Not only is the UK a nation with one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, this is ever increasing. This is scandalous. Is this anything to do with Europe? Well, most EU countries do better than us.
A few statistics (GINI coefficient after Tax):
Austria 0.261 Belgium 0.259
Czech R 0.256 Denmark 0.248
France 0.293 Germany 0.295
Greece 0.307 Hungary 0.272
Ireland 0.293 Italy 0.337
Luxembourg 0.288 Netherlands 0.294
Poland 0.305 Portugal 0.353
Slovakia 0.257 Slovenia 0.236
Spain 0.317 Sweden 0.259
A figure of zero represents total equality; a figure of 1 represents total inequality
Research establishes very clearly that our contentment depends significantly, not on absolute wealth, but on the perception of our position in relation to others: it is relative wealth which is important. The notion that wealth somehow trickles down from the super-rich has also been thoroughly discredited. We should unequivocally be committed to striving for a more equal society.
It would be too simplistic to suggest that the EU is intertwined with this one way or another. However, I would suggest that our culture encourages the growth of an embedded elite of the rich and powerful more than most other countries, and that the EU is a positive influence in keeping this in check. Do we want to throw this away?
- Mutual Support
This question, of course, depends very much on how you choose to view it. Some would say that the EU institutions interfere with our “sovereignty” and remove our control over our own affairs.
Others would say that that they provide an essential check on possible abuse of power and the maintenance of conditions and rights in fields such as the justice system, the family and the workplace.
Let me pose a question: it is entirely possible that Brexit would fundamentally damage the EU and the individual nations of which it is comprised; do we care?
Well I do.
I would view it as running away from a partnership which, although not perfect, we should be able to make to work. As with all partnerships, there needs to be a degree of give and take. We should be moving forwards together. Do we really get such a bad deal?
- Pursuit of happiness
I should acknowledge from the outset that I consider myself very fortunate: I feel I have sufficient portions of wealth and power not to have to worry about this too much! However, I applaud the belated trend to include happiness/well-being measurements and data alongside other indicators of the “state of the nation”. Happiness and well-being are crucially important. Psychological research suggests that the more connected we are, the happier we are. The obsessive pursuit and collection of “friends” on social and professional media would appear to support this.
Statistics in this area must inevitably be accompanied by a caveat of uncertainty. That said, here is a selection of published data for some European countries (out of 10)
Denmark 7.527 Netherlands 7.339
Sweden 7.291 Austria 7.119
Germany 6.994 Belgium 6.929
Ireland 6.907 Luxembourg 6.871
UK 6.725 Czeck R 6.596
France 6.478 Spain 6.361
Do these figures tell us much? Possibly not.
In any event, let us consider the pursuit of happiness an important national and international goal.
- Protecting the weak
This morning I heard a brief discussion on the European Convention of Human Rights on the radio. Attention focussed on such issues as voting rights for prisoners (do we really care that some prisoners may have the right to vote?) It occurred to me that our obsession with such relative trivia, is taking place alongside a number of humanitarian disasters which are unfolding throughout the world: political, environmental and social.
Are voting rights for prisoners, one way or the other, of greater concern to us than the thousands fleeing political and environmental disasters at risk to their lives? Indeed, many thousands have been killed in the process. Reading much of the (right wing) press, the answer is “yes they are”. Surely, this is egregious.
The whole point of the ECHR (of which we were a founder member) is to protect the weak. Unfortunately, we have slipped into a mindset which believes that this is OK as long as it doesn’t affect us. Protection of the weak should be unconditional.
I will say no more.
- Shared control
There is a well-known saying “Problems shared are problems halved; Love shared is love doubled”. I would suggest that substituting the word “control” for “love” would render the saying equally true.
We choose to surrender some degree of control in every aspect of our lives, professional, social and personal – and are all the better for it. Do not the advantages of co-operation and partnership outweigh the drawbacks of some voluntary surrender? It is mistakenly believed by some that “sovereignty” implies complete control over our own affairs. Not, I’m afraid in the 21st century global world. To quote from a recent article in the Observer:
“In the protectionist camp there is now a wide range of political parties from extreme left to the extreme right……The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when “we were in control”; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.
The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are.
Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting these trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.”
Left-wing rubbish, I hear you say? Well, I’m not so sure.
- International Law
Why are we so scared of International Law? Do we believe we are the sole arbiters of what is right and what is wrong? Or is it that International Law is OK unless it happens to conflict with our own vested interests?
The strange thing is that in any other context, subjugating the rule of law to vested interest would be (rightly) called “corruption”.
Are we so blind that we can’t see the thread of vested interest, up to the very highest level, weave its way through national business and politics? Or perhaps we don’t care.
Well, I’m afraid I do.
When Tony Blair discontinued a criminal investigation into alleged Saudi corruption in “the interests of British industrial relations” were you not outraged? Well, I was.
The fact is that we only have anything to fear from International (or European) law if we have something to hide, or some vested interest to protect.
Not good enough, I’m afraid
- The Environment
Until recently this would have been considered a peripheral issue. Not any more. The point about major environmental concerns is that they can only be effectively tackled through agreed international intervention. A piecemeal, national approach is hopelessly inadequate.
Once again vested business and other interest is inclined to get in the way. International co-operation and regulation is probably the only way to ensure that individual nations toe the line and put concern for the planet at least alongside concern for national wealth and growth.
I understand why the corporate fat-cats, supported by sections of the right-wing media, might rail against this, but why should we be wary of it? Surely the watchful eye of the EU, amongst others, must be a good thing?
As the Pope recently suggested, we should be building bridges, not walls