Present solutions – go eco?

9904_12_23---Christmas-Tree_web Picture from www.freefoto.com
Hmmm. Dilemma. 
Christmas is terribly commercial isn’t it?  So much pressure to buy presents, so much advertising.  It’s fine with spouses, offspring, parents, grandparents, siblings (and siblings-in-law, nieces, nephews) but can start getting expensive once you’re on to uncles and aunts, cousins, cousin’s spouses etc. if you have a tradition of a big family knees-up. 
So my family does a sort of secret santa.  Tenner a head, and you buy one present for one of the people there. 

How do you know who to buy for?  It’s allocated by the kind volunteer santa’s helpers that do the not-completely-random allocation so that you don’t end up buying for one of the people you’ve already bought for (see list above).

Ten pounds is not a small amount of money (although it is in some shops – even BHS where the rather nice wooden bowls sets are priced at £14 this year) and obvious presents like candles and bottles of wine are banned.  Thoughtful is better than funny, but funny will do… No one’s tried an ethical present yet and I’m not keen to be the first to do so in case the recipient is disappointed at it merely being a picutre of a goat (although I might consider this as a last resort as I gather it can be done last minute).

So goats aside, what do you buy?  Particularly when you’ve drawn someone of a different generation that you see a couple of times a year?  Do they still like golf?  (Did they ever?)  Do they already own that DVD/ book/ CD? Do they have an Ipod? 

Having done ebay trawling one year (that was really good and I got a perfect present – but you need to be looking far enough in advance and do you count the postage into the present price or not?), and had an easy one last year where I knew exactly what would be wanted, and was spot on, this year I’ve drawn a difficult one.
So I’m going eco… will be trawling the shops and the internet for lovely eco things that are a tenner or less.  So far I like the eco button, these glasses made from recycled beer bottles, these bird feeders and these radios… and I’ll be internet trawling for the magic £10 price.
But any other bright ideas out there?

What makes a good present for £10?

Von Rompuy and Ashton – yet more evidence there is no EU superstate

I’ve held back on commenting on the European Council last week that nominated Herman Van Rompuy (Belgian Prime Minister) as new Council President and Baroness Cathy Ashton (UK former leader of the upper house – House of Lords – and Trade Commissioner in the last European Commission) as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security.

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I felt that the press coverage in the UK was abysmal as usual – I’ve already ranted about the continued reference to the Council President role as “President of Europe” but it got much worse… from the Daily Express   the idea that the Council President would “rule” was a laughable insult to even their readers.  But surely given the origins of our monarchy – surely being “ruled” by a person with no direct control over our lives is in the best British traditions in any case? 😉
Even the BBC went a bundle on the line that these are people no one has ever heard of  -hardly the position of what is usually portrayed by the sort of eurosceptics that distrust the British establishment too as a fundamentally pro-EU biased organisation. 

W300px_1911-EU-top-jobs-van-rompuy (image from http://europetoday.ideasoneurope.eu)

But more interesting I think to reflect what’s actually happened.
We’ve got one small country- one big country / one man – one woman / one Christian Democrat appointee backed by the EPP – one new Labour  
appointee backed by the PES.  Ok we don’t have north – south balance in those two roles (although Brussels insiders usually consider Belgium mentally a southern state that somehow accidentally ended up situated geographically at the north of the continent) but Commission President Barroso is of course from Portugal.  So we’ve ended up with the diplomatically ideal situation – as Sir Stephen Wall predicted and as Jon Worth criticised…

Charlemagne in the Economist did an excellent blog, summing up the message from the summit thus:

So, it seems the people of the European Union—or at least their leaders—want to live in an inward-looking fortress, not an outward looking global power. And they want Britain—one of only two countries with any ambitions to project military power across long distances—to help build a defence and security policy for that fortress.

 He pointed out that the sort of approach taken is likely to result in a lowest common denominator appointment. He’s right. 
The experience of the appointees was perhaps not the most expansive on offer, and while this is unlikely to be a problem for Von Rompuy who is the Council’s choice as their President and therefore needs no further confirmation, Cathy Ashton still has to be affirmed by the European Parliament (her role is a joint Council and Commission role, so she has to be confirmed as part of the Commission by the EP as is required by Treaty). 
Will the EP cause trouble?  I think it’s unlikely given the balance issue I set out above.  Besides shes one of the 9 – yes, 9 as campagined for by www.genderbalancedcommission.eu – women in the next Commission.  Despite what you read, her gender would not I think be of itself enough to stop her being opposed  –  Ingrida Udre, Lavia’s first choice in 2004 who was eventually replaced by the senior official originally proposed as her Chef de Cabinet Adris Piebalgs, was a woman but it didn’t stop her nomination being, alongside that of Rocco Butiglione, one of the ones that were considered so inappropriate by the European Parliament that they threatened not to approve the 2004 Barroso Commission unless specific nominees were withdrawn and others proposed instead.
A small aside on the EP here: I wonder if it is true that some heads of state are not happy with the level of influence that the 2 largest pan-European political groupings had on the appointments process for these two roles? 
It’s notable from the press coverage that it is not through head-of-government-to-head-of-government persuasion and negotiation that Cathy Ashton was proposed for her role but by securing her as the PES candidate for one of these two posts.  If the Euorpean political grouings are playing such a significant role, given that the UK Conservative Party belongs to neither the EPP nor the PES, we can only wonder what could have been done to get either a) a Brit or b) a candidate with an understanding of the UK’s national interests into positions of prominence within the Council or Commission if these nominations had been happening in 6 months time?

