Divided by a common politics

It is a pity to miss Americans in these places, but they do not fit in as others do.  A televised political discussion in Britain, Australia, Canada, Ireland or New Zealand is the same in format, and commentators and politicians from any of the other of those lands can fit in seamlessly, and they do.  On the BBC’s Question Time last week, Malcolm Turnbull, a former Prime Minister of Australia could join in on equal terms, just as last year had Jordan Peterson and Stephen Pinker from Canada, and Irish politicians appear in discussions all the time. Commentators, philosophers and politicians can pop up all across the Old Commonwealth without our batting an eyelid. It quite normal. We speak the same language politically.  Tony Abbott (who ousted Turnbull) put it that “we are yes juridically separate entities but we are not really foreign to each other”.

American commentators do not fit the same way. They are welcomed and treated respectfully and can provide insight, but the alien political culture shows through at once.  We have the same human language but a different political language. We have the same understanding that we must have freedom and participatory democracy, but think of both in different ays. We ought to know each other better.

Joe Biden may be a good bridge – he liberally borrows from British politicians: on his first run for President he famously plagiarised a speech from Neil Kinnock, and accepting the Presidency yesterday he copied one of Margaret Thatcher’s; a knowing tribute. His campaign used a slogan from Boris Johnson; ‘Build Back Better’. It is less credible to think of an American politician copying from, say, Adenauer or De Gaulle, even if he has a certain idea of America. There is still then the spirit of the Anglosphere’s common frames of reference there.

We in the Commonwealth think we know American politics and thought because they are blasted at us constantly, but we hear them as part of showbusiness, not with an appreciation of the dynamics. A Parliamentary system is more fluid than a presidential one. American politicians appeal to the Constitution as an anchor or central point about which to revolve, which is not available in the British context. The vast geography and federal system of America is a point of differing starting points too, as is the ever-present legacy of the brutal plantations of past age.

All this needs further examination.

I wonder often how much our local political preconceptions mislead any aspiring commentator when looking at the politics of another land, and can only conclude that it is far more than we could ever imagine. At least the Anglosphere starts from the same culture. Foreign lands will remain a misunderstanding, and we for them.

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Ireland abused, abandoned

It was a glorious time for the politicians of the Irish Republic in 2019: as the Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated, the European Union let the Irish government lead and joined them against the British to force a humiliating compromise that was tearing the House of Commons apart, and potentially tearing the United Kingdom apart.

Never before had they felt such power. It must have been a heady feeling, wielding all the collective political power of the EU27 and, to be frank, feeling special at last, even loved.

It was not to last long. Where is that power now? Where that love? Failing to reach a free-trade agreement will hurt many members of the European Union, but for the Republic of Ireland it will be a disaster. Where are those European friends now? They could have signed a sensible deal, a deal which has been on the table for months, but instead, the European Union is quite happy to condemn Ireland to economic misery for political reasons.

Last year the European states stood behind Ireland, and now we see why – better to thrust a knife in their back.

If there is bewilderment at this change, there should be none. The Europeans have been quite consistent throughout, using every trick, even corrupting Members of Parliament, to punish Britain, or force Britain into the status of a dependency, just as Bismarck did to Prussia’s neighbours, or as Britain did to the Indian princely states.

Ireland was a tool, no more. Fair Erin was wooed, charmed, seduced and send to do the job, then abandoned, beggared and left on the street. The Projet européen goes on. The Irish people are collateral damage.

How the people of the Irish state are seen in Westminster is clear enough: it is seen in the determination to make a deal that works for Ireland: most MPs have Irish blood, after all, as do I, and I feel it deeply. There is a higher principle, and that it not giving in. If they say “Give up your interests or the Paddy gets it!”: that will not win.

How the Irish people are seen in Brussels is something else. They are islanders; they speak English; they are separate from the thread of European political development; they use common law and an assumption of freedom, not the assumptions of the Roman-Napoleonic system; they deal in common sense not philosophy. Basically, the Irish are British, or cannot help but be seen as such by the Europeans. They cannot expect respect.

