Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Will Brexit bring about greater democracy and prosperity? Simple answer: no. More complicated answer: below

The first things all Brexiteers bang on about are:

1. The money the UK throws at the EU when it could give it to the NHS
2. The democratic deficit at the heart of the EU
3. Immigration issues
4. EU law and human rights
5. Corporate freedom
6. Independence
7. Because the UK is always isolated and never gets its own way

These are smokescreens for the the general consumption of those who like their news delivered in handy little soundbites that they can quote later to Bill down the pub. The real truth is somewhat greyer and a lot less savoury. As someone who lives and works on the inside, I would like to put the record straight on a few of these.

Firstly, let us consider a few things concerning the distribution of funds. The UK puts in a lot of money as it is one of the richest. It works a little like the tax system: the more money you make, the larger your contribution, so of course you are going to pay proportionally more than, say, Spain or Finland, but sizeably more than the Czech Republic or Slovenia. That is normal. Why are Brexiteers complaining about this? It seems they want to be clients, not team players. Where's the solidarity in that? And what the country gets in return is never discussed as it's not in their interests.

Yes, the EU can be a little profligate with the funds, but the fact is: agriculture, science and research, infrastructure, education and many other aspects of life would not receive the funding they need, and I include the NHS here, because I think herein lies the rub: the EU funds these things without subjectivity, based purely on need and the effect it will have on the improvement of people's lives.

Do you really think, deep in your heart of hearts, that the Conservative/Neoliberal alliance at the top of and above the UK government really cares about those things? I don't; I think it is another chance to grab more public money. Why waste it on schools when it could be invested in private enterprises and corporate landgrabs? 
At least, with the EU, those funds get to where they are supposed to. Take it away, and watch the NHS falling and being sold off, schools getting privatised, infrastructure budgets being cut, and farms being sold off to rich landowners who can turn them into supermarket-run agri-factories.
Do you trust the UK politicians to look after the NHS, farms and schools? Honestly???

There is the supposed democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. Well, shall I tell you what a democratic deficit looks like? It looks like people who act in their own interests whether they are elected or not. Democratically-minded people do things in the public interest anyhow, whether elected or not. The expenses in the European Commission are incredibly stringently controlled by the Court of Auditors, and you will not see the civil servants being chauffeured about in black cars. You will, though, see the politicians (yes, those in the European Parliament too) being chauffeured about, because they are politicians and to leave them to public transport would be like asking a Yorkshire terrier to do your accounts.

But the Commission is pretty apolitical and works for the benefit of all, and despite its many foibles, is actually more on the side of the people than the politicians. There is a European Ombudsman that anyone can use to blow the whistle on improprieties; there is a European Consumer Rights and Law commissioner, who makes sure we get value for money, like reducing mobile phone tariffs across the EU; and there is a scheme whereby any EU citizen can go into the embassy of another EU country when abroad and get proper representation. But you don't hear about these things because it's not in the interest of the EU's detractors.
But it's a terrific trick of national governments that they get the Commission to do their dirty work, taking one for the team, time after time after time, so that they don't get blamed. The fact of the matter is, though, the 28 national leaders of each country, known as the Council of Ministers, sit down around the world's most expensive table to discuss what they wish the Commission to implement. So, the Commission is, in essence, just carrying out orders of national politicians. In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Prime Minister, "Almost all government policy is wrong... but frightfully well carried out."

This is the scare story du jour. And it's a complete fallacy. Let's be honest, shall we? The country is not overcrowded; it is just underdeveloped and badly maintained. The infrastructure was built 150 to 200 years ago after the Industrial Revolution for the society then, and it has been slow to be updated. The roads in the UK are far narrower than in France or Germany, the houses smaller, the hospitals and airports built in far smaller plots. Look at Barajas Airport in Madrid - it is on a plot 5 times bigger than Heathrow. Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt and such are massive in comparison. But the main issue is housing. It is not that there is no space; it is that the developers have artificially created a bubble by not building on the land they were designated, and so the demand sky-rockets and the prices go up. It is not in their interests to build because the prices will tumble and their profits too.
Furthermore, do you really think the country will sink into the mud because Poles, Lithuanians and Romanians, the large part of whom have a greater work ethic for less pay, are doing all the manual jobs? No. Because, sadly, Brits have become colonialists in their own country. Don't blame the new arrivals - blame mean-minded bosses for not being willing any more to pay full price for a proper day's work. Do you think this will clear up after Brexit? Do you think the gap will return and the market will be filled with British workers in the fields, on building sites and under the kitchen sinks? Rubbish. The market demand is insatiable and even if you started to train up locals now to take over, the full quotient would not be ready for employment for a good few years. And do you think prices and wages will remain the same? No. Because British people still expect a bargain, but workers will not accept the same payment rates as those who come to Britain for work out of necessity. What you will end up with is a skewed law where the cheapest will get all the work and hourly rates will fall everywhere in all sectors of work.

It is claimed that too many people are abusing the EU's Human Rights legislation. Too many people are taking advantage of the current law to get out of prison or to get more benefit payments for themselves. This is not a falsehood, but it is an exaggeration. The UK government has suggested withdrawing from the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights), drawn up by British lawyers after WW2, and implementing its own Bill of Rights. They can go ahead if they want, but the fact that all EU citizens are guaranteed the same rights is enshrined in EU law, meaning equal treatment for all.
Do you really think, Dear Reader, that the British government will make the situation better? I can answer that one now: of course not. If anything, it will make it easier to implement other laws that restrict the rights and freedoms of everyone in the land. I cannot imagine a more sinister power-grab than this. Imagine something simple as EU law concerning consumer rights: let us say you buy a kitchen and it is riddled with problems. EU consumer protection law dictates that the company has to either correct it or replace it without cost. The same goes for clothes, furniture, computers, everything. You have the right to return your goods to the shops within 14 days of purchase, all because of EU law. 

The four very elements that the Leave campaign is highlighting are the four very elements that everyone should be worried about. It is a myth that things will improve if the UK leaves - the EU guarantees so many more freedoms to its citizens:

  • The right to work in other EU countries without needing visas, residence permits or the filling of quotas
  • The right to study in another EU country for all or part of your university course (Erasmus)
  • The right to the same mobile phone roaming costs and no nasty bills no matter where you are in the EU
  • The right to the same standard of healthcare as back in your own country
  • The right to vote in local and European elections wherever you are
  • The right to live where you want and be treated by the local councils and national governments the same as locals
  • The right to the same consumer law as everywhere else
  • The right to jump on a train, plane, boat or bus to France, Belgium or wherever and not need to worry about declaring your alcohol or tobacco
  • The right to go from Lisbon to Warsaw without showing your passport
And many other things.

Just remember one thing: once the UK frees itself from the EU shackles (in other words from keeping it on the straight-and-narrow), there will be nobody else to keep an eye on the opportunism and impunity with which the corporate elite will act. This is your future. Nobody can tell you this because this is much more inflammatory than the stuff that the In and Out camps have been propagating thus far. The In campaign dare not say these things because some of them would be believed.

