Saturday, 22 November 2014

England Flags And Other Matters

"I took her to a supermarket...I said pretend you've got no money, she just laughed and said oh you're so funny. I said yeah? Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here." Jarvis Cocker, Common People.

Without being presumptuous it must have been a rather surreal week for Dan Ware. There he is going about his daily business, his only "crime" being that his house is draped in England flags with a white van parked in his driveway and he becomes, through no fault of his own, the centre of a political scandal and resignations.

It's rather ironic for a chap who himself admits he does not vote that he has created more political waves by hanging up an England flag than casting a vote via the ballot box. How very revealing...

Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who tweeted a picture of the house, then compounded the feeling that Labour et al are out of touch by attempted to excuse her faux-pas by claiming that it was an "amazing image". The phrase "you should get out more" springs to mind here. Not unsurprisingly Ed Miliband does not come out of the episode well either as Labour, run by a metropolitan elite, comes under ever increasing scrutiny that it is losing its core working class support.

It's also interestingly symbolic that the flags on Mr Ware’s house were of England, not of the UK, which he had flown to celebrate the World Cup:
The father of four said he had simply put up the three St George flags to celebrate the World Cup, and that it was 'not political'.
Here we see an example of this unappreciated and largely unnoticed change in recent years of the increasing tendency of England football fans no longer universally flying the Union flag of the nation team but instead waving the flag of St George. As a national sport, national tensions and issues tends to spill out onto "the terraces" thus it can be a good indication of the nation's woes - a canary down the mine.

Local rivalries are a classic example - the bitterness surrounding Chesterfield against Mansfield is a reflection of the 1984 miners strike and the reasons behind the intense rivalry of Liverpool and Manchester Untied is laid bare by the reference to the Manchester Ship Canal on United's badge.

Thus if we look back to the 1966 World Cup final, it is curious from a modern perspective (aside from England actually winning a trophy) to see the number of Union flags being waved among the crowd in support of England:

A practice that continued into the 1970 World Cup in Mexico - here England against Brazil...


...right up to the 1990s. Here are England fans in Italia 1990:

And against Germany in the World Cup 1990 semi-final:
Yet fast forward on 10 or 15 years and we see a complete change, hardly a Union flag in sight. The contrast couldn't be clearer.
The World Cup in Japan 2002:
...in 2006:
...and in 2010 in South Africa:
The year of change is relatively easy to pinpoint, it happened almost overnight - 1996, or more specifically the Euro '96 UEFA tournament which was held in England and they played all their games at Wembley.
Euro '96 was a watershed moment where very significant numbers of England fans took to waving the St. George flag and widely ditching the Union flag (below):
 
The reasons why are less easy to pinpoint. It appears to have been a combination of a reasonably successful football tournament for England where it had a very good chance to win it, the success of the song "three lions", the changing dynamics of football fans with the establishment of the Premier League four years earlier and the embarrassment of the Union flag being tarnished with hooliganism a year earlier. All of which was topped off with an added dash of free England flags and hats handed out by The Sun newspaper.
In addition in 1996 there was also the context that the obviously incoming Labour government, against the loser Major, was openingly advocating devolution, particularly to Scotland as promised by Blair's speech in Blackpool 1996:
I vow that, with the consent of the people, we will have devolved power to Scotland, Wales and the regions of England...
Devolution was always a Pandora's Box - give politicians power (in this case SNP) and they want more. Labour is now reaping the "rewards" for unleashing consequences that they didn't understand nor anticipated. In Scotland it has lead to the independence referendum, which despite the "yes" camp losing has not settled the issue. Labour is also now under pressure from the SNP at the next election. And in England it has lead to a rise of Englishness which even Miliband acknowledged awkwardly in 2012. He put Euro '96 down to...
Since Euro 96, English football fans have helped to reclaim the flag of St George from the BNP.
That may have been the unintended consequences, but Miliband overlooks that instead of reclaiming the flag of St George from the BNP, it is a demonstration of the Union fragmenting and England reasserting themselves.

