Friday, February 25, 2005

Bush Euro visit - the aftermath

Via Davos Newbies, a pessimistic take on Bush's European visit (well, if you're pro-EU, at any rate) from the Financial Times:

"It seemed that every time the US president talked of liberty, one or other European leader would unfurl the standard of stability. Every American evocation of idealism collided with European realism. The religion of realism once preached by Henry Kissinger has been cast out by the evangelicals in the White House only to be revered as revealed truth in the self-consciously secular chancelleries of Old Europe."
But the US Ambassador to the EU, Rockwell Schnabel, is a bit more positive:
"There was a broad perception that something was to change in the president’s recognition for Europe. But he made it clear during his visit that it was a misunderstanding because the current US administration is committed to Europe just like the one four years ago... Disagreements in some areas still exist, but in general, there’s a more positive starting point for the current US administration."
From the same article, Robert Cooper (Director General for External Economic Relations at the Council of the EU) makes the disingenuous, but moderately valid, point:
"We’re the people who do the regime changes – just look at Turkey or Ukraine, and you can see how far we got by just being [what we are]"
More views and news on the Bush trip can be found via The Periscope, here, here and here.

Over in Russia, after the Bush-Putin summit the US President seemed to follow advice to criticise Putin's anti-democratic moves, yet still managed to praise the close Russo-American relationship:
"Even if we didn't agree on certain issues, if you look at what we have done over the last four years and what we want to do in the next four, the common ground is a lot more than those areas where we disagree"
It seems as though Bush Jr. Mark II has learned a bit more about diplomacy than was evident during his first term. Still, US pro-democracy calls for Russia may have been damaged a tad by a Houston court decision to dismiss Russian oil giant Yukos' attempts to gain bakruptcy protection (there's some background on this here). Plus Putin has, naturally enough, dismissed any such allegations - and please note the wonderful use of the word "but" here:
"We are not going to invent a special Russian democracy. We are committed to the fundamental principles of democracy... But all the institutions of democracy must be compatible with the condition of Russia and its history."
Would it be churlish to point out that Russia's history is hardly filled with shining examples of democracy? Perhaps... The tougher US line is, nonetheless, welcome. Having said that, others point out that it may not do much good:
"Perhaps one of the most telling pointers was that, during the conference, Bush spoke of democracy during his introductory comments, without prompting. Putin, on the other hand, only spoke of it when forced to by journalists questions."
Others still point out that pro-democracy messages coming from a non-Russian may not be particuarly well received:
"It will take a Russian to say that, and one who cannot be accused of pro-American sympathies. Russians don't like things pushed down their throats; they would not take advice condescendingly dished out by some spoilt rich kid."
The Periscope, which has done a truly superb job in finding info on Bush's trip, has more on the Russian implications as well.

In other, semi-related, news, Orange Revolution hero Victor Yushchenko has called for Ukraine to be allowed to begin EU accession talks, while Ukraine's Socialist party leader is more sceptical.

Oh, and talking of Democracy, it seems that the EU is headed that way too. first comes the news that the fundamentally undemocractic move to ban Nazi symbols has been defeated, and then it seems as though Socialist MEPs are trying to set up an official opposition to the current European Commission. This should - hopefully - be a very good precedent to set. As long as they don't bugger it up, obviously.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Worrying lessons from Iraq for the EU debate

No major editorialising here (to avoid more pointless squabbles, more than anything), but it must be said that I find it rather difficult to understand how more and more Americans seem to be believing that Saddam Hussein had links to al Quaeda - 64% and rising. 47% think Saddam was directly involved in planning the September 11th attacks, and 44% think the hijackers were Iraqi. 36% still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the coalition invaded, despite admissions from the invasion's leaders that there were none.

Now I know that this old report is from the BBC - supposedly a biased and anti-American news source - and that the UN is also supposedly useless, but I still find claims of links extremely unlikely. The fact that there have been arguments against links coming from respected and expert sources for so long, and yet an ever-increasing number of people seem to believe the connections were there, simply makes me dispair.

This is, of course, a major problem of political discourse worldwide. As so few people are genuinely interested in politics, the first opinion they hear - coming from a source they respect or trust - seems generally to be the one they sign up to. Whether there is supporting evidence or not.

