Remove The Borders In Your Mind

Europe is unique. Nowhere else on Earth has so many markedly different cultures crammed into such a small space. Europe’s jagged coastlines, numerous, high mountain ranges and broad rivers have fostered huge diversity. In recent centuries, this has been largely to the continent’s benefit. Fierce competition between European tribes and nations spurred technological development at breakneck pace, which led to the development of modern science, the industrial revolution and (for a while) to the global dominance of European empires.

This, of course, comes with a big downside. Europe is prone to spasms of nationalistic feeling, which tend not to end well. The last big eruption, ending in 1945, left Europeans, yet again, determined to put an end to all this nonsense. The postwar European project, culminating in the creation of the EU, was a huge, liberal exercise in knitting together countries with long histories of enmity. It is an attempt to gradually eradicate nationalism from the continent and provide us with a more peaceful future.

But 1945 was a long time ago. Those who were adults in that year are all over 90 now. Generation by generation, Europeans have become increasingly seduced (yet again) by the idea that internationalism is not necessarily such a good thing; that nationalism, done right, can be a force for good. So, once again, European nationalism is taken from the back of the wardrobe, dusted off, and accessorised to make it look like a brand new outfit.

So in some ways, we’re in a situation similar to the 1930s. But in the 30s, there was a clear ideological choice to make between left and right. As right-wing nationalism blossomed across Europe, so the left-wing opposition became an international struggle against fascism. WWII, though a national struggle, was also an international one, which united internationalist socialists with national armies. My left-wing Jewish grandfather saw his time in the RAF as a fight against fascism, not a battle for British supremacy.

Today, the divide between right and left is increasingly a cultural, rather than political one. The left, a progressive force in the 1930s, is today a defender of the status quo. From left to right, the argument has been reduced to: Which form of social democracy works best? What proportion of GDP should be devoted to state spending? How much involvement should private companies have in state-provided services? And with no clear ideological divide, nationalism has infected the entire political spectrum. Sadly and dangerously, European politics is becoming a decision about which kind of nationalism one prefers.

The old, ugly nationalism is becoming rampant. In predictable places – Hungary, Denmark and France (for example) – anti-foreigner sentiment is once again fashionable. But this is more than matched by left-wing nationalism, which in many ways is more worrying. From painful experience, Europe understands the dangers of the old, xenophobic nationalism of the right, but that not of the left. Many on the left will respond that left-wing nationalism isn’t nasty like the right-wing variety. But intent is irrelevant. What matters is outcome. If the EU unravels, along with free movement of people, goods and services, who cares whether it’s done under the pretext of progressivism or xenophobia?

So: Scotland has become a nationalist one-party state, under the auspices of fighting for “fairness” and “anti-austerity”. The SNP, once a right-of-centre force, has reinvented itself as a left-wing one. It dangles a social democratic dream in order to achieve a separatist, regressive aim. It proposes contradictory policies and ideas to maximise its populist appeal: thus, it doesn’t want laws made in London, but is fine with those from Brussels; thus it rejects English rule, but embraces the Royal Family; thus, it invokes a false history of colonial oppression under the English, whereas in reality Scots enthusiastically participated in the British Empire. Seeing a sea of national flags waved in Scotland on election night in May conjured up Europe’s darkest past, not its progressive future.

In reality, the SNP’s independence calculations were cynical in the extreme: they realised that, with oil above $100 per barrel, Scotland would be better off keeping its oil revenues to itself, rather than redistribute. This is the opposite of progressivism: successful unions (whether the UK, EU or US) redistribute from wealthy regions to poor ones. Scottish nationalists want to keep it all for themselves. Since the referendum, oil prices have crashed. If it had gained independence, Scotland would be forced to implement worse austerity than England, or face bankruptcy. SNP voters should be outraged that they nearly committed such a gross error under Alex Salmond’s guidance, but they don’t appear to have noticed. Nationalistic fervour outweighs economic and political common sense.

Similarly, Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, and resents sending its hard-earned money to Madrid. Catalans are set for a confrontation with the national government as nationalist populism has surged. In reality, Catalan nationalists resent redistribution of their money to poor regions like Andalucia. This isn’t “progressive nationalism”, it’s good, old-fashioned dislike of poor, “lazy” southerners packaged as a heroic independence struggle.

Anti-EU sentiment has surged on the British left, most notably in this year’s Corbyn Labour victory. So, bizarrely, Labour’s leader agrees with UKIP’s that the EU is a bad thing, while the Tory leader is on the same side as the Lib Dem and Green leaders (underscoring the point that left and right are increasingly blurring into one). Labour still officially maintains a pro-EU stance, but with its most senior figures now being eurosceptics, how effectively will it fight for a pro-EU vote in the coming referendum? While Corbyn’s win won’t take Labour close to power, it has certainly edged us closer to Brexit.