In this respect Labour has an "England problem" where Miliband's "long-term problems will come from south of the border, and in particular how he deals with the question of Englishness." And this brings us back to the real issue of Emily Thornberry's misguided tweet.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

EU Referendum Blog

It appears that for reasons unknown that EU Referendum has suffered a massive denial-of-service (DOS) attack deliberately targeted at the site, thus access over the last 24 hours has been unavailable.


Update: From Complete Bastard:
EU Referendum blog is down again and it's a big attack. Somebody REALLY doesn't like us. Our host can't do anything about it so we are in the process of moving to another provider (again).
Update 2: www.eureferendum.com now appears to be working normally

What is clear is someone is not happy at all. This is a deliberate, and very directed attack - the UGG site appears be acting as cover...

Monday, 17 November 2014

UKIP MEPs Falling Out With Farage?

When UKIP celebrated their "European Election win" back in May of this year, those with a more experienced eye instead wondered how many of the 24 MEPs would be left in 2019 by the time of the next elections, and with good reason. Farage, as Dr Eric Edmond observes, historically; "has a long track record of losing MEPs rather quickly as he rounds up the EU Euros".

Of the original intake in 2009 UKIP lost nearly half of its MEPs with a small consolation of only one defector to the party - Roger Helmer from the Tories. The reason is obvious and has been well documented - Farage sees off anyone he perceives as a threat;
“He cannot tolerate anyone in the party who he feels is or might be in a position to challenge him. He prefers to surround himself with incompetents and deadbeats. Anyone who emerges who might show an independent streak, he ruthlessly eliminates, to ensure that they cannot be seen as competition.” 
As Bloom warned UKIP MP Carswell last month "watch your back". UKIP is a one-man party by design not by accident.

O'Flynn of course has not covered himself with glory not only with his so-called "Wag Tax", which was dismissed within 24 hours by Farage himself but with his stupidity over the 1st November nonsense. Another example of UKIP bringing in someone and promoting them to roles where they are completely unsuited, in this case to the role of "economic spokesman". It's worth noting though in view of O'Flynn's comments on VAT that UKIP has this on its website under "Policies for People":
Houses on brownfield sites will be exempt from Stamp Duty on first sale and VAT relaxed for redevelopment of brownfield sites.
Thus confirming that official UKIP policy is to retain an EU tax (or remain EU members). But O'Flynn's biggest problem was always that he had a high profile, particularly as a former journalist with contacts - thus he's a threat to Farage. He came top of those who had a list of MEPs mostly likely to fallout with Farage. And so it's coming to pass, the briefings have begun:
"Senior members of UKIP are campaigning behind the scenes to have Patrick O'Flynn MEP removed as economic spokesman after his appearance on the BBC's Newsnight programme last Monday night. In the interview O'Flynn called for higher taxes on business, having previously called for a tax on the turnover of companies so they would pay even if they did not make a profit."
Deja Vu all over again and it's completely of no surprise. We've seen it all before and then some... With no coherent polices and a leader desperate at all costs to shore up his bank account by virtue of being leader, this is no way to run what desires to be taken seriously as a political party.

And certainly it is not going to win an EU referendum, in fact quite the opposite - it will only help the side which wish us to remain in.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

What Did You Do In The War Daddy?

"Well I went to war, not for democracy (men didn't achieve universal suffrage until 1918 and women 1928) but so that a supermarket giant 100 years later could use the story of our sacrifice to sell some more mince pies."

Goodbye Nokia

According to the Telegraph today, it's "a goodnight from me and a goodnight from him" with regard to the once mobile phone giant Nokia:
Farewell Nokia. Once one of the biggest brands in the world, it has now gone the way of Pan Am, Opal Fruits and Somerfield supermarkets.

This week Microsoft, which bought Nokia’s handset division for £4.61 billion last year, has announced that the next phone it releases will no longer have the Nokia logo stamped on it. 
Although the company still exists, as a brand it's all over - Microsoft deciding that Nokia is not a name synonymous with smartphones. Within 10 years it has gone from a giant to nothing more than a footnote, though I guess no-one will miss its distinctive ringtone which was widely parodied. A victim of the ruthless and relentless march of technological progress. Its classic phones, with changeable covers and customisable ringtones, now museum pieces.

