Europe – are we united or divided and do we care?

European Union

European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The history of Europe over the centuries looks like a battlefield both literally and figuratively. Every so often, the powerful countries of the United Kingdom, France and Germany would fall out over something or other and go to war. World War 2 was the last such conflict and it has now been nearly 70 years since that war came to an end.

We have enjoyed nigh on 7 decades of relative peace, thanks in no small part to the European Union. The UK wasn’t interested to start with and applied to join a few years after the start only to be vetoed by the French. We persisted and joined the community in 1973.

Our relationship with Europe has been tumultuous ever since and there is a growing groundswell of opinion among the general public that we would be better off outside the European Union. Indeed, the UK Independence Party, started some 20 years ago with an exit from the community as their central policy. For many years, they gained little or no traction but recently, their share of the vote grew dramatically. So much so that the Conservative party promised a referendum on membership of the European Union should they win the next general election.

Because we live in a democracy, we are bound to follow the wishes of the majority. If they want us out, then out we must go. Sky News recently carried out the first in-depth survey to show what people’s voting intentions would be, why they would vote that way and what would make them change their mind (if anything). The results show a country broadly split down the middle with 51% in favour of leaving and 49% wanting to stay. The number one issue cited in the survey is immigration.

I hope that when it comes to the referendum proper, people vote with a clear understanding of what’s at stake either way. This mustn’t be a protest vote. It mustn’t be an emotional knee-jerk reaction or based on reminiscing about the fact that we once stood alone and we can do it again – us against the world. The issue is far too important. By all means, vote for what you want – but make sure you have a reasonable understanding about what you will gain and what you will lose.

As for me, I remain broadly in favour of the UK staying in the European Union. I understand there are drawbacks but I think we gain more than we lose. I think if we leave, much of the foreign companies we’ve attracted to invest over the years may well reconsider. I believe trade will gradually become more difficult and we will lose a lot of influence. According to the Independent newspaper, we gain from immigrants into the UK and if we stopped them coming, it would cost us £18Bn over the next 5 years. I like the way that people can move freely around Europe.

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party has pledged to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU so the club might have different rules when we get to the ballot box. If he can swing our membership such that it becomes more economic and less political then it should give a boost to the stay vote. It worries me that a large percentage of the respondents to the Sky News poll would not change their voting intentions no matter what.

What about you – shall we stay or shall we go? Why? Do you care?

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Why I could never vote for Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A wise man once told me that if you are hiring someone, you should look for three essential qualities; the ideal candidate should be smart, get things done and not be a jerk. These seem like excellent yardsticks against which to judge the candidates, Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Although the discussion is moot because since the declaration of independence, I as an Englishman, have no say over what happens constitutionally in the good old US of A. Our needs of the future president are somewhat modest. As long as he keeps the wheels on the world economy for the next four years and as long as he doesn’t drag the world into mass conflict, we will be reasonably OK.

So are they smart? There are rumours that Barrack Obama was a C grade in school and college. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to find dispassionate and impartial evidence either way during an election. What we do know is that he graduated from Harvard with a law degree in 1991 so he must be reasonably intelligent. What about Romney? He also attended Harvard gaining both a law degree and an MBA so he’s pretty smart too.

So far, so good. Do they get things done? No-one could argue that Barrack Obama was dealt a good set of cards by the previous administration. George Dubbya Bush buried toxic waste under the White House lawn in the form of the nose diving economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Guantanamo Bay before handing over the keys.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo. Closing the place is easy. Finding a politically acceptable home for the 166 detainees is another thing altogether. So on this point he failed, although I have more hope that he will close it eventually than Mitt Romney ever doing so.

Although Obama brought the war in Iraq to a close in 2011, the war in Afghanistan rumbles on, but at least there is a timetable for withdrawal in 2014 and the Obama administration managed to scalp Osama bin Laden.

On the economy, since the deep recession in 2009, the GDP growth rate has been positive in the US ever since. For over 2 years, the US economy has added jobs and the trend seems positive. Critics have been quick to highlight the rise in the unemployment rate in the latest figures from 7.8% to 7.9%. You could argue anything with statistics, but there are more jobs and there are more people hoping to find a job which must be a good thing.

Critics also point to the towering deficit. As with lots of countries, the US deficit has ballooned since the banking crisis. The US defect stood at an inflation adjusted $1.5 trillion in 2009. Every year since, the deficit has been steadily reduced to a still eye watering $1.1 trillion, but at least it’s heading in the right direction. To put this in perspective, the US budget has been in deficit for 60 out of the last  72 years and the current figure stands at roughly double the deficit from the previous peak in 1945.

Obama brought healthcare to 32 million uninsured Americans, saved the beleaguered US car industry, stopped US torture and allowed gay people to serve in the armed forces.

Romney famously captained the successful Olympics 10 years ago in Salt Lake City. He was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003 where he managed to cut the deficit from $3Bn. There is history of him running for the White House before, but until now he retains bridesmaid status.

So they can both get stuff done. Are they jerks?

At the end of George Dubbya Bush’s tenure, world opinion of the US seemed to be at an all time low. Obama has done much to restore that reputation. His smooth, tolerant and patient demeanour was exactly the right tonic. He is a likeable man.

Romney famously wrote off nearly half the country with his 47% comments. During the 2nd Presidential debate, he said he would add 12 million jobs to the economy only to say 45 minutes later that Government does not create jobs. He insulted Britain on the eve of arguably the most successful Olympics ever by calling into question our ability to run the show.

And that is why I could never vote for him. The man’s a jerk.