Friday, 20 February 2015

The Decline Of The Westminster System: The Fusion Of Powers

 
As we edge closer to the general election in May, it is rather inevitable that the polling would show a trend in decline regarding UKIP's support, which has been consistently argued by EUReferendum:
Talk of a major Ukip "revolution" at the general election looks to have been seriously overblown, says Politics.co.uk, a view based on new constituency polling released by Lord Ashcroft.

The data show that Ukip is not on course to win any of its key target seats currently held by the Conservatives. Most worrying for the party, we are told, in the poll of Boston and Skegness - where Ukip won its largest majority in last year's council elections – it has been pushed back into second place.
There are a myriad of reasons for a decline in UKIP's poll rating. As has been well documented here and elsewhere, such as Complete Bastard, is that UKIP's problems have in the main been self inflicted. There is a fundamental lack of coherence, a geographical divide in message - depending on Labour areas or Tory ones, no fully worked out policies, and u-turns in under 24 hours at the whim of the party's leader.

So-called policies which do manage to remain intact, on its website, are almost identical to the ones contained within the 2010 manifesto which Farage infamously dismissed as drivel.

Thus, with the decline in UKIP support, we can note with wry amusement that UKIP will be having their Spring Conference in Margate - where apparently we will see the launch of UKIP's manifesto. For those who may have not visited Margate recently, it would be described by estate agents euphemistically as 'tired'. Many of its attractions, like the Winter Gardens, are in need of urgent repair.

However we also consider that the UKIP has an inherent problem, which is not entirely its fault, and that is the failings of the "Westminster System" and First Past The Post. 'Winning' the Euro elections is one thing, but with the business end of a Parliament coming to its end, and a looming election, the electorate have real choices to make. Ultimately they have to make a decision on who they would like as Prime Minister. UKIP is going to face a squeeze in an electoral process that is a Presidential System by proxy.

As Tory Michael Heseltine noted on BBC's Question Time last night (04:30 mins in):
"There's only one choice Cameron and Tories and economic recovery or Miliband and Balls the people who caused the economic problems in the first place."
The Westminster System is no longer about electing MPs but electing Prime Ministers by proxy. Further confirmation comes with the forthcoming leaders' debates which we have criticised here.

Interestingly we can also look back to the 19th Century to make our case with Chartism. Chartism: A New History by Malcolm Chase is a fascinating account of a British mass movement for democratic rights in the 19th Century.

Chartism was one of the very rare moments in British history where it is legitimate to speculate how close the country came to revolution. And what is interesting is Chase's attention to detail which allows the story to come alive for those in the 21st Century. One intriguing passage was this regarding the presentation of the first petition:
The Petition was finally presented to the House of Commons on Friday 14 June 1839. Few Chartists had expected it to make a difference to parliamentary attitudes and in this respect 14 June did not disappoint. No indication was given whether MPs would formally debate it, and when Attwood and Fielden...rolled the giant [petition] into the Commons chamber it was greeted with laughter.
And Chase then describes the attempts to present the massive second petition in 1842:
[It was arranged] to bring 'the Chartist leviathan petition' direct to the Commons chamber while it was in session. But...Parliament's officials had realised the physical problem this posed. The Petition became jammed tight in the Members' Entrance. Attempts were made to dismantle...part of the door frame; but eventually the Petition had to be disassembled and taken into pieces into the Commons. Heaped up on the floor of the chamber, it dwarfed the clerks' table on which, technically, it was supposed to be placed.
One senses here the familiar futility of lobbying a system that would not listen. But those with a keen eye will notice that the Chartists' leviathan petitions, in 1839 and 1842, were delivered to Parliament. Not to Government, not to Number 10, but to Parliament - to representatives.

In stark contrast we now see petitions presented to the Prime Minister (government), and with the rise of e-petitions such process is now made official:
Alone this little detail illustrates that the people now, perhaps unconsciously, have appreciated how the power has been consolidated and fused between the government and Parliament. Bypass the monkeys - the middle men - and go straight for the organ grinder. And it's with great irony, that Chartists tried to petition representatives when they had no vote and now in the age of universal suffrage we no longer bother.