So is the appointment of these two a sign of the failure of the EU to get anything right?
I think it’s quite interesting that people opposed to the EU are arguing that this is wrong because they didn’t get to vote for Van Rompuy – there was no election, what does he stand for etc.?  And yet, during the discussions that took place in the development of the Consitutional Treaty (that’s the one that got rejected by the French and Dutch and therefore did not enter into force, being replaced by the Lisbon Treaty) an elected Presidential role was thought to be akin to conferring statehood and so was rejected. 
The antis are in danger of strawman-building… calling the Council President the EU President which he isn’t, then complaining they didn’t get to vote for him so his role is undemocratic when his role isn’t what they fear it is because they won that part of the argument… perhaps they don’t understand that they won?  Or perhaps nothing short of UK-EU withdrawal is a win?
Of course, genuine federalists (that is not the same as uncritical europhiles of whom I know very few indeed) are also unhappy with the Council President role and appointment process. 
But I agree with the European Citizen – attempts to run a “vote” online were misguided because on what were “voters” supposed to make a decision?  There were no manifestos, no real candidates (other than Juncker for the Council President role) and no presentations.  But direct election would’ve turned the post more legitimately into what the sceptics feared.
Or is it a sign that – given the adoption of a Swedish Presidency comminique defining the Council President role in terms more akin to chairmanship than a traffic-stopping leader – power primarily continues to rest with the Heads of State and Government? 
And isn’t that  just as those that don’t think that the EU should be a single state (I resist saying federal because federal means power devolved to the most appropriate level but somehow seems to be getting confused with a centralised, bureaucratic structure with most power at the top…) prefer? 
And doesn’t that seems to be the position of the majority of heads of state and government?
It doesn’t seem to matter how much those that understand the EU as it is explain that the French don’t want to be less French or the Germans less German when even this sort of role-minimisation of the Council President doesn’t convince.  European Council chairman and developer of the work programme (along with the Commission that holds the right of initiative on legislative proposals) hardly sounds like kingship to me…

It is of course an irony that the man that got the top job is probably the most “federalist” (in the technically incorrect sense) EU leader.  But then there’s a good chance he would be – he’s Belgian and Belgian politicians have been known to call for EU solutions in the past to things that are actually national problems.  But what can he actually do?
He has been known to call for EU-wide taxation, but he cannot impose it without the will of the Member States. 
I haven’t checked but I bet there’s a Verhofstadt style quote about wanting a European army out there somewhere too – there often seems to be from those who are not defenders of neutrality but don’t actually have many troops to contribute to NATO or EU-led missions (does Belgian National Day still have the troops-and-armaments parades? It did as recently as 2005).
More importantly, he’s commented that Turkey shouldn’t join the EU – but then both Sarkozy and Merckel markedly lack enthusiasm so we’re back to national leaders being more important…

It’ll be interesting to see the details of the external action service (EU foreign office network) and how it interacts with existing EU Member state representation abroad – the quote from Charlemagne above gives an interesting interpretation of the role that the UK can have over EU foreign policy by dint of the High Representative being a UK national as that’s not how I’d thoguht about the appointment.

But I think it’s safe to say that if you put the most “federalist” EU leader into a role where he’s beholden to the Member States to get business through, set out a definition of the top job as more chairman than President (which is after all in Brussels meetings simply the French for chairman in any case), and seek to balance lots of interests rather than interview or elect on the basis of the best person for the job, you are hardly setting up a superstate…

Making up my son’s mind on God…

I’m feeling a bit insulted.
As you will know if you are a regular reader of this blog, I’m a parent.
I have an adorable toddler. He’s very clever, resourceful, ingenious. I love him more than anything else in the world.
Both my husband and I have admitted to each other that if it came to it, we’d save him over each other in a life or death situation. Ultimately, love to the point of self-sacrifice is part of being a parent.
And that’s a theme we’ll come back to.

But what he’s not is either:
a) a toy to be manipulated by his parents; or
b) capable of abstract reasoning in the absence of evidence. 
Children learn through the example of others, through practice, through observation. 

So I’ve just seen this report in the Belfast Telegraph about the new atheist poster from the Bristish Humanist Association for Christmas.  If you want to see an intellectual atheist’s view of it, I’m sure you’ll be able to access that via my friend Jon Worth’s blog soon.

Kate Foster age 11 www.kidstalkaboutgod.org(picture is by Kate Foster, age 11, kidstalkaboutgod.org – I’ll put  one of my son’s on as soon as he can draw something that isn’t a train!)

But here’s my view as a parent, and Christian.

1) As a parent, it is my responsibility to raise my child to be the best that he can be.
 
Most parents want the best for their child. 
They will differ in their views on what “the best” means – in educational terms for example it could mean the most expensive fee-paying school, a multi-cultural, multi-ability school that everyone from the local area attends, or one that specialises in developing a specialist skill that their child may have (or indeed their intellectual ability overall).  Elsewhere it could mean a daughter getting the chance to go to a school at all, a son getting to stay on rather than leave to work to keep the family fed…  the point is that most parents are driven to get the best that they can for their children.
While there are bad parents who care nothing for the offspring they bring into this world, If you are a devout Darwinist I guess you’ll say that the genes that want the best chance of survival condition me to believe and act in ways that should enable him to do so.

Being the best you can be means instilling values, right from the very beginning – for example small children are naturally selfish (“mine!”) as their sense of self develops, and they need to be taught to share.  How do you start to decide what values you will be teaching your child? 
Asking people what’s important in terms of values is inevitably subjective, and the values of some won’t fit all – but are there some clear, inherent values: fairness, tolerance, liberty, justice, the pursuit of happiness that are self-evidently “a good thing”?  
Um, no.  Self-evident is a problem because things that become self-evident are the result of generations of conditionment: our values in the Western world are likely to have been derived  from principles followed in ancient Greece, the Roman empire, revolutionary France, empirial Britain as well as from great thinkers and philosophers and, like it or not, from the dominance of the Christian religion over the majority of the public and the decision-makers for the last nearly 2000 years. 
Nietzsche believed that christian “values” had corrupted the natural state of humanity and did not believe that society should address the needs of the poor and weak but that the strong had a right to be dominant – a position recognised in the mediaeval world (outside the frontline parts of the church) and increasingly in the deprived inner cities (where the voluntary sector – primarily still from religious motivation – steps in).  I don’t believe that looking out for those in need can be evolutionarily advantageous (unless someone cares to explain to me how?) and in a Nietzschian world could only really be seen to be of use in bringing about a sense of weakness and dependency rather than a wish to take up arms, become strong and assert their rights to more.  So why do it?  Because, somewhere inside we have a feeling that it’s the “right” thing to do.
But it’s a judgement call, right?  It’s a question of relativity – you can choose one path or another, but there’s no ulitmate right and wrong, just what you can do to satisfy yourself and your view of making the world a better place.
But of course religions take a different view.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, values are derived from what God wants us to be like to be the best we can be – i.e. like him, the ultimate source of goodness.  God the father, who sees us as his children loves us and wants us to love him back – a feeling every parent knows.  But equally, being a parent means correcting and chastising, with love. So there is right, and there is wrong, it’s not relative and God is the judge.  

I don’t think I can raise my child properly without instilling values in him one way or another – an if I am a Christian, act as a Christian, attend church, pray etc. then he will learn through observation and wanting to join in, i.e. practice.  Should I be caveating my actions with there’s no obligation on you to join in, son of mine, and what I’m doing and saying may be incorrect, irrelevant and is something for you to think about only when you are older?  What nonsense.

