Thursday, June 27, 2013

Further British politics and Italy

For those who are interested, here are my two latest UK politics blogs at Huffington Post:

Why Do the Media Act as a Mouthpiece for Vested Interests and

The Tories have Nothing to Fear Except their own Extremists.  

In other news, after a false start, we now have an Italian publisher for God's Philosophers, D'Ettoris Editori.  A big thank you to them for picking it up.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eurosceptics are heading for defeat in the referendum

Another post on UK politics that I blogged at Huffington Post.

Let's imagine that David Cameron has come back from his short holiday in Ibiza refreshed and ready to lance the boil on Europe. He announces that there will be an in-out referendum on the EU this autumn and that he has already squared it with Nick Clegg. "It's time to settle this matter once and for all," he says. "Only the British people can do that." Eurosceptics are delighted. Brussels panics. And, in late October, Britain decides on Europe. The result, I can assure you, would be an overwhelming vote to stay in the EU. Judging by their public utterances, many Eurosceptics imagine that if we have ever get a say on Europe, an "out" vote is in the bag. Well, it isn't. British voters are far more likely to decide on staying in. Let me explain why.

In poll after poll, Europe is far down the list of voters' concerns. Political anoraks like me sometimes find this hard to believe. After all, EU rules affect everything from clean air to the regulation shape of bananas. Nonetheless, most people have no idea who their MEP is, let alone the identity of Britain's Commissioner (admittedly, Baroness Ashton richly deserves her obscurity). Even UKIP supporters are not as obsessed by Europe as you'd expect. And we know what happens in referenda about little known subjects on which the voters care little. Just ask the Liberal Democrats.

Until recently, to be a Liberal Democrat activist was to be fixated by voting reform. When she was out walking the dog, the Lib Dem member was musing on the importance of multi-member constituencies. When his kid was home from school, burbling about what he'd done that day, the Liberal Democrat was miles away, balancing the merits of the single transferable vote over cloneproof Schwartz sequential dropping. They thought that the case for PR was obvious. Surely the British people would vote for it given a chance. After all, opinion polls showed big majorities in favour of reform. Well, in May 2011 we got that chance. The result must have been a huge shock to the liberal system. Despite a lead at the start of the campaign and the support of every bien pensant in Islington, voters rejected change by a margin of two to one.

As the Liberal Democrats had discovered, there is a huge inbuilt bias towards the status quo in almost any referendum. On matters that are not everyday concerns to voters, this bias is even greater. The first time many voters will have thought seriously about the subject at hand will be immediately before they vote. They have no time to weigh up the pros and cons, or to decide whether they want to take a leap in the dark. By their nature, referenda are over big issues. Voters simply won't want to take the risk.

It will be the same in a referendum on Europe. True, voters find the EU mildly irritating and they certainly don't want to join the Euro. But faced with the voices of the establishment whispering about three million jobs being dependent on the single market, they'll decide they prefer the devil they know. Life outside is a risk. We could be isolated and lonely. A few Eurosceptics are building an attractive case for a glorious future in the Anglosphere, but it won't make any difference.

There isn't going to be a referendum in the autumn but there will probably be one in 2017. If Eurosceptics want to win that vote, we have to stop fighting with David Cameron and start campaigning now. When the vote comes, people must have already reached a settled decision to vote "out". They need to have conquered their fears about making a big change. Most importantly, they need to have thought about something that they don't usual bother to consider. Otherwise, it's already all over. The Eurosceptic cause will be lost.

Reposted from Huffington Post

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Some Old Articles Back Online

A while back, I took down some of the articles at Bede's Library and because I was worried it was so long since I wrote them, they'd need serious updating.  I've now accepted that I'll probably never have the time to rewrite them properly.  So, I've given them a read through, corrected some typos and obvious mistakes, and put them back on line.  Therefore, after a gap of a couple of years the following articles and series are now available again.

Emperor Justinian's Closure of the School of Athens

Christianity and Pagan Literature

The Decline and End of Witch Trials in Europe

A Dialogue on Natural Religion

A Seekers' Guide to the Bible

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Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Plea from a Grassroots Conservative

Lately, I've been blogging about UK politics at Huffington Post.  Although it is a bit insular, I'll repost here in case anyone is interested.

