Friday, 28 May 2010

Power 2010 is not what it seems

I voted for various Power 2010 proposals when the opportunity for a public vote arose, so I now receive emails encouraging further activism.

Here's the latest breathless exhortation from Pam Giddy:
Dear Friend,

172 new Lords.

That is how many may be appointed in the coming weeks.

172 more peers who are unelected and unaccountable to the people they are meant to serve.

To be frank - this is unacceptable.

Join me in calling for a stop to this antiquated practice - write to the three party leaders and demand that no more Lords be appointed.

The new coalition government has said it will bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber. But it simply isn't credible for parties to talk about cleaning up politics and creating a more democratic upper chamber while at the same time preparing to appoint over 100 new Lords.

The House of Lords is outdated, unjust, and unfair. It shouldn't be growing!

That's why I need you to write to the party leaders and demand that they put a stop to this right now.

Tell the party leaders you want no more Lords:

Thank you, and best wishes,

Pam Giddy

The coalition's plan to flood the House of Lords with 172 new peers does strike me as dodgy. However, I can't get excited about it, and I won't be supporting Pam's campaign, because the Power 2010 team excluded the most important political question facing the UK: our membership in the European Union.

According to their website, the issues for which Power 2010 are now campaigning were decided by a multi-step process:
  1. "Over 4000" ideas were submitted by the public between 15 September and 30 November 2009
  2. Academics at Southampton University distilled this to a list of 58, for which they provided some background
  3. "On the weekend of 9th-10th January 2010, a scientific sample of 130 citizens from across the UK, selected by YouGov to be representative of the population as a whole gathered in London for a two-day deliberative event." The representatives reduced the list from 58 to 29.
  4. These 29 choices were put to a public vote, in which I participated; the top 5 became campaign issues
The proposal to "Hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union" was rejected in step 3 (ranked 33rd out of 58; 4 places shy of the cut-off for the public vote). Meanwhile, the proposal to "Hold a referendum on introducing the Euro" was accepted (ranked 12th).

This result goes against every poll I've ever seen on these issues. A 2009 BBC poll, for example, found that 55% of the public believe that "Britain should leave the EU but maintain close trading links", while 64% rejected the proposition that "The current economic crisis has made me more likely to support Britain joining the Euro".

The background document had this to say about Europe:
A referendum would allow citizens of the UK to have a say, for the first time since 1975, on whether they want the Government to negotiate withdrawal from the European Union.

Unlike the demands for electoral reform, the referendum – giving people a say – is central to the majority of these ideas. Some called for a referendum on membership of the EU, others for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty or the Euro. Some others merely demanded immediate withdrawal.

Arguments in favour
  • It is costly and bureaucratic: the UK makes a net contribution of around £4 billion a year to the EU (after rebates and grants), which could be spent on other things.
  • The EU started as an economic organisation but has expanded its role to cover other areas such as justice, home affairs and foreign policy. It is undemocratic for these decisions to be taken by politicians and unelected bureaucrats in Europe instead of by elected representatives in the UK.
  • The free movement of labour has led to an inflow of immigrants from Eastern Europe, which can place a strain on housing and other amenities.
  • The UK could retain the benefits of free trade with the EU, even if it left. For example, Norway is not in EU but benefits from EU trade.
  • Even those people who support the UK’s continued membership should support the democratic right of the people to have a say on whether they want the EU to exercise these powers.
Issues / arguments against
  • The UK’s net contribution to the EU is relatively small as a percentage of Government spending and the UK has benefitted greatly from inward investment and increased trade (67% of UK trade is with the EU).
  • The UK benefits from the free movement of labour and people: immigrants take various undesirable jobs in the labour market and UK citizens are able to travel and work in European countries, without restrictions.
  • The EU gives the UK more power and influence on the global stage, for example in trade talks or in negotiations on how to tackle climate change.
  • In many ways EU institutions, such as the European Parliament, are more democratic and transparent than the UK and they are accountable to national electorates.
  • A referendum would be an unnecessary and costly distraction from more important issues facing the country.
To a casual observer, this may appear balanced, but most eurosceptics would be able to provide far stronger arguments against EU membership.

For example:
  • There is no mention of the CAP or CFP.
  • There is no mention of the free trade opportunities elsewhere in the world that we forsake on account of EU membership.
  • The £4bn net contribution figure will soon jump to £6.4bn because Tony Blair surrendered the rebate that Margaret Thatcher negotiated in 1984.
  • Net contribution figures give a misleading impression of value, because EU projects in the UK are determined according to European priorities; the money is spent in Britain, but not the way the British people would choose to spend it. As Daniel Hannan notes, it's like arguing that you don't actually pay any tax, on the grounds that everything you hand over to the government is paid back in public services. Our gross contribution is over £12 billion, and rising.
  • Even the gross contribution underestimates the costs, because we suffer under burdensome regulations, and food prices are inflated by the subsidies and duties imposed by the CAP
  • It may be technically true that EU institutions are "in many ways ... more democratic and transparent" than our own political institutions, but this statement is deeply biased. The European Commission is the ultimate quango: "twenty-seven unelected Commissioners with a monopoly on the right to propose new legislation".
  • There is no mention of the contempt for democracy that the Eurocrats have shown in pushing through the Lisbon Treaty.
  • The suggestion that "The EU gives the UK more power and influence on the global stage" is ridiculous; instead, our voice is drowned out by the dominant powers on the continent, whose interests often run counter to our own.
  • Qualified Majority Voting, extended by the Lisbon Treaty, makes it easier than ever for British interests to be overruled.
So if you are on the Power 2010 campaign spam list, beware. As the EU referendum example shows, this is not a grass roots movement fighting for democracy; it is a carefully engineered astroturf pressure group, with a clear political bias.

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