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No Deal? No Way!

It was the early 1960s. The company I worked for designed and manufactured specialist components for aircraft. We were asked for initial designs for such components to meet the stringent requirements of a supersonic airliner – Concord – proposed as a joint project between British and French aircraft manufacturers.

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An Air France Concorde (the UK version of the plane’s name omitted the final ‘e’). Image from wiki media commons.

We were in competition with a French manufacturer of similar components. Whoever won the design competition, both companies would manufacture the components. Winning the design competition offered prestige, but it was manufacturing that held the promise of long term profits. So neither company tried too hard to win the design competition.

In the event, our designs were the closest to the specification so it was we who were asked to work up the designs into plans for manufacture. And, decades later, we all know that no-one made any money from Concord.

I tell this story because it is an early example of international co-operation in manufacturing. Britain was not even a member of the EU back then, although much effort was being put into applying, only to be vetoed by the then French president, Charles DeGaule.

These days most complex machines – not just aircraft, but motor vehicles and domestic appliances – are manufactured by international consortia using components sourced from around the world. Within the EU, these consortia take full advantage of the Single Market and Customs Union to import components tariff free from one part of the Union to another and sell the resulting machine in most member states.

In the automotive industry, for example, final assembly of one model might take place in the UK, and of another in France or Belgium, with components for both sourced from several countries. No wonder these companies are worried about the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Their supply chains will be disrupted, their UK businesses rendered unviable. This applies to UK based component manufacturers supplying end users elsewhere in the EU just as much as to UK based manufacturers sourcing components from other parts of the EU.

It also applies to UK based food processors importing ingredients from within the EU, and UK farmers and horticulturalists supplying ingredients to EU processors. Such contracts generally take years to negotiate. This explains why the UK can’t “just walk away” as some of those who voted “leave” two years ago would wish. The reality is that, unless David Davis and his team can come up with something as close as possible to the existing Single Market and Customs Union, the future looks very bleak indeed for British businesses of all sizes.

Patrick Minford, one of the few economists who favour Brexit, admits this but is unconcerned, stating that the UK can do without manufacturing. The leadership of the Labour Party should be very worried about the livelihoods of their members and supporters. It is beyond belief that they are not fulfilling the proper role of an opposition and fighting tooth and nail to prevent #Brexit.

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Saturday Sound-off: The Will of the People #2

I am getting more than a little tired of people who want to remain in the EU but say “The people have voted and we must accept that.” Why do such people lack the courage to stand up for what they believe in? Why are they content to stand by and watch the country being destroyed, however reluctantly they do so?

I have explained previously how the vote on 23rd June 2016 did not represent the will of (all of ) the people. But there is something even more significant about the #Brexit referendum and it is most easily explained by comparison with the recent referendum here in Ireland.

Apart from the size of the majority, much more clear cut at almost 2/3rds in favour, the Irish referendum did not impose anything upon the losers. On the contrary, it removed an imposition.

The repeal of the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution does not mean that anybody will, in future, have to have an abortion. Those who object on moral or any other grounds to the ending of a pregnancy can still allow their own pregnancy to go to full term whatever the circumstances of conception or the existence of serious risk to the health of the mother or the foetus. But for those facing such a difficult choice there will now be the opportunity to end the pregnancy under certain fairly narrow circumstances yet to be defined by the Irish Parliament.

#Brexit, on the other hand is being imposed on the rest of the population of Britain by the minority who positively supported it two years ago.

What does that mean? Never mind the claim that “Brexit means Brexit”, the reality is that, for businesses that trade with the European Union and for people who like to travel between Britain and the European Union, those activities will, in future, be less easy than they presently are.

Despite all the talk about “frictionless borders”, one thing that everyone who voted to leave the EU has stated repeatedly is that they believe the current arrangements for controlling the borders between Britain and the EU are inadequate and that tougher controls need to be put in place.

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Photo credit: Telegraph Newspapers

That must, inevitably, mean more customs officials, more passport checks, more queues at the ports. It’s not just about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or between Gibraltar and Spain, for that matter. It’s about every point of entry into and exit from the UK.

It means more lorry parks at Dover and places like Lowestoft, Immingham and Hull. It means more frequent bag and passport checks for people arriving home to the UK from European holidays or business trips.

And if you wonder why the cabinet is so divided, it is because of the impossibility of squaring the circle between securing greater control of Britain’s borders on the one hand, and maintaining frictionless trade and travel between the UK and the EU on the other. And all this because for 40 years people have been fed myths and half-truths about the EU’s influence in the lives of ordinary Britons.

Make no mistake, it’s those ordinary Britons who will be worse off in so many ways because of Brexit. The rich, tax avoiding, corporations and oligarchs will be the only beneficiaries. Shame on those politicians who purport to defend “the many not the few” for their abject failure to do just that.

Saturday Sound Off – Immigrants are not the Problem, Politicians Are.

