When you see a smart blog, well-laid-out with an attractive type face, it’s tempting to think it might have something sensible to say. But be warned. This blog by David Lindsay provides a perfect counter-example. He has written a bizarre post about the European parliament, about a number of MEPs (including Dan Hannan, Martin Callanan and myself) and about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. It’s my view that Mr. Lindsay ought to confine his future blog posts to fly fishing and philately. He perhaps knows as much about them as he knows about ALEC and the European parliament — he could hardly know less.
ALEC is a national association of state-level legislators, all broadly of a conservative (small “c”) disposition, mostly Republican but including some Democrats. They meet regularly in national conferences and working groups to exchange experiences, share best practice, and work on policy ideas. They also maintain an international arm in which I and a number of other MEPs are associate members.
Although I have not been very active with ALEC recently, I have hugely enjoyed the ALEC conferences I have attended in the past, in various American cities. After the stultifying corporatism, leftism and political correctness of Brussels, an ALEC Conference is like coming up for air. ALEC is founded on Jeffersonian principles: Liberty with responsibility; Enterprise and free markets; Low taxes and limited government; Family and nation. Just the kind of principles that people like me — and Hannan and Callanan — might be expected to support.
ALEC is “federalist” in the American sense — that is, concerned with States’ Rights. In the EU, the term “federalist” has come to mean almost the opposite — the consolidation of competences in the EU Institutions in Brussels. But Lindsay asserts, bizarrely, that “ALEC, you see, claims to be federalist, but seems to have adopted the European rather than the American definition of the word”.
He could not be more wrong. ALEC is about developing and “test-marketing” political and legislative ideas at the State level. Only then, if they are successful at that level, would they be adopted in other states, or proposed for national legislation.
The contrast with the EU model could not be more stark. The European Commission has the sole right to originate legislation. Bright young people in the BerlaymontBuilding come up with spiffing wheezes. Their ideas may play well in the pavement cafés of Brussels, but they often wreak havoc in Lisbon or Latvia, in Athens or Aberdeen. And they are all too rarely re-visited or corrected or repealed.
The ALEC approach is Darwinian and bottom-up. It tests ideas locally and abandons those that fail. The EU system is top-down. It imposes potentially damaging policies in a monolithic way on the whole of the EU, without testing or reconsideration. American federalism is close to the European idea of “subsidiarity” — a concept that exists in the EU only to talk about, in a forlorn attempt to allay the fears of sceptics. But in Europe, it is never put into practice. In ALEC, it is.
Mr. Lindsay gets very upset about ALEC’s private sector sponsors, as though it were self-evidently a bad thing for legislators to talk to industry (which provides us with growth, prosperity, exports, jobs and tax revenues). I think it would be irresponsible for legislators not to talk to industry, along with other interest groups who have legitimate legislative concerns.
Then Mr. Lindsay comes up with another gem. “All of its (ALEC’s) other “International Delegates” sit in the European Parliament. There to enact legislation written by giant American corporations, as if the European Parliament were an American State Legislature, with the United Kingdom having much the status of an American county”. He seems to think that if he repeats arrant nonsense sufficiently often, and with a sufficiently straight face, we shall all accept it. Would he like to quote us one example of EU legislation “drafted by giant American corporations”? No. I thought not.
First of all, the MEPs he criticises are much more likely to be opposing bad EU regulatory proposals than “passing” them. Second, as noted already, it is the Commission which has the sole right of initiation. Not “giant American Corporations”. Third, if recent history is a guide, the EU Commission is far more interested in persecuting American corporations than in obliging them. The Commission’s recent witch-hunt against Microsoft is a case in point.
It is true, of course, that corporations lobby the EU institutions — although not particularly or exclusively American corporations. But in my judgement it is the NGOs, and especially “green” NGOs (often part-funded by the European Commission itself), who get the lion’s share of attention in the corridors of Brussels.
Mr. Lindsay then comes up with an observation so gnomic that I am not sure I understand what he meant — and I’m even less sure that he understood what he meant. “So much for Hannan’s Anglosphere, since ALEC contains one Australian Senator, as well as one Georgian MP and one Pakistani Assemblywoman”.
Note the way he slips in an implicit assumption. People who promote the Anglosphere, he hints (nudge nudge, wink wink) are obviously opposed to foreigners, and are probably closet racists. So Dan Hannan will be acutely embarrassed to find himself in the same club as Johnny Foreigner.
This is a case where you merely need to make the assumption explicit to see it in all its absurdity. Those who believe in the importance and potential of the Anglosphere are still keen to reach out and engage with those outside it. As a case in point, Dan Hannan is an excellent linguist. He has Spanish and Portuguese, and is at home in Lisbon or Latin America as he is in London. All of us MEPs work with non-Anglosphere colleagues, as MEPs and staffers, and are perfectly happy to do so. In my fourteen years in the parliament I have had a number of staffers from non-Anglosphere countries. My lead staffer in Brussels at the moment is Italian, and she’s doing a fine job.
So of course we’re very happy to see ALEC spreading Jeffersonian principles beyond the Anglosphere, and delighted if Georgian and Pakistani parliamentarians support ALEC’s principles. So just what was your point, David?
Naturally Mr. Lindsay can’t resist a jibe at UKIP. He observes (referring, of course, to me): “The eighth (MEP) is now a member of an entity which laughably calls itself “the United Kingdom Independence Party” “. “Laughably”, David? Maybe you’d like to share the joke? We think independence and democracy are serious matters.