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August 07, 2013

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Dan Hardie

This might seem like an exercise in Budweiser Contrarianism, to use Alex's splendid phrase, but it strikes me that there are things about the British conversation about sovereignty that are considerably superior to the French conversation, or lack of conversation, about same.

Specifically, I can't help being glad that there was a far more intense debate in this country over joining the Euro than there ever was in France (or Germany, or Italy). Further, I can't help feeling that the outcome of that debate- that some members of the political elite were opposed to joining the Euro on principle, while others had principled reasons for wanting, but were frightened by the likelihood of electoral rejection- was the right one.

And yes, that doesn't change the fact that bullshit about the Second World War, xenophobia and outright racism forms a very large part of British Euroscepticism. If you're a Eurosceptic, you have to admit that some pretty nasty people share your objections to the single currency. On balance, I still find that preferable to all the noble speeches from French and German politicians that ignored all the serious questions about how the Euro-zone would cope with a major recession.

An addendum to that is that French technocracy isn't always as technocratic as envious Brits might like to think: if the Enarques were that smart, they might have drawn a few adverse conclusions about the Euro themselves.

Dan Hardie

Should be 'while others had principled reasons for wanting to join the Euro, but were frightened by the likelihood of electoral rejection'.

Igor Belanov

Yes, this country is so smart:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23655605

ajay

I think also that the British were able to make the distinction between "eurosceptic" and "Eurosceptic" - someone who is unsure about the value of the single currency, and someone who is unsure about the value of the EU in general. For the French and Germans, they were both part of the same project - but you could, if you were (eg) Gordon Brown, be entirely in favour of Britain being in the EU, while still opposed to its being in the euro.

Of course, the reason for this is capitalisation.

dsquared

Budweiser Contrarianism

Reminds me, I have a short post arguing that "Help To Buy", so far from being a ridiculous bubble-generating policy of benefit to nobody, is in fact a genius plan which will form the basis of a transformation of the British economy, ready for a dull afternoon when one comes round.

Chris Williams

Dan H - I agree, largely. Looking back, it's increasinly striking how Brown's way of thinking about the Euro, featuring actual measurable facts, was notably different from both Blair's touchy-feely 'pro' position, and much of the public anti-Euro discourse.

Igor Belanov

The 'difference' between Brown and Blair on Europe was very small. Both were reluctant to get into a single currency that would dilute British 'sovereignty'. Blair relied on Brown's 'actual measurable facts', which in fact were manipulable criteria that would have provided backing for any decision that might have needed to be made had the the Euro proved a massive success and Britain felt left out.

Blair was far from as big a Europhile as some have made out, but he had to maintain a more positive image in Euro-diplomacy in order to cement his self-image as a great statesman.

ajay

I am kind of charmed that there is someone here, in 2013, arguing that what Blair and Brown did wrong was not taking Britain into the euro. In terms of "ill-fated international projects that Britain was fortunately kept out of by Labour prime ministers", I'd put the euro pretty close to the top of the list (after the Vietnam War).

chris y

ready for a dull afternoon when one comes round

Oh go on, post it. England are getting rolled over anyway...

Chris Williams

Is someone here arguing that, ajay? Or is your post lacking a hyperlink?

ajay

Chris: it's the inference I took from Igor's first link and his second post, yes. Dan's point (I summarise wildly) was that the British conversation about sovereignty, especially w.r.t. Europe and the euro, has a lot wrong with it, but compared to the French and German approach it was superior, not least because we ended up not being in the euro during a major recession. Igor's first post was a rejoinder to that.

Dan Hardie

By the way, since ‘Igor’ is here, I’m just going to point out that I don’t put up with this kind of talk
face to face and I’m not going to put up with it online: ‘ If you employed that line of argument with somebody in public you'd probably end up with a broken nose.’ Oh, would I now, Igor?

Having spent much of the last five years on barracks in the UK or soldiering in Helmand, where I am now, I’ve always spoken to people the way they speak to me. In all that time I’ve had one fistfight, with a drunk Canadian soldier who hit me ‘for a laugh’ and ended up quite swiftly face down on the floor.

I have no respect for men older than their mid-twenties who start punch-ups or, even worse, who fearfully admire those that do. You can probably guess at the extent of my contempt for some pseudonymous faux-prole idiot who leaves me comments telling me that I’d get my head kicked in if I tried it on round his way.

Anyone who feels the desperate need to tell me that my nose (or legs/ribs/skull/name bodypart) should or might or will be broken is cordially invited to do so via email, at [email protected] , rather than further pollute Jamie’s comment threads.

Sad fantasist: I won’t be replying to you on this thread. Whatever you want to say about someone smashing my face in, you can say it to me via email.