Yet while we mock old fashioned mobiles for being like bricks, it is a curious oddity that modern phones are getting larger. As technology progresses it is not unreasonable to expect devices in general to shrink as it did with mobiles in the '90s, probably best illustrated by the Nokia 8210 launched in 1999. However as mobile technology has developed their size has now gone into reverse - as anyone who has held an iPhone 6 can testify to. A reflection that they are being used less for phone calls and more as mini-computers.

In other words we are communicating more but talking less. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.

No flowers

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Removing The UK From The ECHR?

While much emphasis domestically is concentrated somewhat understandably on the UK's membership of the European Union an often forgotten supranational influence on the UK is by the Council of Europe (pictured above) - notably in the form of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) pictured below:

The Council of Europe is a European body, based in Strasbourg, which was an attempt - the second attempt - by Jean Monnet to create "ever closer Union" soon after WWII.

In this it is nothing more than a failed predecessor of its far more successful offspring, the EU - established by the Treaty of Rome 1957. In simple terms the Council of Europe could be considered historically as 'a dry run' for European integration. It's tempting therefore in light of its intrinsic failure to view the Council of Europe, with its same flag and anthem, as a relic of the past which has little importance.

Yet while the Council of Europe floundered in its primary role of creating "United States of Europe" it found a new purpose in human rights, inspired by the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). But this diversity into a role that was not intended meant a flawed and weak structure in the form of the Committee of Ministers, which was unable to keep in check the very court (ECHR) it established. Thus, powered by its supranational ambitions, we now see an unelected court unrestricted by the normal conventions of the separation of powers - no proper legislature to keep it in check.

So unsurprisingly we increasingly see the unchecked ECHR acting as both a judiciary and a legislature combined. A classic example would be prisoners' right to vote regarding the UK. Despite the UK's Parliament's long-standing objections as a reflection of public opinion the matter remains unresolved to the ECHR's satisfaction.

We see another example when it comes to immigration. Booker in his Sunday Telegragh column notes:
But the real problem posed by loss of control over our borders stems not from the EU treaty or even laws passed by politicians. It comes from law made by judges, most notably those of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), as they have interpreted international treaties to mean something quite different from the way their framers intended.
And with the case of Golajan Tarakhel, the ECHR has taken upon itself to trample all over the Dublin Regulation and EU Treaties on a whim. A mixture of unaccountable power with the increasing role of pressure groups has led to a disproportionate effect despite only appealing to a narrow politically active section of the electorate. This has led to mission creep or what is known as “rights contagion”. 

Thus inadvertently what we have here is a war of the supranationals. Jean Monnet despised democracy, and its messy outcomes, and wanted an "organised world of tomorrow" What irony then, and with some amusement, that the mess he left us was at least two supranational organisations at odds with each other - the failed Council of Europe, and its court, now trying to exercise its power against its EU successor.

What is clear is to regain control of our borders we must also remove ourselves from the ECHR as well. Out of this though emerges an interesting question; if the UK joins EEA/EFTA as part of the Flexcit process of exiting the EU would leaving the ECHR as well jeopardise our position in EFTA/EEA?

Firstly it's important to note that membership of the EU does not mean we have to remain members of the ECHR. It is not a requirement of existing member states.

There is no explicit clause in EU Treaties for existing member states to come under the jurisdiction of the ECHR, a point which as we see on Question Time 2012 left Nigel Farage backtracking somewhat under pressure. Nothing in the relevant EU treaties requires adherence to the ECHR as a condition of continued UK membership of the EU - if they had meant to say that, they would have said it. But they didn't.

