We may live to regret the empty chair

So David Cameron vetoed the new deal in Europe before it had even been written. As far as we can tell, Cameron’s position was that Britain must be exempt from any new regulation of the financial sector (you remember them, the ones who got us all in a mess to start with). Clearly Sarkozy (and others) were not going to be told at gunpoint that the British wanted a competitive edge over everyone else in what is supposed to be after all a free trade area – and said so. The result? British walk away before the real negotiations have even begun. No chance for compromise. No chance to argue our case. We aren’t playing.

Of course the Eurosceptics are cock-a-hoop. They should be – if Britain ever leaves the EU in the future, it will probably because of that one petulant moment when we vacated our chair at the top table.

The remaining countries at the table will still make their decisions, and make no mistake we will be affected by what they decide. We just have no input any more.

A sensible position might have been to take part in the negotiations, and then exercise our right to say no when the detail had been thrashed out. Even Thatcher and Major always stayed at the table, always fought Britain’s corner to the last.

This is a cop out and leaves us isolated and exposed. It’s a sop to the Eurosceptic back-benchers and the Eurosceptic press.

If the EU is a juggernaut travelling down the motorway (or autobahn/autostrada/autoroute) we are now riding on the roof. We cannot reach any of the controls and we certainly don’t have the ear of the driver.

And frankly, if we go around enough sharp bends we could easily be flung aside.

Melting Planet

For as long as I can remember, back to my childhood, there have been wonderful natural history programmes made by the BBC. Always narrated by the iconic David Attenborough, I find them utterly compelling viewing. The latest season ‘Frozen Planet‘ has just drawn to a close. One of the things I have most loved about the latest series has been the ‘Freeze Frame’ feature that lets us go behind the scenes and answers the questions about how some of the amazing shots were achieved. (The answer is very dedicated camera teams working in incredibly demanding situations).

The final episode dealt with the climate changes taking place in our polar regions. Attenborough manages to present the facts, alarming as they are, without a hint of the shrill sensationalism the afflicts most films about climate change. The stark reality of the speed of change and loss of ice at both poles comes across all the more powerfully as a result.

Any remaining climate change deniers would do well to watch the last episode when it reruns on Sunday. The photographs of glacier loss even in just the last 30 years, and the explaination of the albedo effect and runaway consequences of ice loss cannot be ignored.

I worry that global warming is taking a back seat in the debate because of the precarious state of the economy. When the remaining ice cover at the North Pole melts within the next few decades, it will make the Eurozone crisis look like a picnic.

They Don’t Hate Us Anymore

We had the good fortune of securing Tim Farron to speak at our annual dinner this year. Not only was he a very entertaining speaker, but he also helped us draw a line under the difficult elections we all faced back in May. He was speaking to us in the middle of a by election campaign in Hazlemere, which we subsequently won!

The thrust of what he was telling us is that the public have begun to see that:

  • The Coalition was the only game in town after the general election result
  • That Labour do not have a coherent alternative strategy that doesn’t involve increasing our massive debts still further
  • That the alternative to grasping the nettle of our debts would be a Greek tragedy (literally)

Back in May, I encountered outright hostility on the doorstep. In the by election campaign that we have just won, what Tim Farron said was borne out: “people don’t hate us anymore.”

We still have a long way to go, of course. I want people to see that some of the more positive measures that the government is taking are directly from our 2010 Manifesto.


I am grateful to my friend Neil for encouraging me to write more often.
My problem at the moment is not lack of things to write about, on the contrary: there is just too much to choose from.
So I’m going to roll my sleeves up and plunge in with our old friend, the EU.
My local MP (and electoral rival) Steve Baker was one of the rebels on the recent EU Referendum vote. This prompted an outpouring of support on the comments pages of our local newspaper. At least two commenters were sufficiently impressed that they pledged to join UKIP! I’m not sure that Steve would have wanted that!
Nick Clegg has recently said that Eurosceptics should be ‘careful what they wish for’ and he is right. Our economy is deeply intertwined with that of our EU neighbours, and it would continue to be so even if we withdrew. As it is, we find ourselves in the ‘outer circle’ of EU members.
The Euro crisis has been a field day for the ‘I told you so’ brigade, and not without justification. However the EU crisis is a direct result of Eurozone members failing to follow their own rules on borrowing, and not as a result of any flaw in the concept.
Before we gloat, we should take a look at the performance of Sterling since the Euro came into being. On Euro day one you would have needed 67p to purchase a Euro. Today it is 87p. That is a fairly serious depreciation when you consider how troubled the Euro is today, because we have performed significantly worse! The question we should be asking our politicians is ‘why has our economy performed so poorly compared to the Eurozone?’
The Referendum that was debated was never a serious contender. Firstly, it offered a third ‘renegotiate’ option which was far to vague to be put to the people in a referendum. You can only hold a referendum with clearly defined options. Where on earth would a win for ‘renegotiate’ have left us? Secondly, you don’t redesign your kitchen while your house is subsiding. No-one should underestimate the doldrums our economy finds itself in. As always, I believe that unemployment is the number one barometer for any economy. Unemployment is a scourge on people’s lives, and it continues to rise. That should be our primary focus. Changing the terms of our engagement with the EU would be a massive gamble – and it’s not one to contemplate at a time like this.
Frankly, I think the majority of the Tory rebels were more concerned with popularity in their constituencies than any wider principle. If they really feel that way, maybe they should defect to UKIP?

Steve Jobs

Like millions of others, I was awakened this morning by the alarm on my iPhone.

I stumble downstairs and fumble with the coffee machine – and as always launch the BBC News app to see what’s going on.

Therefore I like countless others learned of Steve Jobs’ untimely passing on one of the iconic devices that he was responsible for. It seems fitting.

I am a self confessed technology fan. I have always loved the latest gadget. Apple products polarise opinions, but you cannot deny their importance. The iPhone embodies technology for non-geeks.

Like so many of Jobs’  brain children, it is a high tech product. It’s computing power is way above that on the Apollo spacecraft. But somehow, it is so user friendly that you almost instictively know how to use it. It seemlessy integrates itsself into my life so that I cannot remember what is was like not to have my emails, news, weather, map (which knows where I am), text messages – not to mention my entire record collection in my pocket wherever I go.

Other products can do all this. But Steve’s products are so easy to use that they don’t even come with a manual. Perhaps that is what distinguishes a good gadget from a great one.

In recent years, competitors have been reduced to shameless imitation and playing catchup. the shops are full of  iPhone and iPad lookalikes. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

The man may have left us – but his legacy will be all around us for years to come. He had a reputation for being a difficult man to work for. A perfectionist who constantly sent products back to his engineers until he was satisfied. But there is no doubt that his vision for what products could and should be set the standard for others to follow.

The extraordinary talent of Steve Jobs was that he made the connected world more accessible to us all. I think his legacy will be very long.