Monday, October 24, 2011
Only when all three British parties tell you that something is right, can you be certain it is wrong
Every few decades, the British people realise that continental Europe matters to them whether they want it to or not.
Its revolutions, reunifications and power struggles often appear remote, but eventually - and sometimes violently - reach across the narrow Channel to alarm and shake us.
This is such a time. Though a thousand years of history have made us profoundly different from our nearest neighbours in politics, language, law, customs, landscape and religion, and though we tend to prefer to look out across the open sea to the wide world we once dominated, we cannot be indifferent to the European Union’s growing internal crisis.
Above all, we are not free to stand aloof because in 1973 we joined what was then the European Common Market, binding ourselves legally to its aims and regulations.
One of the great tragedies of modern times is that our leaders were not honest with us about what this meant. They insisted that it was purely a free trade area, and that its only aim was to increase prosperity.
A few mavericks warned that it was much more than that, a vast political project aimed at the creation of a new, unprecedented superstate. But we laughed at them and their cranky alarmist predictions, and foolishly trusted the soothing mainstream voices of the big parties.
Seldom has there been a better illustration of the maxim that when all three parties agree on a policy, you may be absolutely sure that it is a mistake.
Year by year, the wild alarmists have been proved right. We have lost a great measure of control over our own laws, over our foreign policy, even over our defences. We have lost our fishing grounds. We have been compelled to hand over vast contributions for purposes over which we have no control.
Individuals can even be arrested and taken to other EU countries for actions that are not crimes here. We have - absurdly - been prosecuted for using our own weights and measures. Perhaps above all, we no longer have our own national passports or control our own frontiers.
Thanks to a referendum in 1975, in which the case against membership was never given a proper chance, our political class have been able to consider the matter closed.
But in recent years that apparently decisive vote has lost its authority. Nobody under 54 took part in it. It is widely accepted that its conduct was flawed. Meanwhile, the compact original Common Market has swollen to become the sprawling EU, with a toehold in Africa, a coastline on the Black Sea and a border with Russia.
It has acquired a sort of Parliament (though one without an opposition), a diplomatic service, joint external border forces, a flag, an anthem, a so-called ‘Single Market’, a Supreme Court, a President and – above all – a currency backed by a central bank.
It regulates everything from the way we dispose of our rubbish to the shape and size of the envelopes we can use in the post.
And as it has grown, so has a strong, articulate and responsible current of scepticism about its aims and purposes. In Parliament, this is most potent and most open in the Conservative Party, though it has quieter voices in the Labour Party and even a few in the Liberal Democrats.
But outside Parliament it has produced a confident strand of responsible but critical suspicion - and sometimes more than that - in the press, which was once united in favour.
It is largely thanks to these critical currents that the United Kingdom narrowly managed to escape entry into the euro, a deliverance for which even some EU enthusiasts privately give thanks. It should never be forgotten that so much of our Establishment was keenly in favour of what would have been a national disaster. Nor should it be forgotten that many of them still secretly hope to revive the idea.
It is also due to these rising levels of doubt that European governments in several countries have begun to offer referendums on important increases in EU central powers. In Britain, these votes have never yet been held. In France, the Netherlands and Ireland they have been ignored or held again to produce the ‘right’ result.
The brazen chicanery of European politicians over the EU Constitution, later repackaged as the Lisbon Treaty, must have persuaded many previously unworried citizens that the EU project was not to be trusted.
And had David Cameron kept his ‘cast-iron’ promise to hold a ballot on Lisbon, he would not now be in the trap he has dug for himself.
It is perfectly reasonable for opponents of a new referendum on the EU to point out that this is a bad time for such a thing. Of course it is difficult for our European partners to listen to our worries about sovereignty when they are in the middle of a profound economic crisis. But such people should recognise that the issue has arisen now only because they themselves have dodged the question so dishonestly in the past. And that the crisis itself is largely, if not entirely, caused by the EU’s own insistence on creating and maintaining its economically illiterate vanity project – the euro.