In common with many Conservative Party members, I want an in/out referendum and expect I'll be campaigning hard for an 'out' vote if we get one. Even more than that, I want a Conservative majority after the next election. Just the thought of Ed Miliband smirking outside 10 Downing Street on 8 May 2015 turns my stomach. Besides, only a Tory majority gets us that referendum. We know now that Miliband is dead against giving the people a say. And Nick Clegg will do anything to protect his Brussels pension fund. We can argue about whether "renegotiate then a referendum" is the right policy.

But never mind that. "Renegotiate then a referendum" is the policy. Whatever the virtues of mandate votes or getting Labour and the Liberal Democrats to vote down a bill in this Parliament, Tories should go out and sell the policy we've got. It's true that David Cameron badly damaged his credibility by breaking his cast-iron guarantee for a vote on the constitutional Treaty of Lisbon (and with hindsight, he must be cursing the day he took that fateful decision). But surely we can all agree he'll never be able to pull a stunt like that again.

So, however much I admire their principles, and conceding that it was backbench pressure that forced Mr Cameron to offer a referendum in the first place, I am beginning to get a tiny bit impatient with the honourable ladies and gentlemen on the backbenches. Admittedly, unlike many Tories, I think that replacing the enormous corporatist quango and public sector retirement scheme, otherwise known as the House of Lords, with just about any alternative is a good idea. I can't see what the fuss is about gay marriage (if it makes a few people very happy and shouldn't bother anyone else, what's the problem?). And just looking at the talented colleagues I work with makes me grateful that some of them are here because of an enlightened immigration policy. I suppose I'm not really UKIP material.

But before my fellow Eurosceptics dismiss me as a pseudo-pinko and the last remaining member of Ken Clarke's fan club, let me say this. My libertarian views are hardly a million miles from those of luminaries of the right such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Daniel Hannan. I admire the radicalism of the government in education and welfare, areas that Mrs Thatcher hardly dared to touch. I applaud this administration's determination to stick to Plan A and get a grip on public spending. I fear desperately that Miliband's cronies will wreak the country just at the moment the Conservatives have been able to transfer the economy out of intensive care.

Elections really are won by the party standing closest to the common ground. This was the case in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher could offer a robustly rightwing programme because her opponents were marching towards a hallucination of the New Jerusalem. With Miliband leading his troops off stage left while singing the Internationale, we have a similar opportunity. UKIP might hit 5% in 2015, but most of their votes will be in true-blue heartlands where they can't cause much damage. In seats where Labour and the Conservatives are going toe-to-toe, UKIP will be not so much squeezed as squashed between the heavyweights. Their current level of support is unnerving (and they will win the European Elections next year). But listening to some Tory backbenchers, you'd have thought they were blushing debutantes who'd never seen a mid-term protest before.

There are only two factors against the Conservatives. The electoral arithmetic still favours Labour (so thanks guys, for stopping House of Lords reform, even if it wasn't just to spite Clegg). That's water under the bridge. Our other problem is party unity. Voters don't like parties that they perceive to be split. The media, of course, will do everything it can to foster just such a perception. But it's no use blaming journalists - they are just doing their job. Instead, it is up to Tories to starve the story of oxygen. Backbenchers should take a vow of silence on all matters not directly and explicitly linked to their own constituencies. The only exception should be telling anyone who'll listen what wonderful job the Conservative members of the Government are doing. When a local party chairman receives a survey from a mischievous newspaper asking how many members have left in protest of gay marriage, he should steer the relevant email straight towards the recycle bin.

Speaking as a Conservative, the next election is ours to lose. If it means holding our noses, if it means putting some principles into abeyance for a couple of years, even if it means MPs not humouring media starlets who'd be so grateful for a story, then so be it. Every Conservative has a duty to knuckle down and follow our leader. If we do that, there is every chance that come 2020, the United Kingdom (and it will still be united) will be prosperous and free. But if we lose our nerve and give the impression we are an undignified rabble, by the end of the decade we live in a bankrupt country shackled to the European Union's economic corpse.

Reposted from Huffington Post.

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