As Julien Frisch notes on his now defunct blog (my emphasis):
Since through its member states the legal traditions of the ECHR are also informally part of the EU's legal traditions, the European Court of Justice (the EU's court) is already taking into account rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, but so far there is no legal obligation for the Union to follow the Human Rights Convention's provisions.
As per our membership conditions the UK only has to conform in principle, confirmed by the EU Commission:
Respect for fundamental rights as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights is an explicit obligation for the Union under Article 6(2) of the Treaty on European Union, and the Court of Justice has held that the Convention is of especial importance for determining the fundamental rights that must be respected by the Member States as general principles of law when they act within the scope of Union law.

The rights secured by the Convention are among the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In the negotiations for the accession of new Union members, respect for the Convention and the case‑law of the European Court of Human Rights is treated as part of the Union acquis.

Any Member State deciding to withdraw from the Convention and therefore no longer bound to comply with it or to respect its enforcement procedures could, in certain circumstances, raise concern as regards the effective protection of fundamental rights by its authorities. Such a situation, which the Commission hopes will remain purely hypothetical, would need to be examined under Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty on European Union.
In other words the Commission’s reply confirms that European Convention standards are general principles of EU law. Thus as long as the UK adheres to the principles of the European Convention even via a domestic bill, for example - a UK Bill of Rights which closely follows the Convention - there is no need for a EU requirement for membership of the ECHR to enforce it. This enforcement could be done by domestic judges alone.

However complication, in terms of EU membership, comes in the form of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Lisbon Treaty gave an enhanced role to the ECJ in human rights protection with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The ECJ less an independent judiciary body but more a fundamental component to help facilitate European political integration.

While Lisbon broadened the scope of human rights protection within the EU, it came with a problem of overlapping jurisdiction. There are now two equally binding legal texts, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the European Convention of Human Rights, and subsequently two corresponding European courts; the ECJ and the ECHR both concerned with human rights protection but also inevitably concerned with who will be 'top dog'. A problem which was compounded by Article 6 (2) of Lisbon which requires the EU to join the Council of Europe given that it now has a legal personality. Some five years later the legal complications have yet to be resolved.

Inevitably therefore the opaque imprecise nature of implication often leads to contradiction and dispute between differing supranational bodies each eager to assert its supremacy - in blunt terms a penis measuring competition.

Therefore we can see that one benefit of leaving the EU but retaining a EFTA/EEA status would remove us from the ECJ jurisdiction and as such removing a possible judicial conflict. Also EFTA/EEA status means that no longer is "Single Market status" one of a supranational organisation but instead is made up of treaty rules which are agreed by countries with the EU rather than between EU "member states".

Yet despite this another possible supranational conflict may arise. Similar to EU membership there is also no specific requirement in the 1994 EEA agreement for countries to join the Council of Europe and thus come under ECHR jurisdiction.

That said the question of whether EEA countries had to be members of the Council of Europe never arose as a political issue due to applicants already being long-standing members of the Council of Europe when they joined the EEA; Norway in 1949, Liechtenstein in 1978 and Iceland in 1950. In fact no country has ever applied to be a member of the EU or EEA without first being a member of the Council of Europe and no country has ever left it.

But while EEA members are directly removed from the ECJ they rather like EU member states still have implicit obligations to the ECHR not explicit ones and they are subject to another supranational court - the EFTA court which is modelled on the ECJ. The implicitly of ECHR obligations are made clear in the preamble of the EEA agreement that "a European Economic Area will bring to the construction of a Europe based on peace, democracy and human rights".
Thus although not specified in terms of adherence to the ECHR, the EEA agreement it is argued could be endangered if EFTA states were able to obtain advantages, for example in competition, by applying provisions of European integration law in a manner conflicting with the ECHR. But even here we can see that the EFTA Court is willing to stand up to the EU and the ECJ when it ruled that Iceland did not break EU depositor protection laws by refusing to return Icesave money. 

Thus Europe is awash with unaccountable supranational courts each eager to compete with the other. So as Switzerland has shown we are beginning to seeing a conflict between these competing and incompatible supranational bodies and democracy - where despite a vote earlier this year imposing limits on immigration, Switzerland has been caught by an ECHR judgement on deportation.

In the words of Chris Grayling over prisoners right to vote; "Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost".

