Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Standing Apart - in Europe but not part of Europe!

Several years ago an argument raged as to whether we should give up Stirling and join the Euro. Eventually, the government of the day fixed a test whereby it would only commit itself to joining the Euro if five tests were satisfied. At no time prior, nor since then, have all five points of the test been attained. Result? We still stand with our own Currency and are thankfully not part of the Eurozone.

In retrospect, regardless of the ups and downs of premiership, I think most people on all sides of the political arena would agree that the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was absolutely right in laying down those five elements of the test.

It is frightening to see what has now happened across the water in a country for which I have great respect; and regardless of what some might think or say, the Chancellor's reasons for assisting Ireland this week certainly resonated with me. The Irish People most assuredly deserve assistance from us. Yes, it will cost us dearly, but as we saw even at the height of The Troubles, it wasn't the vast majority of the People of Ireland either south or north of the border that were in contention with us. On my frequent visits to Belfast I have always seen another side to Ireland, and Northern Ireland, and either side of the border the surprise of the majority at the influence and savagery of the vociferous minority.

We must stand by Ireland and we must also look very carefully at our relationship with the European Union. It is worrying to see laws being enacted on our behalf that undermine our national sovereignty. It is one thing for the United Kingdom to have devolved government and to see the sovereignty of Parliament perhaps weakened, but that is the choice of the British People and with the overall objective, hopefully, of protecting the foundation of the Union itself. I know that some in Scotland might take issue with that, but I find even there that the majority still wish to remain within the Union regardless of how the SNP might present the opposite view.

As regards our Currency though, I am absolutely sure that the people will be heaving a sigh of relief this week that we are independent.

It is extraordinary to read so many reports and columns in the media whereby leaving the EU is now seen as not only possible but perhaps even probable in the long term. I am reminded of that great Russian City St Petersburg, formerly Leningrad. For the greater part of my life the latter was its name, and when I studied history I always felt sad that this ancient city had lost its title and assumed the name of a blank stark mausoleum. Not in my lifetime did I ever expect to see its name restored. And there will have been millions who will have lived and died within the period that this city was known as Leningrad. They would have known no different, and yet on the line of history, that period of some 70 years would be seen as the tiniest blip, something not even worth talking about. One can imagine a lecturer in years to come talking of the City... "and of course St Petersburg, two thousand years old, except for a few short years when it was known as Leningrad after the founder of Russian Communism before that too collapsed..." and a student might assign it a line in an essay to gain an extra mark.

So too with the EU. Will there be a time when history will look back at the UK's brief flirtation with Europe, a country that is part of Europe geographically but somehow not part of it politically?

The German economy is strong and the suggestion that Germany may even consider a return to the Deutschemark in the next 2-3 years certainly raises alarm bells. What annoys me is the suggestion that Germany should have to pay more by way of bailing out weaker economies, just because Germany has worked so hard and well to bring about prosperity for its People following Reunification.

Once again, we are being encouraged to look to widening our international trade links and it is good to see the Prime Minister in the vanguard in advocating this policy change. We have a strong government and we have a good team; it is wise and sensible to have a formal Coalition at this time, and it means that the Labour Party must work extremely hard to be the very necessary effective Opposition that is so important to our Parliamentary system. At the moment it is something akin to a dismasted ship, and I am relieved to read that there are hints that all is not well with the Leadership, that there is disquiet at Westminster and that David Miliband is ready and waiting quietly in the Wings.

Mr Miliband should be the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. He has the ability and experience to unite the Party and to be an effective check and balance on Government. I do not agree with all his policies, but it is fair to say, that I agree with none of his younger brother's policies nor his lack of leadership and dynamism that most surely is in the gift of his elder brother.

We do indeed live in interesting times.

Ian Bradley Marshall
24 November 2010