Thus if we want an effective 'people's army' and a 'revolution' we need to fundamentally change our failed parliamentary system. Demand #3 of the Harrogate Agenda is as good as place to start as any:
3. Separation of powers:
The executive shall be separated from the legislature. To that effect, prime ministers shall be elected by popular vote; they shall appoint their own ministers, with the approval of parliament, to assist in the exercise of such powers as may be granted to them by the sovereign people of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; no prime ministers or their ministers shall be members of parliament or any legislative assembly;

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

That Was Quick

Unfortunately on Sunday, our car was hit, and significantly damaged, in a car park while parked for about half an hour. It's more an inconvenience than anything else to get it fixed and unsurprisingly no note etc was left on the windscreen as to details regarding the driver who damaged our car. This always somewhat annoys me but I accept it happens.

However four days later (today) my mobile has been inundated with copious calls from an 0843 number which when answered begins with a recorded message that announced they had details of an accident I’d been involved in the last couple of days, and they would apparently like to help me gain compensation. The details seem rather specific to be merely a random call, especially as my mobile is registered with TPS.

We're insured with RSA, who via their website apparently take privacy seriously, and so they should as it has to fulfill EU related data protection requirements. Given that RSA are the only ones who have been officially informed of said incident perhaps they'd like to explain how such details have made their way to an "ambulance chasing" firm.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Football Thuggery

Whatever you do, don't take an inflatable football into Forest Green Rovers' ground otherwise you can expect "the Treatment" from the stewards...

Stewards at Forest Green ejected a Grimsby Town fan from the ground before kick off - apparently for playing with an inflatable football. 
Several people - including at least six stewards were seen to physically eject the man from the ground, and one appeared to have him in a headlock.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

London

Mrs TBF and I have just returned from spending a nice relaxing few days in London, not only celebrating our anniversary, but a chance to be away from work - and in this blog's case politics.

Thus with this in mind, I'm keen to leave aside temporarily the political problems of the "Westminster bubble", and begin with what can be described in an unusually English upbeat observation that London as a city to explore and visit is, in my view, one of the finest in the world...albeit with some understandable failings.

I have visited London on so many occasions since my childhood and have frequented not only most of the usual tourist parts, but sporting venues, conferences and other copious personal related ventures. Yet it constantly amazes me that no matter how many times I visit, there are always great areas and places that I have never been to or even heard of.

One of the reasons, and the most obvious, is that London is rather large, not as much as some other world cities admittedly but its size is significantly disproportionate to the size of a relatively small island. But alone this cannot describe London's appeal. Los Angeles is also a large sprawling city yet it is the worst in my experience I have ever visited - in short it's a dump.

Many tourist city guides tend to recommend visitors stay in relatively safe 'tourist areas' - with a dash of common sense - and in contrast warn of the dangers of completely separate "never visit after dark" areas. LA manages to combine the two along just one street (Hollywood Boulevard) ...epitomised by the Hollywood film Pretty Woman, where the film attempted to glamorise the best bits of LA by having Julia Roberts play a prostitute. So size is clearly not everything.

Another advantage with London is that it simply has a lot of history; peppered as it is with thousands of historic properties, as well as four World Heritage Sites (Greenwich, Tower, Kew and Westminster) adding in scheduled ancient monuments and historic parks. What other major world city has such a comprehensive and informative blue plaque scheme allowing casual visitors to connecting buildings with the past?

This is the city I have long known, yet despite being largely familiar with London it was interesting that on this occasion it was the first time we visited the capital properly while utilizing a wheelchair. Navigating a city with the limitations that a wheelchair poses reveals a different aspect of a city, its culture and all the nuances which emerge. Not all of it initially obvious.

In our post in June last year criticism was made of wheelchair access regarding Brussels and in particular - and rather ironically - EU buildings. In contrast it can be safely argued that wheelchair access on London's public pavements is largely spot on in comparison.