But the time is coming for you to make up your mind. Do you want to guarantee your own subjugation to a corporate elite? Do you want to hand over the things you most cherish about social democracy to faceless (and often heartless) drones in glass towers? Would you rather your tax money went to help the landed gentry to buy up the rest of the countryside and pay for their own limousines or would you rather your taxes guaranteed a harvest? Would you rather your money went to help poor people up the social ladder a little? Would you rather your taxes paid for infrastructure and education, whether here or in the EU at large?

I know where my allegiances lie - and leaving the largest trading bloc the world has ever known is not going to bring you prosperity. It will bring more prosperity to those who already have it, while turning the country into a feudal state.

Independence from what?
The UK is already independent. 
But I'll tell you what they want you to believe:
That outside the EU "we" will be able to make our own laws. What kind of laws? Do you think it will be for the benefit of UK citizens? I don't. It will be for the benefit of the One Per Cent.
Furthermore, we need to remember who we are and not who we were. We are members of a club of 28 nations, some of whom are "more European than others", so to say. It is time the UK started acting more European and stopped sniping from the sidelines. The EU is more heavily supported by smaller countries than larger ones, and the answer is simple: the President of the European Commission is Luxembourgish, the previous one Portuguese. the President of the European Council is Polish, the previous one Belgian. The thing is, it gives the chance for smaller countries to shine on the world stage like they would never be able to if they were independent. 

The larger countries of the south, like Spain and Italy, are also by-and-large pro-EU because they understand the prestige membership brings them. The prosperous and fiscally careful countries of the north and central areas, like Sweden, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic, are more sceptical because they also like their freedoms, but none of them would think leaving the EU would solve their problems. The largest countries, like France and Germany, have found it hardest to assimilate to the EU because they have needed to shrink, or at least take on fewer airs of a large country although this is of course very difficult, especially when it seems nobody else is on your side. Just ask Angela Merkel about refugees and the "solidarity" she received. 

Even Greece, the country with the biggest reason to be upset with the EU, does not want to leave. It might want to leave the Eurozone, but most definitely not the EU. So the UK is a little bit like Denmark, and a little bit like Germany. What it needs to do is just relax into its role as a counterbalance to the Eurozone's largest powers and stick up for those countries that wish to remain outside. It needs to engage more, be more understanding and empathetic, and stop thinking everyone should act like them.

Do you really think independence will guarantee self-control? I don't. I can't see how voting to leave a club but having nevertheless to pay membership fees to access it will really make the UK independent. The conditions would remain similar but the UK would not be permitted a say in any matters. Furthermore, it will take years to undo all that constitutional paperwork.

Which brings me on to...

The UK is alone and isolated in EU negotiations? Rubbish. The UK has had a great deal to say about the EU and its workings. 

  • For one thing, the UK was central in introducing the call for tender system known as TED to allow for a more simplified and equitable EU-wide system of provision of goods and services so any company anywhere can bid for a supply contract. 
  • The UK, as the largest non-Eurozone member state, is the de facto leader of the outside pack and recently negotiated more rights for those wishing not to join the Euro. 
  • The actual running of some of the EU institutions has in recent years become much more familiar to British civil servants than to French ones. The streamlining of administrative processes, the cutting of costs and bureaucracy, the accountability of every job posting, the justification of every business journey made, the pricing of every cup of coffee poured in an EU building... everything in the EU institutions is accounted for, down to the limitation of photocopies for language trainers. 
  • Furthermore, English is the prevalent language these days, and French is now a more and more distant second. German is waiting in the wings to be promoted if the UK leaves the EU. And English will, in one night, become obsolete as the Lingua Franca of the EU. It will lose its status as the working language of the EU institutions, and French, German and probably Polish or Spanish will get a much bigger role to play in the EU.
  • There are disproportionately more British (and Irish) staff in managerial positions than other nationalities, although due to the geographical position of the EU institutions, French and Belgians make up a large part of the admin staff. In the Court of Auditors, English is the only language and to get a job there it is essential to speak it to a level good enough to work in.
  • In negotiations, the only reason why it seems the UK is isolated is because the UK government really does not get the EU. It acts like a yob in Torremolinos, wanting all the home comforts but without the disadvantages. It was shocking and shameful for me to see my government try to negotiate favourable treatment in the EU and at the same time refuse to play any single part in the Syrian refugee crisis. 

If you really think the UK is hard-done-by it is all smoke and mirrors. The government just needs to stop moaning and get on with teamwork. If you think the EU is a gravy train, try speaking to assistants and administrators in Luxembourg at the bottom of the EU pyramid, where they earn less per month than local bus drivers, gardeners and cleaners. This is because staff in all EU institutions in all cities earn the same, calculated on Brussels salaries.

Finally, the EU is incredibly bad at promoting itself, which is both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it means it is too busy doing what it is supposed to be doing rather than spending time and money advertising itself - the quiet ones are those who are getting on with the job rather than looking for reward. At the same time, it means people are malinformed and misinformed about the good it does. 

Get informed before you decide.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Think Brexit is a fair vote? Think again...

All of us have an opinion on the current situation regarding the UK's badly-conceived looming referendum on whether they wish to remain part of the EU or not. Sides are being formed and defences are being reinforced ready for the approaching battle. Unfortunately, it seems, even your allies should not be trusted...

David Cameron is a wilier old fox than you would give such a man who, through his parents' riches, never really needed to be talented. Some people say he is a male Margaret Thatcher (but without the balls). I think to view him so favourably to the Iron Lady is to compare suicide by messy drug overdose to a slight fever caused by a dodgy mushroom. He is a very, very cheap imitation of her, and just a sponsored high-ranking civil servant who has obviously been promised a cushy job or two on a few boards of directors once he leaves politics.

Anyhow, he seems to have continued that tradition of saying one thing while doing another. Think I'm being paranoid? Let's see the facts:

1. They'll take anyone's vote
Read this little beauty from the Guardian, which has arrived just in time for the referendum. In essence, it says that anyone not from the EU who wishes to remain in the country needs to earn over £35,000 to do so. It is a perfect vote-grabber. How do we stop so many of our good friends from Australia and Canada being kicked out? We vote for Brexit. Then we'll kick all the Poles and Lithuanians out and keep the Anglophones. See this in the news much? No. After the Tories' conduct in the general election, where every single vote counted, this is another one of those little toppers-up. Commonwealth citizens can vote in the election, so this is sure to help gain a few tens of thousands to the cause.

2. They'll upset a few people
To get the President of the United States to come to your country and tell everyone you are going to the back of the queue (a British word), is to get up the nostrils of hundreds of thousands of people who think it's none of his business. Forget those who are persuaded by him - this is about gaining numbers on the "no" side.

3. They'll make it harder for those likely to vote "in" to do so
The referendum takes place during Glastonbury and the European Football Championships, thus thousands of young people, who are more likely to vote "in" will unfortunately be away. Furthermore, the government recently changed the way people can vote - before the last general election, the PM thought it was a good idea to cancel the previous system of automatic registration, and introduce a process whereby newcomers and those who reach 18 have to consciously register. Out go several thousand more potential voters.

