Regional identity

In much of the EU the regions that wish to be independent are the richer parts of their present countries. In Spain Catalonia is the most enterprising and highest income part of Spain along with the Basque country which is also keen on having more self government and control of its own tax revenues. In Italy the main force for independence comes from the Northern League where average incomes are much higher than in the south and where economic performance has been much better than in the rest of the country. Venice is a particularly successful city state with a strong wish to be independent. In Belgium the richer north is keenest to split away. In Germany there is less force for self government thanks to the relative success of federal economic policy despite the lander system of devolved government, but even there it is rich Bavaria which seems the most semi detached. In the UK it is different. The richest part of the country is London but there is no serious move to create a City state independent of the UK, whereas some parts of the Union that require substantial transfer payments with lower average incomes have a strong sense of individual identity. Scotland’s wealth and income is a matter of dispute depending on how you account for and project oil revenues.

Language is often a force for separation. The Catalan and Walloon speakers of Spain and Belgium see their language as part of their difference from the rest of their current country. The EU has fostered the development and revival of local languages which has reinforced these feelings. The EU seemed to want to use local and regional identity as a force to weaken the power of unitary states like Spain and Italy. It appealed over the heads of the member states to these regions. It had in mind not a host of smaller new countries claiming independence, but a subsidy or dependency union for the regions. It looked forward to regional allies and gratitude for the money sent to the regions, money it only had thanks to the contributions of the member states.

Now the EU is so much more powerful it has new problems to resolve. Will it seek to play down the demands for independence generally, as it is clearly doing in Catalonia? And now it has ambitions for a common foreign policy, how will it respond to similar tensions in non EU countries? Is it pleased with its work in Ukraine, where it wants the Russian minority to accept the pro EU policy of the western majority? In the Middle East is it feasible to ally with the Kurds against ISIL but to deny them their aim of a Kurdish state? Does the EU seek a federal solution to the governance problems of Iraq and Syria?

Outside the EU the politics of identity can become violent and extreme. It is most important the EU treads carefully if at all over these intricate and deep seated issues within Europe as we wish to keep the peace.

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Socialist found in Labour party

Shock horror. Apparently a socialist has managed to conceal himself within the Labour Party. He kept himself unobserved by being a member of the party and an MP for the last 32 years.

He has now revealed himself to the wider world by standing for election as Labour leader and daring to show he has support. He has some shocking views according to his Blairite or “mainstream Labour ” critics. They worry because  he opposed the Iraq war and opposes other Middle Eastern military interventions, and does sometimes criticise the EU. He dares to point out that the extreme austerity policy in Greece has done substantial economic and social damage.

I hasten to add that I would not wish to see his UK economic policies implemented, and do not agree with all his views on foreign affairs but then I am not a socialist.

Labour should have a good debate between the four candidates and decide who they like best. That will define what they want to offer the public in the next general election. It is strange to see some of them complaining already that one of the candidates is not allowed to be poplar and maybe his popularity invalidates the electoral process or the electoral list. Surely it is up to the candidates who disagree with Mr Corbyn to enrol people and gain the support of people who are members by showing why their vision of the future is better for the UK.

Some of the dafter commentary says the leadership election shows Labour is split. The whole point of a leadership election is to allow the different strands of opinion and support within a major party to run their views and seek to show support for them. Labour started all this ridiculous briefing that a party cannot govern if it contains different opinions and groups. It is the ultimate irony to see this myth come back to haunt them when they are having an entirely proper leadership election. The Wet /dry conflict under Mrs Thatcher during Conservative government and the big Blair/Brown row under labour always showed it was nonsense to claim split parties cannot govern.


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There is no status quo in the forthcoming EU referendum

Those who have already made up their minds to recommend staying in the EU whatever Mr Cameron negotiates think they can control the referendum for Yes. They aim to run a campaign claiming that Yes is Yes to the status quo, Yes is the risk free option, and that No would mean all sorts of dire futures which they intend to portray by lies and scare stories.

The truth is somewhat different. As I set out in the Commons, the present EU is a wild ride to political union. It is not a friendly status quo, a restful membership of a finished structure allowing us to trade and be friends with the neighbours, but a cauldron of disagreements, arguments and a state of permanent revolution as they seek to complete their political, banking, Capital markets, and fiscal unions.

There is no necessary advantage in asking people to vote Yes. After all, No won the Scottish and the AV referendums in recent years. It is true that these two No campaigns were for the status quo, but so in a way NO will be on the EU matter. Many voters think the EU should just be a common market, and those who argue for Out will be arguing to leave the Euro and political union which increasingly impinge on us, not to turn our back on trade and friendship with the neighbours.We want the common market some voted for in 1975.

Anyone independent minded person who has not yet decided how to vote, reasonably wanting to see what terms Mr Cameron comes back with, will want to see how the UK could defend itself from the growing power of the Euro union. Recent events with an attempt to get the UK to pay some of the Greek bills for Euro failure will doubtless give many more pause for thought about the absence of a status quo within the EU.The obvious failure of the EU to control its borders and therefore the problems it poses for UK borders inside the EU is a major issue where the EU seems unable to gain control and unwilling to let the UK control its own territory. The people who want in have no answer to the migration issue. They also want to sign us up to paying more and more of the bills for a proto political union we are trying to keep at arms length.

