There have been lots of discussions in the Sheppard family of late about the forthcoming referendum. Are we in or out? Do we remain or leave? There is no consensus, with some strong views on both sides and some who still haven’t decided. I suppose in that way we are a microcosm of the nation at large.
I’ve had to go through the decision making process too, as I certainly believe that this is the most important national decision that we, as a country, will take for a long time. The problem is how do we choose? Both sides have been making bold claims about the economy, sovereignty, war, immigration and lots more, making very similar claims for in and out. I confess to being very sceptical about many of the claims anyway.
In making my decision on how to vote I have gone back to basics. What is the purpose of government and does having a Europe wide level of government help or not?
Roles of Government
I believe that there are two main things that the government should be doing.
1. Governments facilitate.
Governments should provide an environment in which businesses can flourish. This is good for the nation as more people can be employed, raising more taxes, and transforming more people into stakeholders of the nation’s success. This is not a trifling matter. The government sets the direction of the country and the big ship Britannia starts its slow course correction to follow that direction. Things like roadbuilding, increasing the availability of broadband, moving us towards greener energy all fit in this category as does providing an educated workforce.
Sometimes things do not change direction quick enough but the temptation to take control and do it as a government must be resisted. Governments are notoriously poor at running businesses. A different mind-set is required to run government as opposed to running a business. Look back to those industries that were nationalised back in the sixties and seventies. They drifted into rigor mortis – inflexible, lumbering and with service and quality levels dropping. Why are so many of the communist countries so poor? Generally because of the mismanagement and political interference of the government (combined with the opportunities for corruption that such an environment provided).
Governments should have a light touch, to allow businesses to flourish and benefit the people.
2. Governments Protect
The above does not mean that governments should be pandering to or subservient to business. I know that this will shock many of you, but not all business leaders always act in an ethical manner! Their focus on profits may have a high cost on individuals, the environment or society at large. Governments should act to restrain these excesses.
In addition, governments enact civil laws that protect the culture and society of its people. It is not directly responsible for the happiness of its citizens as their individual choices will determine their own happiness but the ability to choose should be protected as much as possible. Those choices that benefit society and encourage the creation of a strong sense of community should be encouraged, perhaps though taxation, but the individual should be allowed as much freedom as possible.
In doing this, governments represent the people. They need to be close to and understand those they represent and be able to react to their desires. This means that more decisions should be pushed down the government hierarchy, adding power and responsibilities to the county and town councils. At this level they know better what will benefit their communities, rather than be given instructions from on high in London – or even less connected, Brussels/Strasbourg.
Other thoughts on government.
An international Police
There have been a lot of other thoughts about Government. My son wanted to have a European government sitting above our national government to ensure that we act responsibly on green issues and scientific investment. This is something of the platonic view that a selfless ruling elite, will know what is good for us much better than the ignorant proletariat.
There are two problems with this. First, the further you get from the people, and the less connected you are with real issues, the less selfless and more bureaucratic the government becomes. Those “selfless” elites are, after all, still just people and while there are is a general desire to do good for everyone (and I see this in all the main political parties), there is also the strong temptation to meet one’s own needs first as part of this process.
Secondly, what makes the elite “know” better than we do? In a democracy, if someone has a new direction to go in, isn’t it right that they persuade the people to vote them power to act? Do we not trust ourselves? This is a fundamental question and is at the root of our democracy. We tell the government what we want them to do and they do it.
If we care about green issues, or gay rights, or prisoners voting, or any number of social/human rights issues, we will find a government to represent us on that. If we want different priorities why should we not follow those priorities? I think we can trust ourselves.
Helping Poorer Countries
My wife thinks we should stay in so we can all help each other and be lovely together. Although this is rather woolly, it does raise a good point. In our wealth, should we not be prepared to help those poor countries that are entering the EU?
I have a couple of thoughts on this. Does giving everyone the same laws to govern our various societies facilitate this? I don’t see it. I do see that having monetary unification has caused significant problems for Greece and some other places. Unable to devalue and restructure their currency, they are unable to make investment in their country viable. Instead Germany is protecting the Euro at great cost and is imposing an austerity which is damaging to Greece fostering serious resentments. We see the rise of the far right in various countries and that is as bad as the rise of the far left.
Once again, do we trust ourselves to act charitably? The United Kingdom already does lots of charitable works and give lots of aid around the world. Wouldn’t it be great if we could help them by stimulating investment by allowing them to trade competitively?
Disconnected from Politics
There is a lot of concern that people have become disconnected from politics, especially the younger generation. I cannot help speculate that this is because, being just one of many of the voting millions, it feels that their vote doesn’t count for much. They are more likely to win the lottery than actually make a difference, so what’s the point?
In response to this we need to change our government to decentralise as much as possible. To push as much as possible back to the county and town councils, to where people will feel that they can make an impact. Things will then become more interesting for the voters. The opposite happens by taking government up an extra level and into Europe (assuming that there is democracy there too – which is being debated by the different campaigns.
There’s a lot more to be said but I’ve already gone on too long. In summary, I trust us. I want us to take back responsibility for our own actions. I want us to engender an entrepreneurial society cutting away lots of red tape and bureaucracy.
Leaving the EU would not solve all our problems but in so doing so we are signalling that those problems are ours and that we are willing to take responsibility and do something about them.
Since writing the above, I found that a friend thought that this was not a governmental issue at all but an economic one. We have our opt-out clause and can sit on the side lines while the rest of Europe goes into ever greater union towards the United States of Europe. I’m afraid that I simply do not believe it. We have already been told that EU law will overrule UK law and I envision that this will be used to overrule key legislation and make it nigh impossible to retain our distance. This referendum is a defining moment and we will not remain in the status quo. We are voting to be IN, in the USE, or OUT. Am I right? Only time will tell.