4. They'll put a lot of people off voting so many times in a short period
If my theory is right, there is one way to test it - the Scottish elections are coming up, as are the London elections, the Northern Irish and Welsh Assembly elections, the Police Commissioner elections, and the local government elections in England. They take place on 5th May. Election fatigue will set in when immediately after those, the EU referendum campaign really kicks off and people will be so fed up by 23rd June that there will be very few who will really feel like voting. Except, of course, those who are really passionate about it, which would be almost entirely made up of Brexiteers... there go some more potential voters.

5. They'll play to Pro-independence Scots - without lifting a finger
I can see it now - while they're upsetting a lot of Brits by getting Obama in on the act, they can also recruit hundreds of thousands of Scots by dropping a few verbal bombs on life after Brexit. And they don't need a Tory to do it for them... Nicola Sturgeon said she would think it almost certain that a new push for independence will be sought if there was a vote in favour of leaving the EU. How convenient. It is therefore in the interest of as many as 1.6 million people who voted to leave the UK in 2014 to vote Brexit and then trigger a second Scottish referendum almost immediately. What will be the result? The Scots will declare independence, apply to remain in the EU, as might the Welsh and Northern Irish, and the English will unilaterally leave both the UK and the EU.

6. They don't really care about your country
If those seeking the UK's withdrawal from the EU had patriotism in mind, they would be wise to remember that an awful lot of Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and indeed English, don't think they do. In fact, I personally think it is all to do with money. England would become a test ground for extreme neo-liberal policy experiments. Where better than the home of the world's banks where nearly every commodity has been privatised and the National Health Service and education system are ripe for a sell-off? If you can't see the stitch-up here, then you undoubtedly see the goodness in everyone, even a Tory...

So before you put your cross on the "Leave" side of the ballot paper, just remember this: what will be the true cost of Brexit? All the propaganda about saving money is phoney. You will not save money, and if you did, it will be minuscule - you won't even notice the difference. You think a Tory government is going to invest the money in the country? Don't make me laugh! They will invest it in their cronies and back-slapping maties in the City of London.

Project Fear, as it has been dubbed, is just that, but it is focusing on the wrong things. The UK is a testing ground for the future of democracy. They are importing Viktor Orban's style of garnering votes and many are being hoodwinked by it. Don't be fooled - if you genuinely are tired of the EU and its decadencies, vote "Remain" and ask for - no, demand - reforms. But fight from the inside!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Inclusiveness in immigration is very important

I have one or two Facebook friends that continually post the most small-minded trash about "foreigners". I should really delete them, but I get a kind of morbid kick from hate-reading their simplistic cartoons, knee-jerk videos and generalist caveman articles saying why anyone with a different skin complexion is either murderously dangerous or just here in Europe for the financial benefits. They are simply wrong, and their thinking is just as dangerous as, if not more than the revoltingly maniacal terrorists they, and indeed all of us, wish to eradicate.

I am the grandson of a Polish immigrant, and empirical witness to the praise he heaped on his adopted country. He loved Great Britain with a passion. He worked on ship maintenance most of his life in dry docks in the East End of London and crucially, he played an important role during the run-up to D-Day and beyond, coming home some weeks after he had left, black from head to foot. My father said he slept for several days afterwards. He held a passion for his adopted country, calling it the greatest nation on Earth (and he had visited many in his career).

Where I am leading to is this: if the people in my country had treated him with scorn, scepticism or segregation, or if they had excluded him from an opportunity to contribute to society, or if they had accused him of profiting from the system, I am sure he would not have stayed long. If my country's newspapers were full of stories about people like him: funny accent, strange gait, shifty eyes... he would never have said anything complimentary about my country at all. But they didn't. And he did.


Because if you come with a clean conscience, a smile, and a will to be useful, you will go far, provided the people give you a break. If they don't - if they put you in a box, if they don't trust you or "your kind", if they don't try to understand you, or at the very least accept you, then you may as well find a different place to settle. The reason why immigration into the UK has on the whole been successful is due to two factors:

1. Indifference: as long as you're not a bastard, nobody really cares where you're from;
2. The economy: it can absorb newcomers because employers take experience above qualifications.

I am really upset by the country of my grandfather, the land that has been the object of imperialist expansion, whose people have suffered greatly at the hands of oppressors from all points of the compass. I am also upset by the land I call my second home, the Czech Republic, which had a similar history, if not so brutal. The people should know better than to advocate the closing of the doors to people in dire need of help. They may not be Christian, they may not be white, they may not eat pork, they may not speak your language, but they are people. They have heads, hands, hearts, and most of all they have the right to live in peace without fear of persecution or death.

I agree, wholeheartedly, that if you commit a crime, you should be fittingly punished. But to forbid people from entering your country in case they do is a despicable act of heartlessness. Everyone deserves a chance. If you are so scared by people you have never met, if you remain fearful of them and if you don't try to befriend them, how else can they integrate? They will most certainly stick together, because nobody else wants to know them. It is no surprise to me that the recent arrivals do not want to go to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary: why would they, when they have some idea of how badly they will be treated when they get there?

So next time you are faced with a person from a hotter country who looks at you without smiling, or walks past you without looking, ask yourself why - could it be because he/she has had very little contact or bad experiences with local people? Could it be he/she has been attacked by locals and is afraid? Or could it be that he/she is confused by (especially European) locals' innate behaviour of keeping people at an arm's length and mistakenly takes it personally? I have been subject of two of those cases myself, both in Germany and Belgium, so I know how it feels. And I'm white. I can only imagine how much more compounded the feeling must be if I were not.

I haven't finished yet...

I watched a video posted on a group called "We Are Here At Home", a Facebook page where people from the Czech Republic and Slovakia congratulate themselves on their racial purity and point out the barbarism of other nations, e.g. showing rubbish tips and slums in African cities; men in Keffiyeh headgear beating their wives; memes showing darker skinned people saying what they're really coming to Europe for (not for shopping, that's for sure). This is the type of nonsense propaganda the Communists used to distribute, just delivered for another cause. It casts doubt into people's minds and drives them to a very dark place.

I agree, there are many countries in hotter climates with some serious problems with their systems, and their patriarchal ways. There are men in some countries that treat their women and children the same as their cattle. Or worse. There are also a lot of nefarious individuals that should never be allowed into Europe. We all know this. We also know the way the crisis in the summer of 2015 was shockingly badly handled. But this does not mean every single person coming out of Africa or the Middle East has a dastardly plan. Have you seen the utter devastation in the Middle East? If that happened in Europe (which it did), you wouldn't stay at home to wait to be blown up along with your house and possessions. It also doesn't mean that because some may have grown up in corrupt, disorganised or lawless areas, that they are incapable of being organised themselves; quite the opposite, in fact. How many of us, when we become adults, do exactly the opposite of the things we hated most about our past or our upbringing?

There is something sick about people unwilling to extend an olive branch to those in desperate need. There is something psychologically wrong about people who see the colour, religion or the nation before they see the person. There is something sinister about the person who propagates false information about "outsiders", or who actively looks for the opportunity to shock others, or be shocked by the behaviour of those they know little about.