This is precisely why EU-sceptics are so up in arms about the BBC's supposed pro-EU bias (which is just, like, their opinion, man), and why those of us who are pro-EU are so worried about the dominance of Rupert Murdoch's anti-EU newspapers. Once an opinion is foisted on an unsuspecting public, it is well nigh impossible to pursuade them to think again - largely because they simply aren't interested enough to be bothered.

The EU has (justifiably, in many cases) been the butt of many jokes in the British media over the last thirty-odd years. There has been corruption, often on worrying scales. There have been particularly awful policies (the Common Agricultural Policy being the prime example). These all make far better, more eye-catching news stories than "EU membership has attracted investment into Britain from the Far East" or "now that we're in the EU it's far easier to nip off to Paris for the weekend or the Costa del Sol for your hols".

People are more interested in the bad news than the good - it's part of that same, entirely natural, reaction which sees traffic slow down after a car crash so that everyone can get a good look. This also naturally means that they are also far more likely to remember the bad news.

On top of this, a number of Eurosceptic voices have been shouting very loudly about the dangers of further integration, and of the bureaucratic meddling in British affairs. Most of these opinions are based on a particular reading of some kind of truth, but the fact that they are just opinions is lost on most people. Meanwhile, the pro-EU camp has been somewhat more muted in publicising the benefits of membership, and has mostly been left picking up the pieces and trying to argue against an already formed hostile public opinon.

On the major issues (it is, after all, practically impossible to defend the CAP or corruption), the defence of the EU has never been entirely convincing - consisting mainly of "well, it's like that now - yes - but we're reforming the way the thing works, then it'll all be fine". It is easy to see why many people would react with "why bother reforming? Why not just pull out altogether if it doesn't work properly?" It's the "if it's broke, chuck it" attitude - a far easier (if usually more expensive) option than "if it's broke, fix it".

But in any case, even on those issues where the Eurosceptic case is weak (which, sadly, are never as eye-catching as tales of corruption and agricultural wastage), the fact that the hostile message is usually the first to reach the general public makes it well nigh impossible for pro-EU voices to get their side of the story a fair hearing. If Americans continue to believe there were links between Saddam and Osama after even Donald Rumsfeld denies that there were, how the hell are the pro-EU lot going to convince a sceptical public of the benefits of closer integration?

"The EU constitution expresses the will of a phantom European public"

A quicky link to an interesting Spiked article from a few days ago, Euro-elites desperately seeking demos, which follows on nicely from Spain's low voter turnout in last weekend's referendum and my latest moan about the state of the debate. Some highlights:

The principal danger for the EU in the constitution referendums is not a 'no' vote, though this may be a problem in the UK. It is that too few people vote. For a constitution intended to forge a sense of common identity and belonging, disinterest would be even worse than rejection...

The right has attacked the constitution as eviscerating national parliaments, and paving the way towards a Brussels-based super-state... But the strength of this argument comes less from the public's passionate euro-scepticism, than from a more generalised disenchantment with politics...

Meanwhile the left argues that the constitution goes too far in consolidating the neo-liberal economic model underpinning the EU's Single Market...

Both critiques serve only to deepen public cynicism. The idea of a Brussels super-state panders to people's sense of disempowerment - the invocation of a Trojan horse can only lead to a 'don't be duped!' rallying cry. This is conspiracy theory masking as critique, with the same effect on public cynicism as the 'no war for oil' claim made over Iraq. Perpetuating this grubby vision of politics driven by private interests can only encourage a further withdrawal from politics.

The EU Constitution should instead be understood for what it is: an attempt to infuse the EU, and the whole project of European integration, with a degree of popular support...

The difficulty lies in the fact that, regardless of the wishes of Eurocrats and the fears of euro-sceptics, the EU is not a state. The state today must be democratic, and democracy is only possible with popular sovereignty. Yet there is no European demos, no European constituent political power.
There are some good points in there - no matter what opinion you may have of the thing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Putin's propaganda reaches a new low

Via the superb Siberian Light, yet more news of a really rather worrying revival of Soviet-style state propaganda in Russia.

Now I may well be over-reacting here, but for some reason the idea of a television station run by the military, explicitly aiming to promote "national pride", which features children's programmes is cause for rather a lot of concern. Smacks somewhat of the old-style Pravda, brainwashing and the like...

The fact that in the UK we're currently talking about banning fast food ads for the effects they can have on kids (which personally I'd say is taking state intervention a tad far, but that's probably the old Tory in me) at least gives some indication of how influential adverts can be on young minds. How likely do you really reckon it is that these children's programmes are not going to have any subtle, militaristic messages behind them?