Today I’m linking to a post on Sally Cronin’s blog. Sally mostly posts about writerly things – she is one of the most helpful of people when it comes to supporting writers with reviews, interviews and guest posts. She also runs a health column (she is a nutritionist by profession), a gardening column and writes regularly abut music. But this  week a particular piece of news that certainly incensed me also drove her to write a long and well argued piece about immigration and racism. Since I certainly could not have put it any better, I am happy to refer you instead to her piece.

I will add only my thoughts on the latest developments in the scandal: How can a Home Secretary on top of her job not have read an important memo? How can she not have been properly briefed before she came to the House of Commons to apologise still claiming that there were no official quotas for the removal of immigrants.

And now it emerges that a plan to engage post graduate medical students from India as temporary staff in the NHS has been scuppered because the quota for the issue of such visas has been reached. It’s all part of our so called leaders’ fetish for following those who voice their opinions the loudest when they should be countering with arguments about the benefits that freedom of movement brings.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2018/04/26/smorgasbord-something-to-think-about-the-windrush-scandal-and-immigration-the-backbone-of-our-success-as-nations/

MPs Abusing Clerks

2018-03-10 (1)Following recent revelations on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, here’s a prescient extract from my novel Transgression in which an MP is accused of inappropriate behaviour.

It’s 1987. In the run up to the general election in the UK that year a young woman approaches a journalist with a story about the local MP.

“You talk about the Topford countryside as though you’re familiar with it, yet your accent suggests you’re not from the area.”

“I moved here five years ago. A group of us took over a rundown farmhouse where we could practice self-sufficiency. I grew up in Diss.”

“You say there’s a group of you. How many?”

“It varies. There’s a core group of three, all former LSE students. But there are others who come and go. Some of us spend a lot of our time at Greenham.”

Roger had noted the CND badge. Mention of the women’s peace camp at Greenham confirmed his impression of a left-wing, feminist view of the world, with all its conspiracy theories and paranoia. In her mind, was Douglas part of one of those conspiracies? Time to get to the point of the meeting.

“How do you know Douglas Bowen?”

“I don’t know him personally. But I do know he’s not fit to be an MP.”

“I imagine you’d think that about any Tory candidate. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything that will stop him being re-elected. He’s highly regarded as someone who looks after the constituency.”

“If the women voters knew what he’s really like they wouldn’t support him.”

“That’s a serious aspersion you’re casting. I hope you have something solid to back it up.” As he spoke Roger gestured towards the bench, inviting her to sit down. Then regretted doing so. Sitting side by side, both half turned to face each other, was uncomfortable.

“You probably think I’m a left-wing conspiracy theorist. That’s what men tend to think when they see women like me, committed to protecting the environment, ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, campaigning for peace.” She ignored Roger’s feeble attempt at protest and continued, “I’m all of those things. I hate what Margaret Thatcher is doing to this country, all the more because she’s a woman. But that’s not what this is about.”

She hesitated. Roger was startled by the intensity of the stare with which she engaged him. He sensed she was uncertain about the best way to phrase her next utterance.

“When I was a student, I worked for a while in the office of a Labour MP at the House of Commons. I got to know a number of young people doing similar work, researching background information to feed into parliamentary debates, that kind of thing. Not everyone I met there was of the same political persuasion, and I got to enjoy the experience of rubbing shoulders with politicians from right across the spectrum. I learned that they were all equally committed to their beliefs, even those with whom I profoundly disagreed.

“But I soon realised there were certain men who it was not safe for a woman to be around. Bowen was one of those. I was warned about him, not once, but several times, by different women who had experienced unpleasant encounters with him.”

Transgression is available for Kindle and all other e-readers as well as in print. Follow the links to read the opening chapter.

The Biggest #Brexit Lie: “It’s the Will of the People”

2018-03-02

To make that clear, 29,089,259 people did not vote to leave the EU. How is that the “will of the people”?

What about those who were excluded from the electorate but will be eligible to vote by the time the full implications are understood and the details of whatever deal is reached at the end of the negotiations between the UK government and the other 27 nations of the EU?

I am well aware that, in the UK, we almost always have governments that do not have the express support of a majority of the electorate or even of those eligible to participate in a general election. I have always deplored that fact and spent a good deal of time and energy over the years campaigning for proportional representation. So it is perfectly consistent for me to deny the oft repeated claim that 1.3 million is a clear enough majority and that I should “get over it” and accept the result.

There is, however, a great deal of difference between the question “which of these individuals would you like to represent you in Parliament for the next five years” and “do you agree that we should overthrow 43 years of co-operation with our neighbours and return to making our own way in the world?” Not that the question was framed with quite such clarity, but that is the import of the decision. It seals our fate, not for the next five years, but for a generation. And most of the generation that will be affected had no say.

On Thursday’s “Question Time” Nigel Farage insisted that the government’s own economic forecasts are wrong, that countries like China, India and Brazil are queuing up to do deals with the UK. Ignoring the first claim, which simply highlights the man’s contempt for the civil service, let’s examine the second, which has also been asserted by Liam Fox in the past.