It is said that the Irish people are the most pro-European of all the nations of the European Union. Maybe: there is more to it though than the figure on a binary question. Actual connection is something else. To be European only as a way to avoid the relentless gravitational pull from Great Britain is a negative thing. It may be that this not-being-British is one of the few things left of general Irish cultural identity, the majority having voluntarily abandoned the Roman church, the language, cultural norms and all that went with them; gone are all the marks of difference which had been used to justify separating Ireland from Britain. If all that is left is what you are not, that is a deathly bargain.

Ireland can only suffer from remaining tied to a failing European project which bears it no respect.

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Major EU trade deal

Described as a brillig success for the European Union, a free trade treaty has been signed with Borogovia, after only fifteen years of negotiation. Commission negotiator M Barnier said “We initially found the Borogoves too mimsy in their approach, but as we made progress after the first decade or so, we came to appreciate more of their culture of mutuality and personal donation even where we outgrabe. It is a good result for all.”

The new treaty will eliminate customs duties on 90% of all goods European businesses export to Borogovia and on some of the goods flowing the other way.  A Commission spokesman emphasised that the new deal represents a new approach with developing countries like Borogovia as trade brings prosperity to both sides: until now, the European Union has been content to ship state-subsidised food products to undercut local farmers, but now it may be time to permit the remaining, unbankrupted Borogoves access to sell in the European market.

Asked whether the new treaty will force the Borogoves to change their regulatory system to follow the rules of the European Union, M Barnier responded angrily ‘That would be a ridiculous demand to make: what honest country would accept such humiliation, and what honest negotiator would even suggest it?”

The Commission’s spokesman was at pains to emphasise the dedication of their negotiating team in reaching this point after only one and a half decades.

The United Kingdom secured a comprehensive trade and investment treaty with Borogovia in two months.

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Dissolution through private judgment

Private Judgement Of Good and Evill

In the second place, I observe the Diseases of a Common-wealth, that proceed from the poyson of seditious doctrines; whereof one is, “That every private man is Judge of Good and Evill actions.” This is true in the condition of meer Nature, where there are no Civill Lawes; and also under Civill Government, in such cases as are not determined by the Law. But otherwise, it is manifest, that the measure of Good and Evill actions, is the Civill Law; and the Judge the Legislator, who is alwayes Representative of the Common-wealth.

From this false doctrine, men are disposed to debate with themselves, and dispute the commands of the Common-wealth; and afterwards to obey, or disobey them, as in their private judgements they shall think fit. Whereby the Common-wealth is distracted and Weakened.

 Erroneous Conscience

Another doctrine repugnant to Civill Society, is, that “Whatsoever a man does against his Conscience, is Sinne;” and it dependeth on the presumption of making himself judge of Good and Evill.

For a mans Conscience, and his Judgement is the same thing; and as the Judgement, so also the Conscience may be erroneous. Therefore, though he that is subject to no Civill Law, sinneth in all he does against his Conscience, because he has no other rule to follow but his own reason; yet it is not so with him that lives in a Common-wealth; because the Law is the publique Conscience, by which he hath already undertaken to be guided. Otherwise in such diversity, as there is of private Consciences, which are but private opinions, the Common-wealth must needs be distracted, and no man dare to obey the Soveraign Power, farther than it shall seem good in his own eyes.

 Pretence Of Inspiration

It hath been also commonly taught, “That Faith and Sanctity, are not to be attained by Study and Reason, but by supernaturall Inspiration, or Infusion,” which granted, I see not why any man should render a reason of his Faith; or why every Christian should not be also a Prophet; or why any man should take the Law of his Country, rather than his own Inspiration, for the rule of his action.

And thus wee fall again into the fault of taking upon us to Judge of Good and Evill; or to make Judges of it, such private men as pretend to be supernaturally Inspired, to the Dissolution of all Civill Government. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by those accidents, which guide us into the presence of them that speak to us; which accidents are all contrived by God Almighty; and yet are not supernaturall, but onely, for the great number of them that concurre to every effect, unobservable. Faith, and Sanctity, are indeed not very frequent; but yet they are not Miracles, but brought to passe by education, discipline, correction, and other naturall wayes, by which God worketh them in his elect, as such time as he thinketh fit.