The Corbyn position on the EU (like many of his policies) is deeply childlike: he says the EU is “like a free market“. Which, of course, in part, it is. What he doesn’t explain is why this is a bad thing, or what his alternative might be; the very word “market” is supposed to conjure up horror, without the need for further explanation. I remember this position from my own days on the far-left: we took the meaningless position that we were internationalists, but couldn’t support the EU because it was capitalist internationalism, not the good socialist variety. Owen Jones, the bellwether of the moron-left, has predictably taken an anti-EU position based on the left’s complete misunderstanding of what has been happening in Greece.

The Corbynites say they support the free movement of people, but not free markets. So do they think Polish plumbers should come to the UK but be prevented from selling their labour? Should Spanish companies be able to build British factories, but not sell their products to Germany? The left rails against unskilled jobs moving to China, while ignoring the huge rise in Chinese living standards these jobs have created. This is xenophobia disguised as support for British workers: we can ignore poverty in China or India, or blame it on ‘neoliberalism’. In this attitude, the far-left is virtually indistinguishable from the far-right.

Borders are obstacles to progress; there is no progressive nationalism, in Scotland or anywhere else. In the face of surging inward-looking nationalist sentiment, we need to re-imagine how borders can be dissolved, bit by bit, and this requires three unbreakable principles:

  1. Free movement of ideas: in other words, an implacable opposition to state censorship. China carefully blocks dangerous foreign ideas using its Great Firewall, under heavy criticism from the West; and yet there are powerful forces lobbying for site blocking here in the UK, under the auspices of “counter-terrorism” or “protecting children from porn”. Both left and right are guilty of failing to defend free expression.
  2. Free movement of goods and services: here, the left is often guilty of the deepest conservatism. Global poverty is shrinking faster than at any time in history. The rest of the world is catching up with the West; rather than celebrate this, the nationalist left focuses on economic stagnation in the wealthiest countries, and ignores progress everywhere else. To oppose global free trade is to attempt to disconnect the world’s poorest from the global economy.
  3. Free movement of people: this is the toughest objective of all, and will not be seen in our lifetimes: but it’s an objective towards which we can continually move. We cannot entirely lift border controls while there are such disparities of wealth and poverty in the world. Thanks to the EU’s removal of trade barriers, wealth was spread across the continent. As a result, Europe was able to introduce free movement – something that would have seemed like a utopian dream a few decades ago. The same thing can, and will, happen globally, in less time than we might today imagine.

There is no economic reason why borders cannot continue to be dissolved. step-by-step, worldwide: the reasons are political: the old left and right parties are collapsing into nationalism and xenophobia. The one European hero of open borders, Angela Merkel, is coming under attack domestically for her pro-immigration stance. As the world becomes richer and more interlinked, the need for borders diminishes. The only obstacle to creating a borderless planet is the one in our minds.

Greece, Syriza and Conspiracy Theory as Politics

I’ve attracted some anger from Twitter and Facebook followers for my scepticism over Syriza and the mess in Greece. This is an attempt to clarify why I believe the left has been misled by Syriza and the supposed anti-austerity movement, and become increasingly nationalistic in the process.

With yesterday’s referendum (supposedly) rejecting austerity, the long-running Greek tragedy seems to have come to a head. But the events also highlight two longer-running and more worrying tragedies: the seemingly unstoppable rise of European nationalism, and (regular readers will know this is a recurring interest of mine) the intellectual collapse of the political left.

Without some understanding of the economics behind what has happened to Greece, one is left with empty slogans, applied in a childlike fashion. Austerity bad, banks bad, people good, elite bad, Syriza good, Germany bad. Where the reality of the situation comprises a long string of corruption and errors, instead we’re presented with idiotic conspiracy theories: They want to bring down Greek democracy; They want to punish Greeks for electing Syriza. In terms that a 5 year old would appreciate, we have heroes and villains, goodies and baddies.

From the moment of the financial collapse, Greece has been a tricky one for the left to explain, as we tried to find a way to blame capitalism for the disaster. While the crashes in America, Ireland and Spain were largely due to market overreach and a frenzy of property speculation, Greece’s problem has always been the state. Before the financial crash even took place, Greek governments had run up eye-watering levels of debt, which had become freely available because of the decision to allow Greece to join the Euro – a decision that, in hindsight, pretty much everybody accepts was a mistake.

Now the left attempts to blame shadowy ‘neo-liberal’ forces for the creation of the debt: ‘the banks’, ‘the elite’ or ‘the establishment’, implying that ordinary Greeks did not benefit from the spending spree. But ordinary Greeks did benefit, and once the money taps had switched on, they insisted they stayed on. For any political party to attempt to end the fiesta would have been political suicide. The money was spent on creating public sector jobs with little purpose other than to spread wealth downwards, on early retirement and on generous pensions. Furthermore, many ordinary Greeks decided that paying tax was tiresome, so didn’t bother.