The truth is, as the prime minister was keen to point out, on her recent trip to China, we already have trade agreements in place with most of these nations, under the auspices of the EU. Of course they want to trade with such a large bloc with it’s population of close on half a billion. When we leave the EU, not only will we have a less advantageous trading arrangement with that bloc, but those existing trade agreements with other nations will lapse and have to be re-negotiated.

If they are indeed “queuing up” to do deals with the UK it is because they can see we will be an easy touch, desperate to sign up to anything, any relaxation of consumer protection regulations, in order to get a deal, any deal. And this is not because they are desperate to purchase goods and services produced by British workers, but because they want to offload their own surpluses on unsuspecting British consumers.

How will imports of Brazilian beef help British agriculture, which by then may well be reeling at the loss of support from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy?

An often repeated response from Bexiters, when it is pointed out that almost half our trade is presently with the EU, is that we import more from the other 27 than we export to them; there is a deficit.

But we are not obliged to import so many German cars, Spanish vegetables and French wines – or, come to that, so much dairy produce from Ireland. That is the true will of the people, exercising their right of choice to purchase what they obviously see as offering good value for money.

If you are part of the 17 million minority that wants to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union should you not be boycotting those goods already? It might help you to gain a better understanding of what you are rejecting if you did.

Another Brexit supporting politician, Daniel Hannan MEP, recently told the BBC that leaving the EU would benefit the poorest Britons because they would have access to cheap food. People like Farage, Fox and Hannan want you, and the 29 million who did not vote to leave, to introduce hormone injected beef from cattle fed on antibiotics and chicken washed in chlorine into your diet. How is this of benefit to anyone except the importers? It will impoverish our farmers and threaten the health of ordinary people, placing even greater pressure on the NHS.

It is not too late. It’s time to wake up to what awaits us after March 2019. Exiting from Brexit might leave a few politicians looking foolish, but what’s not to like about that? It’s time to respect the will of the many, not the few.

Lurking in the Cafe and Bookstore #2

This visit to Sally’s place was planned a while ago. We had a long chat, listened to music and cooked a spicy, if imaginary, joint. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being part of it.

via Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Open House Sunday Interview with author Frank Parker

The Politics of Place Names

I suppose that by now everyone is familiar with the way the names of the Indian cities of Mumbai/Bombay and Kolkata/Calcutta, or Beijing/Pekin in China, have been returned to their local designations.

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The city of Mumbai – image via http://media2.intoday.in

Many African cities, and even whole nations, are now similarly referred to by their African names in preference to those conferred upon them by the colonial powers.

And in the former Soviet Union the names of places have changed as political upheavals evolved.

People outside of the British Isles might be less aware of the political minefield that surrounds the use of certain place names and geographical terms in Ireland.

One reader of A Purgatory of Misery recently took me to task over my use of some of the place names and geographical terms in that book.

I’ll begin with the one I just used. To me, and to many people, including the compilers of the Wikipedia entry for the term, “The British Isles” simply means the group of islands on the western edge of Europe that includes Britain and Ireland. However, in Ireland the use of the term is anathema because of the fraught relationship between the two largest members of the archipelago as documented in my book. So is any reference to the larger island as “the mainland”.

In the book’s description on Amazon I mistakenly referred to the 1845-52 famine as “the worst man-made disaster to afflict Great Britain”, forgetting that Ireland is not, and never was, a part of Great Britain. The full designation of the kingdom is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. Between 1800 and 1922 it would have been “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”.

But my biggest mistake – and it is one I ought never to have made – was in referring to the city of Derry as Londonderry.

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The Peace Bridge over the River Foyle in Derry, N.I. Image via startacus.net

I will not go into the history of the dispute over that name, rather I will refer you to this Wikipedia entry, this report of a Judicial Review, and this news report about a debate in the city that took place as recently as 2015.

These will give you a flavour of the problem, as will this quotation from a Unionist Politician during a debate in the British Parliament in 1984: “Until the 1960s there was a happy use of both Londonderry and Derry. I am a member of an organisation known as the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and it is proud to have that name. The Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists who come from that area are happy to call themselves Derrymen. It was a matter that did not provoke excitement and it certainly was not taken as being an offensive remark to say that one was from Derry.”

No wonder the question of the border between the two parts of the island is a deal breaking issue in the negotiations over Brexit.

And the book? I’ve made the requested changes, and added a note at the beginning:

The use of the term “British Isles” throughout this book is intended as a shorthand description of the group of islands that lies at the Western edge of Europe. For reasons that will quickly become apparent to the reader, many Irish people have a deep resentment for any use of the word “British” in connection with their homeland. No offence is intended. This book is aimed at an international readership and we trust the term will be acceptable to the majority of such readers.

The same applies to the use of the expression “mainland” to distinguish the largest member of the group, including England, Scotland and Wales, from the island of Ireland.

I’m pleased to be able to report that the book continues to garner five star reviews. Even my harshest critic, in his private communication, said it was “[a] well written and extremely intelligent . . . short, succinct guide to the Famine”, and said it deserved to succeed.

There may be more good news about it early in 2018 – stay tuned!