We cannot constantly avoid questions of principle because the time is not quite right. Apart from anything else, one of the principles at stake is our ability to run our own economy.
Moments arrive in the history of any country when its leaders and people have to ask themselves what sort of nation they wish to be, and what sort of future they want to have. We have ducked this question for many years, which is why it is now being asked again so urgently.
If we continue to duck it, we will be sucked irrevocably into a supranational body that operates on un-British principles, that is undemocratic, that does not serve our interests and which compels us to do increasing numbers of things we do not wish to do, and which may not be for our benefit.
Our mainstream politicians have done all they can to ignore the public’s will on this subject. The Prime Minister’s strange and needlessly provocative attempt to silence his own dissenters is an example of this wilful refusal to accept that there is anything to worry about.
Rather than scuffling in this pointless ditch, Mr Cameron should call off his Whips and, if Parliament votes for it, hold the referendum on our position in the EU that we have so often been promised and denied. Then at last we would have the chance to consider what position we wish our Government to adopt, and to influence its behaviour.
It is very likely that a call for renegotiation of our EU relationship – official Tory policy after all – would win a majority.
It must be stressed that this newspaper does not view Europe or the EU with hostility. The real problem is the very different ways in which continental countries order their politics and make and enforce their laws.
There is also the seldom-spoken fact that France and Germany are in reality the final arbiters of every EU decision, and that in nearly 40 years of EU membership Britain has never been able to outweigh or divide this alliance.
If we have a referendum and vote for renegotiation, the EU will have to decide its response. Depending on that answer, it may eventually be that we have to face the fundamental question of whether we want to be in this club at all.
But we should not hurry towards such a stark and dramatic choice.
The most sensible approach is to move deliberately but carefully. First, the public should be allowed to consider if the EU is what they were told it was from the start. Then, if they decide it is not, we must see if we can create the free-trading, open relationship we thought we were going to get.
Only if this option fails, and every effort should be made to ensure it succeeds, should we consider the momentous question of whether to stay or go.
Playing by the rules makes prisoners of children
Comment from Australia
LIKE many parents, I have been wondering where the space rockets went. In the past decade, space rockets, merry-go-rounds and monkey bars have been quietly disappearing from our playgrounds. Australian Playground Safety Standards have been changing the design of children's play spaces to remove danger, risk and quite a bit of fun.
While the Australian standard for playground equipment is not mandatory, it has become de facto compulsory because compliance can be referred to in court action against childcare centres, schools, restaurants and local councils.
The standards reflect the efforts of lobby groups such as Kidsafe, which have successfully linked injury rates to campaigns to restrict children's play. Kidsafe claims, "Each year about 350 Australian children (aged 0-14 years) are killed and 60,000 are hospitalised because of unintentional injuries." The group peppers its website with warnings such as, "the average backyard is full of dangers".
In reality, serious injuries from play are pretty rare. A 2009 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found the most common causes of child deaths were traffic accidents, drowning and assault. The most common causes of injuries were falls, road accidents, poisoning, burns and scalds, and assault. And while the number of falls is high the severity is usually not. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 93 per cent of falls were of 1m or less, such as falling off chairs or out of bed.
While play is rarely bad for you, missing out on play can have lifelong health and social consequences. Which is why safety regulations are now being questioned by a range of academics, parents and play activists who are worried kids are being denied opportunities to exercise judgment, weigh risk and take responsibility: in short to grow into adults.
Many parents are looking to reverse this trend and have flocked to advocates of free play, making bestsellers of Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids. Tinkering School founder Gever Tulley's TED talk Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do has become a social media hit.
This month the Victorian government acknowledged the shift with VicHealth's Physical Activity Unit, Sport & Recreation Victoria and Playgroup Victoria jointly presenting Tim Gill, author of the British bestseller No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society at an event called Taking Play Seriously.
Gill has been visiting Australia for several years since attending the Get Outside and Play conference in Perth in 2007. As someone who travels the world championing freedom in childhood he can see how things are changing. He told The Australian that: "Very few playgrounds in Australia look as grim as playgrounds had become in the UK around the turn of the century . . . children had to abuse the equipment to enjoy it."
