Sunday, June 01, 2008

An interesting and disturbing phenomenon

Down page in the leader column of The Mail on Sunday (not online) is a piece headed: "The Brussels effect". It tells us:

Time and again the real reason for a major problem in our society or our economy turns out to be the European Union and the immense power it has to decide our fate in matters both large and small.
The paper then goes on to refer to one of its own stories, where it highlights the fact that British child benefit paid to foreign children living abroad "has rocketed by an astonishing 72 per cent in just nine months, to £33million a year." Most of the money, we are told, is going on 36,000 children still in Poland "whose parents are cashing in on European rules that let them claim benefits in the UK after working and paying taxes here for a year."

Picking this up, the leader opines:

Nobody can blame Poles who work here – and work very hard – from claiming the benefits that are lawfully available to them, and to anyone else. Any person who goes to work in Poland is just as entitled to claim that country's Child Benefit.

The trouble is that this is not so much of a bargain, since very few Britons seek work in Poland, and Polish welfare payments, unsurprisingly, are a lot less generous than ours. The result is that the economic advantages of immigration turn out to be a good deal less than they appear.
Now we come to the nub of the issue:

The Tories blame Gordon Brown. But, in fact, EU rules, supposedly aimed at ensuring free movement of labour, prevent us from doing anything about this unequal arrangement.
This, says the leader, is plainly absurd. "When will our mainstream politicians seriously address the enormous impact for Brussels and our freedom of manoeuvre?" it asks.

Here, in one of those delicious and undoubtedly unwitting coincidences, the newspaper prints alongside the leader a classic example of precisely the "elephant in the room" of which the leader complains.

This is an op-ed by Europhiliac Lib-Dim MP Vince Cable, lamenting the demise of the honey bee, to which effect, his piece is labelled "Bee Emergency". Rightly, he draws attention to the devastating economic effects of a massive decline on the bee population, in the main brought about by the rampage of the varroa mite, which is causing massive mortality.

But nowhere in his piece does he mention the malign effect of EU Directive 2004/28/EEC, "laying down new rules on the supply of veterinary products." This prevented beekeepers buying the remedies they need to keep bee diseases in check direct from specialist suppliers. Instead, all medicinal products had to be prescribed by vets, doubling their cost.

Interestingly, this was reported by Christopher Booker in June 2005 - nearly three years ago, when he also wrote about the cut-backs in Defra spending, of which Vince Cable now complains. Where were you three years ago Vince, when Booker was telling us, "For 12 years an almost wholly unreported disaster has been creeping up on Britain's countryside …"?

In fact, there is a bigger picture here, in that the EU has taken over the responsibility for coordinating the fight against varroa (including picking up the tab on the research programme, which is why Defra feels able to make the cuts in its own programme), and – for all the attention it has given it – this has proved to be yet another failure. Nevertheless, our Vince writes glibly that:

Nothing better illustrates the folly of this Government than the clumsy and ignorant way it has casually slashed the tiny budget supporting research into one of Nature's most useful creatures: the bee. The news is currently dominated by the bigger issues of oil prices and house prices. But it is often in the apparently obscure detail of Government policy that we can best see where its values and priorities lie.
With that last sentence, we would wholeheartedly agree, but the criticism should apply also to opposition MPs who clearly come late – too late – to "apparently obscure detail of Government policy" and fail utterly to pinpoint what is going on, when the "government" has moved to Brussels.

This is precisely the theme of the Booker column this week, which picks up on our report about the EU taking over the former Conservative Party headquarters in Smith Square, renaming it Europe House.

Booker, though, takes the story further, his piece headed: "As EU takes over Smith Square, Conservatives remain silent on Europe". He notes that, since Thatcher departed as prime minister, the question of what the Tories insist on calling "Europe" has become their ultimate nightmare, the issue they have to keep stuffed away in a cupboard for fear it will reopen the disastrous party rifts of the 1990s.

And, for ten years the Tories have allowed themselves to mention "Europe" only in very strictly confined terms - "No to the euro", "Yes to a treaty referendum" and that's it. Anything else is just what their leader, David Cameron, famously dismissed as "banging on about Europe".

Booker concludes that this "has created the most astonishing vacuum in our politics" – very much the phenomenon that The Mail on Sunday has commented on in its leader. What price then, the main leader in The Sunday Telegraph, which comments at length on, "These rubbish schemes that cost the Earth"? It tells us:

For centuries, rubbish has been at the very heart of the understood bargain between citizens and their civic authorities. Households generate it, and - suitably compensated by the revenue from local taxation - councils arrange to dispose of it. Recently, however, something has gone horribly awry in that long-standing agreement.
Indeed, something "has gone horribly awry" and, as been highlighted countless times on this blog, by Booker and even, more recently, by Richard Littlejohn, that "something" is the European Union. Over term, the EU has taken over control of our entire waste management policy and has systematically wrecked one of the best systems in the world.

Yet, in a leader running to nearly 700 words, not once is the European Union mentioned - even though, as Tim Worstall notes, its involvement is "obvious". Thus, it is not only a question, as The Mail on Sunday puts it, of our mainstream politicians who need seriously to "address the enormous impact for Brussels and our freedom of manoeuvre". It is also the MSM.

Why they do not is an interesting and disturbing phenomenon, and one which we will continue to explore on this blog (or its successor).

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