Gently sloped dropped kerbs with tactile paving are abound. It's worth noting that tactile paving not only helps those who have sight disability to find the edge of the kerb but also acts as "foot traction" for those pushing trying to tame a 'runaway' wheelchair on a slope in wet weather which could otherwise lead to slipping and falling over.

And blimey isn't London 'hilly'- perhaps memories play tricks but it isn't as flat I had always thought it was. I guess it should be obvious that being on a flood plain, and much of it being built around the Thames, that areas of London unsurprisingly slopes significantly towards the river, but it doesn't truly become apparent until you have to push a wheelchair away from the river - essentially uphill.

Whenever I have previously visited London I have opted to use the Tube to travel around London. For obvious reasons on this occasion due to better accessibility we stuck to London taxis. I'd forgotten how good they were.

Each taxi came with its own ramp, the drivers were unfailing polite and helpful and they put themselves out to the most extraordinary inconvenience to drop us off to make Mrs TBF's life a little easier, to the extend of holding up a road of busy traffic. Another 'interesting' feature of them, as Bill Bryson noted, is they cannot drive more than 200 feet in a straight line before charging down another obscure street you never knew existed.

Another attraction of London, and a major tourist one is its pubs. Old London pubs can be a particular nuisance if you are tall, as most of the toilets are 'downstairs' which requires not only navigating restricted stair access but low ceilings when in the facilities.

Invariably also these same pubs have steps outside the front door which provide a further obstacle for wheelchair bound customers. Yet many pubs were helpful with ramps and lifting. However it's with some irony that the more modern pubs which had removed steps for a slope for the front door didn't carry on that thinking for the rest of the pub.

A classic example was the Slug and Lettuce in Leicester Square, despite no steps into the premises, all of its 'wheelchair access available seating' was of the tall chair variety, pictured below:

And that helps a disabled person how? We suspect it's not malicious just a lack of thought- undoubtedly they've figured out, along with many other 'concept' pubs, that tall chairs and standing increases the alcohol consumption.

Public buildings, in contrast tend to be better and go out of their way to help even if for very obvious reasons medieval ones like cathedrals and castles do not lend themselves fully to those who don't have complete mobility. Here Westminster Abbey was no exception.

Of all the major London attractions I've always been reluctant to visit the Abbey in the past due to its ongoing standing prohibitive cost, despite being someone who greatly admires and extensively enjoys visiting medieval buildings. The Abbey, even by London standards, is expensive. It is sad that this is the case for anyone interested in British history, architecture and as an active place of worship. The expensive entrance price doesn't allow photography inside even without a flash.

However for a wheelchair user, along with a carer, the entrance was free - mainly due to large parts of the building being inaccessible. Thus, after many years, I was able to take in, and appreciate, the internal architectural delights of the Abbey (in the absence of the somewhat overpriced entrance fee I gave a voluntary donation).

The volunteers within the Abbey though couldn't have been more helpful, even with little details like providing, without prompting, a hands free version of the audio guide to those whose hands are tied up with pushing wheelchairs.

So what to make of Westminster Abbey itself? Oddly despite its religious heritage, and more recently the wedding of William and Kate, the Abbey really feels more like a memorial to Britain’s more famous figures than a place of worship.

What is noticeable from the outset is the incredible number of memorials, plaques and statues to famous rulers, artists, and poets that has been packed into the building. In this sense no other Abbey or Cathedral in England is like it and as consequence the religious imagery is much less noticeable here.

Given the overwhelming tributes within the building to leaders of establishment - Prime Ministers, Kings etc - it leaves us puzzled why the tribute is not reciprocated in the form of formal contributions to its upkeep:
What is less well known is that Westminster Abbey receives no regular funding from the Crown, the Church of England or the government.Neither a cathedral nor a parish church, Westminster Abbey was established as a ‘Royal Peculiar’ in 1560 by Queen Elizabeth I. The Abbey is outside the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Church of England and the Government. In short, this means we must seek our own financial support.
So instead an overpriced ticket paid for by the hoi polloi it is. The Abbey, among many others, serves as the final resting place of Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Laurence Olivier, and also features memorials to William Shakespeare, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Jane Austen, and Oscar Romero (who are all buried elsewhere - Jane Austin for example in Winchester). 


