You might wonder why I am thinking of Europe when I am sitting in an office in Brazil having been in the Middle East on 10 days ago! The answer is that every time I travel abroad I am increasingly struck by the interconnectivity of the World. Last weekend my colleague from Spain wanted to get a swimming costume. We went to a shopping mall. He couldn’t get what he wanted in Next so we went next door and bought them in Debenhams. It looked and smelt just like the one in Liverpool 1 except the people working there had a better diversity and the prices were in a strange currency.
As I write this blog in Porto Allegre I have completed my e-mails and I am watching the BBC news! As I walked around PA yesterday I saw a C and As – long forgotten in the UK but still spread heavily throughout the rest of Europe. I could be writing something subversive and aiming it at the UK from exile here (sorry Mayor Anderson – I am coming back!) it would be almost impossible to stop it. Of course there were differences between Liverpool, Doha and Porto Alegre. They have different constraints, different problems, different opportunities and different cultures. BUT they had far more in common when you went beneath the surface than they had differences.
For a councillor all three Cities have to think long-term but deliver short term. They need to be looking 20 years ahead to look at the long term potential for their cities but in a cost effective way to deliver the services that people need to make their lives liveable in the short term. The people advising many of us are world wide with far too much money being spent on consultants who have never done the job themselves. But what is absolutely key is that those cities which are doing well and understand the opportunities available to them are not looking inward to their own countries and communities but looking outwards to ensure that they understand their place in the world and the opportunities as well as the threats that the global market place and internationalism present.
Hence my considerations about the referendum for Europe. I am not scared of a referendum because I am absolutely convinced that the ‘stay in’ will triumph over the ‘get out’ vote. When we look at the fears being stoked up by the ‘get out’ brigade we can see that they are largely based on myths. Let’s look at a few of them:
75% of legislation is forced on us by Europe. Total twaddle. There are two areas where there is clearly European influence on national legislation. The environment and work force activities. There are many reasons why this applies all of them are valid ones:
In environmental terms it is a given that pollution does not recognise national boundaries. Anything that we put in the air can come down in any country and vice versa. All countries are taking action to prevent this and they do this in a variety of ways. One is to insist on higher standards emissions from vehicles, homes and industrial units. now it is true that we could decide if we were out of Europe that set our own standards. BUT is that a real option? Let’s just suppose that we decide on car emiison standards that are different from Europe. We simply would not be able to sell our cars there. Our market is not big enough to sustain a car industry so we would lose massive exports.
The free movement of labour is an integral part of our the EU’s basic principles. The UK benefits highly from this free movement in which common standards of training, education and qualifications are applied. We benefit hugely from this in two ways. Up to 2 ,000,000 Brits work in other European Countries and a similar number from Europe work here. This releases tremendous vigour into our economy and is one do the keys ways of expanding our commerce and industry. In another way this influx of people will keep us all in our old age. until recently our population was declining as our birth rate declined. This raises a fundamental question, “Who will earn the money to pay the taxes to pay our pensions and to pay for our medical services.
In fact young people coming to work here from places like Poland are very useful to us indeed. Most of them go back home having earned some money for 3/4 years. They have paid tax and Ni on this and then go home having hardly used any of our services! In the meantime many of them have done work that Brits are just not prepared to do. do you like getting cheap fruit in your supermarkets? Then you should be thankful that young foreigners are prepared to get up early and work long hours for relatively small amounts of money to pick that fruit.
Are you worried that our culture is being destroyed by a foreign invasions? Well you could be right but it’s coming more from our television and computer screens than any invasion of foreigners! A polish pickle shop at the end of the road is nowhere near as culturally invasive as the telly where we can often get a total domination of America films and serials. Blame the BBC and commercial stations if you want. Complain when newspapers and news readers use foreign terms but don’t blame the EU because such affairs are out of its control.
Every time we investigate a loony Eurpean story in the likes of the Daily May we find one of two reasons for them. firstly they have totally eaxagerated the effects of a common sense policy; OR they have been a consequence of secondary legislation by the UK parliament which is needed to implement the broad sweeps of policy which originate from Europe.
I believe that a referendum will flush out this rubbish and that we will be able to move to a rational understanding of the benefits and disbenefits of the EU. The old guard are literally dying out. Young people are not as scared of Johnny Foreigner as some older people. They travel more, they talk to people all over the world on the Internet and game with them in a variety of ways..
40 years ago I was the joint chair of the Yes campaign in Liverpool which won heavily as it it did throughout the nation. We successfully dealt with the myths and propaganda then and I am sure we will do so again. Let’s have the referendum as soon as possible because the uncertainty is damaging to to our export markets and to our business confidence generally. I know that I can speak on behalf of all Lib Dems in Liverpool when I say that we will fully and unitedly commit to the campaign because we want to settle this argument for a generation if not for ever.!