Come on George, as I've said before, we need you to say more of this sort of stuff.

Updated with exciting Russia-based bonus material!:

I simply do not understand religious people

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to cause offence or tarring all religious people with the same brush here. Plenty of religious people are lovely, I have no doubt. Hell, some of my best friends are religious.

But when a rabid Christian lobbying organisation intimidates a cancer charity into refusing a £10,000 donation, that’s the point when I really start to wonder about the whole bloody thing. (This is, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, the same maniacs who kicked up such a fuss over the broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera that BBC executives ended up receiving death threats, and who also have links to Robert Kilroy-Silk’s Veritas party.) Hat tip to Harry’s Place.

I really don’t understand the attraction of religion. I mean, most of us have given up on the idea of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny by the time we’ve hit double figures, right? As nice an idea as they no doubt are, they’re simply not very believable, when you get down to it.

“Behave yourself and Santa will give you pressies; be naughty, you won’t get any.” After a few years, you start to think – hang on, I’ve never actually SEEN this Santa chap, have I? This is all a scam, isn’t it? Yet so many of us still maintain our faith in that other great scam: “behave yourself and God will let you into Heaven; be naughty and you’ll go to Hell.” Yeah. Riiiiight. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Etc.

Anyway, the point is, what’s so wonderful about this God chap that so many people are prepared to cause so many other people so much grief and hassle in His name? And if He does exist, do they really think He’d approve of all their self-righteous bullshit? If the old beardy bloke is knocking around up there somewhere, I think it's time for a few of those old thunderbolts we used to hear so much about. Time to get all Old Testament on their arses - they're taking Thy name in vain, old son. (Oh, and while you're at it, a cure to all diseases and a spot of World Peace wouldn't go amiss - you are all-powerful, after all... It's about bloody time, don't you think? Cheers.)

Enter the Comments section, stage right, hoards of offended Christians utterly missing the point and asking me whether I seriously think this is worse than Islamic suicide bombers, no doubt…

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Honest debate has become impossible

Against my better judgement I bought The Independent on the way in to work this morning (purely for Ralph Steadman's front page piece on his old buddy Dr Gonzo). Flicking through the rest, I spotted the most inane leader headline I've seen for a long time:

Europe's leaders need to learn from Spain's referendum if they are to win the EU vote

Now, call me a cynic (maybe my old Euroscepticism started to resurface for a bit), but my first reaction on seeing that was "what, learn to keep your populations ignorant of what the constitution entails, bombard them with propaganda, and try to convince them that the result is so absolutely guaranteed that none of the buggers actually bother voting?"

Actually, the piece is arguing "Spain, of course, was always exected to be the most pro-European of these countries [holding referenda]. Naturally, say its critics, because it has benefited most from the subsidies. This is unfair... If anything, Spain lost out most in terms of voting powers from the new constitution. That it has thrown itself so completely into ratification of the treaty is a tribute to the enthusiasm and energy of its new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero."

With this bizarrely simplistic revival of Whiggish "great man theory", the Indy (which frequently does deserve the derogatory "Europhile" epithet, even I'll admit) then argues that, for Britain to replicate Spain's yes vote, what is needed is for Tony Blair to start campaigning vigorously for it now. Sod the General Election. Sod the UK's upcoming EU presidency. Blair should concentrate on spreading the good news about the beneficial aspects of the EU constitution.

Bollocks, should he. If he wants a yes vote he should leave well enough alone. After the last few years of lies and distortions eminating from Downing Street if Blair tells the country that something is good for them everyone would be entirely justified in believing precisely the opposite. In fact, no one from the cabinet is really to be believed any more. The worst thing for the Yes Campaign would be to gain the vocal support of Blair and his cronies.

What us pro-EUers really need is for the likes of Blair, Hain, Mandelson, MacShane and the rest to keep their bloody mouths shut, as every time they say something it's so overly simplistic and arrogant-sounding that the Eurosceptics are instantly up in arms. The "patriotic case" for the constitution would once have been possible to convincingly construct - but not now that the government has co-opted it with the typically unthinking accusations that the constitution's opponents are xenophobes, "little Englanders" and the like.

Yes, some of them doubtless are; others have actually thought about it more sensibly, analysed the pros and cons (often with a rather scary level of obsessiveness), and have genuinely concluded that it's not in the country's best interests to shift decisions which can affect our daily lives to the other side of the Channel. Those views should be respected, not ridiculed, and those who hold them should be engaged in constructive debate about the issues, not dismissed as cranks. And - most importantly - the spokespeople from the pro-EU side need to make sure that they are just as knowledgable and well-briefed as their opponents.