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Black Spots, Not Spots And Shadows

There's an interesting piece in the Telegraph from Monday regarding mobile phone coverage in the UK. Despite that during the 1980's the UK, along with other European nations, were leading the way in GSM standardization, rollout of subsequent technologies such as 3G, since telecoms has become an EU competence, has been less than satisfactory:
There is little more debilitating in a supposedly digital world than the mobile black spots that still plague so many parts of the UK. These are the areas where mobile phones don’t have a signal, and where it is therefore impossible to make voice calls or send texts. Almost as bad are the even larger areas with no 3G reception (let alone 4G, of course) and where it is therefore impossible to access the internet from smartphones or tablets on the move.
It's certainly no secret that UK mobile phone 3G coverage is poor in many areas of the country, particularly in comparison with other countries. Cornwall for example which is a popular tourist destination has long suffered with sub-standard coverage - Orange (now part of EE) being one of the only operators for some time to attempt to provide a decent mobile signal. An article in Tech Advisor from May this year expressed a view that in general 3G coverage in the UK was "embarrassing".

OFCOM, under The Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 required that by June 2013 the four mobile phone license holders meet and maintain a 90% population 3G coverage, three providers met the target with only Vodafone missing its target by 1.4% by the deadline - only to meet it this year.

Yet despite the 90% coverage claim there are reasons why 90% coverage doesn’t really mean that at all. To achieve coverage of 90% of the population the networks only really need to cover the most populated areas of the country, leaving rural areas scorned. As the Guardian noted in December 2013:
Today, 80% of the population can get a signal from all of the four operators – EE, O2, 3 and Vodafone – but geographically it remains very patchy, with just 21% of the landmass being served by all four. Nearly 23% of the UK has no 3G at all, and in nearly 13% of the country making any kind of mobile call is impossible.
The lack of 3G coverage begins to matter when we consider that with the growth of smartphones, data and the demand for broadband is far outstripping voice as the main means of communication on the move. The graph below (click to enlarge) from the Ericsson Mobility Report, released in June 2013 illustrates this acutely:

At this point we could be mischievous and, using the criteria set in terms of coverage based on population by OFCOM, compare the UK with North Korea which since 2011 has had a 3G coverage of 94% in terms of population served. On this basis it could be argued that North Korean mobile coverage is better than the UK's. The North Korean network (Koryolink) is provided by the Egyptian international telecommunications company Orascom, with officially 10% of North Koreans (2 million) being subscribers, though the figure may be much higher due to the practice common in poorer countries of renting phones out to family and friends to share the costs.

With poor coverage in the UK it is understandably that the government is keen to improve 3G coverage at the very least. This though has prompted what appears to be a dispute in government between Sajid_Javid of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport arguing for better UK coverage...
I’m determined to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as investment in infrastructure will help drive this government’s long-term economic plan.

It can’t be right that in a fifth of the UK, people cannot use their phones to make a call. The government isn’t prepared to let that situation continue.
...and the Home Secretary, Teresa May, who seems to be unwilling to reveal "not spots" as reported by the Times (£):
A confidential letter from the home secretary, seen by The Times, advises that plans by Sajid Javid to make mobile phone companies improve their coverage threaten to damage the ability of intelligence agencies to thwart plots.
With this in mind we probably for security reasons shouldn't mention that a notable "not-spot" is RAF Menwith Hill with its oversized golf balls in North Yorkshire:

Here, and in surrounding areas, mobile phone coverage drops off the end of a cliff. No mobile phone signal is usually possible when close by.

One of the proposals by the government to counter the lack of 3G coverage, (and not unsurprisingly a top down 'solution') is new legislation to force "providers to introduce network roaming across Britain, ensuring that customers automatically switch networks when they have no signal from their usual provider":
National roaming – phones would roam onto another network’s signal when theirs was not available. This is similar to what happens when you’re abroad.

Infrastructure sharing – mobile networks would be able to put transmitters on each other's masts.
But again this demonstrates that technology is simply marching on far ahead of regulators and government. Not only costing the sharing of private mobile networks will be a nightmare, by the time any kind of legislation is invoked technology will have moved on.

