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Rebuilding a Broken United Kingdom- A tale of 4 Kingdoms.

JR Max Wheel


14 March 2017


The UK’s proposed exit from the EU has thrown up some serious fault lines inside the Union.  A core reason is a failure that goes back years, the infamous West Lothian question so eloquently described by its own MP. Tam Dalyell, whereby the devolved administrations MPs sitting in Westminster can vote on English matters, yet English MPs cannot vote on those arising in those administrations. The movement towards decentralised power in the UK was in principle fair enough- to move decision-taking closer to the people, but as with many important issues it was not thought through, thereby creating another anomaly in the quirky nature of the UK’s unwritten constitution.


Despite sitting for a Scottish seat- West Lothian, Dalyell opposed both plebiscites in 1979 (Callaghan Government) and in 1997(New Labour- Blair). He was right. Nonetheless New Labour pursued the devolution agenda in Scotland and Wales creating a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. The tortured politics of N.Ireland was subject to a separate agreement. The critical failure was to confine the plebiscites to the constituent countries only and not open to English voters. This might be seen as a cynical ploy to entrench Labour votes in its traditional heartlands especially Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, all it has done is the reverse, encouraged a nationalist and separatist movement, based on actual and perceived historical grievances. The situation in Wales has not (yet) resulted in a similar upsurge in nationalist feeling. Had the devolution argument been aired properly it would have queried the relationship of all the constituent parts, not just the devolved regions.


Thus, rather than redefining the United Kingdom for the future, it has created confusion and mutual suspicion. A much better solution would have been to have redefined the role of the Upper Chamber, long a parking lot for the great and the good and a handy way of rewarding party political participation. Its role as a revising chamber is a valuable one, but it has become a bloated anachronism, with over 800 members. In addition, it contains bishops, law lords and hereditary peers. Why so many when the US can have an upper house of 100 in the Senate and other parliamentary democracies make do with many less than the UK. There have been endless attempts to re-legitimise the Upper Chamber by direct election, none has really succeeded.


What is needed is a Chamber that reflects the diverse interests of all the countries, and thus represents regional interests which cannot then be over-ridden by solely English interests, nor vice versa, this would force a level of real debate and concerted decisions. Needless to say this would provide a perfect opportunity to reform the Chamber and to rid the UK of its excess peers, and to concentrate their minds on issues of real importance.


This matter acquires an extra urgency as Scotland contemplates a second independence effort and whilst N. Ireland faces a very difficult problem arising from Brexit. It suits no one except those willing to frustrate the electorate’s result, of which there are plenty, with quite specific and anti-democratic views.


Media Lies and our growing inability to discriminate.

7 January 2017


JR Max Wheel


If you google the word “discrimination”, you will find pages of information on racial and social issues, you will not so easily find it in its primary sense of the “ability to see a distinction or differentiate”, or a further important sense is “observe distinctions carefully, to have good judgement”. Why does this matter, words change meaning constantly don’t they?  This is undeniably true but it obscures an insidious trend, one where precision is unimportant, sloppy writing is good and meaning is lost or manipulated in the interests of the writers’ agenda. The reader’s job is not merely to swallow the content, but to use their critical faculties to tease out bias, half-truths, and outright falsities.


This is hardly a new complaint. It is one however that has become more important since the age of 24 hour infotainment. Political words are especially subject to misuse.

Here is George Orwell writing in April 1946 in an essay on Politics and the English language:

“Language”, he writes, “is being used in an improper way, political words are being abused. The words, democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings, which cannot be reconciled with one another. Words like this are used in a consciously dishonest manner”. Examine any of current big issues; the election of Donald J. Trump, Brexit, climate change, there is plenty of evidence of descriptive manipulation, not to enlighten or inform, but to promote the writer’s view and usually to denigrate the opposition. How many swivel-eyed racist xenophobic loons does it take to change a light bulb? Discourse has degenerated to the trading of insults. This is perhaps unsurprising since so much of the writing is poor quality, careless and dashed off to meet a deadline. Also missing is a sense of balance, such that media stories are disproportionately skewed to the trivial, air-time is wasted on vacuous celebrity non-stories. Do you start to listen to who edits and produce BBC news or other media stories let alone who owns the media outlet? This is important. Here is Orwell again. “In our age, there is no keeping out of politics, all issues are political issues and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. This is a killer observation. Language needs to be used as an instrument for expressing, not concealing, or preventing thought. One hesitates to imagine what Orwell would have thought of Twitter, but one can guess.