2) Do parents or others have the responsibility for my child?
A small but valid digression. 
A friend used to worked in children’s policy.  She has no children of her own, but because I do, was telling me about something she was working on, a scheme to extend the Red Book (in the UK this is a book that the NHS gives parents to record a child’s development and vaccinations in their early years) through to age 7.  My husband and I reacted with horror. 
As recorded in my old blog www.thoughts.com/rose22/blog, I’ve had more contact with organs of the state in the first two years of my son’s life than practically ever before, and as a loving, responsible parent I’ve not always welcomed the tone of some of the encounters.  Here’s a couple of short extracts:

My son had a tough start in life: he was tiny, arrived earlier than expected if not actually premature, although he could latch on I produced no colostrum, and he got an infection in hospital that weakened him to the extent that he then couldn’t feed and ended up tubefed in special care.
Before special care, we fought and fought to be “allowed” to give him a formula top up. A midwife told us that giving him formula was “the equivalent of giving him a MacDonalds” but he was genuinely starving and starting to get dangerously underweight so the paediatricians asked if we’d mind doing so.
The first formula, SMA gold, made him vomit – we’ve since found out that it’s the one most commonly used in postnatal wards despite the fact that the babies that need formula most also tend to be most sensitive to it. When a baby is already underweight and thr vomiting also brings up any breastmilk they’ve managed to take in, then it’s downright dangerous.
…  
I was already feeling policed (the Red Book of early childhood issues and vaccination records, the sheer volume of paperwork involved in his life at nursery etc.) but now I know that just having given birth to him does not make him mine.

The idea of closer scrutiny of my son by “experts” from outside the family, ever tightening frameworks that attempt to track and measure his physical, mental, social, and many other types of development against some identified standards, the idea of that progress being recorded and potentially required to be provided for oversight by someone representing the state in some capacity from birth to seven is frankly a bit scary.  And I say that as someone with a large number of family members engaged in those sort of state roles.  

Others have written, and rather better than I would about the changed relationship between adult and child in recent years – the recent case where adoption was ruled to be more valid that the right of the birth family to live together when an allegation was found to be untrue, the apparent assumption that adults have malign intent when spending time with children that must be disproved that has resulted in the need for all adults spending time with children (including authors visiting schools) to be subject to a criminal record check.

To bring us back to the theme of the Humanist/ Atheist poster, the demand to bring up children in a secular way feels like an intrusion into my private sphere in much the same way. 
Breastfeeding or bottlefeeding my child was about sustaining him in his early physical life and people tried to tell me how to do that (even manhandling my breasts – shudder…).  Hugging and kissing him, talking to him, playing with him was part of his social and emotional development – and I can get government guidance on good ways of doing these things.   I’m told he needs a certain number of portions of vegetables (5 a day), an amount of physical exercise (change 4 life) and so on.  There’s not one area of his life where there isn’t someone trying to advise me, tell me how to do what I’m doing even better, and even how not to worry about it (“good enough” parenting).

It’s all feeling a bit like “there’s an app for that!”
Well, child development, learning of values, culture, tradition, citizenship etc. are not apps that can be plugged into a child when the basic unit has been assembled and the intial software installed. 
Children are more than just organic computers and the stories, the fairies and wizards, the magic potions and tales of bravery and terrible decisions are part of the way in which they learn how to cope with the real world. 
I realise it is dangerous to juxtapose a sentence on fairies and wizards with one on religion (I know about the unicorn hunting task in the atheist children’s camp) but I don’t believe you are being fair to a child to not raise them with religion.  Not only with they not understand the culture and tradition of their family and society and their motivations and values, nor will they learn about and respect the cultures, traditions and beliefs of others and their motivations and values, nor have exposure to the stories, histories and themes that help shape them in their values and outlook on life and in deciding what is important.  I think it’s my choice to make. 

Besides, English literature teachers are already reporting that students are increasingly unable to understand the literary classics because they don’t understand the religious references within them and the consequent character motivations… 

3) Raising a child deliberately to believe in nothing is not a neutral position
I mentioned above how children learn.  Children observe the world and ask questions. 
Perhaps he is too young at present, but I would fully expect a child like mine to ask some day “why do we go to church?” 
After all, his father and I have both asked that ourselves in the past, stopped going (valuing sleep over singing on Sunday mornings) and then, after our individual feelings of being drawn back, challenged, a love beyond ourselves, started going again, praying more regularly and more.

I have no fear of this – just as I have no fear of him learning about other religions, and indeed what it means to believe that there’s nothing more to it all than this.  Ultimately I hope he’ll believe in Jesus as his saviour, but personal belief can’t be forced when its about a relationship with God, only nurtured.  In the end, for all believers, it’s a personal choice and decision as well as truth they know in their hearts. 
 
But please, let’s stop this rubbish that raising a child within a faith is tantamount to child abuse.  I realise that shock value and, yes, insult are probably the intention of such statements.
Such statements are offensive to the billions of people across the world trying to raise their children in what they believe to be a way of truth that will help their children both make this world a better place, and to be in the best situation possible in the next life, wherever and whatever that may be. 
It’s also deeply insulting to those who have suffered real abuse, physical or psychological, for some of whom hope and salvation have come from religious faith.

The contention seems to be that children should be free to learn about good, solid science (would this include selfish genes and memes?  What about multiple world theories? Was the big bag ex nihilo or was there something before that exploded, and if so what was it and how did that come to be?) while they are growing up, but not be introduced religious thought until they’re old enough to make up their own minds.
However, atheism, the belief that we can live without God and that he doesn’t exist, and to explain the world in terms that do not include him is a faith position. 
So telling parents to raise their children without God is actually imposition of a faith position, the position that there is no God and that a life can be lived fully without mention of one.
 
 4)  Filling the vaccuum
The trouble is, every time idealistic atheists start on about how the world would be a better place without religion, I start hearing ringing cash tills in the background.
 
John Lennon’s “Imagine” is both depressing and unrealistic.  Depressing because he is singing the old atheist line that the world would be a better place withough religion because everyone would instead focus on making this world a bettter place and would live in peace, and hopelessly unrealistic because the evidence we have from secular states (not just the communist USSR or China but also those with enforced secular constitutions like France or the USA) is that they are no more peaceful, just, equal and genuinely happy than those where religion is practiced (or part of the constitutional settlement). 