All too often, pro-EU voices in the mainstream media talk purely in terms of generalisations and platitudes, while the Eurosceptics tend to focus in on specific issues. This generally makes it seem like pro-EU people haven't got a clue what they're talking about, which discredits the whole argument, and anyone else making the pro-EU case. The assumptions made in some comments on this very blog are indicative of the growing assumption on the anti side that anyone pro-EU simply doesn't know what they're talking about.

The fact that the whole thing is so bloody complicated naturally means that there are alternative viewpoints. I disagree entirely with the conclusions of, say, The Scotsman's Bill Jamieson, but I respect his conclusions because they're based on solid research and a level of understanding of international finance which I doubt I will ever achieve. (Well, that and the fact he's been a very close friend of the family for as long as I can remember and is always entertaining at the dinner table...)

What the Yes Campaign needs is not for politicians to come out and laud the bloody thing, but for respected, high-profile independent experts to come out in support. (Eddie Izzard, I'm afraid, isn't quite what is needed - although he certainly helps a bit.) The Yes Campaign also really needed these pro-EU experts to have started emerging at least a decade ago to actually hold any weight in the eyes of the public. Those people who emerge in favour of the constitution now will look like they're in it purely for campaigning; on the anti side there are the likes of Jamieson and Richard North who have been moderately high profile in their opposition to the EU for years. The fact that they have been demonstrably involved for such a long time means their view will hold more weight in the eyes of the public than some gadfly from the yes camp who pops up a few months before the referendum.

In short, the only thing the pro camp in Britain can really learn from Spain's yes vote is how to make excuses. Much as the Eurosceptics are trying to save face by pointing to the low turnout (lack of enthusiasm, you see?) and lack of understanding of the document (if they knew what they were voting about, they'd vote no), British pro-Europeans will probably have to try similar tactics when the vote is lost here next year. Britain votes no, the excuses will be exactly the same - low turnout means it's not representative of the view of the population as a whole, and lack of understanding means that those who voted no didn't really know what they were doing.

In other words, nothing will have really changed - except for we will have pissed off a decent chunk of our European allies for preventing them from moving ahead. The responsibility for any no vote, however, will lie entirely with the inadequate explanations of the self-appointed spokesmen of the pro-EU cause. After decades of avoiding the uncomfortable facts about the problems of the way the EU works and delivering all pro-EU messages in a such patronising and simplistic tones, everyone is suspicious of any positive take on the thing. This has - combined with some brilliantly subtle distortions of reality from the Eurosceptic camp - also made it practically impossible to be truly honest.

If a British pro-EU spokesman now were to admit that "Yes, the EU probably is heading towards a more federalised structure," this would instantly be interpreted (falsely, I hasten to add) as meaning "The EU is becoming a superstate, and all the traditional nations will be swallowed by this corrupt and bureaucratic behemoth". Thanks to a combination of a superb job of subtle distortion by the anti-EU brigade and a piss-poor job of not so subtle over-simplification by the pro-EU side, such admissions can no longer be made lest they be utterly misrepresented and misinterpreted. Thanks to the lack of a standard interpretation of the terminology, honest debate about the EU has become impossible.

Either way, Barcepundit has a superb round-up of reactions to the Spanish vote.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter Ex Thompson

In 1968, while tramping through New Hampshire on the presidential campaign trail, Richard Nixon asked one of his aides to pick a representative from the press pool, someone knowlegeable about football with whom the former vice-president and rabid sports fan could relax with while on a long car journey. At the airport the young journalist headed towards Nixon with the intent of shaking hands:

"But suddenly I was seized from behind and jerked away from the plane. Good God, I thought as I reeled backwards, Here We Go... 'Watch Out!' somebody was shouting. 'Get the cigarette!' A hand lashed out of the darkness to snatch the cigarette out of my mouth, then other hands kept me from falling and I recognized the voice of Nick Ruwe, Nixon's chief advance man for New Hampshire, saying, 'God damnit, Hunter, you almost blew up the plane!'
I shrugged. He was right. I'd been leaning over the fuel tank with a burning butt in my mouth. Nixon smiled and reached out to shake hands again, while Ruwe muttered darkly and the others stared down at the asphalt."
(from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72)

This passage contains much of what was essential about Hunter S Thompson. An obsession with sports and politics, an anarchic recklessness that bordered on the lunatic and an inherent mistrust of anyone in a position of power all presented in the most innocent of ways, as if chaos formed spontaneously around him through no action of his own. He was found earlier today, dead of a self-inflicted gun wound at the age of 67.