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Loans to Ireland

Some have raised the issue of the UK’s loans to Ireland, made at the point of transition from Labour to Coalition in 2010.
The Coalition decided to lend money bilaterally to Ireland so it was not part of an EU scheme, and offered no precedent for the UK in future having to join Euro area bail outs.

The loan reached a total of £3.2 billion when the final drawdown was made in September 2013. The money is repayable in instalments between April 2019 and March 2021. By September 2014 the UK had received £148 million in interest payments. The interest receipts are now running at £42 million a half year, and all payments have been made on time. The interest rate is a little higher than the UK government current ten year borrowing rate.

There is no reason to suppose anything will go wrong with this loan. The Treasury expects repayment on schedule. It established no precedent. I speak as someone one who was against it at the time, as I just felt the UK had to do everything to get its own borrowing requirement down.

I remain keen to ensure the Uk does not have to pay any of the costs of the unsuccessful Euro economic policies in the states that are suffering from their position in the currency. I also wish to see the UK enjoy tax cuts and lower borrowing by ending the huge payment we make yearly to the EU under our current membership.

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The politics of identity

I have always assumed that the EU and its core, the Euro, will eventually be swept away by powerful senses of identity in some individual counties and regions of its vast rambling empire. Might it be the UK who tires of EU meddling in its affairs? Will it be Germany, refusing to pay the bills for its expensive currency union with the neighbours? Or will it be smaller countries and regions who want more self government?

History tells you that’s what will happen. The Roman empire united by force fell when that force met its match from nationalist revolts. The Catholic hegemony was undermined from within, mainly by the successful transmission of heretic thoughts allied to national self belief in parts of the old Catholic union. The Holy Roman Empire fell to pieces under the weight of opinion wanting more local identities. The Scandinavian unions broke owing to strong loyalties to the individual countries. The Latin and Scandinavian currency unions broke up over disputes on how to spread the debts. The USSR empire was destroyed by a series of public revolts state by state, and its currency union split up relatively peacefully and successfully afterwards.

I hope that this false union will go peacefully, through the ballot box. The paradox of the EU is the way it is splitting some of the larger countries of Europe through its own passion to build a Europe of the regions. On the way to power the EU decided that it would good to appeal direct to regional governments below the level of the member states. It set up a series of programmes where regions could apply for EU monies ( money originally sent to the EU by their national taxpayers and those of the other national states), to strengthen regional government. It was happy building the governments of Catalonia, southern Italy, Scotland, and other regions around the EU.

Now the EU has much more power it is becoming more wary of what it has created. The EU was not helpful to those who wanted Scottish independence. The EU is helping the Spanish state deal with rising Catalan nationalism. Just over the EU borders, the EU is far from amused by the demands for autonomy or independence in parts of Ukraine. The issue for the next few years is can the EU help suppress the nationalisms its has helped unleash? What will the impact be on the EU if some of these states within a state, countries trying to get out of larger countries, have their way? I will look at more of this soon.

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Why does the BBC ignore England?

When the Culture Secretary gave his statement on the future of the BBC, I spoke for England. I asked if we could have a BBC England to match BBC Scotland? I pointed out that many of us do not want a BBC seeking to split up our country and trying to foster artificial senses of regional identity. As we move towards more England only decision making at Westminster, we need a BBC England news to cover it.

I will submit further evidence to the review to show the need for BBC England. My area is lumped into BBC South, so we see a lot of news stories about seaside resorts all along the south coast that have nothing to do with inland Wokingham. Meanwhile, we have to switch to BBC London to see things going on 20 miles down the road that are of more relevance to us. My part of the world is variously called Thames Valley, Rest of the south east, the south, London and the south east, the home counties, the three counties (Bucks,Berks and Oxon), and mid Berkshire. No wonder there is no great sense of regional loyalty, when there are so many differing boundaries and descriptions, and when none of these places have sports teams, Councils or representative figures to speak for them. There is no Head of the Thames Valley (apart from the Chief Constable)or First Minister of the south – I am pleased to say – and no Mayor of the three counties or Lord Lieutenant of the Home Counties.

In my area people relate to the UK, to England, and to Wokingham Borough or West Berkshire. There is also a loyalty to the royal county even though it has no Council. The County does have sports teams, ceremonial events and various dignitaries and its own historic sense of identity.

The BBC needs to work with the senses of identity that people feel. England is increasingly aware of itself and of its needs and abilities. The BBC is not even struggling to catch up. The BBC seems determined to cling to old twentieth century ideas of balkanising England and helping the EU split us into regions which mean nothing to us.