Whether we heed and act on Orwell’s advice is surely important, to be able to seek out cant and the agendas of the self-interested. Welcome to all-pervading “ Newspeak”.

A Collaborative Europe?

JR Max Wheel

4 August 2016

Open Europe, the think tank, today floated the EEA route as a potential transitional measure for the UK whilst the country clarifies its post membership aims. This is a position that was proposed by Dr. Richard North (and others) pre-referendum as being a logical route, but it is slow and ponderous and falls far short of the “take back control” leaver stance as:

  • UK contributions will continue
  • Free movement of people will continue
  • EU law making will largely be the same
  • Free trade agreements can be negotiated in principle but EU regulations inhibit necessary flexibility

It has the merits of avoiding a direct clash with the Scots and Northern Irish voters, but as with all transitional arrangements they begin to take hold as a new “status quo” and they most certainly do not reflect the leave vote ambitions.

Article 50 is however so badly drafted as to be a near unworkable part of the Lisbon Treaty, presumably because it was never envisaged that in reality any member state would wish to leave, so it is there almost for completeness sake. It is also extraordinarily one sided, with any negotiation being subject to the Council and Commission acting as judge and jury. No trade or international agreement would put its interlocutor member in the “dock” or make it jump through so many hoops. This much should be made clear in negotiations. The UK has indicated it would not trigger article 50 until 2017, this is a key year with both French and German elections looming and with considerable possibility for upset. Since both the EU Commission and many member states resent the implicit threat to the “European Project” by the UK vote, there is a rawness to the current debate which inhibits proper dialogue. And dialogue is needed if the process is to be both facilitated to the benefit of all parties and to establish the necessary post membership collaboration whether on matters of security, defence, scientific research or similar cross border issues.

The Project itself is threatened by some serious internal disconnections of which the currency is the most serious and the democratic gulf between citizens and the EU governance entities. As Yannis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister has argued, talking of an EU democratic deficit is comparable to arguing  of an oxygen deficit on the moon- there IS no oxygen on the moon!

This political deficiency is however only part of the problem, the EU has evolved since the 1950s, when many of its ideals and aspirations were relevant e.g., the 4 pillars or freedoms:  without amendment, movement of people and capital especially, now look to be frankly unworkable and not just for the UK.

At the core of the EU is the Franco-German axis. This was always rather cynically designed as a German cart with a French rider. This quid pro quo, rehabilitating the German people following the horrors of war is a power game, where French diplomacy would triumph as the German economy recovered via the economic miracle. Far from being the end of the nation state  subsumed into a more “equable“ supranational body, there have been a series of brutal trade-offs between both parties, made explicit following the reunification of Germany. 1989 should be seen as a seminal year and not only for the EU.

What were the parties’ objectives? There was a trade-off between an enhanced global role for France in exchange for the curtailment of the monetary discipline of the Bundesbank and an increasingly dominant German economy. The genesis of the single currency was a naive ploy to force political union via economic means and in swapping a stable DM for a inadequately structured new single currency and the establishment of a “non-German” dominated Central Bank, the ECB. Like many other “orthodoxies” this hit the buffers with the crash of 2008, but a short backward glance to the behaviour of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in the late 1980s/1990s would have shown how dangerous this experiment is. This error was compounded by the eastward expansion of the EU to include countries who naturally enough wished to share in Europe’s democracy and economic opportunity, but whose level of development was markedly backward thanks to years of Communist or autocratic misrule.