The funny thing is, it seems to me that it is not the presence of religion in whatever form that poses the biggest threat to happy, fulfilled humanity in the western world.  It’s the lie that to be happy, fulfilled people we need more and better of whatever is available.
A few months ago I think it seemed that we’d got a lid on it – the avarice, the spend-to-feel-good, the fake-tan-bleached-hair-nails-done-designer-clothes school of self-esteem could be replaced by a quieter, greener life, with organic veg boxes and community allotment schemes.  This was at the height of the credit crunch where we seemed to think that the role of the bankers in economic meltdown and the corruption of politicians and those that serve them in the Fees office at Westminster might mean that everything was really about to change.  But it rarely ever does. 
The lack of organised religion does not automatically bring about a happy, caring-sharing community, it reasserts the pursuit of self-interest,  the Nietzschian values that I mentioned above. It also seems to mean that more people believe in luck, fate, cosmic ordering, clairvoyancy and other bits of assorted quackery or the words of snake oil salesman… exactly the sorts of things that rational atheists such as Ben Goldacre fight the good fight against.  These things fill the vaccuum.  And I think that’s worse.

5) Self-sacrificial love
I mentioned that the role of a parent is essentially one of unconditional love, but that love means not just allowing a child to do whatever they want but helping them to learn, grow and be the best that they can be.  And that can mean giving them the chance to grown up knowing the love of God, the comfort, the security, but also the challenge and responsbility that that love engenders.
 
At the risk of incurring more wrath, I’d also point out that my faith is not about earning points and following rules to get into heaven. 
It’s about belief that God is my father who knows me and loves me (I’m lucky enough to be able to say as much as my Dad here on earth does) but who also expects the best of me and has the highest standards ever.  God set the rules that determine what all this is about and will decide on what happens next when all this ends and has been clear that this will include holding everyone to account.  Jesus has already paid the price for me for the bad things that I’ve done that I would inevitably have to answer for when meeting God at the end of time, somethig that could happen at any time. 
To deny my child the information about this love, and to withold the chance to embrace it, would be perverse given that I love him.

As a parent I put my son’s live above my own – I brought him into the world and he deserves that.  Parents do this in small ways all the time (accepting that their careers get held back becuase they cannot work all hours any longer, doing endless taxi driving for after school activities and play dates) and as I set out at the top of this article, they would (usually without hesitateion) place their child’s life above their own in a life-or-death situation and usually above their partner’s too. 
This self-sacrificial love may certainly be the result of selfish genes looking to ensure the latest version survives.
But it also reflects the love of God for us, the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus as God paying the price to set us free from the cost of the justice that we deserve.  Some might argue that a God of love would just forgive us all whatever we’ve done.  But if he did not uphold the principle of justice, we’d not have the concept and he would not be worth worshipping as no one would bother.  That would be the actions of a neglectful and simultaneously indulgent parent, and certainly not one I’d want to be like.
I’m sure this all sounds bizarre and it’s easier just to think that the bad go unpunished and there will be no judgement or if there is that we can answer for ourselves, thanks. 
But I’ve never wanted to disappoint my Dad.  If Jesus did what I think he did and rose from the dead, then what he said matters and is an amazing thing to offer to someone, anyone, and indeed everyone throughout all time.
So Jesus’s offer is a payment that I choose to accept, open to all and from which I’m equally free to walk away. 
True freedom isn’t doing whatever we like, but doing what we know to be right, for the good of all and in love.

As a conclusion, I’m going to borrow the words Iused in my previous blog:

I know that in the long term a parent-child relationship is something that has to be developed, worked at, and ultimately it is a process of loss and separation for the parent and growth and self-discovery for the child.
The child ultimately belongs to his or herself.  But I had always thought that, unless a crime was being committed, the pace of that process was a journey that my child and I were free to take at our own pace.

So, thanks for the cute poster.  But I intend to offer my child the chance to grown up as a Christian, in a loving relationship with God, and to exercise my judgement as his parent to make the decisions that enable him to be the best he can be until he has enough information and independent thought to make up his own mind. 
Because you can present the science, you can hand over a copy of the bible or any religious text of your choosing but if you don’t talk about it, don’t explain it, don’t live it then how can you expect understanding.
As the Etheopian Eunuch said to Philip when he was asked (in Acts Chapter 8 ) whether he understood the Jewish bible he was reading “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?”  A chance at that understanding, early in life, is probably the best gift a parent can give their child.

Update: not the only blogger to have noticed this poster, and the debate continues on www.joelitobarski.eu and www.sarabedford.com/blog where I posted the following:

I blogged on this too – I like your analysis.
Of course atheists have the right to prosthelytize – amazing though that they feel the need to unless atheism is becoming a belief system more than just a worldview.
For me, this campaign was about trying to force an unreasonable contention onto the private sphere of the family.
I understood the purpose of this campaign to be to normalise the message that raising a child outside the religion that their parents practice should be the social norm, because God doesn’t need to feature in children’s lives and religion is a lifestyle option to add on later if it’s wanted.
After all, when Dawkins has contended that raising a child within their parents’ religion is tantamount to child abuse, and talks about society stepping in, what other way is there to take a poster such as this?
However I’m glad to hear that the BHA acknowledge that in practice this is not practicable. But then what are they asking for? Just that parents don’t ostracize children that make an informed decision not to practice a religion? That’s not what the poster says!
I also concluded that no one can force someone to believe, that is not how belief works. That’s just culture, not faith. 
But it would be unnatural for parents that practice a faith not to encourage their children to follow it too if they genuinely believe that it is true and leads to salvation.
So I’ll do so with my son – and if he decides its not for him, I’ll just have to accept it.
NB I rebelled and returned after much questioning and reading once I realised that the resurrection had actually happened. Why wouldn’t I want to share that with people I love?

Gender balanced Commission – my sort of cause

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There’s a rumour going around at the moment that Jose Manuel Barroso might be having some trouble persuading Member States to nominate as many women for the 2009-14 European Commission as were there in 2004-9.
The same old arguments -for example that there are not enough women of sufficient quality for the key roles – have resurfaced.