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President Obama is wrong-again

President Obama is wrong about the UK and the EU.
If letting foreign countries impose laws on you, levy taxes on you, and spend your money is such a good idea why doesn’t he create an American Union so Mexico can have common borders with the US, Cuba can spend US tax on herself, and Brazil can impose laws on the US the US does not want.
If he did that to the US and it worked then he would be in a stronger moral position to lecture us on having common borders with Eastern Europe, having Greece spending our money and having laws the Germans want but we don’t.

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More jobs go thanks to dear energy

Recently the media gave little attention to an important and worrying announcement – more than 700 jobs went in the UK steel industry. You would have thought they would have given that top billing, with interviews of those left without a job, and angry remonstrations with the managers who carried it out. Far from it. Perhaps the reason is that the closure was brought about primarily by EU/UK energy policy. The company made clear it could not longer afford UK energy prices.

This is not the first time government has been told this. Dear energy was at the centre of the row about the future of the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth in 2013. Uncompetitive cost was cited as a reason for loss of 400 jobs at Port Talbot steel works in July last year. The aluminium industry has lost plenty of jobs in recent years, where energy again is a prime suspect.

The UK’s energy bill for business is far higher as a proportion of costs than the US, thanks to the EU’s renewables policy. It appears that UK energy prices can also be higher than continental competitors, thanks to the reliance on more coal in parts of the continent despite EU policy requirements, assisted by substantial subsidies to industry.

The EU needs to revisit its energy policy if it wishes to support and grow industry in Europe. What is the point of making EU energy with less CO2 than elsewhere on the planet, if it simply moves more industry off to somewhere with lower energy prices emitting more CO2?

The new UK government has agreed to cut back subsidies to solar and onshore wind. However, the main problem arises from the EU targets for more dear energy in the first place, rather than from the particular forms these take. It is worrying that when we go into next winter industry will be warned that they might have to cut back on electricity usage if we have cold weather and little wind, so that the system can cope. The march of the makers requires better than this. The new Climate Change and Energy Secretary needs to put the supply of more cheaper power at the top of her priorities.

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Real public spending up again in UK – and welfare spending too

Yesterday saw the release of the June figures for spending, taxing and borrowing. Over the year June 30th total public spending rose by 2.9% in cash terms. As there was no inflation over that year, that is a real increase of 2.9%. I look forward to a flood of articles praising the end of austerity and recognising that real public spending is rising.

The welfare figures also show that despite a good year for creating jobs and getting more people off welfare and into work, the combination of higher rates, more people eligible for various benefits and better take up has led to a 3.6% real increase in the amount of welfare paid out.

The deficit came down a bit, thanks to revenue growing at a lively 4.4%. That’s a big real increase in tax receipts, thanks to higher incomes and more items being purchased and attracting VAT. It would be welcome if more commentators writing about the economy worked from the actual Treasury figures, instead of relying on misleading and wrong opposition soundbites. In order to discuss how we can best look after those in need, we first need to know how much we are currently spending and why it is going up.

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Could bombing Syria work?

I have no more love for ISIL than the Prime Minister. Like him, I would rather live in a world where there are no extremist groups using violence to gain power over worried and damaged communities. I wish him well with his wider strategy for tackling extremism.

I do however have the same reservations about bombing Syria as I did when I wrote to him with others when he last wanted to do it. We urged him not to.

Bombing remains a blunt weapon, for all the improvements in tracking and aiming technology. Whilst with modern intelligence and bomb aiming it is possible to kill more of the people you want to kill whilst killing fewer of the people you do not wish to kill, you can still end up killing the wrong people. In what is a war for hearts and minds as well you also leave yourself open to claims that you have killed bystanders and civilians, and open to extremists themselves killing others and claiming you did it. You also create martyrs of the dead in the eyes of those who support them, which can enable them to recruit replacements for those you kill.

It is not realistic to suppose you can kill enough of the extremists by bombing to get them to give up. They are too widely dispersed and too embedded in the civilian populations to allow easy success from the air. That’s why various military experts say bombing has be part of an invasion or wider campaign. In the end you only destroy ISIL power by fighting house to house and killing them or forcing them to retreat. This can be done, but you end up killing a lot of the civilian population you are trying to liberate. Most people agree that US and UK soldiers should not be asked to do this. You leave open the question of how then do you help the legitimate government establish proper control? Where the government is the government of Syria, you are left with the moral dilemma of do you want to help Assad re establish control over the country? If not, how do you also arrange for his defeat? What would you replace both ISIL and Assad with? How would the new government after a brutal war to gain enough control be able to unite the country and create successful peaceful administration?

The other problem I have with bombing ISIL is they are not the only nasty group to dislike. The UK has banned or condemned a long list of organisations. What about Boko Haram? Al Nusra? Abu Nidal? Adu Abyan? Abu Sayyah? Al Qaeda? Ansar al Sharia? -just to name a few from the A and B items on lists of such organisations. Extremism is a multi headed monster. Bombing one part of it has so far not ended or controlled it.

Yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Defence who would take over the government of parts of Syria if Coalition forces are successful in displacing ISIL? He did not seem to want the current government of Syria led by Assad to do that. There’s more to creating better government than bombing some evil men.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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