Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Positive case for Britishness as well as the Union

You could be forgiven for missing the poll on Britishness contained in this month’s Prospect Magazine.  It’s buried in a series of articles about the UK’s involvement in the European Union. 

Yougov found that people in England who identify primarily as British are less likely to want to leave the EU, while people who describe themselves first as English are much more likely to want immediate withdrawal. 

It’s hardly a startling revelation that nationalism often coincides with euroscepticism.  More eye-catching is the break-down in the number of people who identify first as British / English.  This survey suggests that over 60% of people in England view themselves primarily as English rather than British.  That compares to just over 40%, as recently as 2008.

Again, you might say it’s hardly surprising in a post-devolution UK, with nationalist politics influential in Cardiff and dominating governments in Edinburgh and Belfast, that Britishness is being eroded.  The extent of that decline, though, should be a major cause for worry. 

Arthur Aughey recently wrote that English nationalism is, as yet, still a mood rather than a movement, but the poll seems to confirm that the mood is being nurtured by an aggressive assertion of Scots’ nationalism north of the border.

It would be wrong to infer that there is not still a major disconnect between Scottish nationalists’ constitutional aspirations and those of the bulk of Scottish people.  The SNP has acquired a reputation for delivering competent government, which has brought electoral success.  That is its mandate, but it doesn’t stop Salmond et al from pursuing another agenda.

The forbearance of English public opinion is generally quite remarkable, but constant attrition from Holyrood can’t help but affect attitudes south of the border.  And the same process is taking place to a lesser extent between London and Belfast, with the Stormont executive dominated by Irish Nats and Ulster Nats.

None of this is fatal for the Union, of course.  The British identity can comfortably exist alongside its component identities.  Nor can it necessarily be assumed that the figures can be explained simply as an expression of English resentment at the lack of collegiate spirit from other corners of the Union.  The financial crisis has thrown at least one more element into the mix. 

The fact remains, though, that English support for the Union can’t be taken for granted.  There’s a need to make a positive case not only for the United Kingdom, but also for a sense of Britishness itself.  The identity which explains the interlocking history of these islands, the political institutions which define our citizenship and the cultural similarities which we share.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Nationalism hindering opposition in Belarus

The World Affairs Journal has published a nicely written article by James Kirchick, called ‘The Land of No Applause’.  It’s a sprawling account of modern Belarus and well worth reading.

The author quotes some startling statistics which suggest that popular disillusion with President Lukashenko is spreading and they lead him to the obvious question – why hasn’t a credible opposition emerged in Belarus?

It’s a little disappointing, but at this point Kirchick opts for a traditional answer.  He argues that a viable challenge to the President has not developed because Lukashenko has so effectively suppressed Belarusian national identity.  While that is a tidy enough explanation, I suspect it reflects only one aspect of a more complex situation. 

The President took power in 1994, at a time when the politics of nationality were to the fore in Eastern Europe.  He judged that there was no similar appetite for a nationalist rewrite of identity in Belarus and, it must be said, he appears to have judged correctly.

Conversely the most prominent forms of Belarusian opposition were often linked to hostility toward the Russian language, an equivocal attitude toward Soviet achievements in World War 2 and efforts to cut all links with Moscow.

To western eyes Lukashenko has constructed a rather strange hybrid.  Belarus is an independent state which is also an inseparable part of a larger cultural space shared with Russia.  To Belarusian eyes, though, it’s rather neatly reflects the country’s post-Soviet identity.

Of course that isn’t to excuse the basket-case economy, the suppression of pluralism or the eccentric demagoguery.  But it does partly explain why opposition movements haven’t become credible and it suggests that nationalist fantasies are helping to keep Lukashenko in power.

The article mentions a number of enemies of the President’s regime who are almost as scathing about the so-called opposition.  That tells a tale and it would have been an interesting angle to investigate further.    

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Guest post: Germany resists British calls for greater European integration.

The following is a guest post from itwassammymcnallywhatdoneit. I should point out that all views expressed in guest posts are solely the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Three Thousand Versts.

As economic crises rage across the Eurozone, it is still not clear whether we are witnessing the (relative) decline of Western Capitalism and the passing of the prosperity baton to the East (as the Olympic  baton goes in the opposite direction) or just the latest Western adjustment to the fallout from the financial crisis.

The Chinese, sitting pretty on trillions of dollars in foreign reserves responded to being tapped up by an indebted Eurozone by suggesting that "European labour laws induce sloth, indolence rather than hard work." and told the Europeans to get their act together before looking for their help. (The US of A, having recently had its credit rating downgraded was not invited to provide assistance, presumably to spare their blushes.)
Last week, the crisis in Europe centred on the small Mediterranean country of Greece, perhaps but the Aperitif to a main course of Italy and Spain (with Ireland and Portugal as side dishes) for the perfidious and greedy Markets seeking to devour any country showing economic weakness.

The Greek political class, facing warnings of expulsion from the Eurozone and even from the EU itself, withdrew the 'threat' of consultation with the Greek people via a referendum and promised to toe the austerity line.

In Britain, strangely, there was little support for the Greek referendum position from the British Prime Minister, who, although using the promise of a referendum on Europe to get himself elected leader of the Tory party, was telling the Greeks to hurry up and sign up to the Euro austerity deal.

David Cameron though, finds himself in the very awkward position of needing to throw a few anti-EU bones to his anti-EU backbenchers to chew on in order to stave off further parliamentary rebellions, whilst trying to avoid a (further) dressing down from European colleagues for daring to talk down Europe at such a sensitive time.
The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr George Osborne has been eagerly repeating the (new?) Tory party line that greater European integration is required in Eurozone countries in order for the Euro to work - you simply cannot, so the argument goes, have such divergent economies as Greece and Germany sharing the same currency and with the same interest rates-unless there is central control of economic policy. Britain, Osborne insists, cannot and will not, bail out the failed currency. The European central bank, must be the lender of last resort for the Euro and stump up the cash to solve the Euro debt crisis.