My personal view having wandered around is this desire within an Abbey to have so many plaques, especially in Poets' Corner, largely of non-religious nature contrary to its function becomes borderline tacky and I would include, slightly controversially, the grave of the Unknown Warrior pictured above. More a tourist existence than a dignified tribute.

An interesting architectural feature, and again rather unique and largely unseen on television coverage of royal occasions, is use of iron stabilisation bar supports around the central part of the Abbey to prop up the pillars which disappointingly suggests a fundamental instability of the original Gothic structure.

Anyway I'm glad I've seen it and equally pleased it didn't cost Mrs TBF and I £40 to enter.

Moving on from Westminster Abbey, just along the road, we had a quick look at New Scotland Yard. Not surprisingly for a fortified Police Station the place was adorned with CCTV, fences and intimidating looking Policeman guarding every entrance. They probably guarded the front entrance as well but it was hard to tell where the front entrance was. Unwelcoming NSY was, and as I've noted before much can be garnered from a building about an institution's culture.

But still there was always the iconic revolving triangle sign to observe:

Which now appears right in the middle of a public pavement; outside the confines of NSY, on its own, which at the time I visited was patrolled by a PCSO:


So the iconic sign is in a public space with plastic plod to look after it, but the rest of the building is not easily accessible by members of the public and is guarded by proper plod. It's not quite how it looks on television. We should know our place.

Ultimately though London, despite its quirks, is pretty kind to those who are wheelchair bound, including the British public who were very helpful.

Mrs TBF and I rounded off a pleasant few days by going to see Shaun the Sheep The Movie - this review is pretty much right. What a delightful, funny and 'British' film it is.

Essentially it is a 90 minute silent stop motion film made for under 10's which is an impressive feat in itself. It's obviously been made with loving care and to keep the adults amused it sneaks in plenty of references to films such as Taxi Driver, Shawshank Redemption, Silence of the Lambs and Chopper.

After it had finished we caught a cab only to hear Farage on the radio regarding a little local difficulty in Rotherham.

And so back to the real world with a bump...

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Parish Notice

I had intended to have part 2 up of the EU and Telecoms piece up this evening (Tuesday), however time is short this week and I would like to do the so far unfinished piece justice rather than rush it, not least because I have recently come across documentation that shows Norway has more say within its EEA agreement then the UK does over telecommunications; notably its Electronic Communications Act and also its Personal Data Act.

What becomes very obvious when researching the impact of the copious regulations on our country is the ridiculous myriad of EU and international competences which have seemingly no end and it can become quickly rather bewildering trying to follow and make sense of it all. But make sense of it and try to win a referendum we must.

We also note that the more we investigate Norway's EEA arrangements, the more it becomes apparent that not only does it have a much better deal than us within the Single Market (albeit not perfect) but it exposes further the deception or even ignorance of our own politicians regarding this issue.

And with that in mind, and this maybe harsh, I do rather resent that it's taking a small number of bloggers who are attempting to address these issues...unpaid...in their own time, in preparation for a possible referendum than a party which has significant funding via its now 23 MEPs yet literally pisses it up against the wall. This is all we get for our money.

We can win a referendum - we have many advantages over 1975 but we're in danger of needlessly repeating many of the mistakes.

But that said, time is currently short because Mrs TBF and I will be in London for the next few days celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. In a few days we will return to normal service on this blog.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The EU And Telecoms (Part 1)

With this piece, in part 1, we turn our sights on the EU's complex role in member state telecommunications regulation, with emphasis on the UK. The above graph gives some indication of the intricate nature of telecommunications regulation within the EU and the partial subservient relationship for a member state such as the UK.

As can be seen above (click to enlarge) the UK's main regulator Ofcom has direct relationships with EU bodies which bypass UK ones, as well as having interaction domestically. The EU and UK regulatory structures increasingly are indistinguishable from each another.