Dan Hardie

Further to Chris's point about Brown, I can't help feeling that the very best thing about the size of Labour's majority in 1997 was that Blair didn't- couldn't - invited Paddy Ashdown's Lib Dems into government. I suspect that his two prices of admission would have been PR and entry to the Euro.

Possibly we might have ended up with a referendum on Euro entry instead of a done deal, but a) Blair was so popular for his first few years that he might well have won it, and b) I would have dreaded a referendum anyway, because it would have meant however many months or years of some of 'my' side talking rabidly about the Fourth Reich and their Vichy French allies.

Jakob

Dan: as someone who's never been in a fistfight or a war zone, it seemed to me that you were the person ratcheting up the aggro significantly in the other thread; I took Igor's comment as pointing that out, rather than an actual threat of violence. I have no dog in this fight, but sometimes you do come in rather studs high, and it gets people's back up, which is a pity, as I mostly find your contributions valuable.

ajay

I can't help feeling that the very best thing about the size of Labour's majority in 1997 was that Blair didn't- couldn't - invited Paddy Ashdown's Lib Dems into government. I suspect that his two prices of admission would have been PR and entry to the Euro.

Interesting point. PR would definitely have been part of the package. I can't remember euro membership being mentioned in the run-up to 97 but Ashdown was and is firmly pro-euro, so that makes sense as well.

I still remember the Statesman article, back in about 2000, written in the form of a 2050 review of a biography of the late Tony Blair, which concluded that Blair would be remembered as a terrific prime minister whose only major fault was to have kept Britain out of the euro...

dsquared

I suspect that his two prices of admission would have been PR and entry to the Euro.

On the other hand, I would trust Blair and Brown to have stitched up the LibDems and hung them out to dry at least as efficiently as Cameron did.

Chris Williams

I concur with Jakob's point above re ratcheting and its advisability. Also, I get to delete comments if I want to. But I'd rather not have to.

Ajay - Blair _will_ be remembered as a terrific Prime Minister. So long as we note that a couple of centuries back, 'terrific' had a different meaning.

William C

With regard to enarques and the euro, the thing to realise is that it was France's way of getting a say in the running of European monetary policy. Before that everyone in the snake, ERM etc had to copy the Germans in their interest rate policy. So the Bundesbank determined policy for everyone. From France's point of view the present situation is an improvement on what was there before as it gives them (and some important Italians) a significant say in what happens at the ECB.

It is a fact little noted in the UK that since the breakdown of Bretton Woods forty years ago mainland Europeans have never - rightly or wrongly - shared the British enthusiasm for floating exchange rates. They think that they discourage trade. If you are trying to build a single market, they are probably right.

Igor Belanov

I thought it was clear that I was pointing out the tendency of people to use the internet to make inflammatory comments without fear of the possible consequences.

This:

"In all that time I’ve had one fistfight, with a drunk Canadian soldier who hit me ‘for a laugh’ and ended up quite swiftly face down on the floor"

strikes me as a tale for the playground to be honest.

Dan Hardie

Jakob (and Chris): the point of my comment was just that I refuse to deal with stuff along the lines of 'you're gonna get your head kicked in', even if that is qualified by '...er, but not by me'. Everyone has red lines, and that is one of mine. I've said the same thing to the absurd 'Brownie' of Harry's Place (his brother was going to beat me up, apparently- he didn't like my reply to that), and to other people, like some idiot on 'Liberal Conspiracy' who offered to fight John Band because he was pretending John had insulted the British army. Anyone who does want to talk like that can use my email address, which should keep such crap out of the comment threads.

I do agree with Jakob that I go in with studs showing sometimes, and I'd agree that I shouldn't do that, most of the time.

If I had that comment thread over, I'd probably make my first comment rather shorter and politer, along the lines of 'actually, Phil, I disagree because...': perhaps then we would have avoided the row. I say 'perhaps' because I'm not the only person in that thread that sometimes gets a bit offensive at times.

I lost my rag in part because I felt that Phil, not for the first time, was being rude whilst bemoaning the fact that his adversary was being so terribly offensive. Re-reading his comments, I still think that, and I'm not a fan of that kind of thing.

But a better way of dealing with that would have been to say something like: 'Phil, sorry if I pissed you off with my first comment, as I think I may have done. Also, I think you're being rude to me whilst pretending that I'm the only person being rude, and that's something that I find rather boring. So maybe we should leave this now, and try to avoid doing the same things in the future.' That would have been a better way to do things, and I'm sorry that I didn't.

I'm also sorry that I was aggressive to Phil in that thread, and sorry that I kicked off a rather wearisome row. I read B&T because it's a place to talk intelligently about genuinely interesting topics, and I don't want to put good people, like Jakob, off coming here.