Below is a list of just some of the many successful British people whose provenances lie partly or wholly elsewhere:

Art Malik (actor)
Rita Ora (singer-songwriter)
Asad Ahmad (BBC newsreader)
Riz Lateef (BBC newsreader)
Naseem Hamed (Boxer)
Sajid Javid (Politician)
David Lammy (Politician)
Baroness Warsi (Politician)
Nadiya Hussain (winner of a TV cooking show voted by the public)
Mo Farah (Olympic Sportsman)
Fatima Whitbread (Olympic Sportswoman)
Mudhsuden Singh "Monty" Panesar (Cricketer for England)
Chuka Umunna (Politician)
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Footballer)
Sadiq Khan (Politician)
Adil Ray (Comedian, Actor)
Omid Djalili (Comedian, Actor)
The Saatchi Brothers (Businessmen)
Anish Kapoor (Architect)
Michael Marks (Founder of Marks & Spencer)
Sir Alec Issigonis (Inventor, designer of the Mini car)
Sir Clement Freud (Broadcaster, Writer, Politican, Chef)
Lord Alf Dubs (Politician)

Nadiya Hussain, winner of the Great British Bake-Off 2015
(c) Love Productions/Press Association

Google them and you will find a very interesting story behind every one of them. Some of course suffered from xenophobic abuse (not every story is faultless), but the benignity of the system, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of people are colour-blind and take people at face value, meant they were able to make it in their chosen areas, many with outstanding results. If you treat people as you would like to be treated, you will find they will reciprocate. Only a small number would do differently.

I'll tell you something for nothing: I would never have even thought of writing such a piece as this if it were not for the necessity of putting my point across to some mindless bigots I have recently had the displeasure of discovering are actually parochial purist thugs. And that is because I have never really considered any of the people on that list above, or any other first, second, third-generation immigrant (I baulk at the word) as anything else except British. In some ways I feel like I'm patronising them by having to use them as an example. I have never seen them as anything else except British.

In fact, quite frankly, on an intellectual or human level, there are no foreigners. And I challenge any one of those propagators of hate (you know who you are) to prove otherwise. Look at the personality, the attitude, the potential, before you look at the nationality, ethnic background or religion. There are bad eggs everywhere, just don't put all their associates in the same category. If we did that, this is what we would see:

Football hooliganism = English problem in the 1980s = all English are therefore violent thugs
Marc Dutroux = paedophile and child murderer = all Belgians are murderous sexual deviants
Westboro Baptist Church = brutally xenophobic and homophobic Christian group = all Americans are religious nutcases
Dutch law = lenient on soft drugs and prostitution = all Dutch are perverted junkies
Hungarian government = illiberal and xenophobic = all Hungarians voted for them

For goodness sake, as a Pagan, I sometimes go to the forest at night and remove my clothes. It doesn't make me a flaming exhibitionist... If we peddle the line that everyone is the same because they do this or that, or come from here or there, or they believe in this or that, it tells more about us than it does about them...

I cannot believe, that in 2016, we are once again heading towards isolationism, segregation, and maybe even war. There are no reasons for it, except for those that get their kicks from the feeling they are superior to others. They generally are not - they are just unaware how ridiculous they look. I will not block these Facebook "friends" who post their nonsense, but I will try never to be in the same room as them ever again.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Polish politician's favourite tool: victimhood

Back in the dark days of the Cold War, people of all nations involved were fearful of "the other side". This fear was generated by the idea that "we" were superior to "them", and "they" were immoral, unscrupulous and treacherous. It worked well - indeed so well, it's been resurrected for a new public, a public that by now will have forgotten that period, and should be more or less open to psychological manipulation once again. Today's Poland is a perfect example of this.

"Us" against "them": this tool is used by so many leaders to motivate their followers, especially in hard times: listen to any post-match interview from football managers like Slaven Bilic or José Mourinho; find a speech by any of the North Korean Kim dynasty; take a look at the recruitment tactics of any wacko religion such as the Jehovah's Witnesses or even the Westboro mob; read the transcripts of any large criminal trial - what you will notice in all of them is this tendency to garner sympathy with their target audience through claiming they are being besieged and thus in need of protection, support or even encouragement.

In some contexts this may indeed be the correct action to take, but in a lot of them, shiploads of salt should be offloaded onto their pretexts before even considering their legitimacy. Take the current constitutional changes taking place in Poland right now: all the pillars of democracy have been tested and are being torn down in favour of a very pious, blinkered and ultimately vindictive government being led by an éminence grise, Jarosław Kaczyński, who is clandestinely pulling all the strings from a safe distance. He himself is slightly toxic to the public, but his party, at least at the time of election, was not. I think it its safe to say that if there were an election in Poland tomorrow, his PiS party would be soundly beaten by safer, more democratic politicians.

One can say that a country deserves the politicians it elects, and sorry to my Polish friends, but I think this also applies here... Poland was gripped by the migration crisis of summer 2015 and voted for the party most likely to protect its national borders from ethnic "impurities". Poland was an up-and-coming country, a progressive nation taking the lead in its region as the motor of European integration and solidarity. But the wheels came off in the summer when its people showed that they have yet to really comprehend the outside world at large. The election of the PiS, with a majority, despite its disastrous record in office, demonstrates the same old fears that Poles continue to believe: Russia and Germany are still trying to subjugate it; the EU is the propagator of multiculturalism and ultimately the dilution of Polish nationality; Putin himself caused the 2010 Smolensk air crash that wiped out many of Poland's leading lights... there are many more, but these are the perfect examples to highlight how to manipulate a country and its people.

Playing on these fears, along with the fact that Poles play victimhood very well (I cannot remember how many times I have had to explain why the British didn't show up the day after the attack on Westerplatte in 1939 and why I am personally not to blame, or listen to how all of us Brits, whether born or not, whether we voted for the leader of the day or not, are responsible for Poland being handed over to the Soviets after the War, even if we ourselves weren't actually at the Yalta or Potsdam conferences...) meant that Kaczynski and his allies could use the perfect storm created by the migration crisis, the eurozone issue and the struggle in Ukraine to play on the fears of the average citizen. Where this has led to is a disaster for European democracy and progressive politics. 

I personally do not think the current Polish government will survive a year from now. But where it has been very shrewd is in very early in its term of office massively changing the country's internal set-up making it likely that, even if it does fall, there will be remnants that can continue to cause a lot of trouble: the constitutional court has over a third of its members linked to the PiS. National television and radio have been infiltrated with the party faithful, causing several high-profile resignations. There are other things that have caused widespread dismay amongst Poland's opposition, leading to the coining of a new term: "Orbanisation", named after Hungary's leader and advocate of illiberal democracy, Viktor Orban. 

To conclude, this is not over; not by a long way. The chances are high that the silent majority will become irritated by this and more public resistance will bring about a friction between the ruling party and everyone else (except, astonishingly, for the Polish Catholic Church, which has so far remained impassive to the current goings-on, perhaps because it too has benefited from the new patriarchal, sexually conservative and anti-abortion regime. For the moment, the European Union is leading the way in criticising the establishment in Poland - unfortunately it is led by Martin Schulz, a German, and thus an obvious sitting duck in the victimhood propaganda war, where he, along with compatriot Angela Merkel, the Luxembourgish head of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker, and the harmless but outspoken leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt all appeared on the cover of Wprost, the Polish version of Der Spiegel or Time, in Nazi uniforms under the headline "once again they want to police Poland". They chucked in Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, for good measure, I think, just because he's German. 