Yet also the bewildering emergence and relentless progress of technology means we will also see that EU has only become a partial player in what is increasingly a global regulatory industry. This becomes evident when we consider that even within Europe itself where many functions are regulated beyond the EU.

An earlier example can be seen acutely with the establishment of the mobile phone standard GSM in the 1980s. GSM, with very little if at all EEC/EU involvement, was an illustration of European nation state co-operation and subsequently the GSM standard became a global success story.

The GSM agreement was reflected in the long standing establishment of non-EU bodies include the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the European Conference on Posts and Telecommunications (CEPT).

Despite the existence of non-EU bodies it is with no surprise, due to the inherent cross-border nature of telecommunications, that the EU saw the sector as an opportunity to use the growth of telecoms to try to facilitate 'ever closer Union' further.

Pre-Maastricht the EEC had attempted to use the Terminal Equipment Directive (88/301/EEC) - issued under Article 90 of the Treaty of Rome - to force the liberalisation of telecoms including the satellite and mobile markets. Despite Member States objecting on the basis it was outside the EEC's own competences (satellite communications for example have military implications) the ECJ after 30 months of legal wrangling upheld the Directive.

Naturally the solution for the EEC (EU) to such legal wrangling was to make communications a competence via a Treaty. Thus not long after, we see the clear intentions of the EU's ambitions when in the Maastricht Treaty (Article 129 D) it for the first time gave the EU competence in the field of telecommunications (my emphasis):
The Maastricht Treaty gave the EU the task of establishing and developing trans-European networks (TENs) in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy, in order to help develop the internal market, reinforce economic and social cohesion, link island, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the Union, and bring EU territory within closer reach of neighbouring states.
Even in the early 1990s telecommunications, which for obvious reasons was becoming a globalised industry, increasingly relied on global bodies to set global standards for convenience. The EU though envisaged the sector more as a mechanism and means to facilitate its own political union - despite the example of GSM and mobile technology where nation states had led and the EU had merely followed.

Typically then we saw in the early 1990s the EU arguing in favour of more telecommunications liberalisation with a view to completion of the internal market with an EU wide regulator. Emboldened by new powers in Maastricht led to the EU Commission launching a strong push to adopt a common strategy for the creation of a European information society driven by a European information infrastructure. In 1993, the Council of Ministers (EU) agreed to fully liberalise voice telephony services by 1 January 1998:
[The EU Commission] it is asking the Council to decide  on a number of principles contained in the Commission communication, in particular:
   -  the complete liberalization of services;
   -  a transitional period ending in 1998
   -  a precise schedule  in two main stages with a consolidation
      phase (1993-1995)  and a phase of gradual opening up to
      competition  (1996-1998);
   -  the role of infrastructures.

Following  its discussion,  the Council  instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to continue work on this dossier with  maximum efficiency,  in order to enable the Telecommunications Council convened for 16 June to arrive at an agreement.
In addition the European Council meeting of December 1993, in its Presidency Conclusions considered a European Commission policy paper - European Commission White Paper, Growth, Competitiveness, Employment - The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century, 1993 which argued:
The Community needs an adequate frame-work for the developing of new market opportunities. In Europe some sectors are traditionally the exclusive preserve of non-market services or public utilities, in particular when it comes to the fulfillment of public needs. Reforms aiming at separating the different functions of public authorities with regard to the supply of such services as producer, purchaser and regulator, in sectors such as health care, telecommunications, etc. should enable the needs of users to be better served at less cost for public finances and with market creation potential .
The Presidency Conclusion on behalf of Member States accepted the EU Commission White Paper noting:
A more decentralized economy, given the growing importance of the local level; the economy needs to be geared to the possibilities offered by the new technologies...

...the trend towards a decentralized economy, which has been made possible by new information technologies, must be encouraged....The European Council asks the
Commission to examine ways of achieving this objective.
Thus the European Council requested a report be prepared for its 1994 Corfu meeting by a group of prominent persons on the specific measures to be taken into consideration by the Community and the Member States for the infrastructures in the sphere of information.