Dan Hardie

Dsquared: 'On the other hand, I would trust Blair and Brown to have stitched up the LibDems and hung them out to dry at least as efficiently as Cameron did.'

Me too, when Blair and Brown could agree what they wanted: but if the subject in question was entry to the Euro, Blair and Brown wanted very different things. Blair was probably on Ashdown's side and Brown, at some point, realised that he was not.

Ajay: I wonder who wrote that article praising Prime Minister Blair's brilliance and regretting only his failure to take Britain into the magnificently successful Euro. I suspect the author might have been a frequent contributor to the New Statesman, who wrote a great many articles of the type 'anyone who opposes the Euro is a bigot', whose judgement on economic matters and most other things was famed for its wisdom, and who would never have dreamed of writing sycophantically of Tony Blair simply because he wanted a Ministerial job....

Anybody know what Denis MacShane is doing nowadays?

dsquared

Twitter, mainly, as far as I can see.

Phil

Dan - you were clearly right (and better-informed) to start with. What riled me about your first comment was that you seemed to be addressing it to a hostile caricature of my position, but since I then replied to a hostile caricature of your position I can't really complain about that. For the rest, your apology is more than fair - thankyou.

ajay

I wonder who wrote that article praising Prime Minister Blair's brilliance and regretting only his failure to take Britain into the magnificently successful Euro

Yeah, I was wondering that too. I haven't been able to find it in the NS archives, and now that I think about it, it may have been in Prospect instead (and I can't find it in the archives there either). If my memory serves, it was less about how brilliant Blair was and more about what a world-historical mistake it was not to go into the euro. The only helpful keyword I can remember is that the (fictional) biography under review was written by one Edward Bear, but that just gets you lots of results about Winnie the Pooh or Bear Grylls.

Dan Hardie

'Igor' still wants to share with me his very great expertise on the possible violent consequences of harsh words- something I desperately need, of course, since I am currently living the sheltered life of an NCO patrolling Helmand. Just email me, genius.

Dan Hardie

Phil: that is very generous of you. Thank you.

I've not really been keeping up with the news, so am I right in thinking that everyone has heard of this but me? I really did gape when I read this one.

From the Telegraph, just over a fortnight ago
'Mr MacShane stood down as the MP for Rotherham in South Yorkshire last year.

'He is currently in a relationship with Vicky Pryce, who was jailed earlier this year for accepting speeding points on behalf of her then husband Chris Huhne, the former Liberal Democrat MP.'

Someday, someone will surely write a great novel about the Blair-Brown-Cameron era, and they have to use MacShane for comic relief.

dsquared

Yep, but the very latest is that he's been charged by the CPS with false accounting. He is, for the moment, still a Privy Councillor ...

Igor Belanov

"Igor' still wants to share with me his very great expertise on the possible violent consequences of harsh words- something I desperately need, of course, since I am currently living the sheltered life of an NCO patrolling Helmand. Just email me, genius."

It just gets dafter. Before you mention it, I'm not bothered if your Dad's harder than my Dad, and I don't want to hear about the time you took on both Klitschko brothers at the same time.

Igor Belanov

You haven't managed it yet.

I don't know where you get the idea that I think I'm hard, or that I'm 'faux-prole', or why I should want to send you an e-mail? All along I've only been insisting on the maintenance of some kind of blogging etiquette free from abuse and stories about knocking people out or serving in war zones.

Dan Hardie

Let's respond as if you are actually writing in good faith. Yes, I was rude to Phil Edwards, which I now regret and for which I have apologised, and Phil has been good enough to accept my apology.

I don't, whether online or in real life, accept people saying things like ‘ If you employed that line of argument with somebody in public you'd probably end up with a broken nose.’ If saying that was 'insisting on the maintenance of some kind of blogging etiquette', then I politely suggest that you have a pretty debased idea of 'blogging etiquette'.

It would be pretty sad for a grown man to tell me that I was risking a smashed nose if I had spent the last five years of my life teaching cookery in a young ladies' finishing school, and it is more ridiculous still given where I have spent most of that time. I have seen enough violence, much of it lethal, to greatly object to some random stranger talking to me as you did.

When I in turn told Phil that I thought he had been rude to me, I somehow managed to avoid saying 'and if you did it in real life you'd probably end up with a broken nose/smashed legs/etc'. Instead, I just said I thought Phil was being a bit rude (less rude than I had been), he agreed, and I think that he and I have now settled the matter. I don't want further rows with him, or with anyone else on this site, because it's tedious for everyone else who comes here for an intelligent discussion.

I left my email address because I cannot imagine anyone reading this thread being anything other than utterly bored by our, erm, exchange. So if you want a back-and-forth for ten or twenty comments, rather than bore the living daylights out of the other readers of B&T, you could just do the polite thing and take it to email.

