Mr Cameron’s mistake can still be corrected.

David Cameron’s election campaign pledge ‘to hold a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017’ was a significant (perhaps even a major) factor in the Conservatives winning the 2015 General Election. I’m sure he’s regretting it now. After watching his speech on 10 November at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Think Tank (a long title, and a long speech; I watched all 45 minutes) I am absolutely convinced that the referendum on the European Union is a mistake.

The theory says that a referendum is the ultimate in democracy: giving the people a direct choice on what happens. But there are two things wrong with this idea.

Firstly, the choice should be based on an informed opinion i.e. gathering as much information as possible, weighing the pros and cons of both sides, and coming to a conclusion. Will this happen with the in/out referendum on Europe? NO. Mr Cameron’s speech showed just how complex the topics that he wants to negotiate with the EU are. They are far too complex to be understood by Mr and Mrs English. And remember the topics he highlighted are negotiation points. The results will be both sides reaching an agreement on how the reforms can be implemented.

Mr Cameron says “It will be your decision whether to remain in the EU on the basis of the reforms we secure, or whether we leave”. But if those reforms are not understood in the first place, the negotiated results will certainly not be understood.

In the previous sentence Mr Cameron said “You will have to judge what is best for you and your family, for your children and grandchildren, ...” And that’s how most people will make the decision, what they think is best for them personally, which may, or most probably, not have anything to do with the reforms Mr Cameron wants to negotiate.

The second, more serious danger of holding a referendum on a topic as important as this is that the result can so easily be hijacked by a group with a predetermined opinion. We can already see this. The NO campaign is more vocal than the YES. OK, ‘empty vessels make the most noise’, but there are many examples of an opinion being said loud and often enough for it to become accepted as the truth, even though it’s far from it. And it’s not just one group on the NO side. There are those who never wanted to be in Europe, those who want to retain the British sausage, those who think civilisation ends at Dover, those who think that Britain is still a powerful, colonial empire, and numerous others. Each group may be small, but joined together, with a loud voice and a sprinkling of ‘celebrities’, many people could be persuaded to vote with them.

Towards the end of his speech Mr Cameron said “It will be your decision … Your decision. Nobody else’s. Not politicians’. Not Parliament’s. Not lobby groups’. Not mine. Just you. You, the British people, will decide. At that moment, you will hold this country’s destiny in your hands. This is a huge decision for our country, perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetimes”. Yes, it is a ‘huge decision’, and that is exactly why Mr and Mrs English should not be holding this country’s destiny in their hands. We need an informed decision. Mr Cameron and the 650 members of parliament were elected to represent us, to get themselves informed about the issues affecting our lives, and to make decisions in the best interests of the majority of the people of Great Britain. Do they always do this perfectly? No, but surely it’s better that they do it than Mr and Mrs English voting based on what they think membership of the EU does or does not do for them personally. The government and the members of parliament cannot abdicate their responsibility and say ‘it’s the people’s decision’.

Is there still a chance to change the decision to hold a referendum? My reading of the situation is that there is. But that would be breaking an election promise! I think there might be more than one precedent for that.

Cancelling the referendum would have to be handled carefully, but perhaps this is an opportunity for our elected representatives. Yes, have negotiations with the EU (my gut feeling is that some other member states would be interested in some of the points Mr Cameron is making, and are allowing GB to take the lead). But after the negotiations, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats should jointly tell the British people the reasons why Britain will stay in or leave the EU: wouldn’t that show real leadership and prove that all three parties have something in common: the best interests of the people of Great Britain. I personally think (and hope) the answer will be to stay in.

So come off the fence Mr Cameron and seize this chance to write your name in the history books.


Time for a long sleep

Time for a long sleep.

So, it’s election time in the UK again – I think I’ll go to sleep for the next few weeks.

Does anyone really care who wins -except of course the current members of parliament; they’re out of a job if they lose. What do they do if they lose their seats? Does it mean they can’t to sit down any more? What has their parliamentary experience given them?

– they can argue against anything the opposition say even if they actually agree with it

– they can shout loudly, and act like unruly school boys

– they can defend their party’s policies even if it’s obvious to everyone that they are not working

I’m at a loss to know what job they are qualified to do. Any suggestions?

It doesn’t really make a difference whether labour or conservative win the most seats (not an overall majority). Today the parties are more or less the same – both in the middle. That’s why the opinion polls show the election to be so close. Neither party has much influence over what happens in Britain in the medium and long term: that is determined by what happens in the rest of the world, certainly economically. When I went to school half of the world map was coloured red: the British Empire. Rule Britannia is now only a song sung at rugby matches and on the last night of the proms.

A large number of the seats in parliament are considered to be safe i.e. not expected to change party. Estimates vary depending on who you ask, surprise surprise, but well over half of the 650 seats are staunch Labour or Conservative (not to forget, which is easy to do, the few held by the Liberal Democrats). It’s probably true to say that the election could be decided by what happens in as little as 60 constituencies.

It always amazes me why anyone would volunteer to stand in an absolutely safe seat, with a guarantee of failure? There are a few masochists of course, but if we ignore them, there still seem to be enough people willing to put themselves through the hard work only to be embarrassed in the end. And there’s always the Monster Raving Loony Party and the Serve More Gravy with Meat Pies Party (I made up the last one) to swell the numbers.

