Flexcit (sic)

A “leave” plan for leaving the EU

flexcit

A Motorcyclist’s view of the EU (Referendum lV)

I was having tea in the house of lords. As one does. With my MEP. My MEP was once my borough councillor and I have known her a long time.  They had just come back from a visit to the Baltic states investigating extraordinary rendition. ( the EU parliament is one of the few bodies which has seriously tried to get a handle on these wretched events). We were discussing her workload. “I get all these motorcyclists writing to me” she said. I coughed.

This is a Jawa motorcycle from Czechoslovakia displayed in the museum of communism in Prague.

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Its in many ways a wonderful museum although this exhibit failed to impress me as I have owned three of these machine ( Dubcek I, Dubcek II and Dubcek III) and taken them over the Alps, and to the south of France and the Algarve. Deliberately designed to be primitive and maintainable by a teenager on a Russian housing estate, the heel of their contact arm had a tendency to distort in the heat and set the timing off. I still remember coming out of the Pyrenees and, I swear, aquaplaning (those tyres) down the hill into Pau with the engine misfiring, putting my hand down to check that the spark plug had not come loose (the cap had cracked) and feeling the blast of the firing spark coursing through my hand. It’s cheaper than drugs.

Motorcyclists are a bolshie, independent and easily aggravated lot. Or maybe they’re not; maybe they’re a submissive and acquiescent lot with a bolshie nugget in them that colours the rest. I don’t know. But travelling at high speeds on a quite small machine with very small amount of protection makes them somewhat different from the majority of the population and not likely to be very keen on health and safety issues.

One of the things the “Leave” faction has to say is that they have been fooled. That they joined up to a free trade area and now they find themselves in a super-national state. That’s partially true although not exactly a trick. We have always known that some people were engaged on the “European Project” while others wanted to limit the EU to commercial relations. What I tried to suggest in my last blog was that actually the two things intermingle. The move towards a federal state is at least half driven by commercial realities. The idea of the EU as a free trade area is of a level playing field. You can’t have a level playing field while some people’s industries are state subsidised – hence the EU emphasis on competition law (which is where the threat to the NHS comes in although the NHS and other socially important functions have been exempt from EU competition law). You can’t have a level playing field while one country has important worker protections and the others are operating sweat shops – hence the EU emphasis of health and safety which extends to such things as maternity leave. You can’t have a level playing field when some people’s products are held to a different level of quality. You can’t have a level playing field when when some people are trained to a different standard.

Why are motorcyclists, or at least motorcycle organisations, in the UK (and a lot of other EU countries) opposed to the EU? Motorcyclists’ organisations are concerned: 1. to make motorcyclists choices as wide as possible – what they can ride, what they can wear and how they can act.: 2. to ensure a large motorcyclist population to support a vibrant and diverse motorcycle industry

First there is a project in the EU to make road safety better. And motorcycles are a major peak in KSI (killed and seriously injured) statistics. While motorcycles have very similar accident rates to bicycles their KSI rate is almost double.. There is actually a movement in the EU, especially the Nordic countries to ban motorcycles completely. The reaction of the commission has been to attempt to restrict motorcycle use and choice wherever possible. There are many aspects of this but we can see these:

  1. to make the motorcycle training more difficult. Now it has to be conducted off road at specified centres and there have been attempts to include difficult and dangerous manoeuvres such as braking while cornering.

  2. To restrict the power of machines, both absolutely and by introducing a complicated range of power specifications available to riders at different stages of their careers. Even though motorcycle accidents have no real connection to power levels.

  3. To restrict riders to machines made by large manufacturers and to prevent the alteration of machines by “after-market” modifications by making the manufacturing of such alternative parts too expensive (type approval) and by making such alterations (tampering) illegal.

  4. To specify behaviours such as making riders wear High-Vis clothing and using daytime lights.

The question is – is this over-regulation? And is this the business of the EU or should it be restricted to the individual countries? This is a particular example of regulation which is an objection and an irritant all over the EU in different spheres. I suppose everybody knows that the famous straight banana regulations don’t really exist but they are the metaphorical flag for numerous lesser but real examples.

But from the regulators’ point of view: shouldn’t a rider entering another state be trained to a common standard? If power levels are consonant with accident rates shouldn’t these be uniform across the EU ? If everybody has the right of free movement there is no room for the individual standards applied to each country. How can these be reconciled?

I think the answers for me – a motorcyclist and some-time motorcycle activist and a supporter of the EU are as follows:

  1. The resistance is not purely to the EU. It is to a highly regulated society and our own society (and maybe the entire world) has moved in this direction independently of the EU. When told that the EU is responsible for equality legislation and workers’ rights Brexiters often say that these would have been introduced here too. But that argument is a double edged sword for the same regulations they dislike and call red tape might as easily have been introduced by an independent Britain.  Motorcycle organisations are happy to use regulations themselves when they want to, for example in the “report-a-road” campaigns against potholes.

