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More Eurosceptic advice for Iceland


12:43 pm - January 31st 2009

by Sunder Katwala    


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Iceland’s new Social Democratic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is to lead a coalition government with the left-green party, expected to be formally announced today, with external support from another small Progressive Party, which is expected to seek a mandate for European Union membership in a General Election in May.

As day follows night, here is a dissenting note from our favourite deeply Eurosceptic Tory MEP Dan Hannan. He is a close observer of Iceland, particularly as a possible model for Britain’s own EU-free future, but he does rather, in these tricky circumstances, massively overplay his standard ‘EU as enemy of democracy card’.

Hannan seems to be arguing that a vote for the EU would simply be a lashing out to punish the (Eurosceptic) Independence Party which has dominated Iceland’s politics and presided over the recent crash, so shouldn’t see them rush to membership if that is what they vote for. (I hope that’s clear. Perhaps it isn’t only Brussels that likes to try again until it gets the right result then!)

In truth, there are few Brits more emotionally engaged with Iceland than Hannan (and he has written of his sympathy for Icelandic friends deeply affected by the crash). Indeed, he spent his stag night there in honour of its refusal to join the EU, but only because they could not afford Greenland (the only territory to secede). This jolly jape was all the idea of Hannan’s best man and Tory ppc Mark Reckless who will contest Rochester and Strood for David Cameron at the General Election (in case some of you have been wondering how far the grassroots buy the new progressive Toryism).

Sympathy for Iceland’s plight is certainly in order. But it should also mean that Hannan’s advice might now be seen as subject to diminishing returns in Rejkyavik. Let’s admit that very few people saw the crash coming, but it is also true that some were more wrong than others. So was anybody more wrong than he was? I refer you to the considered wisdom of Hannan’s Spectator article of October 2004, on how the Blue Eyed Shiekhs of Iceland provided the perfect model of how an offshore island could pursue Thatcherism, Euroscepticism and a model of prosperity for all of us, most especially Britain.

Being outside the EU, Iceland has been able to cut taxes and regulation, and to open up its economy. For 70 years the Althing has been dominated by the splendidly named Independence party, which has pursued the kind of Thatcherite agenda that is off limits to EU members

Icelanders understand that there is a connection between living in an independent state and living independently from the state. They have no more desire to submit to international than to national regulation. That attitude has made them the happiest, freest and wealthiest people on earth.

Before I am accused of cyberstalking, I admit to having blogged about Hannan’s Icelandic utopia once before, but not on Liberal Conspiracy, and it is a prophecy that deserves the widest possible readership. And if Icelanders are looking for somebody to blame, beyond their own leaders or Gordon Brown, then note Hannan’s observation that he had “never come across such a high density of Spectator readers as in Reykjavik”.

Hannan naturally has not changed his mind. But, of course the real danger is that the Icelandic model has been pursued rather more than it ought have been, despite Hannan’s concerns about financial over-regulation: “Look at the City of London, for heaven’s sake, which Brussels is doing its best to asphyxiate with its financial regulations”.

Postcript: Sigurdardottir will also be Iceland’s first female prime minister and the first openly gay premier anywhere in the world (excepting a very brief caretaker premiership for a couple of hours in Norway apparently). That must be a historic moment worth marking. It seems that Icelanders would prefer us to do so without too much Obamaesque fuss according to a profile on PinkNews which reports that the country is more inclined to see this as a “non-issue”, which might perhaps help to explain what is also, internationally, a pioneering breakthrough for gay and lesbian acceptance in national political leadership.

A country of only 300.000 with a gay scene that is largely embedded into mainstream culture, Iceland is considered one of the safest places in the world to be gay. Because of its small size Reykjavik’s gay scene co-exists to a greater extent within mainstream night life than in Britain and the rest of Europe. This is one reason why the Icelandic gay scene is so widely accepted as normal and a non-issue by the public.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


1. Evil European

I DESPISE people like Hannan. They no not truly stand for anything beyond a narrow and selfish understanding of life. They have no vision, no imagination, harping on about and on about the same narrow set of beliefs, as if through the sheer volume of hot air they expel will shape the world to their view.

Ironically, Iceland will pull through the current trend, not through being individualistic, but by pulling together in the way that the hard life on a cold rock in the North Atlantic requires.