Along with Tom Wolfe, Thompson was the foremost proponent of The New Journalism. His own brand of this, which he called 'Gonzo', relied on the active presence of the writer in his own, partially fictionalized, narrative. It's inception came in 1966 with the publication of Hells Angels, a searching study of the growing cult of motorcycle gangs a major part in which was played by Thompson himself - he was later brutally 'stomped' by one of the gangs in question after an argument over money.

He started his writing career as a renegade sports reporter for the official newspaper of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Shortly after his discharge (unsurprisingly, under a cloud) Thompson briefly worked in New York before embarking on a lengthy series of travels in South America where he honed his style in a number of pithy despatches capturing the seedy side of life south of the border .

Thompson will be best remembered for his 1972 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Now both protagonists are dead or missing (his sidekick Oscar Acosta - known in the book as 'Dr Gonzo' - disappeared in the mid-1970s) we will never know exactly how much of this drug-fuelled rampage, part travelogue, part sports report, part intoxicated breakdown of the state of the nation c.1970, was true. What is undeniable is its importance and influence among a whole generation of writers .

However, his greatest work is probably Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Thompson's blow-by-blow account of the 1972 election is breathlessly jet-propelled reportage that combines a fierce idealism with a brutally realist cynicism. It is the perfect example of Thompson's character as writer - at once certain the worst would happen while powerfully indignant at the failure of the best. In true Gonzo style, Thompson did not limit himself to writing about politics. In 1970 he ran a suitably doomed campaign for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado on a ticket that included the legalisation of all drugs and renaming Aspen "Fat City".

The late 70's onwards saw a decline in Thompson's work. He never produced anything as focussed or brilliant as the two 'Fear and Loathing' books though his last major published work, Kingdom of Fear, has traces of the old genius and the two collections of his correspondence (The Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America) are of some interest. Appropriately his best piece of writing in this period was his Rolling Stone obituary for Richard Nixon.

Thompson was a raving egoist. He was also, arguably, a one-trick pony whose prominence declined as the novelty wore off, kept going only by perenniel revivals of interest in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (indeed, his popularity in recent years is pretty much due entirely to Terry Gilliam's 1998 cinematic adaptation). However, he should also be saluted for the inspiration his unique voice sparked in others, and the almost palpable rage he vented over the collapse of 1960s ideals in favour of Lyndon Johnson's slick pragmatism and the dark savagery he saw embodied in Richard Nixon. He was the last writer to really display the world of politics as it should be, stripped bare of suits, civility and sanity. To many of us, he will be greatly missed.

"Knee-jerk hatred"

Hurrah! As President Bush heads across the pond, The Periscope keeps up the good work of finding useful links and the like, and the New York Times reports that the Pres will make the sensible point that "our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe - and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us."

Meanwhile, The National Review celebrates these attempts to heal the transatlantic rifts with a simply brilliant piece of stereotypical nonsense which almost reads like a parody of the worst examples of American anti-Europeanism of the last few years.

It hits all the bases in an absolutely atypical over-exaggeration of all that's wrong with 'Urp - usually based on some kind of reality, but distored beyond all reason. In fact, it's almost an exact mirror-image of the worst sort of "anti-Americanism" that has come out of the EU over the last few years - only more so:

  • The EU's economy is reliant on that of the US? Check.
  • European militaries full of "rapists, thugs, robbers, and killers"? Check.
  • Hypocricy of the likes of accusing EU states of basing their foreign policies on their "very large oil and other investments"? Check.
  • Europe is anti-Semitic? Check.
  • The problems in the Middle-East are Europe's fault? Check.
  • We have "fancy schools like Eton"? Check.
  • We're ignorant ("In Britain, only a small fraction of people under 30 knew anything about Auschwitz")? Check.
  • France "eagerly collaborated in the Holocaust"? Check.
  • France is "playing enabler to anti-Semitic terrorism"? Check.
  • France and Germany are obsolete ("if they were American sitcoms, would be cancelled")? Check.
  • France and Germany's only policy motivation is "anti-Americanism"? Check.
  • Policies not based on hatred are based on "arrogance"? Check.
  • They also hate "the culture of the American people"? Check.
  • French and German opposition to the war on terror is purely populist? Check.
  • Everything is Europe's fault? Check.
Fun fun fun. Even when Bush finally starts to try and rebuild old friendships, certain sections of the US (and, yes, also of the EU) have so completely swallowed all the bullshit that's been bandied about that all they can do is spew it back out again. This is precisely why hyperbole is not a useful tool in political discourse. What should happen is approximately this:

