The Falkland Islands’ referendum could hardly have been more clear. Turnout was over 90%, and while 1,513 voted to stay as a British overseas territory, only 3 voted against.
Those three are intriguing. Iain Martin of the Telegraph speculates that they may have been voting for independence from Britain but not in favour of joining Argentina.
But what if they were motivated by true Argentine nationalism? After all, there are some Argentines living in the islands (real ones, I’m not adopting the Kirchner Government’s ludicrous suggestion that everyone there is legally Argentine). And any who have been resident for seven years prior to the referendum had the right to vote yesterday.
The precise number of Argentines living there isn’t clear – a spokesman for the Falkland Islands Government tells me there are “a handful”, but legal nationality wasn’t a question on the Islands’ 2012 census. The closest estimate I can find is from the BBC in 2007, who reported that:
“20 Argentines…are fully integrated into the 3,000-strong community of the archipelago”
It seems likely that those who were “fully integrated” 6 years ago would by now have lived there long enough to be entitled to vote in the referendum. Even in a worst case scenario in which half of them had died, emigrated or fallen in the sea since 2007, that would leave 10 Argentines with a vote on the future of the islands.
So it seems clear that not only did an overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders vote to stay British – not even a majority of the Argentines eligible to do so voted to leave.
Maybe Christine de Kirchner needs to have a rethink…
Tomorrow, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service known in Whitehall as GOD, starts a new BBC series titled “In Defence of Bureaucracy“. The adverts trailing on Radio 4 rather smugly quote people saying bureaucracy makes them think of “Stalinist Russia” before presenting Tony Blair and the voice of GOD himself to reassure us that in fact bureaucracy holds us in its warm embrace from cradle to grave.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Sir Gus has recently set out to make himself the UK’s Mario Monti – a top-down technocrat who thinks that if only the grubby masses would stop poking their noses into how things should be run, then the clever suits in Whitehall could get on with making this country into a statist pleasure-dome.
In 2012, he essentially put up his own civil service candidate to be Mayor of London – happily, Siobhan Benita got a worse drubbing than the Italians dished out to Monti, coming fifth with 3.8% of the vote.
It is true to say that the British Civil Service was once a fantastic institution – but that is not the same as thinking they should ever hold political power. In fact, not wanting to force their own views on our democratic institutions was essential to their success and standing. The GOD delusion that civil servants should now run the show is both a symptom and a cause of Whitehall’s downfall.
To see how times have changed, just look at today’s news. Yet again, Ministers who went into government opposing ID cards are having the wasteful, illiberal policy foisted upon them by officials.
Somewhere in Whitehall it seems there is a civil servant whose only job is to review new government policies in the hope of finding an excuse to use them as a vehicle for re-introducing ID cards. Who cares that the electoracte, and their representatives in Parliament, oppose the scheme? Why should righteous civil servants sit back and accept such opinions when they know themselves to be wiser than the people?
Politics was traditionally about the interaction of voters and politicians. That perspective worked well when the civil service appreciated the essential limits on their role. As soon as some in Whitehall decided they should give the orders, rather than take them, our democracy proved startlingly vulnerable to civil service activism. Through every window of opportunity, a pinstriped arm reached to grab another bit of power from the people.
This trend has flourished in the last fifiteen years, and it is going on right now, as you read this. The cost to our pockets, our freedom and our democracy has been vast. Sir Gus O’Donnell will take to the airwaves tomorrow morning to spin in its defence, paid for by you and me.
The hyperbole of anti-Murdoch campaigners has reached truly titanic proportions in the last couple of years. Every time you think they’ve outdone themselves there’s always someone willing to go that bit further over the top.
Today’s frothingly bonkers accusation comes from the Hogwarts-sounding Lord Snape, formerly Peter Snape MP, in an interview with Total Politics. Taking a four mile run-up before vaulting the dizzyingly high absurdity bar, he declares:
“…Rupert Murdoch: he’s done more damage to democracy around the world than any dictator or general in my lifetime.”
That’s a rather bold declaration, particularly considering Snape was born in, er, 1942.
Just in case he’s forgotten which dictators have been around since he was born, here’s a handy checklist of some of the most notable for the good Lord to assess the accuracy of his claim.
Tick as appropriate. Has Rupert Murdoch done more damage to democracy than….?
☐ Pol Pot
☐ Chairman Mao
☐ Kim Jong Il
Or, finally, the arguing-on-the-internet classic:
The irony, of course, is that it is Rupert Murdoch’s detractors that accuse him of scare-mongering and over-the-top rhetoric. Perhaps Lord Snape could let us know when Murdoch initiates the Blitz, establishes Gulags, reopens the Killing Fields and/or invades Poland.
An unexpected outcome of the negotiations around the Scottish Independence Referendum is that votes for 16 year olds has suddenly popped up again. A round of huffing and puffing has commenced, with varying degrees of legitimacy.
There is justified concern that this is not really the way to go about revolutionising our constitution – who is allowed to vote should be a matter for Parliament, not something to be agreed in a bout of policy Border Reiving by Westminster and Holyrood.
The mechanism by which it is being introduced is unattractive, but the idea of votes at 16 is a good one in itself.
Deciding when an individual goes from legal childhood into fully responsible adulthood is always tricky. Any rule will inevitably be arbitrary. No matter how much Great Aunts may ask “how does it feel to be older?”, the answer is of course that someone is no more competent at voting on the day of their 18th birthday than they were the day before.
But given that arbitrary lines must be drawn for when the State recognises us as adults, we should at least try to ensure they are drawn in a consistent manner.
