Cameron’s tax woes are helping the Brexit campaign
The Times headlines “Voters turn away from EU as trust in Cameron slides”. Cameron’s approval rating has dropped to 21%, below Jeremy Corbyn’s 28%. The Times argues that declining trust in the Prime Minister is reducing support for Remain, and boosting Brexit. A YouGov poll for the Times has Leave and Remain neck-and-neck on 39% each. The Times suggests that the Referendum result now depends on Mr. Corbyn, who is about to give a pro-EU speech. But he has been equivocal over the issue, and will convince few.
Vote Leave win official designation
The Electoral Commission has awarded Vote Leave, the Westminster-based group, the coveted official designation as the Leave Campaign, who will be entitled to spend up to £7 million on their campaign (rather less that the tax-payers’ £9 million that Cameron spent on his pro-EU propaganda leaflet).
The papers take widely differing views on the future of the Leave Campaign. The FT headlines “Vote Leave’s designation spurs feuding in the Brexit Camp”, while the Express reports “Eurosceptic campaigners pledge to work together in the battle to free Britain from Brussels rule”, under the heart-warming headline “Now the Battle for Britain Begins: Crusade to leave EU takes huge leap forward”. The paper quotes Nigel Farage congratulating Vote Leave, and insisting that all eurosceptics must work together for the goal of an independent UK.
Leave.EU to seek judicial review? There are reports that the other campaign group seeking the official designation, Leave.EU (which had the support of UKIP) will seek a judicial review of the Electoral Commission’s decision. This could mean delaying the referendum from June, perhaps to October. I quite understand their position – they had a very strong case – but I hope they will not pursue the legal route. They would be seen by the voters as bad losers, and I believe that any delay in the referendum timing would be very badly received by the public, and could hand the outcome to the Remain side.
Outrage at massive UK foreign aid spending
The issue of UK foreign aid has hit the headlines again with reports that we contribute one seventh of all foreign aid globally, and are by far the top spender in per capita terms. The Mail reports that the average UK citizen pays £188 a year in foreign aid. And remember, this is all borrowed money – to be repaid one day by our children and grandchildren. The Sun leads on the same story under the headline “WAD A WASTE”. It is time to get foreign aid under control. Yes, we should respond in a humanitarian way to emergencies and crises, but we should not allow poor countries to subside into dependency. And we should remember that the best way to help poor countries is trade, not aid. We could do far more good by dismantling the EU’s protectionist barriers than we do with foreign aid or “fair trade” projects.
“Alarming” build-up of migrants in Libya
Reuters reports that the EU is worried by an alarming increase in migrant numbers in Libya, awaiting the opportunity to make the crossing to Italy. With the Balkan route closed (or at least made less easy), it is hardly surprising that the Libya/Italy route is becoming more popular.
4000 migrants rescued this week: As the weather improves, more and more migrants are attempting the Mediterranean crossing from Libya. The BBC reports 4000 migrants rescued on Monday and Tuesday of this week alone, and taken to Italy. We are doing the traffickers’ job for them. Why on earth do we not return them to Libya?
Merkel & Erdogan in a spat over free speech
A curious but instructive row has erupted between Germany and Turkey, and in particular between Angela Merkel and President Erdogan. A German comedian named Böhmermann has created an abusive and satirical song about President Erdogan. The song is egregiously offensive to Erdogan, and he is entitled to be offended. I cannot possibly write down what the song says (in a Daily Debrief intended for family reading around the fireside), but it is seriously bad. And it seems also to have gone viral, and been widely watched.
Erdogan called in the German Ambassador and demanded the song be removed from the internet, and the comedian prosecuted. There are some reports suggesting he may indeed be prosecuted.
Merkel has insisted on the value of free speech . But she has put herself in a dangerous position vis-à-vis Turkey. She needs Turkish cooperation to give her improbable migrant deportation plan any chance of success, and she is fearful of offending Erdogan.
The spat has its funny side, but it illustrates the cultural divide between Turkey and “European values”, and illustrates why Turkey may not be a suitable candidate for EU accession. Erdogan has shut down his own newspapers and now demands restrictions on the press in the EU. But free speech must include freedom to offend. If we restrict free speech on the basis that it must offend no one, there is little we can say at all.
It would be a good thing if Mr. Böhmermann could show a little more restraint and decency. But his right to free speech must be protected. There is a clear parallel here with recent problems over anti-Muslim cartoons.
The Cabinet Minister and the Call Girl
The tangled tale of Whittingdale is evolving as we watch it, with the additional titillating detail that the lady in the case was a “Dominatrix” in her professional work.
It appears that four national newspapers knew of the story for some months, but chose not to run it, on the basis that it was a private matter. The campaign group “Hacked Off” has been accused of hypocrisy after it castigated those papers for not publishing a story which it regarded as “of public interest”. Apparently Hacked Off campaigns for privacy for celebrities, but against privacy for Cabinet Ministers.
Were the papers intimidated by that fact that John Whittingdale, as Culture Secretary, has a responsibility for the Press? And why did the BBC (which presumably also knew for some time) decide that now was the time to run with the story and give it what many regard as undue prominence? The obvious suspicion is that this is part of the increasingly heated debate over the Licence Fee between the BBC and the Culture Secretary. The Telegraph reports an accusation to this effect from an unnamed Cabinet Minister (presumably not Mr. Whittingdale).
It might perhaps be paranoid to suggest that the pro-Brussels BBC had saved up the story until the referendum campaign, hoping to damage a prominent pro-Brexit Cabinet Minister (though as a wise man once said, “Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you”).
The Mirror reports that Mr. Whittingdale is facing a “sleaze probe” after accusations that he took the lady to Amsterdam and failed to record the visit, while the Daily Star runs the headline “YES, YES, YES MINISTER”.
Jeremy Corbyn missed another pension from his tax return
Corbyn looked a little foolish after his attacks on Cameron for tax avoidance, when he published his own tax return and it emerged he had omitted to mention his State Pension, or his local government pension. Now it seems he also missed a third one.
Challenging preconceptions: Electric cars mean more emissions than petrol
Driven by EU emissions targets, our government is offering generous subsidies to purchasers of electric vehicles. You could argue that anyone prepared to put up with “range anxiety”, and the tedium of plugging in for extended recharge periods, maybe deserves a little help. But now a bomb-shell report from Hong Kong shows that electric cars can actually produce more CO2 emissions than equivalent petrol cars (+20%), if the whole life-cycle is taken into account. Bad news for Elon Musk of Tesla. Admittedly this is based on Hong Kong’s fairly high dependence on fossil fuel electricity generation, but it reminds us that we shouldn’t simply assume that electric cars are the silver bullet for CO2 emissions.