Having joined  the Euro, Greece had become a third-world economy pretending to be a modern, European one. Like a teenager winning the lottery, the outcome was never going to be pretty.

None of this was ever secret. Economic commentators would express amazement at the way southern European countries happily trampled the Euro rulebook, and some predicted eventual disaster. So the financial crash came, and as Warren Buffett amusingly told us, when the tide goes out, you find out who is swimming naked.

And so the immense bailouts began. Vast amounts of money were pumped into Greece, and enormous debts were forgiven. So it’s puzzling today that the left should be whining about the need for ‘solidarity’, or the need for something like the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Germany after WWII. Here was solidarity on an unprecedented scale. Taxpayers from rich countries pumping money into a poorer country to keep it from the brink of collapse.

Of course, this money was injected out of self-interest; but then, so was the Marshall Plan, and so is aid to Africa. Collapsed economies threaten instability, and create economic ripples that weaken other economies. But still, the action demonstrated the inherent liberalism of the EU project: wealth was being redistributed from rich to poor on a huge scale.

And naturally, the bailouts and debt write-off came with strings. There would be no point trying to save Greece without its conversion to a more dynamic, self-supporting economy. Greece has almost no exports. Without a massive economic restructure, Greece would simply come back for more, over and over again. So the demands for austerity and economic reform did not come from a position of neo-liberal anti-democratic evil, as so many on the left have convinced themselves.

But still, the depth of the austerity measures was misguided, and prevented economic recovery. Although the left seem to think that they alone have been saying this, in fact many commentators have said this since the start of the bailouts. Given Greece’s economic infantilism, and the prospect that they would be permanently supporting the nation, nobody can blame the EU or IMF for distrusting the ability of the Greek government to take the nation off welfare, or trying to force its hand.

The accusations that the austerity was some kind of punishment, or an attempt at a coup, are beyond ludicrous. The very people demanding austerity were those who lent the country money, and most certainly wanted their money back. So the austerity, however misguided, was not the result of a conspiracy, but dual forces: a pigheaded approach from the lenders, coupled with Greek bureaucracy, corruption and ineptitude.

Ironically, the economic signs were cautiously beginning to improve in 2014. Then politics intervened to destabilise the situation again. Nobody can blame the Greek people for being angry or exhausted, and so the election of Syriza in January was unsurprising. Syriza came to power by peddling an attractive lie: Greece could both reject austerity and stay within the Euro. This could only be possible if the electorate of the Eurozone countries were prepared to subsidise the nation forever. And no electorate would ever do that. The governments of Germany and France had been subsiding Greece despite the will of their electorates, but would eventually be overrun by nationalistic forces if they continued to do so indefinitely.

Greece’s new leaders have behaved like overexcited children, and have burned bridges with the very bodies keeping Greece afloat. The (now ex) Finance Minister Varoufakis built a reputation for sweeping into meetings and giving lectures on economics to some of the world’s top economists. Then finally, with a new deal almost agreed, Greece’s government abrogated their responsibility to make hard decisions, and instead called a referendum.

Yesterday’s vote was unbelievably misguided at multiple levels. It asked ordinary people to answer an incredibly complex economic question; the proposals voted on were no longer on offer anyway; criminally, the effect of the one-week delay on the Greek economy was catastrophic, estimated to have cost Greece €1.2bn: money that the country hardly has to spare, and which must be added on to any new bailout package.

But most of all, the vote repeated Syriza’s core lie. The people were told they could reject austerity while remaining in the Euro. So of course, they did. But regardless of Prime Minister Tsipras’ reassurances, this was essentially a vote on Euro membership. Without understanding what they were doing, the majority of Greek people voted yesterday to leave the Euro. Tsipras, of course, now says he has a strengthened mandate to negotiate, but those days may be over. Syriza has blown the chance to negotiate for the past 5 months, choosing instead to call their lenders ‘Nazis’ and make revolutionary speeches – it’s highly unlikely they can do any better now.

Greece will probably have to leave the Euro, possibly beginning this week. It’s estimated that this will lead to a further 25% fall in the economy, on top of the 25% already lost since the crash. This will be catastrophic, and seriously threaten Greek democracy. Syriza and the European left will, of course, present this as further evidence of a neo-liberal coup; but it’s simply further evidence that the left has lost the plot.

The greatest tragedy of all this is that nationalism wins. The anti-austerity left suddenly finds itself in bed with an anti-EU right, from Greece’s Nazi Golden Dawn party to our very own UKIP. Nationalism is the order of the day in Europe, and we’ve learned twice over in the past century what that can mean. The right rails against the free movement of people; the left rails against the free movement of goods, services and capital. But these are two sides of the same coin.