  2. We are still here and I am still riding. The EU is not immune to the voice of the common people or in this case, the activists’ drum. If motorcyclists have been a particular victim of what can be seen as over-regulation, they have been also extraordinarily successful as advocates in the EU legislature even though they have such powerful opponents. The EU  is not the same type of democracy that the UK recognises but it is not undemocratic . The parliament has far more of a scrutiny function than a legislature. Yet the parliament can be very powerful. In particular, anyone seeking to understand the EU legal situation has to look at the power of the Rapporteur, a position really without parallel in the UK and also at the pressure to compromise in the EU system, alien to the combative UK legislature.

  3. What motorcyclists have found is the importance of moving to a pan-European structure of activism. It is the FEMA that is important in Brussels rather than the BMF or MAG. Now that we have a British motorcycle industry again, selling motorcycles into Europe has become increasingly important. To leave the EU would also mean limiting that option.

  4. Finally, we are a very small tail to wag the dog.  Not everything can be made perfect.

I’ll leave you with an interview with a Norweigan motorcyclist which illustrates that in some way or another, even for those who intensely  dislike the EU, Europe is (one way or another) the only game in town.

The Referendum (2) I grew up in a refugee camp

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I am a fairly middle England sort of person. I’m white, middle-class, born in Yorkshire but brought up in Melton-Mowbray, rural England, where the pork pies come from. Yet I also grew up in a refugee camp.

That’s over-egging the pudding somewhat. During and after the war Melton was the central place for the resettlement of Polish refugees. One of the camps was at the back of our house. It consisted of a group of nissen huts in a field with pretty much no facilities. It was a hard life. I must have been about four or five at the time and I would go through it sometimes on my way to school. Those were the days when children were allowed to run free and people didn’t think of all their neighbours as paedophiles although there must have been as many around as today.

There is a fair bit about this on the web but mostly about the larger camps to the south of the town.

Those people didn’t come here to be plumbers. They came to fight and die and we were lucky to have them. Yet after the war they weren’t made very welcome. People can be very crabby.

There is still a Polish community in Melton stretching back to those times. The picture is of aircraftsman Marcin Wojtak who died in Afghanistan in 2009.

Melton will be taking 2 refugee families a year from Syria

The Referendum (1)

I haven’t done much with respect to the referendum. My work has rather piled on top of me lately and just at the time when I really want to do a bit less.

I thought I’d write a few things in this last week which I think might be relevant. I didn’t want them to be “you must do this” pieces because although I’m for stay in, I also feel something for the leave – I’d say, kick-yourself-loose , crowd. I haven’t written much for some time, so bear with me.

I thought I’d base these on my own life and how Europe has affected it. I’ve spent my life working for and running SMEs, small and medium enterprises. I’m a motorcyclist (I spent a year as member of council of the British Motorcyclists’ Federation), one of the first “ordinary blokes” groups to feel seriously disadvantaged by the EEC (as it was) and I’m a comics fan. All of those things define me as much as anything.

I thought I’d start with the idea of scaremongering. Both sides have been accused of this, but it’s always seemed to me a bit of a shallow accusation. If you’re scared you want to share it

There’s nothing more scary, the stuff of nightmares, than being frightened of something and realising that everybody else is oblivious to it. But scares are also the reverse side of aspirations. “We must hang together”, as Ben Franklin said, “because, otherwise, we shall assuredly hang separately”.

I shall start with my parents who are dead and thus cannot contradict me (although they would often do so in life). I do not think that anyone can think of them as cowardly. They both stayed in London during the blitz. My father was an anti-aircraft gunner. Were they frightened? I think they were. I remember my mother saying how wearing the blitz was as time went on, especially when the rockets came. They were traditional and patriotic but they also felt that their parents had wrongly turned their backs on Europe and that that was also because of fear.

Europe as a trading block has been pretty successful and it’s had some bad consequences. It’s promoted competition and cheap goods and I think it’s also promoted low wages to the detriment of some of its population. We had to fight to get in and we’ve had to pay for it. If we didn’t that might be a sign of it being a scam. They didn’t want us in – they thought we’d cause trouble – and how right they were. Put that on one side (I’ll come back to it). The principle aim of the common market, the EEC and the EU is to protect us by preventing war. That’s a bit of scaremongering too but I think it’s one my parents would have agreed on.

Some people say that we can rely on NATO. Well, we have a presidential candidate in the USA who isn’t keen on Nato and we have an expansionist leader in Moscow who isn’t keen on it either. The EU can also wield a lot of soft power that Nato cannot. I know some people think that the EU has been too expansionist and has created an adverse situation with Russia. Suppose that is true. Do we want to be in a military alliance with a block of partners over whom we have no control?

So I’ll leave you with the thought of Philip Zec.  Zec always stressed the contribution and suffering of the common man. He got into trouble for it.  Let’s hope we keep it in imnd.

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Next:     I grew up in a refugee camp