Such a group 'of prominent persons' became known as the 'High Level Group on the Information Society' - organized by the Commission and chaired by the then Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industrial Affairs (soon to become the Commissioner for Industrial Affairs, Information and Telecommunications Technologies), Martin Bangemann - a former leader of the German Free Democratic Party (FDP).

By 1994 the High Level Group on the Information Society produced a report for the 1994 European Summit; "Europe and the Global Information Society: Recommendations to the European Council" a report which became widely known as the Bangemann Report and was adopted by the European Council, Corfu, June 1994.

The report urged the European Union "to put its faith in market mechanisms as the motive power to carry [Europe] into the information age. This meant that actions must be taken at the European level and by Member States to strike down entrenched positions which put Europe at a competitive disadvantage."

The report proposed "fostering an entrepreneurial mentality to enable the emergence of new dynamic sectors of the economy; [a means of developing] a common regulatory approach to bring forth a competitive, Europe-wide, market for information services."

It then noted:
In addition to its specific recommendations, the group proposes an action plan of concrete initiatives based on a partnership between the private and public sectors to carry Europe forward into the information society.
The Bangemann Report was to have a very significant and lasting influence on the framing of subsequent EU policies for Information and Telecommunications Technologies (ICT) research and communication services. For many years following its publication the report was repeatedly cited as a kind of "Bible" by Commission documents and officials on a very wide spectrum of industrial and social policy initiatives. For example it was explicitly invoked as a framework for an important 1994 document setting out a new strategy for the audio- visual sector in the EU single market context and another paper in 1994 titled 'Europe's way to the Information Society: An Action Plan'.

Yet despite its significance within EU circles the Bangemann report was out of date almost as soon as it was written. It had largely ignored the emergence of the internet and what it did acknowledge was to highlight its basic lack of understanding and knowledge. Consequently it expressed a level of discomfort - page 27 (my emphasis):
Internet is based on a world-wide network of networks that is not centrally planned. In fact nobody owns Internet. There are now some 20 million users in more than 100 countries. The network offers electronic mail, discussion forums, information exchange and much more. Internet is so big, and growing so fast, that it cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, it has flaws notably serious security problems. Rather than remaining merely clients, we in Europe should consider following the evolution of Internet closely, playing a more active role in the development of interlinkages.
In the meantime, while largely failing to anticipate or understand the internet, the liberalisation process in other telecommunications sectors was being extended post 1994, for example in satellite communications.

By 1995 via the American based GPS had became a system that had broken out of realms of science fiction and used as an everyday tool for navigation by private vehicles, ships and aircraft. The EU in response planned to install a rival system called Galileo where it recognised "the value of a space programme, of which Galileo is a part, in completing the process of European integration".

In contrast to the liberalisation process, and interestingly, the intention to adopt similar criteria to public broadcasting services (PBS) came with a great deal of reluctance - the EU itself noting that "the relationship of European Union policy and Public Broadcasting Services could be summarized as a historic dilemma without a clear answer. The balance between a strong European competition policy and public broadcasting survival has still to be found. Perhaps the text cited below explains the Gordian knot faced by European Union":
“We need balanced solutions able at the same time to respect two important points. The first is the basic function of Public Broadcasting Services in the most of EU Member States. This fact has been recognised recently in Amsterdam Treaty with the Public Broadcasting Protocol. The second is that European integration is based on free market and equal competition. The future of the dual European TV system depends on how we can be able to combine these two apparently incompatible principles” (The digital age: European Audiovisual Policy. Report from the high level group on audiovisual Policy, 1998).
In essence the EU faced a dilemma; how to make compatible its own competition rules with public state funding of PBS. Article 87 forbids the state aid, which distorts or threatens to distort competition, insofar as it affects trade between Member States but with broadcasting an exception was made which notably meant that PBS could remain publicly funded to ensure the promotion of the "democratic, social and cultural needs of each society and to the need to preserve media pluralism".

This role of public service broadcasting in promoting cultural diversity was recognised in 2005 by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The reluctance of the EU was undoubtedly due to its appreciation that member states' PBS networks would be more sympathetic to its integration project under the guise of the 'cultural need' criteria. This becomes especially evident when we consider the BBC receives a substantial amount of money from the EU and possibly related (or not) has long been criticised for pro-EU bias.