Living in Switzerland it’s easy of course for me to make these comments on what happens in politics in UK. As a non-citizen I do not have a vote in Switzerland. Is it something I miss? Absolutely not; especially in Switzerland because the country is always run by a coalition (no, not of gnomes).

I suppose the one big difference in this election is Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Just how big a difference remains to be seen. Will UKIP take seats from the Tories? Those extreme right wing Tories who have been waiting for an opportunity take Britain out of Europe, close the borders and send all the immigrants home will probably vote UKIP. But there’s no chance that UKIP will be in government, and, hopefully, not have even enough seats to influence policy. The policies of UKIP will lead to social unrest in Britain on a scale not seen before.

Everything points to another coalition, but between whom? Conservative/Lib. Dems. again – I think both parties have had enough: Conservative/Labour – sounds like getting into bed with the enemy, but could be the best thing for the people of Britain; Conservative/UKIP – for me the most dangerous combination; Labour/SNP – probably only on the condition that the idea of independent Scotland is reinstated, which the people of Scotland correctly rejected.

If I was living the UK there would be only one factor that would determine who I voted for: the promise by the Conservatives to hold a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union if they win. This should not even be an issue for discussion: Britain must stay in the EU. The decision is far too important to be left to Mr and Mrs British, who will vote based on how they perceive membership affects them personally. It is necessary to take a broader view and ask what will be good for the future economic prosperity of Britain? There is only one answer to that question. So, I would be voting Labour, Lib. Dems. or maybe even the Monster Raving Loony Party (I’m only joking. I think).

An open letter to Nigel Farage

Dear Mr Farage

If you really want to be a man of the people, why don’t you campaign about the things that are stopping the people of Great Britain having a good life. You and I know that it’s not immigration or membership of the EU that have a huge effect on people’s lives. Why are many people in Great Britain struggling to make ends meet? Not because of people arriving from Eastern Europe or anonymous bureaucrats in Brussels making decisions.

The reason Great Britain is fighting to get out of the deepest recession since the second world war is because of the actions of your ex colleagues in the city of London. These are the people whose personal greed drove the decisions that led to the financial crisis of 2008, the subsequent fallout, and the enormous, detrimental effect on the lives of ordinary people. What has been done since 2008 to stop these people? Almost nothing!

So, why aren’t you bringing this to the forefront of the debate in the UK? You’re missing a great opportunity. The other three main parties won’t do anything: the Conservatives have too many personal and financial ties to the City; the Labour Party doesn’t want to alienate the City workers it has managed to persuade to vote for them or they will never get back in power; the Liberal Democrats sit on too many fences.

So, come on Nigel. Drop all this nonsense about immigration and the big bad wolf in Brussels. Get to the real issues that need correcting. The issues that have the biggest effect of the lives of the people you claim to want to represent. If these issues are not corrected 2008 will happen again: that’s not a prediction, that’s a fact.

Or maybe your ex colleagues are still your current friends, and you can’t afford to upset them.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

With freedom comes responsibility.

There can be no justification for what happened on the morning of 7 January in Paris. Killing people who you claim have offended you has never been and never will be acceptable.

One could argue that the eight journalists who were killed were victims of a fight – comparing the might of pens and swords suggests a fight. But four other people, innocent people as far as the ongoing fight was concerned, were also killed.

Is it correct to say that the journalists were in a fight? A close look at what they did strongly suggests that they were.

The cartoons depicting Mohammad would be regarded by most people as disgusting, even without any religious connection. Are they funny? No. Are they satirical? No. And Charlie Hebdo didn’t publish just one. They published many over a period of eight years.

Since 7 January there have been a multitude of comments about protection of ‘freedom of the press’. How many people making these comments have taken the trouble to look at the cartoons? Would they be happy with replacing the head of Mohammad with Jesus Christ or their own spiritual leader? Freedom of the press is a principal that most people would agree with, in principle. But there are already restrictions on what can be said and printed. In the USA (and I suspect in France also) defamation of character (libel), obscenity, and inciting violence are not allowed – could the Charlie Hebdo cartoons be classified under any or all of these categories?

With freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility to show respect, especially to other people’s feelings and sensitivities, and even more especially to religious sensitivities – this is the reason given by most of the world’s press for not publishing the cartoons. “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire” as the French foreign minister told the editor of Charlie Hebdo after the magazine published cartoons of Mohammad in 2011.

Journalism should inform, entertain, change opinions. What was Charlie Hebdo trying to do by repeating these cartoons? It was unintelligent to do so. If they wanted to castigate Islam, which they are perfectly entitled to do, they should have used their skills as journalists with words, not printed crude cartoons. If they had done this they would still be alive: it was the cartoons that Muslims found deeply offensive (as would the vast majority of non-Muslims).

So, it seems to me that the journalists of Charlie Hebdo were intent on ‘fighting’ Islam. Sadly they died for their cause, and again I stress that the killings cannot ever be justified. They should not be held up as martyrs for freedom of the press. Their selfish actions caused the deaths of innocent people, and that is unforgivable.