At the moment the qualifying ages for various kinds of legal and social rights and responsibilities are a dreadful muddle. You can leave school and go into the workplace, paying full rates of tax, at 16 – as long as you continue some kind of training. You can join the army at 16, though you can’t be sent to fight until 18. Of course, you can also legally have sex and have children from 16.
These are all signs that we think of those over 16 as adults, so why do we remain in denial when it comes to the right to vote? It is absurd that a 17-year-old serving soldier, working and paying tax, driving a car, and bringing up a child is currently told that he or she is not deemed mature or responsible enough to vote.
Opponents of lowering the voting age argue that 16- or 17-year-olds wouldn’t make informed decisions about who to vote for. In some instances, that may be the case – but it is certainly the case that there are plenty of 46- and 47-year-olds who may well not read the manifestos before voting, either. Arbitrary systems are like that, and if we removed the vote from every age group which has some wildly irresponsible members then we’d swiftly take the vote away from everyone.
Instead, let’s look to the plentiful evidence that 16- and 17-year-olds are very much capable of rational, responsible behaviour. Our society has weighed that evidence in deciding to allow them to work, pay tax, have babies and so on, but has been unaccountably stubborn on democratic rights. It is high time to equalise the voting age and iron out this anomaly.
Today’s news of David Cameron’s trouble remembering what Magna Carta means on theLetterman Show inevitably recalls Tony Hancock’s classic “Twelve Angry Men” episode of Hancock’s Half Hour:
With the immortal words:
Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?
Hancock reduced the audience to gales of laughter, and secured yet another entry in the annals of comedy history.
And yet, there’s also something rather sad about that clip, echoing down from 1959. If a prime time comedy show made that gag today, how many people in the audience would laugh and how many would be left scratching their heads over what it meant?
If you go to Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed – laying the foundation stone of English freedom – you will find a memorial. Its inscription reads
“To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law”
But it was not erected by the British public, or by our Parliamentarians, or our legal institutions. It was put there by the American Bar Association who, it seems, value Magna Carta more than we do.
Perhaps Hancock was right – Magna Carta means nothing to us. She died in vain.
So the European Court of Human Rights has once more trampled over our sovereign right to set our own laws – this time ruling to outlaw the extremely popular ban on convicts being able to vote.
Technically, the ECHR has not said that we must allow all criminals to vote, though there are certainly some who think that they should. What the Court ruled is that a blanket ban is supposedly illegal.
Plenty of people would be delighted if the British Government simply ignored the ruling, and refused to pay any fines it might levy as a result. However, if the Government is really keen to ensure we obey the rule of law – even absurd Strasbourg law – then there is another solution.
Why not do as the ECHR asks, and abolish our blanket ban by allowing some prisoners to vote – but only those convicted of one very specific and very obscure crime which is unlikely to be committed and even more unlikely to be prosecuted?
A good example would be the offence of “Impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner” – a historic crime for which no-one is currently in jail. We would technically be ticking the box for Strasbourg, while in reality thumbing our nose at them.
If they can act ridiculously to thwart our intentions, then surely we can do the same in return.
It can be too easy to spot patterns or cycles in human history – the flow of events is so hectic and massive that they can trick the eye into seeing predictable patterns that aren’t there.
In foreign policy, though, there is a fairly discernible pendulum. A period of nervousness or isolationism tends to lead to an atrocity going ahead unhindered, which then inspires a period of more muscular interventionism – until a foreign adventure becomes a painful blunder, at which point the pendulum swings back.
There are a number of examples of this. The muscular foreign policy of the early 20th century fuelled the First World War, the slaughter of Flanders inspired the excessive timidity of appeasement in the 1930s, the disastrous failure of appeasement led to World War II and allowed the Holocaust, which made the UK and France overconfident to the extent that they blundered into Suez and so on and so on.
That’s obviously a massive simplification, and I’d characterise this as a very broad trend rather than a set pattern, but there is clearly an interplay between the two contrasting extremes of foreign policy – interventionism and non-interventionism.
I fear that we’re seeing the results of this pendulum yet again in Libya today. The severe problems suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the vast unpopularity of both ventures at home, has made the international community either wary or downright hostile to the idea of risking any sort of intervention – particularly in the Middle East.
As a result, despite it having been obvious for a week or more that Gaddafi does not care how many of his own people he slaughters with any means possible, we are only in the very first stages of mulling the very possibility of a no-fly zone. I could understand wariness about putting “boots on the ground” (not least because we have a very limited number of available boots at the moment), but a no-fly zone should be uncontroversial – a simple guarantee that fighter-bombers will not be allowed to slaughter civilians, and air transports full of sub-Saharan mercenaries will not be able to ferry a new army for Gaddafi into Libya.
We may yet get such a no-fly zone, but the gears are grinding horrifyingly slowly. While the loyalist army is driving East through Libya, recapturing territory and doing god knows what to the rebel populace, the post-Iraq nervousness of the West is plain for all to see. Gaddafi will rely on it lasting long enough for him to deal the opposition some heavy body blows and to stabilise his position.
In the same way that our current wariness was inspired by the pain suffered along an interventionist road over the last ten years, we should not forget that those interventions – including Kosovo and Sierra Leone, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq – were themselves inspired by a horrifying failure to act to stop several atrocities in the 1990s, most notably in Bosnia and Rwanda.
We must learn from the setbacks we suffered in Basra and Helmand. It would be madness not to do so. But that is no excuse to forget Srebrenica or the villages of Rwanda. If, in 2011, we allow the the events of the 2000s to petrify us into total inaction, then we risk visiting the horrors of the 1990s on the people of Libya. That must not be allowed to happen.