Call It Democracy
If you have to call it Democratic it probably isn’t. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the ultimate example of mislabelling, it even doubles up on its claim to be representative of it’s citizens’ choice of government by including ‘People’s’ in its title. The People’s Republic of China has toned it down a bit which might imply it’s less oppressive than its neighbour. There are plenty of similar examples of countries, past and present, with such specious titles—the Deutsche Demokratische Republik springs to mind.
Then there are political parties that use the same trick. The US Democratic Party, whatever its historic claims (which are dubious given that it originally opposed the abolition of slavery) raises the question: if it is democratic what does that imply for other parties, are they less democratic? Of course we are concerned with Brexit, supported by a majority in the largest vote in British history and which the Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, hopes to scupper for ‘populist’ reasons rather than democratic ones. She threatens that the House will not ratify any UK-US trade deal, pandering to her Irish-American (mainly Democrat) voters, claiming that a Boris-Brexit will undermine the Good Friday Agreement (GFA); it is Irish nationalism that is driving the demand for the dreaded Backstop but if the UK leaves with no deal it will not erect any border infrastructure; should the EU insist on checks, that will undermine the GFA.
The EU (including Ireland) insists that it is the UK that has created this problem so it is responsible for the consequences unless it can find a technical solution which they say is like finding a unicorn. In fact had the EU permitted negotiations towards a free trade agreement, instead of insisting on an artificial sequencing, the shape and timing of it should have been well in sight after three years that were otherwise pointless. This would also satisfy GATT24 requirements for the parties to adopt special interim tariff arrangements. None of this had to be difficult, but the EU as warder of our souls had to make it so.
Now, appallingly, we see the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, determined to reverse the result of the UK-wide Referendum to leave the EU. Even if a second vote were held and gave the same result she would still oppose it. Although in the latest by-election (Brecon and Radnorshire) the Leave vote was split between the Tories and the Brexit Party, a majority voted for leave-supporting candidates just as they did in the 2016 Referendum. Swinson will only recognise a majority if it supports her view; that is not democratic, nor even liberal, these are meaningless labels.
Read the Label
Then there is the EU’s imposed and unnecessary uniformity—from kettles to ice cream, jam to vacuum cleaners—designed to make the Continent act and feel like one country rather than to celebrate different cultures and products. What if an Italian inadvertently bought a Walls ice-cream and it didn’t contain enough dairy to suit his taste—che disastro! He’d quickly learn to check where stuff was made and he would be helped by proper labelling, maybe by insisting products showed their national flags of origin, except that would defeat the purpose behind the EU-blending machine.
People tend to acquire a taste for their local foods, as well as other products and customs, so banning them or renaming them is profoundly insulting. Some EU food standards have changed under national pressure but it took years to allow UK chocolate to be sold elsewhere as ‘chocolate’ rather than as some inferior-sounding muck, but British and Irish consumers liked what they were used to even if it had less cocoa in it than Belgian chocolate. So today we can export oranges to Spain, provided they’re Terry’s Chocolate Oranges (see The Future’s Oranges).
When the UK joined the Common Market in 1973 its rules stipulated that chocolate must contain cocoa butter oil but no vegetable oil. A local exemption was granted (which also included fellow newcomers Ireland and Denmark) but exports to the founding nations and later to Greece and Spain were banned until 2000. Then exports were permitted provided they were called ‘family milk chocolate’ (British chocolate contains 20% milk), the original suggestion having been ‘Vegalate’ – yuk, we’re not eating that! Yet still the Spanish insisted it must be called ‘chocolate substitute’ until in 2003 the ECJ overruled them. Nick Clegg warned just after the 2016 Referendum that if we leave the EU it may tweak the chocolate rules again—oh no, we daren’t leave and go through this again!
Chicken Licken (“The sky is falling and I’m off to tell the king”*)
Which brings us to the infamous chlorine-washed chicken we could be made to eat if Johnson makes a free-trade deal with Trump. It sounds disgusting after all the adverse publicity but there is no scientific evidence that it is harmful.
In fact the EU has far higher rates of chlorobacteria infection than the US. There is an argument that US animal-welfare standards are lower, hence the need for chlorine treatment, but let us at least frame our concerns correctly. This is another case where clear labelling would enable consumers to decide what they do and do not fancy eating. It is possible that some of the dreaded chicken might be removed from its packaging and sold as unwashed (or possibly ‘organic’) meat but this would be illegal like any other form of smuggling or mis-labelling. It happens.
We used to allow chlorine-washed chicken in the UK until it was banned by the EU in 1997. Why do it? Because it (Chlorine Dioxide) kills dangerous germs very effectively, even at very low levels. It’s in our drinking water because it makes us safer than letting nasty bugs grow in the supply pipes and there is no evidence it causes harm. Some companies sell filter devices to remove it, playing on customer fears which they have encouraged with their marketing—perhaps they gave the anti-Brexit/anti-American folk a few ideas. At much higher doses it is used to sterilise babies’ feed bottles—Mums Beware! Why did the EU ban it? There’s no evidence it causes harm to humans but maybe it does and we haven’t noticed—the precautionary principle behind much of the EU’s regulations, especially in agriculture (which is killing our once world-leading bioscience industry). With clear labelling, individual consumers can decide whether they wish to be extra careful in case scientists have missed something.
* In the children’s story pessimistic Chicken Licken convinces his friends that the sky is falling but in fact it was just an acorn that fell on his head.
There is another form of labelling we are less happy to see extended, despite the convenience. Rather than deal with people or their policies just label them: Populist, Right-wing, Fascist, Progressive, Hard, Soft, Moderate, Flakey, Crazy, Lazy. You name it (literally) and you can avoid debate or evidence. For Boris Johnson there’s an especially vicious set of labels: Racist, Islamophobic and countless others intended to paint him black—the terms we’ve mentioned are provably false by the way. We may have been rude ourselves but never intentionally without giving our reasons.
Far from being a benign, liberal democracy and a boon to the world it is illiberal, interfering, autocratic and protectionist. These are just more labels of course but we feel we have justified their use in arguments and evidence accumulated in hundreds of posts to this blog since David Cameron announced that the people would vote on whether our membership should continue. Here is a selection but there are many more on these and other issues concerning the situation and future of the UK and the EU.
Themes-15: Democracy Are Speakers Listening? Themes-17 (Unity & Unification)