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What did the Lib Dems achieve in the coalition?

My Adventures in the EU (Referendum 3)

2016-06-02 15.00.51I just came back from Wales.

What struck me on the motorway was the number of European lorries carrying stuff, lots of stuff, up and down. It seems pretty clear that whatever we do, Europe is always going to be our major trading partner.

I have spent my life mostly working for and running SMEs, small and medium enterprises. These are the concerns that are often said to be least in favour of the EU and to be looking forward to less “Red Tape”. How does the EU actually affect us? How has it affected me?

Lets take Joe. Joe is an antique dealer. He sells a van load of antiques to a dealer in France to be delivered to his shop. The bill of sale gives the address. When he gets there the customer says, unload half here and take the rest to my other shop on the other side of town. No problem. But Joe is stopped by the police, the address he’s going to is not on the bill of sale. He is operating a commercial vehicle in France without licence or any documentation. Joe’s van is impounded. OK, this was told to me. I’ve never met Joe. In my opinion Joe may be an urban legend. But lots of stuff like this, perhaps on a smaller scale, used to happen and can’t happen now. Perhaps its no concern of yours if Joe loses his van, or is too frightened to trade into Europe or loses his livelihood or is just poorer, but there are quite a few Joes and Joe may be your customer, your relative or your friend.

In the seventies I worked on rock festivals. Legal wasn’t my field but I knew from colleagues that getting documentation for visiting musicians from the states was a nightmare. I don’t know how bad it is today but it would be a serious setback for entertainers if those rules were applied to Europe.

In the eighties I worked for a company importing chairs from Spain. The chairs had to be bought by container. They had to go to Rotterdam first and used to get stuck there. We needed a customs agent at Felixstowe. Nowadays stuff like that comes in smaller quantities, in a van to the door. We pay by cheque or BACS.

Let’s think about K. They are a company that designs and sells furniture (I spent fifteen years running a furniture shop). K used a factory in Poland to make their furniture. One day the factory decided it could sell the furniture itself. In business you try to protect yourself against this sort of thing but it’s not always possible. K could have given up but they went to Poland, bought their own factory and filled their orders. It was a difficult time but most of their customers (including me) stuck with them and they survived. They mght have been able to do the same without EU rules but probably not quickly enough.

How about Shirley. Shirley’s parents split up and her siblings live in the UK. Shirley is very attached to her family and wants to join them here. She finds an employer and gets a work permit. Her employer knows she is a unique employee, will be an asset to their business and the Home Office agrees. But a junior diplomat in the embassy with a quota to make refuses her a visa. The employer appeals and wins but it’s a year later and Shirley has started a career in her own country. This is a real story, “Shirley” is a real person and is an American citizen. I was the employer. If Shirley’s mother had moved to the EU rather than the USA she would be here with her family now. You may think this is a good thing, that an English person should have that job and in any case we’re full up but I have never filled that position.

Later, one of my colleagues spent three years supervising a team of mental health workers in northern Germany. They would visit them every one or two months and do the rest on Skype. Apart from earning money this gave us some insight into Germany’s social care and mental health system and allowed us to spread ways of working that are not much appreciated in this country. EU rules allowed us to do this.

So I’m fairly positive about the EU but I realise there’s a cost for it. If people and vehicles and goods are to move freely than they have to pass similar driving tests, similar MOTs and the goods have to be of similar quality. And that means usually to the most strict standards applied by any member state. If you buy a German mattress for example, it will be made to British fire safety standards even though Germany never had these standards before and fought hard against having them imposed. If you have free movement of professionals then they have to be trained and regulated to a similar standard, maybe a standard that is alien to your own traditions. And all of that makes life more expensive. This, it seems to me is one of the “legs” on which the Brexit argument stands. And its a real argument. The problem is that if Europe is always going to be our major trading partner then we need a lot of this regulation to sell to them anyway. And other trading partners will and do impose their own requirements – but you have heard all this already if you’re interested in argument.

Next: A motorcyclist looks at the EU

Poems on houses

DSCF8341This is written on a wall in Den Bosch. There is something of a tradition of writing poetry on house walls in Holland. It’s called,


ghe Quetste


Ben ic van binnen,

Doorwont mijn hert so seer,

Van uwer ganschen minnen

Ghe Quest so lanc so meer.

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ic en can gherusten dach noch nachte;

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ghi sijt alleen in mijn ghedachte.


Google tells me that it is a 14C anonymous poem but its translation left something to be desired.


I’m from inside,

Does my deer so hurt,

Of your goose memories

Ghe Quest so lanc so much more.

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ic and can regret either neither nor nor;

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ghi sits alone in my ghetachte.