And this is where I go full circle. This type of headline appeared in propaganda in the old communist Poland, and is once again rearing its ugly head. It would be refreshing to think that this time people will have learned from the mistakes of the past, but time and time again people seem not to want to; they want to try once again to dream up a reason to legitimise their irrational fears and stir up a feeling of fear and paranoia. We need to encourage the Polish opposition and seek ways to undermine this Orbanisation, before it becomes mainstream everywhere.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Goslitski family centenary of immigration

This week is the anniversary of a momentous occasion, although it will go almost unnoticed. And that is probably the most fitting way to spend it. On 22nd December 1915, my grandfather planted his tree in the British orchard, paving the way for the fledgling Goslitski family to thrive. It is the beginning of a very successful immigration story.

Above is the registration certificate of my grandfather, Eugene Alexander Goslitski, a Russian national of Polish descent, who came on his own looking for a better life. I have done some research into his background and reasons for leaving, and there is not much to go on, but we should look at the facts: Poland had not existed since 1795, and its lands had been divided up by Prussia, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My grandfather was a Russian simply because of where he was born. Poles in Russia were treated as outsiders and were not full citizens. Many of them were deported to Siberian camps for katorga, that is exile and hard labour in underpopulated areas where nobody else was available. Several people with my family name were registered in those camps, although it is still not easy to identify their connection to us.

Whoever they were, my family name is quite unique and if you have that name you can only be from that family. The internet has become a sort of calling card for me. Many times, when I don't have a business card on me, I just tell people to Google me, because I'm so easy to find. This is both a blessing and a burden. For that reason, anyone with our name mast be related to us. We are like Grimaldi, Habsburg or Rothschild, although much less illustrious. I say this because our family name is aristocratic and my grandfather spoke about it now and again. He would often tell his daughters that back in the home land they were princesses. This was an elaboration - countesses would have been closer to the mark, despite their stark diminution under occupation, where all Polish aristocrats underwent screening for Russian ancestry, and those without were removed from their titles. 

It is quite likely that my grandfather left because he had no life, no opportunities and very little to keep him there. He joined the Merchant Navy and sailed around the world before settling in London, where he arrived in the middle of the First World War. This was quite remarkable, because with the war in full operation, every man was needed on the battlefield or on the sea. But come he did, and he died in the Brook Hospital in Greenwich on 22nd November 1960. 

During his life, he was a marine engineer, and he worked on the other side of the River Thames from his home in Bermondsey, less than a three-iron shot from Tower Bridge and the City of London. For that reason, he made a great deal of effort for the cause during the Second World War, and was involved in the D-Day landings. My father told me he left for several weeks around that time and when he returned he was covered from head to toe in soot. He had been jumping from ship to ship maintaining and repairing the boats to get them to the other side. He slept for a very long time when he returned home.

He is one of many who were never granted full British citizenship, mainly, probably, due to that one word: "Russian". Britain and Russia were never the best of friends once the Tsar fell, despite being the first country in the world to officially recognise the Soviet Union. But without bilateral treaties, even with countries in the direct neighbourhood, every foreigner had to fulfil a certain duty to remain in the UK. My grandfather had to leave the country for 24 hours every year, and reapply for entry upon return. He didn't go to another country - he took the opportunity to go into the Thames Estuary on one of his friends' boats and get slammed for a couple of days.

And here is the main point: my grandfather, along with hundreds of thousands of deracinated people, have found new homes in their destination countries. The vast majority of immigrants and their children have contributed to society in ways that are often under-appreciated by people. Lots of them have become famous names (Sigmund Freud, Sir Alec Issigonis, Zaha Hadid, Anish Kapoor), and some have even risen to lead their country (Nicolas Sarkozy, Benjamin Disraeli). Immigration is good for any country - being a popular destination for immigrants is the best endorsement any country can have. It is a sign that newcomers can fit in, that the local population there is not bothered by change and people are considered people, no matter their origins. My grandfather, a larger-than-life character, was known locally as the Duke of Bermondsey. He made the most of his adopted country, and said it was the greatest nation on Earth. Immodestly, I cannot disagree with him. 

My grandfather left his home to seek new climes. He was an international man in a local setting. He had bigger ambitions for himself and he set off to better himself. If he had stayed there in Poland, he would have experienced two World Wars, numerous invasions and would have been witness to the horrors of the Holocaust and the next Soviet occupation, leading to the People's Republic of Poland. Instead, he took the chance to find a place he and his future family could thrive.

Immigrants have one thing in common: their entrepreneurial spirit. They know how to get on in life wherever they go. They will never be the same again once they do, because once you leave, you can go back, but you can never go back home. You are seen as a foreigner in both places. But in general, there is no reason why being a foreigner should make you a stranger. And the fact of the matter remains, the children of those immigrants will most surely never be seen as foreigners. In a country like the United Kingdom, we don't really talk about foreigners, only when referring to those who have still stubbornly kept up their stereotypical façades. It is very wrong to say that people should speak the local language at home or adopt every local custom. That is too much to ask, and is totally unfair. They should keep their own home fires burning - I do. I mean the ones that refuse to do any integration at all. The ones that have little or no desire to accept local customs, who never take part in local events, who do not learn the language and who keep unswervingly to their own traditions. 

As I said, being popular with immigrants is a good thing for any country, as it means the conditions are right. In the current crisis sweeping Europe, it is no wonder that so many of those refugees want to go to countries known for their tolerant attitudes to newcomers. If I were one of them right now, there are countries in Europe I would really not want to settle in. I wish some of the cynics would stop peddling the "benefits" myth. Of course I'd want good conditions for my family if I were an immigrant or refugee. Why would I say to my family, "lets go to Poldakia or Molvenia because if we can avoid being beaten by the police and rejected by the authorities, we stand a chance of getting our own room above an abattoir"? I would not. I would want to go to a country that made me feel welcome. The fact they provide me with food, money and shelter is another sign that they want me not to have to struggle with poverty upon my arrival. How horrible would it be if people arriving from war-torn countries were made to fend for themselves from day one? It would say more about us than about them, that's for sure.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending some time with some of the younger Syrian refugees in Saarburg at an art session at the cultural centre. They were making clay winter- or Christmas-themed figurines. I really liked their imagination. Below are some of their works. All of them, despite their torturous recent experiences, had made it to a place of safety and were adapting quite well to local life. Some were already speaking reasonable German. They all seemed well-adjusted and acted very maturely. I have a deep respect for anyone who undergoes such a harrowing journey to look for calm in their lives. Some of them will one day go back to rebuild their country, but many will stay, and having met some of them, I can safely say they will be a credit to their new society. My grandfather's life was not half as bad as theirs was back in Syria, which is why to deny them the chance of a new life and happiness is to betray everything my grandfather ever did.

Here's to another hundred years of migration!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

So, what are we going to do about the refugee crisis?