That way, you just bore me, if and when I read your messages, and I bore you, if and when I reply and if and when you read my replies, rather than both of us boring everyone else. Not very complicated, is it?

dsquared

In my experience, growing up (as a younger version of roughly the supercilious gobshite I am today) in a semirural community in which the pastime was common, it's actually quite difficult to get someone to punch you by just arguing with them, even if you do so really trenchantly indeed. If you stay off the level 1 racial epithets and keep the maternal insults light-hearted, it's practically impossible. Even chucking the contents of a pint of beer (sans glass) doesn't usually do it.

If you want to start a fight with someone, then you are usually going to have to do the hard work of starting it yourself, by throwing the first punch (spitting also sometimes works, I have observed, but not reliably). More than ninety per cent of all fights I have ever observed have been initiated by someone who was either a bully, a psycho, or a "nice lad who gets a bit crazy when he's drunk" (considerable overlap here), and who was going to be fighting that evening whatever anybody said. Most of the rest were feuds going back to secondary school days, also not really much delta either way with respect to the tone of discourse.

Phil

I know the original comment was constructively meant, Igor, but I think it was misplaced. Speaking personally, my reaction to threatening situations in real life isn't to punch my way out of there but to whimper quietly and run away as soon as possible. (Which, apparently, isn't a bad idea. My daughter went to a self-defence class recently, and said they spent a tediously long time on 1. Avoid being there in the first place and 2. Get out of there before getting on to 3. The fun stuff (which may go wrong and get you killed).) Anyway, "If you used that kind of language in real life you'd probably make the other person feel really, really shit" would have been closer to the mark.

But I think this is important:

some kind of blogging etiquette free from abuse

Also this:

Let's respond as if you are actually writing in good faith

In my experience the two go together - if you write as if the person you were responding to was a bright and sensible individual who just happened to be having a momentary fit of stupidity, then you don't get tempted to call them stupid. I find it's a good, parsimonious approach (momentary fits of stupidity are surprisingly common online).

You can end up using rather courtly formulations ("I see you're writing in the style of an ignorant bigot, again"), and it doesn't necessarily lower the temperature. Somebody once complained that by telling him he was *being* stupid I was just weaselling out of telling him straight out that he *was* stupid. (I think I told him I didn't take a position on whether or not he was stupid, which probably annoyed him even more.) But it does stop things blowing up, which is often - not always - a good thing.

Dan Hardie

I agree strongly with what Phil and Dsquared said.
I was trying to say something about violence and civility that Dsquared said rather more elegantly. We've both spent time in an environment with a lot of young men who do, quite often, fight each other- the Army for me, small-town Wales for him.

I think we've both seen that the threat and use of violence doesn't really have a lot to do with enforcing civility. In my experience, violence rarely has to do with Private X thumping Private Y because something unforgiveable was said.

Instead, as Dan said, it's some combination of aggression, bullying, mental and emotional health problems, desire for status, and drink (or hormones) lessening constraints on behaviour. Also, in the Army, it's often about group loyalties (my company against your company, both companies against another battalion) or enforcing official and unofficial hierarchies.

There is a lot of co-operation and civility in the Army. It surprised me just how much there was when I first went away on operations, but when you think about it, you realise just how necessary civility is in an environment like that. But 'gob off to me and you'll get filled in' has very little to do with it.

People get on with each other, particularly when they're actually fighting in a war zone, because when you are relying on people for all sorts of things, sometimes including your life, and when you have to see the same people every hour of the day for months at a time, you just can't afford pointless rudeness. You need blokes to like each other if possible, you need them to get on with each other even when they are all exhausted and afraid, but above all you need them to trust each other.

If you are really rude to someone you might or might not get beaten up- it depends on how hard you are, and how hard they are, and whether you have the time for a punch-up, and all sorts of things. But there will be much bigger consequences if you go round being consistently rude (or selfish, or dishonest, or malicious). Other soldiers will not trust you, they won't want to work with you, and if you are a leader, they won't want to follow you.

Civilian life is different in a lot of ways, but I still don't see that an implicit threat of violence is all that important to creating civility in most contexts. If I met Phil, I strongly suspect we would be civil to each other. But I even more strongly suspect that my fear of him, or his fear of me, would have precisely nothing to do with it.

BenSix

...it's actually quite difficult to get someone to punch you by just arguing with them...

Oh, I don't know. We got chatting about old Franz Neumann in the Lamb and Lion the other night and before you could say "espionage" the pint glasses were flying and chair legs being swung. It's always the same when we get onto the Frankfurt School - should stick to less contentious subjects, like football, or the relative attractiveness of our partners.

ajay

No, I think if even dsquared finds it difficult to get someone to punch him by arguing with them, we should assume that it's all but impossible for the rest of us.

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