Brexit may have a silverlining

brexit image The recent decision by UK voters to leave the EU was greeted with alarm by some financial market analysts and those who had invested heavily in EU business arrangements. It also got on the nerves of those who enjoyed the privilege of holding EU passports for travel.  There have also been some ugly incidents from those who read Brexit as a licence to unleash latent racist attitudes.  Such incidents were rightly condemned. But despite the gloom-filled media prophecies there may be some good news amidst all of this.

First leaving the EU does not physically move Britain further away from the shores of Brittany or Scandanavia. If it made good economic sense to trade with the UK before Brexit then it is likely to still do so after the UK formally leaves the constraints of the EU.

Second, the Euro currency was rapidly becoming bogged down in unsustainable levels of debt. A report from 2013 (Mills, John 2013)  showed remarkable prescience regarding the debt levels of the Eurozone. The UK was one of those debtor nations digging itself deeper into debt with each passing year.

Third, freedom is an important value in British culture. Being free of EU trade restrictions will allow the UK to negotiate new trading arrangements with the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. India has recently expressed interest in making such arrangements. Some time out of the EU will also enable the UK to take stock of its own economic future and to plan ahead for the sort of society and economy it wants to build.

The divisions in British society were exposed by Brexit. The establishment classes did not get their way despite a well-funded Remain campaign. Those British cities and regions which missed out on the big promises of globalisation and free trade during the last 30 years used the Brexit referendum as a means of sending a signal to Westminster. The offshoring of British industry, unemployment, growing balance of payments difficulties and dissatisfaction with immigration were all contributing factors.

Fundamentally the EU experiment was based on a “top-down” model that relied on un-elected and largely unaccountable Brussels officials making decisions about what was best for ordinary citizens in the UK, France and other member states. This was a recipe for deep-seated problems which have now surfaced.

I’d like to see European relations strengthened. But this needs to be done in a way that builds genuine friendship and mutual support between European citizens. Foisting unpopular, centralised decisions on an unwilling populace was never going to work in the long run. The guiding principle needs to be one of subsidiarity – making decisions at the most appropriate level. That includes increased democratic participation in local, regional, national, European and international decision making.  The Brexit decision has been made. The challenge now is to respect the wishes of the public and for political leaders to present a vision for Britain’s future and to chart a course towards that future over the next ten years.



Migrant deserves a fair go

The British government has introduced a harsh new law which requires a class of migrants to earn over 35,000 pounds per annum in order to stay in the UK. This is pretty tough for a charity worker. I don’t think this migrant is getting a fair go – and she deserves one. She is paying her way, paying her taxes and contributing positively to British society.

TPPA should be put to a referendum

Featured Image -- 1260According to website Its Our Future the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement represents the betrayal of this nation’s sovereignty. There is little doubt that the agreement would allow overseas corporations to take legal action against NZ regulatory bodies if profits were impacted by government regulation. More disturbingly the courts involved would not be the High Court of New Zealand or any other credible judicial body. Rather it would be an overseas trade tribunal influenced by commercial legal representatives.  Its our Future goes on to say that:

  1. “Big overseas companies will be able to sue the New Zealand government for millions in damages in secretive offshore tribunals, claiming that new laws and regulations (for example, a ban on fracking, smoking control laws, or a cap on electricity prices) have seriously undermined the value of their investments.
  2. Medicines will become more expensive as big pharmaceutical companies gain more influence over PHARMAC, and restrictions are placed on generic medicines.
  3. Copyright laws will be toughened and more harshly enforced, restricting internet freedom and access to information, costing libraries, schools, and businesses, and stifling innovation.
  4. Policy decisions like the privatisation of state assets would be effectively locked in, and public interest policies such as measures to discourage smoking would be subject to strong legal challenges. Defending these laws can be extremely costly, and waste state resources; and
  5. Foreign banks, insurance companies and money traders will gain more powers to challenge laws designed to prevent another financial crisis; and overseas property dealers could contest moves to burst the property bubble, such as a capital gains tax.”

In cases where the government is effectively trying to bind future elected governments the people should have a say. If we can organise a national referendum on a flag debate then surely we can have a referendum on this important matter of national sovereignty?

Politics for Citizens

Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the practice and theory of influencing other people.