An intresting experiment would be to round up Hannan and his ilke, stick them on an island in the North Atlantic and see how long they last under a “Thatcherite agenda”….it could be televised..Lord of the Flies meets X-factor.

I have always found it surprising that the Left, which often calls for the de-centralisation of power and local variety, should be sympathetic to an institution like the EU.

In response to Evil European, Tony Benn can hardly be called a Thatcherite yet he is anti-EU.

“I have always found it surprising that the Left, which often calls for the de-centralisation of power and local variety, should be sympathetic to an institution like the EU.”

Sorry? The left calling for decentralisation? SOCIALISTS calling for less state interference and regulation? Are you taking the piss?

I think you’re somehow confusing New Labour under Blair as being “Left” in politics, and also ignoring the separate and non-mutually exclusive aspect of nationalism.

Sorry? The left calling for decentralisation? SOCIALISTS calling for less state interference and regulation? Are you taking the piss?

You forget, the left does have a strong record on being in favour of decentralisation. Worker’s councils, local co-operatives and other local groups. Though we may forget it, the “Soviet” in “Soviet Union” referred to local worker’s, soldier’s and peasant’s councils, though they were never implemented in practice.

If you look at Spain, decentralisation was a key theme of the POUM/CNT-FAI aims and goals, though they retained some power at the centre.

There’s always been a conflict between the two opposing branches of socialism: those who believed that nationalisation and control by the state was the best road to socialism against those who believed that each factory should be controlled by direct workers’ control.

As to the EU, it is a conflicted body in regards to decentralisation: The beauracracy is extremely centralised and so is much of the power, but at the same time the EU’s grants to regional and local groups have helped strengthen decentralisation; see Catalonia and the Basque regions of Spain or even the Scottish Gaelic and Welsh languages here in the UK.

We’re now coming to the point where we really need to balance those influences, because at the minute it is split between the ultra-centralisation influences and the ultra-regional influences. The USA represents a good model, for all that sneering at the American political system has been in vogue, because I think that some of the fundamental basics that the Constitution laid down for American democracy are excellent.

Civil servants are never going to volunteer to reduce the numbers semployed by government. No politician is is ever going to volunteer to reduce the income of their department. For decentralisation to work the power and income of politicians and civil servants will have to be reduced. Dennis Healey has said that the numbers of civil servants needs to be halved. Power and income has to be moved from Europe to the national Governments ; in England the RDAs have to be closed down; power must be moved to county councils and then to district councils and from them to parish councils. Government must become transparent which requires an effective freedom of information bill. It would appear once administrative units contain more than 10,000 people( size of a small town) many civil servants and politicians rapidly become more interested in empire building than serving the people. I cannot see any union agreeing any cutbacks in the number of civil servants employed in this country. If LEAs were closed down and the money given to schools would this provide better value for money with regard to expenditure on education ?

OHOC – regarding the EUs push for decentralisation within constituent countries:

Divide and rule.

As to the EU, it is a conflicted body in regards to decentralisation: The beauracracy is extremely centralised and so is much of the power, but at the same time the EU’s grants to regional and local groups have helped strengthen decentralisation; see Catalonia and the Basque regions of Spain or even the Scottish Gaelic and Welsh languages here in the UK.

OHOC is there one vapid piece of propaganda you do not swallow whole ? The EU wishes to break up the Nation states with money the elites share out exactly so as to break them up so as to better fit into the gaping maugh of the Mantioch. It has done its level best to reduce this country to dark ages style regions where by we cannot defend ourselves and it pursues the same insidious goals throughout Europe .
It matters little how pathetically misplaced the so called regionalism is . Welsh language speaking is the preserve of the bourgeois and pretensions in Wales and so this whole absurdity has had the effect of barring working class Welsh people who , for the most part regard it as a joke , from public jobs . If I had to pick a domestic example of trouble making, to epitomise its anti British activities, I would pick Cornwall . This country had no Parliament no language and almost nothing to justify its being separated but the EU has financed the entire resurgence of the Black Flag and now to the amazement of everyone this silly bit of sentiment has become real. Why the hell are British taxes being used to break up Britain?