So I had a go basing it mostly on English Homophones and looking up individual words sometimes removing the “h”. “Lanc” was a killer. Perhaps someone can translate in properly but here is my go.


The Journey


I am like ice inside

My heart is sore

From memories of you.

This journey is long and gets more so

Wherever I go, for how many times,

I feel regret, day and night

Wherever I go and for however many times,

I sit alone with my regrets.


Or more freely (with no attempt at the rhyme scheme)


My heart is sore and icy

From memories of you.

This journey, long and longer,

Provides no other view.

The powers of time and distance

Cannot ease our divorce,

Nor novelty, nor friendship

Decrease my self-remorse.





I beat Jeremy Corben.


I beat Jeremy Corben.


Not for the Labour leadership.  I’m from a different party.  Of course,  that didn’t stop Jeremy.


It was around 2000 when the member for Islington North sailed past me at least ten miles an hour faster than my thirty (there are no speed limits for bicycles).  We were, in fact, in a race and I had something of an advantage. I was riding a motorcycle.


It was during the brief time that I was a member of council of the British Motorcyclists’ Federation and I was sitting on Islington’s Sustainable Transport Round Table or one of its predecessors – so I was invited to a race of different “transport modes” from Archway to Old Street roundabout.  When I turned up two things struck me especially on seeing the local press. One was that I ought to have turned up in my van and got the press to photograph it for the publicity and the second that I wasn’t very welcome in what was basically an exercise to demonstrate the superiority of the bicycle. That a motorcycle can outspeed a bike over distance, even as in this case mostly downhill, seemed pretty obvious and only detracted from what was important (and it is important) –  the facility in London of the bicycle as an alternative to car, bus and taxi.


I knew Jeremy slightly from when I had campaigned against the pilot Red Route (don’t ask) that went straight through his constituency.  He has always been an excellent constituency MP (I also knew his colleague, Chris Smith of Islington South, who, I have often thought,  would have made an excellent Labour leader). We had a chat. What about? Furniture.  Jeremy was going through a divorce and needed some new furniture at a discount (no relying on parliamentary expenses for him, then).  I had a furniture shop.  Divorce is a dreadful business.  Whatever the emotional effect, it makes everybody poorer.  But if you are in the furniture business, let’s face it, it’s a godsend.


It’s from this divorce, I believe, that Jeremy gained the habit of not answering questions he didn’t like. A local radio man asked him why his children were going to a selective school.  It was an unfair question because it was Mrs Corbyn who had made the decision (in fact it is said to have contributed to the divorce) and the interviewer knew this and was hesitant.  Corbyn remained silent. The question was asked again, more sheepishly, with again no reply.  After a pause the interviewer moved on to another question as if nothing had happened. It’s a good technique in those circumstances but it must be disastrous against a confident and aggressive questioner.


Although the bicyclists gained an early lead I drew ahead of them and soon couldn’t see them behind me. It was then that I had a hare and tortoise moment and decided that, ahead as I was, I could detour up a short diversion to approach the finish point on the correct side of the road. I hit roadworks and when I finally got through I had been pipped. Second. Unfortunately, the spirit of competition had now seized the bicyclists, an appeal was made and the winner disqualified for riding on the pavement. I kept my head down and the guy who came third was declared winner.  As for Jeremy, I didn’t see him so I assume he made his appearance, started the race and then quietly fell out.  That may be indicative of something but then MPs have a lot to do.


What do I think of Jeremy ?  I think there is a job description for someone who holds the torch to preserve unsullied the spirit and soul of his party.  But that isn’t the job description of the leader.


The Islington Gazette wrote up the race with the rather ungraceful comment,  “It would have been a different result if they’d run it uphill”.


Happy Christmas from Stoke Newington

Best Holiday wishes on Christmas Eve and the first day of Channukah


This Madonna fron the Hackney artist Stik

You might also like the Seven Wonders of Stoke Newington


The Stoke Newington ROYAL FAMILY courtesy of Banksy, only just saved from Hackney Council’s Olympic cleanup


The RIVER IN THE SKY: The New River, a Sixteenth Century fresh water conduit,  crosses the escarpment to Haringey


The BLUE MOSQUE on Stoke Newington High Street


GHOSTS: The Ghost Signs of Stoke Newington

The KINGDOM of the DEAD :  Abney Park Cemetery


Robinson Crusoe’s ISLAND – This, blighted and disrespected,  is Daniel Defoe’s wall, the last bit of his estate otherwise remembered only in the DEFOE and ROBINSON CRUSOE pubs. Even his tombstone has been pillaged and carried off by that lot over in Clapton! Plan courtesy and (c) @historyofstokey

Flexcit (sic)

A “leave” plan for leaving the EU


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.


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.