Politics is about the way decisions are made. That can either be done in an authoritarian way – through a dictator or an absolute monarch or it can be done in a democratic way with public support.  However, a healthy democracy relies on citizens taking an active interest and role in public affairs – including voting and debating issues of the day.  To paraphrase Edmund Burke “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good people do nothing.”

Illegally accessing databases, running smear campaigns to undermine or destroy the reputation of political opponents and attempting to manipulate the democratic process through anonymous large political donations are corrosive to the health of our democracy. The USA had the Watergate scandal in 1972-73. Recent years have shown that New Zealand is not immune to such behaviours.

Unfortunately such behaviour tarnishes the reputation of all politicians – including the majority who are genuinely interested in advancing the public interest and making our country better. The best of our political leaders across political parties are driven by a desire to improve things for all citizens.

Political authority needs to be exercised with the virtues that make it possible to put power into practice as service. These virtues include patience, modesty, moderation, charity and efforts to share. The purpose of political activity is to work for the common good, which is the good of each person and of all people.

Power always carries the potential for corruption. As Edmund Burke said “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This erodes trust and damages the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed.  It is the media’s duty to uncover any hint of scandal or corrupt behaviour. But they too have a duty to accuracy and evidence-based commentary.

However if day to day helpful work is not newsworthy then such work can be devalued in the political world dominated by the 5 second soundbite. It’s little wonder that many honourable citizens are deterred from entering the political arena. Who wants to see their own reputation besmirched without basis? Who wants to see their family subjected to the rumour mills and innuendo of the paparazzi? Truth is sacrificed for ratings, advertising income and profit.

The news media would do us all a service if they highlighted the valuable but non-spectacular work done day in and day out by dedicated public servants and elected officials who try to make a difference for the common good. Then we might find that a wider pool of talented candidates makes itself available at elections and that has to be good for everyone.

Ultimately, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others”.  As citizens we need to expect truth from our media and virtues-based action from our political leaders. It’s in all our interests to ensure our democracy is as healthy as possible.

The Global Telecommunications Revolution Has Social Implications

kids and mobile phoneDuring the past 20 years the telecommunications industry has undergone worldwide revolutionary changes. This is having and will continue to have profound social implications.

Excluding mobile phones there are now almost 1 billion devices connected to the Internet through mobile networks worldwide. These are things like alarm monitoring, electricity smart meters, public transport timetables and watches and glasses. By 2019 it’s forecast that there will be 10 billion devices connected to the Internet worldwide. In other words a ten-fold increase in the Internet of things.

Data speeds have increased significantly and will continue to increase. Data speeds on mobile networks have increased from around 0.1 Mbps in the mid-1990’s to 100 Mbps in 2014. On fixed line networks data speeds have increased from 10 Mbps in 2000 to just under 100 Mbps today. 5 Gbps speeds are predicted in a few years time.

Data volumes have also grown dramatically. The unit cost of data storage is declining. The annual cost of storage per Gb has declined from 101 eurocents in 2009 to 29 eurocents in 2014. In parallel the storage power of computers has grown exponentially. We are seeing the move to cloud computing and “always on” accessibility. Global monthly mobile video traffic is forecast to grow seven fold between 2012 and 2018.

As use of Internet connectivity and global delivery of service expands we are also seeing an increase in the importance of security in order to protect customer privacy and to prevent harm.

We are seeing significant changes in they way that education is delivered as schools utilise mobile devices as a tool for learning in collaborative ways.  In healthcare we see the adoption of text messaging to reduce non attendance at medical check ups and to reduce costs. Banking transactions are now completed online nationally and globally. Customers can keep track of their broadband and electricity usage online as they go – rather than having to wait until their monthly bill arrives in the mailbox. Billing itself is also now moving online as customers increasingly choose to receive their accounts by email rather than paper.

Governments in the 21st century will need to grapple with policy and regulatory challenges such as security, privacy, fair trade, employment conditions, the global movement of capital and the risks to the national tax base.

The question of how to apply enduring democratic principles such as equality of opportunity, free speech and respect for cultural and religious values will need to be addressed sooner rather than later as the technological tide sweeps in and as local sovereignty, cultural institutions and identities are threatened by globalisation. There are risks attached to a growing centralisation of power enabled by technological advances. Governments and non-governmental organisations have important roles to play in this debate. Ultimately it’s about choices. Those choices should be made consciously and proactively – rather than by default. We need to ensure that policies work for people – rather than people for policies.