to veto by the Government in the European Council or Council of Ministers."

Thus initially Cameron has to have the approval of the other 27 member states, via the European Council and then via their own respective individual parliaments as well. Here we can probably expect likely objections to Cameron's proposal to limit immigration to come from countries such as Poland or Romania both of which have a veto (a proper one unlike a phantom one).

Another difficulty for Cameron is, and one that has always been present, if the UK requests too much then it leads to other countries demanding concessions as well. And has always been the way through the horse trading (and consensus) which typifies EU politics the UK will give up more than it achieves.

So it is more than likely that Cameron's package will be whittled down to non committal "declarations", "protocols" and "technicalities". All accompanied by theatre, marching bands and cheerleaders...but no substance. Wilson's "New Zealand butter" writ large. All helpfully promoted by our europhile media.

Encouragingly, and somewhat revealingly, while Cameron acknowledged Norway was a part of the single market he did not specifically mention during his speech that it was "governed by fax" which he has been prone to do in the past. This is possibly a new development. And so we wonder if Witterings from Witney's meeting with Cameron in August on this and other matters (coupled with Owen Paterson's recent speech) had a far more reaching resonance than we might have fully appreciated. Certainly Cameron has not used the phrase since. Instead he noted:
Those who argue that Norway or Switzerland offer a better model for Britain ignore one crucial fact: they have each had to sign up to the principle of freedom of movement in order to access the single market and both countries actually have far higher per capita immigration than the UK.
Which seems to suggest the Prime Minister knows full well (or has been informed by one of his constituents) that we can have single market access without being members of the EU, thus removing ourselves from the political union baggage which he claims he wants to do. It appears that we are beginning to establish the Norway option within the public debate.

Rather incoherently he then argues that EEA membership is not an acceptable option because it has to sign up to the principle of freedom of movement, but at the same time argues that within the EU and the single market he can negotiate restrictions. A claim that becomes even more absurd when the EEA agreement, under Articles 112-3, allows greater scope to place restrictions on immigration.

And further danger emerges for Cameron that by narrowing his reforms down to one issue he risks alienating those who wish "further and deeper reforms" such as big business represented by the likes of the CBI or members of his own side. It's also a tacit admission from the Prime Minister that he has somewhat painted himself into a corner - he has nowhere else to go either.

With this in mind we increasingly wonder if Cameron has simply just changed the hooks on which he has impaled himself and in this he is entirely beatable.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Paddington Bear And UKIP?

It says something of the media combined with the rather aggressive anti-immigrant message of UKIP, that it now means a review of a children's film has to somehow tie in with an anti-UKIP message - and that doesn't reflect well on either UKIP or the media. This from the Spectator:
Deborah Ross revels in this wondrously British new film - and its anti-Ukip message
And this from Michael Bond himself (my emphasis):
So Bond’s not a UKIP supporter? He winces. “A dreadful thought, I can’t think of anything worse. I’m a great believer in being a member of the EU. I think it was one of the best things Churchill ever did. I don’t want us to leave Europe.
Though in this case I think Mr Bond should stick to writing children's stories - history and politics is clearly not his forte.

What's becoming apparent though such views which infiltrate a simple review of a children's film becomes just another example of UKIP fundamentally poisoning the 'out' campaign...