So a group of eurobloggers, twitters etc. have got together and decided to do something about it…  Here’s the blurb from the site they’ve launched which can be found at www.genderbalancedcommission.eu:

The idea of this website is simple. Every 5 years a new team of European Commissioners is chosen, normally as a result of a messy behind the scenes deal between the Member States. Last time this happened in 2004 we were lucky to end up with 8 female Commissioners. This time around it looks like the gender balance will be even worse.
We believe in gender balance. Neither men nor women should be under-represented in political bodies. Especially not in one of the most important political bodies of the European Union, the European Commission, representing half a billion European citizens. To challenge this we are proposing a Commission of 26 competent women!
Rumours have been circulating that the European Parliament might refuse to approve the team of 27 Commissioners unless it contains at least as many women as the outgoing Commission. We support the European Parliament in doing this, to push for a gender balanced executive, but instead of proposing simple quotas of women, we here put forward individual names from each and every EU member state. We believe that in order to achieve gender equality, women of flesh and blood should be promoted, not only quotas or numbers!

European Voice has now reported on this campaign, and the twitter stream is already tweeting politicians asking if they will support the campaign.

What I like about this campaign is that it’s so sensible and moderate – it’s not demanding that 50 percent of the new Commissioners should be women (this sort of thing tends to lead to accusations of quantity over quality), only one third. 
However, perhaps the unique feature of this campaign is the request that, instead of just backing an initiative about quotas, anyone can suggest a female potential candidate from any of the member states, to demonstrate that a well-qualified and fully female Commission is possible, although with Barroso at the head as he has already been reappointed.
Given recent reports that big hitters in national politics don’t see going to the European Commission as a career-enhancing move (although all the Commissioners that returned home to roles in national governments from the 2004-9 Commission including Lord Mandelson may beg to differ), and the surprise choice of candidate being put forward by Germany showing that the pool of people that can be considered is potentially much bigger than just politicians from the mainstream parties in national politics, there should be no reason that 9 women can’t be found from the number of women in pubic life across the EU.  And if this campaign identifies at least 26, so much the better.

Do web campaigns work?  The short answer is to ask you have you seen the increased number of atheist and religious adverts on the sides of buses in the last year in your town too?
But this campaign is not just trying to persuade the heads of state that appoint the national candidate Commissioners to put forward women.  It also asks the European Parliament – which has a veto over the appointment of the European Commission and, in 2004, managed by threatening a veto of all to exert power ove the choice of certain individuals – to exercise this influence if there are fewer women put forward than in 2004.

So please, the nonsense that “gender doesn’t matter” needs to be got beyond – it does matter. 
Women bring a different sort of perspective to decision-making – but they don’t all bring the same different perspective. 
We suffer when the people taking decisions all have the same sort of outlook and lack of comprehension of the implications for others of what they decide. 
Having one extra woman compared with the last 5 years won’t change that of itself, but having access to a wider pool f talent, wide range of different backgrounds and life and work experiences can enhance the qualities of the decisions made.
So that’s got to be good for all of us. 

There’s loads of ways to join in – look at #gbc09 or follow @genderbalance on twitter, join the group on facebook or just start by looking at the website…
And being a multi-party, non-partisan initiative, I’m happy to back it!

Why is my Maclaren pushchair safe here but not in the USA?

maclaren

Yesterday evening, I heard that the lovely and relatively expensive pushchair I own may potentially amputate the tops of my toddler’s fingers if he plays with the folding mechanism.

The press coverage reported that in the USA, a special hinge-covering kit would be made available to all affected buggy owners.

I – along with probably every other Maclaren-owning parent in the EU – started trying to find out if:
i) the US buggies were differently constructed to ours;
ii) the hinge covers would be made avialable to us too.

Tonight we found out.  According to the BBC, Maclaren has decided that we consumers in the UK (and indeed the rest of the EU) will just get extra advice because they are compliant with existing EU safety standards.  We’ve no idea whether these safety standards are tougher than those in the USA, but either way, the buggies are the same but apparently require a physical amendment in the USA but nothing extra in the EU/UK.

Maclaren say that there have been many fewer cases in the EU than in the USA despite much higher sales.   
But there may be more to it than that. 
There’s a cultural issue here – are Europeans (and Brits in particular) more likely to assume that an accident is just an accident and not something to sue over?

A friend has put forward the following alternative theory for why there’s no action being taken here:
In the UK we have a claim limit so unlike in US where this company could be sued for millions, here you can only get few quid.
Thus since the financial risk is lower, there is no point in spending the money on correcting it, who cares about customers who have already paid their money. 
Actually, I want this to be untrue. I really don’t want to believe this of a reputable British company.  It’d be nice if they’d take action to prove that they do care about the children whose wellbeing we put into their hands whenever we use their products.

In the USA, consumer law appears to have been effectively privatised – if something goes wrong, you sue.
We seem to be heading that way here too – look at the rise of accident and personal injury law firms.  you can’t even do a quiz on facebook without an advert for them appearing these days! But we are not as far down the personal line as the USA.
Of course, in the UK we don’t really do class action lawsuits.  It’s not the way that our consumer law is set up.
In any case I’m under the impression that class action lawsuits are pretty much a bad thing – that they only benefit those that are able to jump on the bandwagon at the right time rather than all consumers affected overall.  But they are there in the USA because of this weakness of consumer law. 
It’d be sad indeed if we went for this approach rather than have more general consumer law that was able to helpeveryone affected, not just those able to take legal action.

So, am I a happy Maclaren mummy?
Well, in general I like my Maclaren techno XLR – I bought it because it was light for its size, easy to fold, fitted onto a London bus and easily down the aisle (unlike, say, a bugaboo) and formed part of a travel system with its Recaro car seat which was terribly useful when e.g. going for a dental check-up and needing the baby to stay asleep. 
However, I’m on my second XLR already – the first dropped apart in the snow in January this year leaving me to lug it home with my son strapped into a cloth baby carrier around my waist (I’d had it for more than the one year guarantee period and the cost to fix seemed disproportionate in comparison with the price of a new one in a colourway I liked more). 
So I was only on two cheers anyway.
Now I’m feeling a bit overlooked and as if the manufacturer takes my future custom for granted.

Finally, how do I know that my son’s going to be safe?
Short answer – as with much in the world of parenting – is that I don’t. 
No situation with a child is 100% safe (and even if it is physically safe, you’re probably stunting their emotional development by not allowing them life experiences).
So this is really tricky – he loves his pushchair, and climbs in and out, I’ve tried to stop him attempting to put it up by himself but that’s easier said than done unless you stand guard over the pushchair at all times. 
I’ll do my best, of course I will.
But if there’s a little plastic hinge cover that could give me just a little more reassurance and maximise his chances of retaining all his digits, I’d welcome it, please, Maclaren.