The EU still has not undertaken the proper political calculus as to why Britain voted out, as it is a confused and multifaceted issue. A major albeit not sufficient reason is the stalled economic prospects of the many and the inequalities engendered by policy failure and rapid change. Equally important is the real sense that decisions are taken remotely and without consideration of societal consequences- immigration being the obvious one. Add to that the malign effects of globalization, the rise and rise of a wealthy and disconnected elite which has created a truly toxic brew roundly rejected by a significant part of the electorate. Over focus on Remain/Leave campaigning positions is both misleading: neither side emerges with any credit, that however is to miss the point.

The EU needs an overhaul and a redesign if it is to ever properly engage its citizens and to prosper, the UK needs and wants a collaborative approach to its European neighbours, whichever route offers the greatest real benefit to both-this is the prize and one is not at the expense of the other.




Brexit – now Government and Opposition Chaos!

JR Max Wheel

30 June 2016

Today brings news of fresh turmoil in UK politics in both the Government and opposition ranks. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the UK case for leaving the EU it is blindingly clear that the country’s governance has been found wanting. Under more normal circumstances there would and should have been a vote of no confidence in the Government and a likely general election.

It is however symptomatic of deeper constitutional issues which have been festering since the Scottish referendum and the devolution settlements: it seems to me that this now requires wholesale changes to our voting system which is increasingly exposed as unrepresentative. It may be as well that the UK does not do “Government by plebiscite” normally, but this referendum has exposed deep fault lines, as well as abuse.

It should have escaped no one ‘s attentionthat since the campaign was carried out on a cross party basis, that any subsequent action should require a similar cross party arrangement and agreement to implement, not a prolongation of the status quo ante.

The UK’s first past the post system has generally served us well enough, this time it is in danger of embedding a very divisive decision through Parliamentary majority and in the near absence of a Prime Minister, a full-blown leadership campaign and with no effective opposition. Worse the leaders of both campaigns have been exposed as acting in self-interest and not necessarily in good faith. This is unworthy of any democracy, let alone the UK.

We now need comprehensive overhaul of the following and with some urgency.

  • A move to proportional representation for the House of Commons.
  • Reform and radical downsizing of the Upper House to function as a reforming chamber – a Senate. Removal of all peers, whether Lords Spiritual or Temporal
  • Direct representation for the devolved administrations in the Senate
  • Abolition of the much abused honours system
  • A charter of British Rights applicable to all citizens, and extensive to all legally, if temporarily residing in the UK.


We may still decide to exercise a sovereign right to execute a withdrawal from the EU, but it  should not be rammed through on the current basis. The leadership of the campaign has by its behaviour and the turmoil evident in the opposition, forfeited the right to proceed “as is” after the unseemly brawl of a leadership campaign being embedded in the process and in so doing distorting the result together with flagrant abuse of Government department resources. Two choices remain – neither of which should have ever been necessary, a rerun of the referendum or a general election when the opposition have a new leader and team in place.

No side emerges with any credit from this exercise which is worthy of a banana republic and not Britain. It’s time for serious change.


Brexit – the Fallout

JR Max Wheel

29 June 2016

The bad tempered debate about the referendum result continues to rumble on in the UK and Brussels. It would be charitable to suggest that this is chiefly the shock effect and real fear of cross EU contagion, but it is more.

As is usual faults are evident on both sides, in the UK for failing to prepare for both possible outcomes of the vote and selling the notion that exit would rapidly bring an end to the key issue of uncontrolled migration whilst preserving beneficial trade concessions from the Single Market. The campaign was marked by outrageous and frequently unsubstantiated claims by both Remain and Leave sides and further fuelled by a unpleasant rise in racial tensions, which have lurked beneath the surface in Britain, and well before the advent of a faux multicultural narrative; the same tensions are by no means confined to the UK, but exist across Europe and beyond.