I can only account for the sell -out as Orwell accounted for the Soviet enthusiast years ago. People who feel themselves above a love of their own country displace their loyalty anywhere . Just as people who cease to believe in god do not believe nothing , they believe anything

BTW whilst we can assume Iceland is being induced to give up its freedom with our taxes , the Euro is falling to pieces as everyone unfortunate to be within it does not control their Economic policy.
I think the Fabian enthusiasm for removing power from people must be seen as part of the long tradition of despising ordinary people . In 1930, a Fabian leader, Archibald Church, introduced a bill for eugenic sterilization in an extreme example but the sinister tone is ubiquitous in Fabian thought .

Bernard Shaw
: “Under Socialism, you would not be allowed to be poor. You would be forcibly fed, clothed, lodged, taught, and employed whether you liked it or not. If it were discovered that you had not the character and industry enough to be worth all this trouble, you might possibly be executed in a kindly manner; but whilst you were permitted to live, you would have to live well.”

For such a scheme it is obviously clear that removing any effective say of those to be force fed is an essential

Orwell in his socialist phase similarly views the loyalties of people as things to be used and treated with contempt for their own good . This was his vision of a Socialist utopia ( In the Lion and The Unicorn)

“It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as ‘a Christian Country

The coincidence of 19th century elitism with that of the 20th century is a poisonous cocktail . For the sake of their self aggrandisement they have sold out British workers by exporting their jobs. With strikes in effect against free immigration breaking out all over the country I wonder are we about to see the working-class cutting its ties with them for good.

I see the right-whingers put nationalist demagoguery before the free market principles they claim to believe in.

Is there any depths of inanity you won’t plunge, Newmania?

Probably not.

Excuse me if I don’t bother responding to you, because it is the same blinkered approach you apply to everything. It matters less what the evidence says and more about what you decided the evidence is going to say before you even started looking for it.

Newmania

You mentioned a while ago on another thread the large element of performance in the Lion and the Unicorn. The passage you (half-)quote clearly isn’t advocacy of what should happen – his views on the death penalty are clear from his essay witnessing a hanging: it is a dramatisation of Orwell’s belief that England could have a social revolution and still be England.

While yr earlier comments on Orwell were interesting, its difficult to have a sensible conversation when your whole approach is based on yr belief in “democratic socialism” being an oxymoron – so that his democratic beliefs in writing 1984 (in 1948) means he must no longer be a socialist, while his socialism in The Lion and the Unicorn means he can’t be a democrat. But what on earth do you do with Homage to Catalonia in that schema?

OHOC -. You think the Eurocrats really care about the Welsh language …sweet…. Well if you get your balls back , I can , as you know back it all up.

Sunder – . If you re- read the book you will remember the context which was that of a titanic last battle between socialism and fascism with Liberal democracy having been to weak to survive . It is a plan of action for the left consisting of hollowing out patriotism and inserting socialism . The book is like a love affair in the Blitz. Quick violent and urgent and horribly misguided .Great read though. The hangover lead to his only complete work. 1984

I see socialism as an assault on humanity including democracy which , I see as a cultural phenomenon .The form , as Orwell says , can be retained . I believe the contempt for the network of trust and understanding that enables democracy to function has been amply demonstrated by the last ten years of the suitably Orwellian New Labour. Like his characters w e are not supposed to remember anything are we …
“No boom and bust”
‘British jobs for British workers”
. the 40 % Golden rule ,.
weak currency is a sign of a weak economy and a weak government. …” .
We are quite clear that tuition costs must be met by the state“ Blair .
“Our proposals do not involve raising taxes” …..
“ we understand that successful business must keep costs down “.
“Labour must save its big lies for when it needs them (Sion Simon)
“the media will be our tools , our servants” …Mandy

… Four legs good, two legs better! …indeed.

Newmania: And you believe that everyone involved in European politics is a Machiavellian tool of a global order which seeks to crush everyone who is white, is married and has a family. Excuse me if I don’t consider myself to be the one who swallows down propaganda undigested or indeed the one whose balls have gone AWOL, since the cowards’ way has always been to chuck insults about when anyone says “Wait, what was the content of that comment behind the assertions?” Feel free to inform me when you’ve got something substantial to say, rather than scream.