Except, the European Central Bank does not seem inclined to do such a thing and instead, much to British annoyance, the supplier of cash to Euro countries in these crises, may well be the IMF - part funded by Britain. Ed Balls, Labour’s  Shadow Chancellor,  opportunistically sniffing Mr Cameron's political blood has publically demanded that no British cash arrives in Europe even under the IMF flag of convenience.

So why does the European Central Bank seem reluctant to be the lender of last resort? Well if the BBC political correspondents are to believed it all boils down to one word 'Weimar' - that tragic period in German history when their severe economic difficulties were dealt with by quantitative easing (a practice now very worryingly popular in non-Euro and heavily indebted Britain).

Perhaps a couple of hours of heavy output from the Frankfurt printing presses and there would be enough cash to lend to Greece and Italy?
As the name suggests the European Central Bank- is a European institution - which might lead some to believe it should be run for the benefit of Europe as a whole but it rather looks to others, to perhaps being run by, and for the benefit of,  only one country.

Germany, believed by many to be a 'good' European and a central part of project Euro, a project allegedly set to undermine the Nation states of Europe, is now perhaps showing her true (National) colours.
... surely all that frightful fretting by Eurosceptics over the threat of a European super state hasn't been for nothing? 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Dowie for manager!

I was unsure of who I wanted to succeed Nigel Worthington as Northern Ireland manager, but my mind's now made up.  I give you Mr Iain Dowie esq. and his mission statement.
"we need to get some passion back. We can't have players not turning up, then playing for their clubs at the weekend, and we have got to stop the trend of losing so many players to the Republic. If we can do that, anything is possible, as Billy Bingham showed in the 80s. We haven’t been to a major tournament since, and that is something that needs putting right. It's a tough group we are in for the next World Cup, but we really should be able to compete with teams like Israel. We will, if we can get back to making Windsor Park a difficult place to come to on a wet and windy night. That has to be the aim, and it is a realistic one."
Well said Mr Dowie Sir!  There's been a lot of technocratic talk about the respective merits of various candidates' CVs.  Let's cut through the nonsense though, splitting hairs about achievements in the lower leagues in neither here nor there.  Lawrie McMenemy had the most impressive CV of recent Northern Ireland managers, and he was the worst manager.  Arguably his namesake Sanchez had the least striking club record.

Dowie understands the Northern Ireland set-up and he understands the fanbase.  He can put fire into the the players' bellies, get the stands roaring again and, most importantly, put out a team charged with harrying, pressing and disrupting superior opposition.  That's the only way we can compete and challenge for qualification.

The only thing the IFA need look at in its recruitment process is the above quote.  It is the most inspiring, no nonsense statement any candidate has made to date.  And the man has a record in management to compare with the rest.  Offer him a contract right now.

P.S. I'm fully aware that my photoshop skills are appalling.

Hard-line leaders driving trades union members toward strikes

Following Unison’s strike last month, Nipsa, which represents 45,000 workers across the public sector, is urging its membership to vote ‘yes’ in a ballot, aimed at bringing about industrial action.  

Not only will any further stoppages bring widespread misery, but the vast majority of union members don’t want to strike.  Unison’s walkout was carried on a ballot of just 18% of its membership. 

That’s hardly surprising.  Most employees join a union, simply expecting it to help them if they encounter a problem in the work place, while their leaders are sometimes driven by hard-line politics.  

Where the latest batch of strikes is concerned, unions readily admit that they don’t know the details of public sector job losses which they say are in the pipeline.  Some of those potential redundancies could yet be avoided with a little flexibility where it comes to pay and conditions.  However their stock response is nothing to do with protecting jobs.  They just repeat, “you can’t cut your way out of a recession”.

That’s nothing to do with pay, or conditions, or even possible lay-offs; it’s an abstract political theory.  And it’s extremely foolhardy to persuade people to risk their livelihoods on the basis of an economic doctrine, especially when it’s based on a flawed understanding of our current financial circumstances.   

What the unions don’t seem to grasp, as they call for more public spending, is that the mess which the current government inherited from Labour is primarily a debt crisis, just as the turmoil engulfing international markets stems from anxiety that countries will not be able to pay back what they owe. 

In difficult circumstances, the chancellor, George Osborne, managed to defy a world trend and stabilise the UK’s economy, but he could only do that by devising a credible plan to cut our deficit. 

In contrast the seventeen countries which use the euro are currently locked in crisis talks.  Setting aside the bizarre jargon of ‘Greek haircuts’ and ‘big bazookas’, the crux is that you can’t tackle a debt crisis by continually taking on more debt.

Thankfully, as a region of the UK, we’ve got room for optimism.  We’re part of a relatively stable economy and our government took prompt action to get the deficit under control.  We’ve also got a favourable settlement on our block grant, avoiding the worst spending cuts, felt across the rest of Britain.

We still need to do our bit, of course, and save money where we can.  And the parties at Stormont need to be more straightforward when they spell out which cuts are necessary, so that jobs and services can be saved where possible. 

As for the unions, they can only serve workers’ interests well if they are constructive and flexible.  Most of their members, after all, aren’t fiery leftists, spoiling for a fight with the government.  They just want help and advice which enables them to keep their jobs and work hard in decent conditions.  The unions should stick to looking out for their welfare, rather than campaigning for strikes on the basis of outdated political ideology.