Britain got a wake-up call in 2007 when a UNICEF survey rated it among the worst places in the world to grow up. At that time Play England, part of the British National Children's Bureau, found that about half of all children were being prevented from climbing trees and 17 per cent were not allowed to play running or chasing games. The government's response to the UNICEF report was a huge investment in Play England to build 3500 new and better playgrounds.
In Australia things got gradually less fun in our playgrounds but not so badly or quickly as to create a backlash, but eventually the missing space rockets were just too hard to ignore. Gill sees in Australia, "growing pockets of people spreading the word" about the need to restore challenge and fun to childhood.
There are pockets such as the Bush Babies playgroups, which are popping up across the country, and the Bush Kindergarten at Westgarth in Melbourne, which is modelled on the growing movement of Forest Kindergartens in Britain. London now has more than 150 pre-schools that specialise in getting children out into the woods to climb trees, hike and play in nature.
There is a growing desire among parents to revive exciting, fun and adventurous Australian childhoods.
The message appears to be finally making its way to the top thanks to people such as Robyn Monro Miller, chair of the National Out of School Hours Association, who has been putting play on the political agenda. Last year, the Minister for Childcare Kate Ellis introduced a learning framework for outside school hours care programs to ensure children spend more time in active play.
The most significant barrier to the revival of childhood freedom is the persistent fear of strangers. A VicHealth study, Nothing But Fear Itself, found Australian parents are restricting their children's independence and freedom despite the world not becoming more dangerous.
Following the Daniel Morcombe abduction tragedy the Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Program will now be a mandatory part of the Queensland curriculum and Premier Anna Bligh says she will be lobbying for the implementation of the package nationwide. While the final structure of the program is not yet settled, the stranger danger message is clear.
Gill says you cannot ask a family to put a tragedy into perspective or move on; however, we should remember, "the risk from dangerous adults is lower than it's ever been". Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron reinforced this last year, calling for, "a stop to the senseless rules that get in the way of volunteering (and) stop adults from helping out with other people's children".
In the question and answer session after Gill's talk in Melbourne, a mother of three told the audience how she had heard him speak the week before, after which her 10-year-old son asked her if he could go to the local skate park on his own. Thanks to Gill's talk, she said yes. That evening, she saw her son's status update on Facebook: "this was the best day of my life".
Gill admitted later on his blog: "I do not mind saying that I welled up a little as she told that story. Nor that I am welling up now as I type it."
The culture of fear that has defined approaches to the regulation of children's wellbeing appears to be under challenge if not yet reversing. The goal of those advocating for change is to give kids the gift of freedom.
"My dream is that these gifts of freedom are not rare gems to be treasured and celebrated," Gill says, "but part of the everyday currency of family life."
Rentamob: Australian "Occupiers" already well-known to police
SOME of those involved in Friday's Occupy Melbourne demonstration were regular protesters known to police. Acting Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said this morning some of the protesters were from BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), which campaigns against Israel. Others were from the Socialist Alliance - an anti-capitalist political party. "Many of these people in the group on Friday and the week leading up are pretty familiar faces to us," Mr Lay told 3AW.
He said a small group of the protesters were intent on fighting police, despite assuring police they would leave peacefully when asked. "I sensed a group of people that were hell bent on having a blue with the coppers and that's exactly what happened, we know that there was a group of people that simply wanted this for their own reasons."
Protesters were given assurance on the Thursday night police would not surprise them early Friday morning with demands to leave and on Friday they were given four warnings to leave from council and police.
Mr Lay said he was proud of the way police acted and they had an abundance of video to support police tactics and refute claims made by the protesters of brutality. "I was very proud of the way our 400 people worked, it was extremely difficult, it was a very long day for them and what I saw was a very well trained, very well disciplined group of people that did exactly what they were trained to do."
Victoria Police will today start examining CCTV footage of Friday's Occupy Melbourne protest for evidence of criminal offences committed by protesters.