Public broadcasting aside, generally from 1994 onwards, in the context of developing the 'information society', general liberalisation of telecommunications structures was presented as the way to develop multimedia - cable television networks were 'liberalised' in 1996, with mobile communications following on 1st January 1998.

Bangemann's report thus was hugely influential, and despite failing to anticipate properly or appreciate the approaching dominance of the internet, its vision of telecommunications liberalisation would influence the EU Commission's thinking regarding the internet.

The EU's determination to 'liberalise' markets resulted in a growth of "regulator watching", which followed closely the experiences of the privatisation drive in Member States particularly the UK. "Regulator watching", or a regulatory state, provided a convenient opportunity in extending EU governance across member states via a regulatory body.

By separating out the service provision by companies from sector oversight privatisation, and the creation of markets, allowed conditions to exist for the adoption of common rules by an independent regulatory body and the conditions of access to the market for new operators to be harmonised. All of which naturally increased the call for 'more Europe' under one EU regulator.

And in part 2 of the EU's effect on the telecoms industry we will see how it attempted to facilitate the emergence of an EU regulatory body.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

1 Down, 23 To Go


For all the celebrations last May from UKIP at 'winning' the European elections (on a very low turnout), and achieving an unprecedented 24 MEPs, those who had seen it all before were instead mentally marking up the odds of how many UKIP MEPs would be left by 2019.

Anticipation and history suggested strongly that the tally won't be good. UKIP's track record of keeping and maintaining MEPs is remarkably poor. To lose one or two maybe careless but to lose over half during the last Parliamentary session suggests a far more serious problem within the party.

And it's in this context we note that the Telegraph reports that UKIP MEP Bashir has defected to the Conservative Party:
One of the UK Independence Party’s most senior politicians has defected to the Conservatives in a major blow to Nigel Farage’s general election campaign.

Amjad Bashir, a Ukip MEP and the party’s leading Asian figure, told The Telegraph that Ukip had become a “party of ruthless self-interest” that was incapable of delivering a referendum on membership of the European Union. 
Interestingly the Mail also reports the defection with a different headline emphasising perhaps there was a different motive:

A senior Ukip MEP has defected to the Conservative Party as it emerged that he was suspended pending investigations into 'extremely serious financial and employment questions', the party said.
With two contrasting accounts for the defection it's naturally difficult to say for certain which report would be the most accurate. However given that the Mail's 'breaking news' piece had a link to the Telegraph website (which it very rarely does and is now removed) would indicate that Telegraph were planning this for a Sunday scoop. Thus all the signs suggest that having got wind of the defection the Mail has been briefed as a spoiler from sources close to Farage.

Whatever the true reasons though we can only agree with much of Bashir's analysis of UKIP:
In a damning broadside against his former colleagues, he described Ukip as “pretty amateur” and condemned its “ridiculous” lack of policies. He said the party was “delusional” about its chances of winning seats in May.
The lack of UKIP policies has long been issue and has led to defections before. Yet to point this out, even as rather gentle constructive criticism, invited much ridicule.

But the facts are clear, UKIP participated in the European Elections with no manifesto, and despite reassurances to its supporters by Farage leader that there would be a fully costed one by the 2015 general election we see little sign of one. Even here its deja vu all over again:
Ukip's policy chief has quit just six weeks ahead of the party's manifesto launch in February.
Thus UKIP candidates are being thrown into an election campaign with no party policies; a betrayal of those who have to campaign on doorsteps and in hustings meetings. No wonder many of them (maybe in frustration) are in absence sending out to the electorate the 2010 version which was dismissed by Farage as drivel.

So with a general election impending UKIP's catalogue of bad press is increasing substantially. Much of it self-inflicted is now entering its third month and shows no sign of letting up. It's clear there UKIP has significant problems which particularly suggests a deep dissatisfaction with the leadership.