Update – apparently trading standards in the UK have said that, as the buggies pass the tests here, there’s nothing that they can do. My point is less that I want trading standards action but that I’d like the little bit of plastic as a matter of goodwill…
Update 2 – and we have it! According to the Times Alphamummy blog, hinge covers are now available…

Enlightened Euroscepticism requires the enlightenment bit…

 

eu with light

Henry Porter in the Observer yesterday talked about enlightened Euroscepticism.
His argument would be easier to accept if he hadn’t confused the European Court of Human Rights and its ruling on the display of crucifixes in Italian schools with the EU and standardisation.
He says “the crucifix is none of the EU’s business” and he is right.  It isn’t and wasn’t.
(Even if the EU is about the accede to ECHR).

He talks about the the appointment of a President of the Council in these terms: “the point is that the coronation will take place without the involvement of the people at the very moment when Europe marks the most significant and peaceful revolution in history”.  This makes me feel unspeakably angry for a number of reasons:
i) appointing a Council President is not a coronation – Henry Porter has either bought the lie or has not actually bothered to do more that read the UK press coverage of the role;
ii)  there’s a number of Presidents in the European context (Commission and European Parliament Presidents already exist).  Each heads an EU institution, each has a specific role in the overall EU institutional and decision-making process.  It seems unlikely that they would respond positively to a huge swing of power and influence towards the role of the Council (one of the EP’s favourite experssions is “inter-institutional balance”).  So I would expect that the postholders would go some way towards keeping a new “upstart” President in his or her place if they start seeing themselves in a more monarchistic light;
iii) Electing a President of the Council would be rather like directly electing a Nancy Pelosi type figure – charismatic, known internationally but more influential than powerful so how many people would bother to turn out.  As far as I can see, a directly elected by the EU populace President could not be simply a President of the Council.
iv) to invoke the anniversary of being 20 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall to imbue the declaration that it is a coronation with added significance as if it is the installation of an absolutist monarchy over all EU Member States, with echoes of totalitarianism is insulting to the reader, to common sense and to the memory of that incredible event.  

Look – there was a chance, in the Constitutional Treaty and then in the Lisbon Treaty to have a directly-elected President of the EU.  But the Member State governments, who agree a text and then seek ratification in their own countries depending on the system that they use for this sort of process (parliamentary approval or public referendum), didn’t go for that.  They agreed to a lesser role, in one of the three main institutions rather than sitting above them all and hardly a symbol of superstatehood. 
The constant assertion that the role is the supreme leader role needs to be challenged whenever it is made – that is an argument that has already been overcome. 
Why can’t sceptics accept that what they’ve got is already a victory? Oh yes. Because we’ve forgotten what scepticism means!
As Julien Frisch said in his tongue-in-cheek guide to becoming a successful Euroblogger, it seems to be generally assumed that the world is divided into “Federalists” that are pro-European, and sceptics/ realists that are anti-EU. 
I would argue – as would Julien, Jon Worth, Nosemonkey and a host of other Eurobloggers that enlightened scepticism is actually the position that we all seem to hold: we support the concept of the EU but don’t believe it necessarily operates in the ideal way. 
We may not have a shared view over how and what it should do things differently, but the sooner we in the UK come to terms with the idea that being sceptical about something is not the same as being hostile to it, and that you can be broadly favouable towards something in cencept as well as sceptical about its execeution then the more measured, sensible and ulitimately effective and constructive a debate we can have.
So Henry Porter is right: “scepticism is not about being a little England Tory or any of the other nonsense spouted by French Euro-enthusiasts last week; it is sounding a note of caution, reserving judgement and not being in the interests of the common good”. 
The behaviours the French Europe Minister described would certainly not be “sceptical” behaviours if we are using the word properly.
I would add that a decent dash of scepticism is vital to get an approach to life verging on “everything in moderation”. 
Henry Porter is also right that people have to take responsibility and that the role of the people in a democracy is something that should not ignored.

But detail matters too.  And how can the people take informed decsions when they’re given distorted pictures on which to form their views?
So please – journalists, subs, editors, proprietors.  We understand that your first job is to write stories that sell papers or get ratings.  This is not always completely compatible with accuracy.  
And sometimes, as I would hope is the case with Henry Porter’s article, it may be uninformed error rather than deliberate innacuracy that leds to this sort of rant from bloggers.
But democracy itself is affected by what you say, what you publish (you’ve even boasted about this in the past e.g. “It was the Sun wot won it”).  You owe it to your readers to act responsibly. And the occasional full article correction, rather than burying corrections away near the letters page or just not bothering would really be a start.        

Update: excellent guide to the various Councils now available on Nosemonkey’s EUtopia blog. Fab stuff indeed.

Penelope Trunk unpacks a difficult issue

Penelope Trunk didn’t mean to do us a favour.
She may be a famous social network expert (over 20,000 follow her Twitter feed, me included), known for the combination of business and personal tweets she makes, but it’s one tweet combining the two that has caused controvery both in the USA and here in the UK too.
Last week she tweeted: “I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”

There’s been a rush to judge her, and she’s now written a “Comment is Free” article for the Guardian explaining that she’s not a monster.  She already has children, hadn’t intended to be pregnant, was at great risk of having an unhealthy baby, her partner doesn’t believe in abortion and frankly pregnancy and miscarriage screws with your emotions.  She didn’t mean to trivialise miscarriage or indeed abortion.
I’m witholding my judgement on all that.  I think the wording of the tweet came across as callous, but miscarriage messes you up a bit – I guess she deserves the benefit of the doubt.  She certainly doesn’t deserve the death threats.

What she’s managed to do, without really intending to, is to bring the intensely personal grief of miscarriage into the public domain.

Because a miscarriage is intensely personal.  And because it’s personal and tragic, you’re not “meant” to talk about it.
And most of the time you just have to get on with it.  One Evening Standard columnist talks about the choice between passing it off as flu or strapping yourself into a giant pad and heading off for that meeting anyway – as if having to ignore the little tragedy is a price women just have to pay for the chance of being in the workplace.  I tried it – you are not necesarily going to be able to do this and act normally!

And all the while the extent of your loss is obvious to you – the dull stomach ache, the parody of a normal period, stuff that I barely want to recall let alone write about.
Your body responds to being pregnant- for anyone that hasn’t had it it’s rather unpleasantly like the worst PMT you’ve ever had: heightened sense of smell, weight gain, really uncomfortable breasts.
And you can get all that even if you miscarry, continue to have all that even when losing what could have been your baby.
Actually the weight gain is a complete pig of a reminder.  You can’t help but think about Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII who is known to have had a number of miscarriages.  And she became bloated and unhappy and Ann Boleyn managed to tempt her husband away from her. I hate the way miscarriage can make your mind work.