It is Europe's fault. As clear as crystal, it is our fault. When Africa and the Middle East were decolonised back in the post-war period, many previous occupiers just upped sticks and moved back to their capitals, leaving those behind to fend for themselves. They did not leave sufficient depth in the remnant institutions for those countries to maintain the relative peace and unity of the colonial days. Let us be honest here, what I mean is people did not fight each other under occupation as they had their foreign lords and masters as a common enemy. British colonies faired the best, with the majority of them being bequeathed the institutions and laws which have turned them into fairly successful countries in their own ways (barring a few abysmal failures), but it does not mean at all that they are exonerated. Most colonisers more or less lowered their flags, played the bugle and scuttled off home again, the only real leftovers being the languages inherited from their previous overseers.

The West's guilt
What these powers also did was divide up the Middle East and Africa in such a way that there were no real ethnic or religious boundaries, and for a reason: the French and British were worried about Arab unity. If the Arabs were able to unite under only a few leaders, they might become powerful and ultimately dangerous to European dominance. Look at India today. The Sykes-Picot deal made the area so unrealistically divided, bringing in kings, sheiks, presidents and dictators to rule the area, often being replaced when they had outrun their use, that it would keep them busily at each other's throats for decades to come. They needn't have worried so much - sectarian skirmishes and various long-lived grudges didn't take long to appear. And so the plan worked enormously well. Even when the region tried to unite under the umbrella of the United Arab Republic, a kind of EU-prototype conjoining of Ba'athist regional powers Syria and Egypt, it did not last long when one of the two member states underwent a coup d'état. Iraq was also hoping to join this group, and if it had, the momentum may have swung other regional powers behind the union, so chances are high the Syrian coup d'état was the brainchild of someone sitting uneasily in the Elysée Palace or Number 10, who did not want a successful Arab bloc at the end of the Mediterranean.

So it was all going to plan for the former colonial powers until the 1980s, when dictators like Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi started to get too big for their boots, wanting more firepower and weaponry to inflict the latest atrocity on their huddled masses and threatening the West with all sorts of vengeful actions. The Lockerbie disaster and the invasion of Kuwait were two of those actions. I remember, during the retaking of Kuwait by the West and the Allies' subsequent march into Iraq, they didn't finish the job off. They didn't remove Saddam from power. That may be because American intelligence under Bush Senior knew that Saddam Hussein was still the right man for the job in Iraq. He was holding the various loose pieces of fabric together and keeping a firm lid on any uprisings. This was perhaps the smartest move of the last hundred years. The smartest move of a lot of very reckless ones, but a smart one nonetheless.

The most reckless action of the last thousand years (or more) took place on the watch of America's most undeserving president, George W. Bush, and Britain's messianic Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, and in the aftermath of the semi-apocalyptic destruction of two towers in New York by an extraordinarily wily and ostentatiously rich Arab psychopath with a bone to pick, these two decided to send in the heavies to "clear up" the Middle East. Now... although a lot of us were fooled by the idea that Saddam was an awful dictator who needed removing before he murdered all the minorities, we did not expect that Bush and Blair would totally fudge the entire change of regime. If they really wanted to bring in democracy, they had to realise what they were letting go of. Decades of relative calm held in place by the threat of brutal retaliation by the leader, the sectarian powder keg that was Mesopotamia was firmly sealed by Saddam Hussein, and his removal was going to open it all up.

Reasons for leaving
And it did. But not only that, it brought out all the other dissatisfied wretches and rejects from every other part of the world. It gave the Jihadis a place to really get their act together and begin the reconquering of the world. The Jihadis of Islamic State are not there to just retake what territory they lost, they are there to humiliate and ultimately bring down the governments of the West. And where better to start than right on their doorsteps? The twisted ideology, self-publicity and money-raising capabilities of these warmongers are nothing short of genial. Recruiting the frustrated, the lonely, the talented oddballs, the pious and the rejected, they tell their targets about the wonderful life they could have in the new Islamic State. They tell about the feeling of superiority these outcasts will have, and the responsibilities they will be given.

Imagine being given the power of life and death over whole towns. Imagine a country like Syria, which despite the brutal dictator, had a pretty good quality of life and a high standard of education, falling apart due to sponsored destabilisation by rich madmen and other regional rivals, and then taken over by the worst kind of warrior. Let us not forget, despite the atrocities carried out by the previous regimes in Iraq, Syria and Libya and all the other dictatorships in the region, if not the world, most people still stayed in the area, even if it was under threat of gassing or midnight removals. Nothing as brutal, savage and inhuman as Islamic State ever happened under the other dictators that caused such mass panic and the fleeing of hundreds of thousands of people to Europe. Imagine, having been a well-to-do middle-class Syrian five years ago, being told your mother has been tortured, your wife abducted, your daughter gang-raped and your son executed. Imagine being the neighbour of that family, as yet unscathed. Wouldn't you pack up and get out of there as quickly as you could? Wouldn't you, right now, be either on a Greek island, at Keleti railway station in Budapest, or scrambling over the Austrian border on your way to a place where you would be given a bed, some food and a new life?

What is worse, we in the West sold the previous incumbents the hardware to be able to carry out these crimes on their people - or at least we sold the hardware to the side our governments supported at the time. Not only the West - Russia and China are most probably in it up to their midriffs too. So when the little guys started fighting back, our governments chose a side and supplied more weapons to them. It was not uncommon for them to change sides, depending what they could get out of it all - fuel, minerals, lucrative contracts - nothing was governed by principles of fairness or justice. The Taliban was, at one time, an ally. There are many reasons why we in the West are now reaping what we sowed, and this is the final repayment of the Karma debt: what we failed to do back then to alleviate their transition to independence and the subsequent brutalities which led to the necessary intervention of the West (again) have led us so far that we have unwittingly created the diabolical cults of Jihadism and Islamist violence. This is the result of our short-termism and complacency.

Blood on our hands
And this has been the case from Eritrea to Erbil, Somalia to San'a, Palestine to Peshawar and Casablanca to Kandahar. We are guilty of great human suffering, even if by proxy, even if 50 years may have passed since we lowered our flags. What we should have done at the end of our empires was to integrate those countries into the world economy by setting up trade talks with international organisations. We should have split the countries up more logically rather than flippantly drawing ridiculous borders after liquid lunches which ended up with names like Winston's Hiccup. We should have let them form their own alliances and not stepped in when things got a little tricky. If we wanted to keep them busy, we should have made it clear from the start that we wanted to be their commercial sponsors and patrons and given them skills and trades. We should not have just let them get angry about everything. And don't get me started on Israel. Good idea in theory, but in practice, we should have been more insistent about Palestine and guarding the inhabitants who were already there. And the playing of the anti-Semitism card, getting easily offended by sometimes very trivial things like the recent palaver over the water showers at Auschwitz every time something does not go their way is wearing very thin.