Any idea that UKIP will hold the balance of power or even help the eurosceptic cause secure a referendum is looking wildly over-optimistic.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Ex EU Commissioner Leon Brittan Dies

The headline, of course, could have just as easily said "Ex EU Commissioner Leon Brittan dies".

No doubt in part related to significant allegations made against him towards the end of his life, Brittan is seen as controversial.

But we mustn't also forget he was a long line of Tory MPs who supported further European integration and went "native" particularly over the UK's membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism - the very mechanism which led directly to the early '90s recession and so-called Black Wednesday. While Thatcher was fighting a rearguard action against membership, Brittan helped to isolate her.

The subsequent consequences of ERM membership were disastrous for Britain and for the rest of us.

One however appreciates the irony that being an EU Commissioner means always referring to the UK as a member state and never specifically naming the country of his birth (always "the country I know best" - in Euro speak) with the homophone that was his name.

We on this blog, rightly or wrongly, have never been a great fan of the phrase - or belief - of "not speaking ill of the dead". Our view of him while he was alive is no different now he's dead. To advocate otherwise would be dishonest...

Thursday, 15 January 2015

TBF's Local Council Is On Fire

Obviously we are unaware yet of the real reasons or motive, but the attack on South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) based in Crowmarsh near Wallingford, Oxfordshire bears the hallmarks of a grudge.

In the early hours of the morning where there is likely to be no-one about bar possibly a couple of security guards, a man has apparently driven a car ladened with gas canisters into the Council building with devastating effects. It seems to reflect a determination to do the job properly.

The man's motives will undoubtedly become clear as the days pass, but given that on a daily basis I take Mrs TBF to work via Wallingford I can confirm that their usual Thursday bin collections have been unaffected - continuing as normal - with bin lorries which have £250 personalised "SODC" number plates attached on each lorry.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Leaders' Debates: UK Democracy's Failings In Plain Sight

Within our 'representative democracy' expressed by so-called Parliamentary sovereignty the idea of Prime Minister debates, first instigated in 2010, is absurd if not downright objectionable.

The electorate in a General Election do not vote for the PM, instead they vote for their local MP which helps form a Parliament from which a Prime Minster is chosen.

One often consistent criticism of Gordon Brown's tenure up until the 2010 election was that he was 'not elected'. But of course he was elected - by the constituents of Kirkcaldy and by members of his own party - it was that he simply didn't have an electoral mandate (as neither did Major for example in 1990). Brown's position was less a reflection of the failings of himself and more a reflection of the failings of current Parliamentary system.

More seriously the lack of separation of powers represents a system where MPs become hopelessly compromised - by default. After being elected for 5 years their main objective is to achieve a ministerial career rather than attempt to hold the government to account. They want to join the government not listen to their constituents; which one pays more...?

The constituents of Witney, Doncaster and Sheffield will know this best - their own MPs wear two contradictory hats, a situation that Witterings from Witney knows only too well.

And with this in mind we see Cameron and Miliband, among others, engage in unedifying comments regarding a leadership debate without so much as a by-your-leave to the rest of us:
Did you notice that the letter sent to David Cameron about disputed formats for the election TV debates was itself a delicate contribution to pariah politics? Though identical in contents, as Rowena Mason explains, the missives were dispatched separately by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. Ed and Nick did not sign the same letter as Nigel, oh dear no.
Thus it's acutely apparent that the entire idea of leadership debates is an admission by the establishment that Parliament is failing and that we, as an electorate, are now effectively voting for the executive - the government and the Prime Minister - by proxy.

This becomes even more (offensively) absurd when we consider that Nigel Farage, although leader of UKIP, is not currently an elected MP even though his party has two elected MPs and Farage himself is currently not on course to win South Thanet seat in May.

Thus more than ever the case becomes stronger that we need to directly elect our Prime Minister - and as a consequence separate out more formally the executive from Parliament. This idea is nothing new, it was proposed back in the 18th Century by Thomas Paine. Although born in England, via Common Sense, he was one of the fiercest critics of what he regarded as British tyranny.

The current, and rather childish standoffs over a Prime Ministerial leadership debate merely confirm that such reform is now very long overdue.