I don’t have the luxury of being able to dole out sweeping generalisations which are based on fevered imaginings that bear no resemblance to reality.

Within the EU, there are corrupt, centralising bureaucrats like José Manuel Barroso, but they are not uniformly copies of this template. There are people within the EU system who do genuinely believe in democracy and supporting regional cultures, who aren’t out to acquire power for themselves and squash the United Kingdom beneath their rubbery blue tentacles. Political systems are not monolithic.

Why is this so difficult for you to understand? You’re as bad as 9/11 conspiracy theorists who believe that the entire US administration was complicit in the murder of thousands, not dissimilar to your views because it relies on the idea that humans participating within systems are universally corrupt and that no human within a system is capable of having their own independent views.

Is there really any point in giving so much space to Tory trolls?

OHOC At the time of the Werner Committee `s report in 1970 there was a gallup Poll taken which showed 15% of the British were in favour of another attempt to join the EU . Every advamtage the establishment possessed was aimed at altering that. At the same time Heath was saying “There are some people who fear that in going in to Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty .These fears , I need hardly day , are completely unjustified”. The Werner report May foretold a “ massive transfer of powers from national centres if decision “ , as well as monetary Union. Our own FCO concluded that what was involved was EU states becoming “,…..as interlocking as those of the state of the US”. This when were being sold a Common market . Lies .
When the entire project has been founded on a lie the fact there may be well meaning people in it helps , not at all. On the regional-isation of Britian I refer you to Lyndsay Jenkins` ,Disappearing Britain which good in the EU`s role in reinvigorating the Welsh language .
For those people , like you , who do not love this country ,in fact who despise it ,this is all good .For those who are loyal to this country its people and its history the exercise amounts to a historic betrayal . This betrayal remember was perpetrated originally by the Conservative Party chiefly
It’s a simple as that. As to the policy of a European Democracy , that cannot be , there is no Demos only a geographical expression , in this very site articles are published which talk airily of the European Parliament without , it would appear ,any knowledge even that it is not a Parliament at all but a weak rubber stamping charade with no powers to introduce legislation .

Polling has suddenly become accurate?

So your attitude to the 1975 referendum on European membership is that the two-thirds majority were nothing more than sheep who had been completely deceived and misled?

May I also congratulate you on copying out what you saw on The Bruges Group website? It is nice to see you are capable of independent thought and research. I think you mentioned something about swallowing vapid propaganda earlier?

And your recommendation is for me to read a book by a member of the Bruges Group? Can I see a pattern emerging here? Excuse me if I don’t waste my money on a polemic.

Your accusations, against me and other pro-Europeans, of “hating this country” is nothing more than hot air borrowed from the Republicans’ Book of Rove. It is nothing to do with genuine questions about their loyalty, but everything about “you do not agree with me, thus you are a traitor.” You join the fantastic ranks of Jonah Goldberg and Ann Coulter, except they’ve actually managed to make a living out of it.

There is no Demos? You may as well argue that there is no common people in the United Kingdom either, except that despite the myths perpetuated by the SNP, PC and the ED, we are all united in commonality. Your patriotism boils down to “my country, right or wrong” ( a fundamentally destructive attitude) and that we are a monolithic people (you seem to believe that humanity functions as a series of lonely robots, the only difference between them being the systems in which they participate.). So while the Welsh miner and the banker in London are so diverse that they bear little resemblance to each other, there is still a common strand running between them. The same is true of the peoples of Europe; our cultures are not uniform, but we all share the same basic principles and ideals. The ECHR, drafted by a British Home Secretary, is an expression of that. We may have differing attitudes on drug use, abortion and the death penalty, but there is still a commonality. Anyone who has had any great interaction with people outside of the United Kingdom understands that. Perhaps you should learn French and go outside of your bunker once in a while? While the Englishman’s home may be his castle, you have managed to craft your’s into an impenetrable bunker which the finest KGB scientists from the Cold War would have been happy to work in.

As to the European Parliament, perhaps you should read this article, particularly points 3 and 9. While the article points out the flaws in the Parliament, ones which need attention and reform as much as our dear House of Lords, it also highlights how you are wrong.

Feel free to dismiss it with a theory about how everyone who comes into contact with Brussels or Strasbourg is corrupted by breathing the air.


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