So all these power-flaunting irritations of varying sizes have morphed into a giant middle finger to the Arab world. And in turn, as we have the stability and the power, we are both their enemy and their role model. Their bully and their refuge. Their bomber and their saviour. It is a strange situation to be in. And right now, having invaded Libya on a whim, having deposed Saddam in a little over a fortnight, having spent years in Afghanistan, having overpowered so many brutal dictators, we get cold feet at the very moment when we actually should do something about it. We are creating haters here in Europe due to our lack of a clear strategy and making it seem like our governments don't care. But there is a clear strategy: Russia is a very powerful player in Assad's Syria. The Russians have a fleet based on the Syrian coast courtesy of Assad. Recent pictures show that area to be totally at ease and peaceful. I am quite sure the West had been waiting for IS to overrun Assad all the way to the coast, therefore forcing Russia out of the picture, before stepping in, but now that looks unlikely. So there have been rumblings in France and Britain about sending in more military firepower. The West's distaste in confronting Russia is at least a sign it has thought about a strategy, even though it seems very likely Assad is now entrenched. The optimistic, dare I say unrealistic, plan to force Assad out through a six-month "transition period" is post-colonialist daydreaming, to say the least.

Misleading facts and figures
This is the fact about the Syrian refugee crisis: there were about 20 million people living in Syria before the troubles. Over half of them, about 12 million, have in some form or another been displaced. The vast majority of those, about 8 million, have fled to safer parts of Syria and about 4 million to neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Jordan. Only 250,000 have tried to get into the EU, but more are coming all the time. There are also great numbers of people coming from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of people displaced is an appalling humanitarian catastrophe and a very dark period in our history. The total number of people trying to reach European shores is unknown, but they are coming for a reason.

And here is where we need to take an honest step back: not everyone coming to Europe is doing it because their lives are threatened. Many are coming for economic purposes. There are also a number of rumours that are sweeping conspiracy theorist websites everywhere: that there are lots of Jihadists in amongst them, especially since IS warned they would send hundreds of thousands of "soldiers" to Europe back in February. The theories are not stupid and it is not wrong to be worried about this being the case. It is entirely feasible. Think about it: if the price of transport to Kos, Pantelleria or Sicily costs between one year's salary and five years' salary for one of those refugees, imagine how much a family would have to pay to get across the sea. Who is paying for them? The theory goes that some rich Sheiks are paying the traffickers to send hundreds of thousands of Muslims to Europe to dilute the secular population and flood Europe with Muslims. Again, another plausible theory, but not one I have yet chosen to believe.

Right-wing threat
What seems to be threatening to occur now, unless more people are mobilised to intervene and prevent civil unrest, is the following: the Hungarians and the British, with their fence-building and detaining of refugees at Röszke and Calais for no good reason, are no better than each other, and are giving Europe a bad name amongst those fleeing violence. Intimidation, corralling, delaying the process of registration and integration, these are all making new enemies of Europe. Showing pictures of rubbish strewn on footpaths as if it's something new; people rushing police;  people being tripped up in order to get a shot of an angry Arab; these all add to the fuel of hatred being spewed by Europe's many right-wing leaders, like Nigel Farage, Filip de Winter, Marine Le Pen, and Viktor Orban. If we don't properly welcome these moderate, fairly secular Syrians arriving at our frontiers, we risk embittering already desperate people who just want peace.

Furthermore, we seem to have let the right-wing media and politicians tell us these people are just troublemakers in disguise. I have a different theory. These are very, very different people indeed. I know lots of north Africans and Middle-Eastern people from my time living in Belgium. I also know many from when I was in London. They fall mainly into two categories: very well brought up, courteous, thankful, respectful, fully integrated and well-grounded (often much more so than their autochthonous European counterparts); or frustrated, lonely, badly-integrated, vulnerable, impressionable and looking around for a friend. And it is these people who need saving. It is indeed these people that I can relate to and identify, because a similar thing happened to me, although not in a religious context, I hasten to add. If I had been promised friendship, camaraderie and support, I would have given the same back. If I had been told angry stories of mistreatment and insult, I would maybe have wanted revenge for my new friends. It is a very easy hole to fall into, and understanding that these new arrivals are more like us on a human level than we have been led to believe is one thing that scares the right-wing media. So what we need to do is welcome these people immediately, and fast-track them into work and an autonomous life so that they feel part of us as soon as possible. They are, after all, smartphone-using, mostly well-educated, well-behaved people who, like their counterparts of 70 years ago, are looking to escape persecution.

There is hope
And that seems to be happening. Angela Merkel, at least, has played a significant role in alleviating the impact of so many arrivals by firstly spreading the word that people must be tolerant, helpful and welcoming, causing the refugees to make Germany their top destination. And this is currently the case. It is gratifying to see that the German government is making a real effort and taking the lead in showing respect, trust, and a level of humanity these arrivals have not experienced. Many of these people will never go home again. But once the war is over and the cancer of terrorism has been purged, some may choose to return to their ancestral lands. But first, it is necessary to clear the place up.

How? How do you deal with the embodiment of evil that is Islamic State, and how do you persuade people to return to places that have seen such grotesque acts of barbarity and especially to move back into properties that were usurped by other people in the meantime? There is a precedent for this, and that is the Second World War. All sorts of people who were displaced by it, whether Poles, Jews, Belgians, Russians or Germans, the bombs rained down, the mass executions took place, the persecutions carried on, the atrocities widespread. There are still scars of history in places that will forever keep their air of sadness: Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, parts of Warsaw, Bergen-Belsen, Katyn or Dresden in the Second World War are some of those places. In more recent times we can look to Srebrenica, Kigali or the World Trade Centre. All have been places of the most atrocious of crimes, resulting in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and despite the abominations that took place there, people have still returned, even if many wounds have yet to heal.

I do believe that once the Jihadis of Islamic State and other nefarious organisations have been eradicated, people will once again return to their lands. Not all, but many. In the meantime, the West had better start dropping its proclivities of setting up puppet democracies and learn to tolerate the relative safety and calm brought about by strong dictators. It had also better give the various ethnic groups the chance to run their own lands, not least the Kurds. The Turks will protest long and hard, but the Kurds need to be treated as equals. Once all of these things have been achieved, it is time the West grew up and left that area to deal with itself.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The EU is probably coming to an end and there may be nothing we can do about it

Don't believe me? Take a look around you. Read the papers and watch the news. It's happening. The creaking behemoth that has for years been eating up Europe's nations and swallowing their sovereignty in large chunks is about to burst in a huge bout of indigestion.

The idea is completely barmy to some. I work with EU civil servants all the time, so it is only normal that they will big up their roles and deny any evidence of EU disintegration. They say I'm just a Eurosceptic Brit and enjoy spreading the gloom. But the opposite is true - I am in fact pro-European; I am just anti-Brussels.

The reason for this is that the more Brussels tries to make Europeans and their governments join in their mantra of "ever-closer union", the more they are put off by it. Let us bring the EU into a more condensed setting: if you ask a street's neighbours if they think more close collaboration is necessary, they will say "yes". About what? Well, fighting local crime; putting out each other's rubbish when they're away or have forgotten; feeding their pets when absent; making informal, fair rules on parking; discussing noise levels, building and boundaries, and such like. In a European context, that means fighting international crime and exchanging information (Europol); removing the previous red tape and making it easier to live in another country without needing sworn translations or conversion of qualifications (Maastricht, Pisa and Bologna); bringing better understanding of each other's cultures in an academic setting (Erasmus) and making war an impossibility (Rome and everything thereafter).