And the grief.
It’s the grief that’s hard to explain. What are you actually grieving for?
And that’s where the abortion point comes back into play.  It would be quite hard to explain to people who only really think of a six or seven week old embryo as just a ball of cells that your mourning a life that didn’t get to happen.
You’re grieving for what might have been, upset that all the excitement, the future planning that you’ve done explicitly or subconsciously has just come to an end.
I’m not sure whether medical staff still refer to miscarriage as spontanteous abortion, but some of the older literature does and it seems to assume that comfort can be draw from the fact that it occurs usually because there was something wrong with the developing embryo.  For what it’s worth, no it doesn’t make you feel much better.
Your hormones have also got all geared up for pregnancy and the shock of their readjustment leaves you on the verge of tears a lot of the time.

Then there’s the guilt.
It feels like everyday there’s a new new story about something terrible that you could do to your unborn child that would result in loss or permanent disability.  And when the miscarriage starts you wonder – what if I hadn’t carried that box? What if I hadn’t had that glass of wine/ piece of blue cheese/ dodgy prawn/ slightly undercooked bacon?  What if I’d managed to lose the weight? What if I’d taken the exercise a bit easier, or done a bit more?
What if I’d managed to be less stressed?
So again that conspires against anyone talking about it.

I’ve not really experienced the relief that Penelope Trunk describes, but then she’s over 40 which brings greater medical risk, and already has the number of children she wants.  And although the language she used to express her private thoughts was what really shocked (convention has it that every child should be wanted, miscarriage a tragic loss not something to be celebrated) it is legitimate to feel like that.

Family planning is still a modern phenomemon – in our want-get society of instant gratification we forget that this stuff is not easy.
Even in my grandparents’ generation not every child was expected to live to adulthood, and having ten children was not just about a lack of contraception but an acknowledgement that not every pregnancy  would result in a child and not every child would make it through childhood.  The whole process of conception, pregnancy and raising small children is a real reminder that while we might try to live ordered lives there’s a wild, uncontrollably biological side to our lives and we have to accept and live with the consequences of what happens to us.

At my age and when you have a child of toddler age, you and the other mums you know are likely to be trying for a second child (possibly third if real gluttons for punishment – the quantity of work per child is not simply twice as much but apparently much more even though you know more what you are doing). And, if you get talking about it, you discover just how many people you know that have had a miscarriage.

Penelope Trunk says “it’s part of being a woman”.  I think I know what she means.

A sense of sovereignty…

Ok, so there’s not going to be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the UK.
The Czech President has signed, ratifying the Lisbon Treaty and bringing into force the treaty over which there have been so many statements, bits of information and misinformation and more proposterous headlines in our press than even I could have imagined.

I can’t parody them well enough after a long day at work, (but who needs parody when you’ve got “Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Up Yours” at the Sun and “Britain: the end” on the Express). You’ll just have to read Nosemonkey’s Tweets, now gathered together in one place to get a sense of what’s being said.
The Q&A on the Sun’s website informs readers that “the aim of the Treaty is to build a federal united states of Europe” – must be a different Treaty from the one I read then.  The Daily Telegraph talks about more British powers being “surrendered to Brussels” but doesn’t directly cite any and instead offers this:

Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP and leading Euro-sceptic said the signing was a step towards a European super-state. “The boot continues to stamp on the human face,” he said.

The Daily Telegraph also says that “one of the most visible changes the treaty makes is the creation of a new permanent president for the EU, who will chair European summits and set the union’s agenda”. 
Again with the President of the EU thing! 
The EU is awash with Presidents: President of the European Commission (Jose Manuel Barroso), President of the European Parliament (Jerzy Buzek) and this role, President of the Council.  This is not a Napoleonic high ruler of all Europe role but, as the Telegraph itself sets out, a role for chairing summits and setting the agenda (i.e. the work programme).  It’s likely also to have some overlap with the “Foreign Minister” (actually the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy) and therefore have a “world stage” role.  But we’re not about to be ruled from Brussels with the President’s face on our Euro banknotes…

Oh what’s the use?  When that’s the quality of the information being given out, how are we ever supposed to have an informed debate in the UK?

I used to teach constitutional politics to people who really ought to understand it, but often really didn’t. 
I found the most effective way to bring the key points home was to run a constitutional quiz, with an element of competition between “teams” within the group, and a ridiculous prize (a handful of boiled sweets or losing team to buy winning teams in the bar that night).  I’m particularly missing the chance to teach the big constitutional change that’s been promised today.

Not completion of reform of the House of Lords – it seems that, with talk of Kirsty Allsop and others becoming new peers if the Conservatives win the next election, the chance of signing up sympathetic names with a recognised expertise is too attractive to an incoming government for any swift promise of reform. 
Actually, the idea of short-term peers appointed for one parliamentary term for a specific task rather than for life, while a big change constitutionally, is potentially quite attractive as a way of getting some real expertise into parliament without requiring them to be elected to a constituency (a system by which if we get expertise its incidental to being a consituency representative rather than by design).

No, David Cameron’s speech on Europe today was actually very radical.
Not the defensiveness on dropping the pledge on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – it’s been obvious for a while that that was going to come because, as he said, holding a referendum on a(n amending) treaty that has already passed into European law is a pointless exercise and most governments don’t want to use up all of their international negotiating capital on a big dramatic but ultimately futile gesture. 
The interpretations of the UK constitutional settlement are new, and definitely interesting. 

There are indeed some changes coming in the Lisbon Treaty – Ralf Grahn’s Grahnlaw blog sets these out comprehensively  and Euractiv does the same for the layperson– but its the changes proposed in today’s speech that I want to look at from the constitutional side.
Cameron proposes three UK constitutional changes:
1) a referendum lock, to require referenda on any future Treaties, which all parties would pledge never to overturn;
2) a sovereignty Bill, on which more below; and
3) a block on the use of “ratchet clauses” (known as “passerelle” clauses elsewhere in Europe) that would allow extension of QMV to areas on which there are currently national vetoes, without the backing of a vote in the UK parliament. 