Eight police cars were damaged as the crowd was evicted from City Square, and a police spokesman said CCTV footage would be reviewed to find the culprits.
Occupy Melbourne organisers have arranged to occupy Treasury Gardens on Saturday, claiming they have approval from Aboriginal elders of the Wurundjeri people to occupy the space.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said yesterday a team of council compliance officers would prowl the city's streets this week, poised to report any Occupy Melbourne protesters setting up camp. Cr Doyle said the protesters wouldn't have a chance to build an established campsite because compliance officers would catch them as they tried to set up. "We'll certainly task our compliance officers to make sure that we know when they try to set up anywhere. We'll issue them notice immediately that they can't do it and have the tents taken down," he said. "We don't intend to allow people to set up tents anywhere in the city. We have adopted a zero-tolerance policy."
On Friday, police evicted about 100 protesters from City Square, dragging many away writhing and kicking, and set up cyclone fences around the site.
Yesterday Premier Ted Baillieu backed Victoria Police in its use of force, saying protesters had broken their promise. "They said they would move and they didn't, and I think Victoria Police handled the situation well," Mr Baillieu said.
Whining Australian woman loses out
A GOLD Coast female hotel employee who accused a male boss of sexually harassing her by allegedly commenting on her "huge knockers" has had her workplace discrimination complaint dismissed.
The Queensland Civil Administration Tribunal, in a just published decision, dismissed a complaint for sexual harassment and discrimination on the "attribute of sex in the area of work" by Aimee Harron because she failed to attend a compulsory conference aimed at resolving the issue last month.
Ms Harron lodged a complaint to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission for alleged contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 by former employer Pearls Australasia Mirage 2 Pty Ltd and supervisor Andrew Potts.
QCAT member Michelle Howard, in an eight-page decision, said Ms Harron alleged Mr Potts made comments to another worker that she had "huge knockers" after she was been interviewed for a possible job. "(Ms Harron claims she) had overheard Mr Potts tell other employees ... he had never employed an unattractive girl," Ms Howard said.
"Mr Potts had (also allegedly) spoken to her (Ms Harron) about her brother in unflattering terms, saying that he was a 'dickhead', and also said that he was going to steal her brother's girlfriend."
Ms Harron claimed she had referred the matter to her employer's Human Resources Department. "(Ms Harron) infers that she requested not to be further supervised by Mr Potts, but was not given an alternative," Ms Howard said.
"She states that she resigned to avoid further 'being vilified' by Mr Potts, who had already caused her hurt and humiliation ... (and) she believes ... that Mr Potts' remarks have sexual connotations which amount to sexual harassment."
Ms Howard said the "respondents", that is Pearls Australasia and Mr Potts, contend Ms Harron commenced "casual employment" on May 11 last year and made a complaint less than two months later about a "remark alleged to have been made by Mr Potts after interviewing her for the position".
The company asserted, via staff notes kept regarding Ms Harron's work attendance and attitude, that Ms Harron complained about the new job during her very first shift. "On her first shift on 11 May, she (Ms Harron) said she did not like the work and most likely would not return," Ms Howard said the file note stated.
"On May 15, Ms Harron told co-workers she does not want to work and is going to leave. On May 17, she arrived late for work ... and on May 22, she attended work but went home sick after 2 hours."
Ms Howard said Pearls Australasia claimed it did investigate Ms Harron's complaint and found one staff member who said there had been some comment Ms Harron "had pretty good breasts."
Mr Potts, the tribunal was told, said he had not intended to hurt or offend anyone, and the comment was a "one-off" made before Ms Harron was employed. Mr Potts also denied making comments about having "never employed an unattractive girl or making reference to Ms Harron's brother of his girlfriend".
"The investigation did not establish whether the comments were or were not made, but Pearls Australasia argues that even if they were this would not constitute sexual harassment," Ms Howard said.
The matter was set down for a "compulsory conference", between the parties at Southport on September 21. "Ms Harron failed to attend the compulsory conference," Ms Howard said. "(As such) the complaint of Aimee Harron is dismissed."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.