What neighbourhood collaboration is most certainly not is knocking down the walls between the houses so everyone can see into your living rooms, kitchens and (heaven forfend) bathrooms and bedrooms. It is not about going on a camping holiday all together and all the awkwardnesses there would be surrounding bodily odours and showering. It is not about allowing neighbours to park on each other's driveways, or rearranging next door's garden so that it becomes the same as yours, or making everyone drive the same car, wear the same clothes, drink the same wine, go to the same shops or listen to the same music. And this cannot be done when new neighbours, who seem to be poorer and less pampered than the others move in, when half reluctantly accept their new arrivals and the others refuse to have anything to do with them. All this will do is create an air of exasperation. It will cause untold damage to neighbourly relations and cause the rapid re-building of walls and a lot of "For Sale" signs to go up in the street.

Having the opportunity to close the door behind you and keep out any unwanted interference in the family unit is not a luxury, it is a right. Being able to choose how you raise your family, what school the kids go to, where you go on holiday, who you spend time with, where you shop, what you wear, and what you eat are your choices and yours alone. Don't be fooled by the need to conform, integrate or do the same as everyone else. It's your life.

The same is of the European Union. There is currently too much integration. The arrival of the Euro was, at the time, a cause for celebration. It relied on the pretence that countries shared the same money even though they didn't share the same budget, pricing arrangements, economic systems, social security systems or even tax harmonisation. that's because, despite the willingness to share currency, nations are really loath to lose more sovereignty to Brussels. And this is where the plan unravels.

If countries are unwilling to open up their books, integrate budgets and amalgamate ministerial portfolios, there is no reason for them to keep up the charade that they really do want ever-closer union. I don't believe they do. And there is a trend running along national lines depending what governments want: the French, when they are unwilling to surrender sovereignty or do something about their overspending (CAP; social security bill) will accuse their detractors of being bad Europeans. This tactic has kept up the illusion that France is a rich nation for many years now. It is not rich; it just has a large territory and population. It is an agrarian country that masquerades as a world power. The Germans will strong-arm the smaller nations into falling into line by finding some other nasty experience to threaten them with, like send Wolfgang Schäuble to shake a finger at them. The British keep moaning and sighing from the sidelines and veto or opt out of everything, while hoping to gain support from other Eurosceptic countries, who often make friendly noises until the Germans and French tell them to step in line behind everyone else. The Italians and Spanish, despite being fairly large countries, do what they are told and the Poles want to join in the Franco-German gang and become the third main motor of the European project.

It would be like Mr Johnson at No 24 and Mr Simmonds at No 26 deciding what all the others in the street should be doing and accusing those who don't want to do the same of being bad neighbours. This is not right. Why should the whole street succumb to the systems dreamed up by the Simmondses and Johnsons, when there are so many other neighbours in the street who are unhappy with their situation? I'll tell you why: because Messrs Johnson and Simmonds have too many good deals going on.

In national circumstances, it means the government of France is creaming off a lot of cash to subsidise its burgeoning agricultural sector without having to reduce it, therefore keeping the farmers from burning Paris to the ground, because it is too feeble and frightened of its militants to take drastic action and take them on, and Germany has profits for life from having persuaded many other countries to integrate with the Deutsche Mark back in the day, and making everyone sign a contract saying "if you break the economic chain, this automatically becomes the property of Germany." Everyone fell for it.

This is no way to run an international organisation. In fact, this can only lead down one path. The inexorable rise of anti-European parties and anti-austerity movements. And who will be the victims? The ordinary people. We will be cutting off our noses despite our faces. The European project is a force for good. It has helped integrate us for the better and for the common improvement of our status in the world and our standard of living. What it has also done is it has shown just how selfish, opportunistic and avaricious nation states really are, even though they won't tell you. Don't forget, what the EU's Council decides to carry out in Brussels is the brainchildren of the 28 EU leaders, not the Commission - that particular institution just carries out the Council's instructions.

Some countries want to play no part in the allocation of asylum seekers; some do not want to make efforts to reduce their national spending; some are unwilling to end their reliance on a particular sector of industry, even if it is anti-competition or even hurting other member states. Some do not want to be at all flexible in the economic plight of the poorer member states. This is all leading to the inevitable withdrawal of countries from various treaties and agreements if they don't get their way.

If I were David Cameron right now, I would feel like a real prize turnip. Having promised a referendum on the UK's membership of the most successful multinational organisation of them all, granting small nations unprecedented standing in the world and prosperity the likes of which had not been foreseen even in the 1960s, I would now find myself in the awful position of being the prime minister who most likely took my country out of it. Nigel Farage and his ragbag collection of buffoons and bigots will tell you that the UK is better out, but they are missing the point. The EU and its institutions are cementing the future for a better society. It is just unfortunate that many nation states, not just the UK, have vested interests that they are unwilling to compromise on. If we could all trust each other, this would not be an issue, but it is.

The other thing David Cameron has failed to realise is he has been visiting various capital cities trying to gather support for his request to get a deal done on UK membership and conditions, but the French and German cabal has pre-empted this by saying it would require treaty change, while at the same time sewing up their own deal that does not require treaty change. This is despicable, underhand, and a brazen attempt to highlight who is in charge in the EU. On the other hand, while Cameron has been trying to negotiate this deal with one pleading face, and with the other, sterner face, with issues like asylum he has been saying "no". He cannot seriously hope to get something out of it if he, for example, refuses to take in his country's fair share of the current wave of refugees. In all of this, hypocrisy and power games seem to pervade. This is not the right climate to instil trust and confidence in your neighbours.

The simple answer to this is as follows: what Europe needs to do is to consolidate its progress so far. Maybe for ten years to a generation, it needs to put any more major integration projects on ice and take stock of its current situation. People need to be aware of how far it has come and the leaders need to take a step back and look on their work, adjust it where necessary and make the system work. If this means that after a shorter time it becomes clear that a Eurozone social security and tax system needs to be set up, or if it becomes evident that greater flexibility and understanding of nations' individual concerns need to be addressed, so be it. The European project has indeed reached a crossroads. The only thing is, one of those future directions is also back along the way we have travelled. And nobody wants to go there, do they?

Finally, Europe needs to take the concerns of its non-Eurozone members into account. It needs to address British, Scandinavian and to some extent central European attitudes to the European project, that have always been seen as non-integrationist and anti-European. It is so far from the truth that it hurts. Everyone thinks that the good things the EU has done are to be cherished and kept. But some are unwilling to drop too many barriers because they value their privacy and right to choose. If certain rights were granted these non-Eurozone countries, I am quite sure they would have nothing against the rest carrying on with their ever-closer union.

I am also one of those neighbours who values his privacy. I don't mind inviting people round for drinks or lending them a few quid until pay day, but I will most certainly not let them open my fridge door or help themselves to the contents of my wallet. And this is why the European project may be doomed in any case: if you get too close to someone, there will inevitably be more arguments.