David Cameron says

“if we win the next election, we will amend the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit, by law, the transfer of power to the EU without a referendum.  And that will cover not just any future treaties like Lisbon, but any future attempt to take Britain into the euro.  We will give the British people a referendum lock to which only they should hold the key – a commitment very similar to that in Ireland”.  
“It is not politicians’ power to give away – it belongs to the people.  So at the General Election, we will challenge the other political parties to accept the referendum lock and pledge never to reverse it”. 

Three ideas to think through here:
I’m dubious about the idea of a “pledge never to reverse it”.  I guess such a pledge could have no weight in law, because in the UK we have a principle that no parliament can bind another – this a key point of our parliamentary democracy.  In that case, the only weight of such a pledge would be in the infamous court of public opinion.
Secondly, up until now, we’ve also had another point of parliamentary democracy that we are a representative democracy – we elect representatives to take decisions on our behalf and hold them to account through elections.
And thirdly, a quick aside if I can: I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I’d be interested in a view on this one… the thing about the European Communities Act is that it is effectively a piece of the UK’s constitution.  I mentioned that we have a tradition in UK politics that no parliament can bind any future parliament.  Just like any other piece of UK legislation, the ECA could be repealed at any time.  Until now, you can speculate that would’ve taken the UK out of the EU (although of course there would’ve been a whole load of further work) if a future government have , but now there’s a clear procedure for so doing, an “exit clause”.   Actually, I’ve just heard Chris Bryant, the Europe Minister, say that. So it must be right.
Ooh – one more, having just heard William Hague on BBC Newsnight – why wouldn’t a referendum lock be triggered by accession of a new Member State?  This was explicitly excluded in the interview just now, but given that accession of, say, a big new Member State like Turkey would change the relative power of the UK in the EU – so why would that not be automatically subject to the referendum trigger?

The idea of a Sovreignty Bill immediately gave me a sinking feeling when I heard the term – was this yet again a “EU law must not be superior to UK law” argument of the sort that the tabloid press raised when the Lisbon Treaty was drafted to put into the text of the Treaty something that’s been case law since before the UK joined the EEC (the German courts tried to argue that their Constitution came above everything else, but actually tried to use this principle to block the single market – ironically one of the elements of the EU that is most acceptable to the UK eurosceptics)?

Actually, what is described makes some sense:

Take the sovereignty of our laws.  Because we have no written constitution, unlike many other EU countries, we have no explicit legal guarantee that the last word on our laws stays in Britain.  There is therefore a danger that, over time, our courts might come to regard ultimate authority as resting with the EU.  So as well as making sure that further power cannot be handed to the EU without a referendum, we will also introduce a new law, in the form of a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill, to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country, in our Parliament.  This is not about Westminster striking down individual items of EU legislation.  It is about an assurance that the final word on our laws is here in Britain.  It would simply put Britain on a par with Germany, where the German Constitutional Court has consistently upheld – including most recently on the Lisbon treaty – that ultimate authority lies with the bodies established by the German Constitution.

Of course, what with this, the incomplete Lords reform and the idea of a British Bill of Rights, it might be clearer and more effective to establish a written constitution for the UK.  This would of course be likely to require a higher threshold for change – and that would protect citizen’s rights (and stop Councils (ab)using counter terrorism legislation to justify putting spy cameras in people’s bins).
But it seems no politician is willing to spend the political capital that could be spent pushing forward their policy agenda on a full-on tidy up of the UK’s consititutional settlement.

What about the rachet clauses?  Are they really so scary?

Furthermore, we would change the law so that any use of a ratchet clause by a future government would require full approval by Parliament.

According to the easy guide to the Lisbon Treaty (ok, Wikipedia) the treaty also allows for the changing of voting procedures without amending the EU treaties. Under this clause the European Council can, after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, vote unanimously to:

  • allow the Council of Ministers to act on the basis of qualified majority in areas where they previously had to act on the basis of unanimity. (This is not available for decisions with defence or military implications.)
  • allow for legislation to be adopted on the basis of the ordinary legislative procedure where it previously was to be adopted on the basis of a special legislative procedure.
  • A decision of the European Council to use either of these provisions can only come into effect if, six months after all national parliaments had been given notice of the decision, none object to it.

So essentially promising a full vote of parliament on the rachet clause is effectively required by the Treaty of Lisbon itself!  So that’s not actually that radical then…

If you look at the development of the EU to date, you’ll notice that there’s been a speeding up in recent years.  There was no new Treaty between 1956 and 1987 although the original 6 member states were joined by 6 new countries in that time. 
The Single European Act, in 1987, is still the most radical change to the powers of the EEC/EC/ EU that has taken place – and Thatcher thought majority voting was a price worth paying for a completed single market. 
We’ve had a huge number of new Member States (6 to 9, to 10, to 12, to 15, to 25 and now 27) and there’s always been a sense that enlarging the EU in terms of the number of Member States should be accompanied by a “deepening” of the sort of decisions taken collectively.  But I don’t think that we’re there any more.  When Lisbon was being negotiated, if you read the press reports afterwards, there seemed to be a bit of a sense that the Treaty better be as good as it could because there’d probably never be a chance to develop another one. 
So I’m not clear how much use any of this is likely to be anyway?

Finally, there are also three policy areas named from which a future UK Conservative government would seek to extricate the UK:
1) social and employment policy;
2) the charter of fundamental rights, and
3) criminal justice.
I have to admit that at the moment I can’t really understand why these are so totemic.
For example, a range of questions inspired by the social and employment policy field:  I’m not clear what the damage that eminates from Europe as opposed to poor implementation and goldplating? The example cited is the NHS and the Working time Directive, but don’t tired doctors make mistakes? Why can’t the BMA find an alternative approach to training that doesn’t require such long hours that e.g. parents of small children would never be able to train? And would the extrication go wider than just the NHS or public sector?
And presumably the price for extricating the UK might take into account the fact that UK-based companies would then be able to compete against those based in other European Member States by requiring their workers to work long hours? 
Happy to try to understand more on this one if someone can explain this to me, please. 

On the Charter of Fundamental rights – forgive me, but don’t we already have most of these rights via the Human Rights Act? 
Or indeed a British Bill of Rights, were such a thing to be introduced and the HRA repealed?  
I’m not going to deconstruct the argument that appears to have been revived today on e.g. the imposition of collective argaining or the right to strike, but would suggest instead that you read this excellent summary and take into account the “national rules apply” sections of the Charter’s text.

I’m going to stop now – after all I no longer teach constitutional politics.
But, it looks like there are going to be interesting negotiations if and when there’s a change of government in the UK, especially if the story the Guardian is running right now gives a taste of the likely tone…