Bush: Right, I admit it, there were no WMDs and no links to al Qaida, we just wanted to get rid of Saddam. Partly to open up Iraqi oil again, partly - genuinely - to bring democracy to the country. And yes, I know it's hypocritical to try to promote democracy in Iraq when two of our key regional allies are the military dictatorship of Pakistan and absolutist monarchy of Saudi Arabia, but we have to go with what we've got. Yes, I also know that Iraq hasn't gone as well as it might, and that we buggered up the post-war planning something rotten, but we are trying. Honest.

France and Germany: Fair enough. We opposed the war primarily because we had a sweet deal going on with the Iraqi regime, but also because we genuinely thought your reasons were bollocks and didn't like the direction your foreign policy seemed to be heading (yes, partially because it seemed to make us increasingly irrelevant on the world stage). And - yes - you've got a point, opposing your administration is a good vote winner where we come from. You've got us there. But still, we reckon you fucked it up pretty bad, and your utter lack of tact and diplomacy when talking about our attitudes at the time hardly helped matters. You could have won us round if you'd had a bit more patience and were slightly less aggressive. No one likes a bully, and that's how you were coming across. It pissed us off, because we know you're bigger and stronger than us, but sizable chunks of our respective populations still think we're genuinely world powers. We know we're not, but we have to make a show of it every now and again...

Bush: Yeah, my bad. So, you on side for clearing up the mess now?

France and Germany: Yeah, go on then...

*France, Germany and Bush skip off hand in hand for a great big love-fest, as Tony Blair sits on the edge of the bed holding the camcorder*

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Spain votes yes to EU constitution

77% for, apparently. Of course, the ignorance of the constitution amongst the Spanish voters is just as high as it is in the UK. But they also know what it's like to live under a genuinely totalitarian system, so may welcome the potential for EU-level safeguards (even if, in practice, they may mean very little). Oh, and the fact that Spain gets quite a bit (well, a lot) of money from Brussels may help as well, I suppose...

In short, this result was entirely predictable, and doesn't really mean much in the grander scheme of things. Nonetheless, Barcepundit has all the information you could possibly require about the vote, and EU Referendum puts the expected Eurosceptic spin on the low turnout. Of course, a 40-odd percent turnout is indeed rather weak.

What would be more interesting would be to see how many of the people who voted have actually read the thing. I'd suspect significantly less than 1%... After all, in a vaguely related thingie (via Hispa Libertas, and a link to a moderately amusing comparison of the US and EU constitutions), and as I've said before, the US constitution is one of the finest political documents ever written; the proposed EU constitution is a rambling, confusing behemoth.

There is not a hope in hell that all - even a majority - of the people who voted in today's Spanish referendum actually understood what it was all about. This is why you generally speaking don't ask the average guy in the street to negotiate international treaties. Much as I'd prefer a qualified surgeon to be the one to poke around my insides with a sharp scalpel if I had to have an operation, I'd rather major decisions about international treaties were left to experienced statesmen and diplomats. Would you really have wanted Fred and Dora Ramsbottom from Harrogate to have been Britain's representatives at the Yalta Conference? Would you have wanted Bert Entwistle from Dudley sat alongside Woodrow Wilson at Versailles? So why are we asking for their opinions about our latest international agreement? The mind boggles...

And yes, the fact that I am worried about how important decisions regarding this country's future are going to be taken by people with little or no knowledge of the issues involved probably does make me both an intellectual snob and a prime example of the self-righteously smug arrogance of the pro-EU lobby.

(Oh, and ta to those of you who left kind words on my previous post. I wasn't being overly serious - but it does seem that the bloggosphere needs a reality check every now and again. We're just a bunch of politics geeks when it comes down to it, and are probably no more influential than that guy with the megaphone who rants on about Jesus down by Oxford Circus tube... Some of us, however, sometimes seem to take things too seriously and think we're more important than we are - that's all I was really getting at...)

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