And these three opinions, pernicious to Peace and Government, have in this part of the world, proceeded chiefly from the tongues, and pens of unlearned Divines; who joyning the words of Holy Scripture together, otherwise than is agreeable to reason, do what they can, to make men think, that Sanctity and Naturall Reason, cannot stand together.

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Sixteen negotiating days till Christmas. We cannot tell if it is going to be a Hollywood ending or ‘Hasta la vista, failure’.

Britain has been free of the European since 31 January: all the close engagement in detail since then though might make us forget we ever got out of the stifling bureaucracy. In the same time, Britain has concluded several major free trade treaties around the world, while the one that should have been a cake-walk is teetering on failure., with just days to go.

The initial failings have been well rehearsed: the European Union should have started the negotiation the day after the Brexit vote, which was four and a half years ago, but instead refused to speak without a withdrawal agreement, which was delayed by other factors – collaborators in Parliament giving aid and comfort to the enemy encouraging the EU to think the referendum would be overturned. Mrs May’s choice of surrendering negotiators worsened it: movement only came with Boris and the realisation that it was all for real: the game was up. That left us however with just eleven months to do what should have been started three and a half years before.

What has gone wrong in the negotiation, no one outside it can really tell. We can write long commentaries of speculation, and I am sure I have done that before, but what passes in those rooms is a mystery.

It does not seem like a mystery: the press is full of foreign politicians bewailing what has been said and vowing that ils ne passeront pas, and Whitehall and Gove batting back. It is undignified, crass, unstatesmanlike, ungentlemanly and ultimately unhelpful, but it is also dishonest, as the negotiation is not done by press release.

We do know the opening European position, as they published their proposals, and we know how the British team opened its batting too. The two were far apart. The European side spoke in pious tones about maintaining to the finest detail the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration which was the agreed framework for negotiation, and then promptly placed a text on the table that flatly contradicted the latter. There is a word for that, and not a pretty one.

The preconditions they demanded, contradicting the solemn promises, are heaped up like chains on Marley’s ghost.

Accounts suggest there is just a hair’s breadth between the two sides, but on what we do not know, in truth, nor whose word is stopping finality, or if those who have said they object have been put up just to force the negotiation, It is a very Trumpian tactic and to be admired for that as a negotiating technique, but could, mishandled lead to an unnecessary collapse in talks, and many, many unnecessary business bankruptcies.

Is it really Macron, as he claims? Is he standing up for Europe lie the statesman he pretends to be? Is he just playing his part in a psychological game to put pressure on the Brits? Is hem, and this seems most likely, trying to distract attention from the flames that are consuming French cities. It is a major fault in the French political system that they do not realise that the most fundamental duty of the state is to preserve public peace. Maybe it is just for its impossibility with a people whose national myth is the glory of revolution not the peace at the end of it. Such is not a culture “with a purpose to make those men that relyed on them, the more apt to Obedience, Lawes, Peace, Charity, and civill Society“.

(Rousseau’s bastardised version of Hobbes in Du Contrat Social is deficient but accepted over there. Maybe it is forgotten in that imperfect mirror that the Essence of the Common-wealth; which (to define it,) is “One Person, of whose Acts a great Multitude, by mutuall Covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the Author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their Peace and Common Defence.”)

Yet the negotiation continues, to the wire, aiming by that squeezing of time to squeeze concessions, while businesses go to the wall and others pause their investments to see what happens. Wasn’t there some film of the negotiation? Maybe:

This makes little sense in logic (and emphasises again, if it ever needed repeating, that the European Union is a disastrous entity).

In the wreckage that has been left from the continental lockdown, when thousands, probably millions, are thrown out of work, when state finances are in a condition worse even than during the Euro crisis, when every effort should be made to go lean, to let business thrive, to open every advantage to recovery, when the sources of finance through the City of London are more important than ever, why now to stall for political reasons alone? A failure by the European side to grasp this opportunity for recovery would be unforgivable.

I have always written that it is in Britain’s interests that he rest of the continental European Union should remain together, but if they are to beggar the continent for political pride, the Eurocrats deserve nothing more than dissolution, that something better may be created.

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