With the release of the new Apple's iPad Air 2, is the emergence of a programmable SIM card (backed by standards set by the ETSI) which will allow users to switch mobile network providers and plans at the touch of the button which could be the first step towards freeing mobile devices from restrictive mobile contracts, allowing users to switch carrier just by selecting an option in settings.

Thus government legislation may prove to be unnecessary...

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

"Third World Europe Finished"

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone "has become the latest high-profile business leader to write off the stagnating economy in Europe":
“Slowly but surely what I predicted about Europe is happening. What I said 10 years ago is that it would soon become a third world economy."
We don't of course dispute the thrust of Ecclestone's views. In charge of a global 'circus' which takes in five continents, nineteen countries and draws in a global television audience measured in the hundreds of millions", he is well placed to understand the stagnation of "little Europe" in contrast to the economic realities of globalisation.

And this matters to the UK because, despite F1 being a global business, its home is in the UK, notably in an area known as "Motorsport Valley" - its contribution to the UK economy not insignificant:
Now almost 3,500 companies associated with motorsport are based in Motorsport Valley, employing around 40,000 people. That represents around 80% of the world's high-performance engineers.

The industry continues to grow, with companies in Motorsport Valley producing an estimated turnover of £6bn, of which £3.6bn is exported. 
But this endorsement from 'Bernie' comes with a caveat. Ecclestone's business deals are...erm... somewhat less than candid. He once donated £1 million to the Labour party in an attempt to exempt F1 from tobacco advertising. Having achieved that exemption he then got his money back, leading to this infamous quote by Tony Blair:
"I think most people who have dealt with me, think I'm a pretty straight sort of guy and I am." .
Then we have Ecclestone paying off German judges with £60 million to end a very damaging bribery trial which would end his tenure in F1. A tenure that has left a sport in crisis with two F1 teams now in administration, and 'Bernie' admitting he doesn't know how to fix the crisis.

Views from a man who in charge of a multi-billion pound industry is out of touch with the need to adopt a social media outlook. Ironic really in a ruthless sport where technology is king, that same technology which is passing the old man by.

In this sense Ecclestone's views on Europe and its problems are not helpful. Rather like Richard Branson who claims exit for the UK would be disastrous, we have two less than candid business leaders with reputations tarnished slogging it out over the economic case for EU membership - with no altruistic intentions intended. Thus with Ecclestone's intervention for the outers it's a case of; "with friends like this..."

As Richard North notes the EU is a political project not an economic one:
...while Osborne is pretending we joined the EU "economic proposition" when, quite obviously, we joined a political project.

Everybody is pretending here that their particular corner of the EU is something it isn't, and then to cap it all, Osborne joins with his boss in lusting after something neither of them can have – a reformed EU. One of these days, these people are going to grow up, face reality and talk about the EU as it really is, rather than they would like it to be – or think it should be. Then, perhaps we might just start making some progress. But, as always, it would be unwise to hold our breath.
In this sense the message therefore to the likes of Ecclestone and Branson is mind your own business.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Giving Up Blogging?

I confess I completely forgot to acknowledge the passing of the 1st November. Apparently due to changes in the Lisbon Treaty which come into force regarding changes to QMV on November 1st Parliament ends and exit is now impossible.

Thus all eurosceptic blogging is now futile, as are UKIP and eurosceptic comments on internet newspaper and social media sites. We now have to accept that we've lost... November 1st has come and gone and we can no longer leave. We simply didn't exit in time.

It's all over...*

*Unless of course the dastardly German Angela Merkel decides otherwise...

"Let Them Eat Cake"

If ever we needed further proof that the rot in UK politics is not necessarily due to our membership of the EU but instead one of a domestic making, Denis MacShane's tweet (above) regarding expenses and MPs' cynically shredding documents is it.

Openingly mocking the electorate in this way, I would suggest, is not entirely wise...he might find ultimately that the consequences are far more unfortunate than a mere jail sentence...