In principle, it should not be beyond the grasp of a mature EU that not all member countries, for historical and cultural reasons regard its federal ambitions as either necessary, desirable or even feasible. That much has been obvious since the Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon treaties, the last being the (failed) attempt at creating a European constitution) rammed through as a treaty. This exercise in overreach really triggered the widespread anti EU feelings of the sceptics, and not just exclusively in the UK. It is no accident that M. Monnet believed in a Commission of elite decision-takers as clearly the serfs could not be expected to run matters themselves, a de haut en bas attitude that prevails even today -an historical core feature that makes for a large part of the EU’s democratic “deficit”.

The crash of 2008 and its consequences and the economic damage wrought by the single currency, essentially incapable of adjustment, should itself have required a major rethink by administrators in Brussels, at Council, Commission and Parliament level. They signally failed to do so and fatally pressed on, triggering serial economic crises in Southern Europe which continue to this day. The mantra of “more Europe” was again trotted out as the only solution, despite the fact that France and the Netherlands notably, submitted Lisbon to referendums and decisively rejected its implications.

The migrant crisis is for many the final straw; it shows the EU as incapable of coordinated rational response on either sensible humanitarian or socio-economic grounds. This is not to pretend that it is or will be easy to resolve; but clinging to artificial constructs in the face of an unprecedented movement of people was irrational and irresponsible. The root causes are well known, however the limp and disoragnized response revealed EU power structures to be incapable of rapid or rational action. The freedom of movement of peoples is a wholly aspirational and Utopian idea, born in the 1950s and its current extreme form, utterly inappropriate in the highly mobile globalised 21stC.

By now the problems piling up at the EU have reached breaking point – Euro mismanagement and ongoing suffering from economic woes, borders exposed as dangerously porous, rapid accession of low income new states, a mishandled accession approach from Ukraine resulting in a barely contained war and the annexation of Crimea and a bureaucracy, for whom no issue seems too small or insignificant but to require the dead hand of a meddlesome Brussels.

This is both dangerous stasis at one ahand coupled with over focus on trivia:  further integration is stymied, even to support the currency, let alone protect common borders or to consult on matters of foreign policy. Worse, policy making is driven by appointed staff, whose remoteness from member states’ own electorates leads to the perception and frequently the reality, that national laws and customs become increasingly irrelevant.

The continuing increase in wealth inequality despite the excesses leading up to 2008, but in reality a much longer time horizon back to the mid 1970s (since when wages as a share of GDP have been static or falling) and the increasingly powerless lower or eroded middle classes add up to a toxic brew. The EU project is now suffering an existential threat and the UK referendum is merely the lightning rod, but the blame game persists with no one focused on how a modern Europe can be made both democratic and dynamic. Tying essential trade issues to mass migration on  the immovable notion of an “essential” pillar or “freedom” verges on lunacy.

The Visegrád group of Central/Eastern European countries have already begun to demand reform of EU institutions, even as extremist parties have picked up momentum and arguing for national referendums in France, Italy, Greece, Finland and the Netherlands. Those who have benefitted from the opportunities arising from globalised trade in goods and services are being challenged by those who have not and whose communities have changed radically and who sense that nationals are being pushed to the bottom of the queue for hard-pressed public services. Rationality does not enter into that argument, even if it is part perception and part reality. Anger fuels political upheavals.

If the EU is to mean anything and to survive, let alone thrive, it must change fundamentally, that means either real economic and political integration, which is what more Europe means, and seems wildly unlikely or it means a move to a more flexible set of political arrangements, a Europe of associated nation states trading freely and with their agreeing which issues require pan European cooperation, rather than diktats handled down from a supranational Commission to a rubber stamp Parliament. Since the currency problem cannot be fixed and acts like a latter day gold standard, it must be made flexible to allow for external adjustments, which don’t repeat the errors of the 1920s/30s, where the only way to achieve it was via falling employment, wages and GDP.  A measure of how vital this is the prevalent fear that Germany, the de facto EU paymaster may itself lose out in the wake of Brexit, outvoted by austerity ridden Southern Europe. The clock is therefore ticking for both sides and contrary to mainstream media,  it is not solely due to the threat or reality of Brexit.

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