While I no longer subscribe to many of the Marxist ideas I once did, I am still as strong an internationalist as ever. The embrace of nationalism across the political spectrum is sad indeed. Sadder still, that the left has mostly abandoned internationalism altogether, and that the libertarian right is now the strongest bulwark against nationalism.

This is the end-game of the collapse of the progressive left, which began 30 years ago. If there is a liberal, progressive force in European politics today, it is hard to identify it. Left and right increasingly morph into one, nationalistic blob. With Syriza about to be discredited by a total failure to deliver, it’s likely the far-right will rise again. Vote Syriza, get Golden Dawn.

Porn in a Puritanical Age

As the EU Parliament prepares to vote to censor any content that might “demean women” (whatever that might mean), feminist and stripper Edie Lamort writes about the good side of porn, and the dangers of censorship.

International Women’s Day has rolled around again and thankfully it has not been quite so negative this year. I was appalled at the ‘victim fest’ I endured last year at the Women of the World Festival in the Southbank Centre. Although the Guardian indulged the usual insecurities that it believes defines womanhood. Blaming individual body issues firmly on ‘sexist media’ and terrible pressures from the wicked evil world of ‘patriarchy’. 

This my dear readers is not the full picture as it ignores the family environment. Now I’m lucky in the fact that my parents told me daily that I was a beautiful person. This has fortified me in ways I am eternally thankful for. I’m sure I will still think I’m hot even when I’m 70, legs warped by varicose veins and face wrinkled like a prune. It is why I roll my eyes when I hear these constant declarations about female body insecurities, from our ‘feminist’ opinion formers and politicians, and why I find the bleating about Page 3, porn and strippers to be ridiculous and unbearable. Positive reassurances from your loved ones are the most powerful messages, and if you have that, all the porn and advertising in the world will not undermine you.

However this paranoid and misplaced blame for all the world’s ills still motivates many of our dear leaders. The latest episode of madness comes from Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard who seeks to impose “…statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products…” Effectively banning all porn in the European Union. An extremely totalitarian move, that feels like some kind of Soviet era diktat.

Besides this being an outrageous affront to freedom all round, I feel this line of thought is horribly misguided. Yes there are many reasons that this censorship should be stopped in its tracks; freedom of speech, the fact that our liberal democracies have the best track record with female emancipation due to our openness around sex, that porn demystifies the feminine mystique, the fact that these censors wilfully ignore amateur and gay porn and finally; I’d also like to suggest that porn is good for you.

Yes porn is good for you and for society at large. I have recently come across an interesting Agony Aunt called Rachel Rabbit White who regularly advises her confidants to explore their fantasies using porn, even celebrating an annual Lady Porn Day. A woman writes in concerned at her new boyfriends interest in porn featuring older men with younger women. Now instead of shrieking ‘pervert’ Rachel Rabbit asks them to explore the subconscious reasons for this. She wonders if it is to do with breaking taboos? Or is he trying to reassure himself that he is still attractive?

She then addresses what lies behind females watching rape porn and having related fantasies. Rather than having a horrified, knee-jerk reaction she tries to find out why. What part of the BDSM world could she be attracted to? Is it about finding the strength and maleness extremely erotic and actually feeling safe with it? For many women it is being desired by someone so much that they are out of control. Being the centre of their world. Of course this is fantasy and very far removed from the realities of actual rape but here we can use porn as the starting point to explore these fantasies. Acting them out in the safety of a loving relationship.

She also answers a worried male viewer who identifies as straight but finds himself turned on by Bukkake. That is when a group of men ejaculate over a woman. This man finds himself fantasizing not about coming on a woman but being the recipient. He stresses that he’s never felt attracted to men so is worried about this urge. Rachel Rabbit then explores the macho environment that boys grow up in and how this could lead to a fascination with semen. That it’s probably quite a natural thing for males to be intrigued by something that is an almost daily emission. Therefore there is an element of fetishizing semen in male macho culture. She also wonders if he is somewhere on the bisexual scale despite being in a straight relationship.

So the viewer’s tastes in porn are treated as a doorway to their subconscious and a way of exploring sexuality in a safe environment. A method of psychotherapy, of analysis, that can result in valuable insights and self-awareness. It’s also a way to pick up handy hints and ideas to spice up your sex life. If it has become vanilla and everyday, porn can be a reference for creativity. Couples can explore BDSM together; some watch gay porn (not that they will ever have real gay relationships) and their sex life can be enriched with anal play. It’s about having a positive outlook on the fantasies you have, and discovering what lies beneath them, as opposed to feeling shame. What is it that turns you on in a scene? Is it the taboo of something you’ve never been permitted to do? Is it about restraint and role-play? Is it gender bending?

A recent study also showed that men who watch porn were more in favour of gay marriage. Reasons included how they had become used to seeing other men’s penises in heterosexual acts and therefore the shock factor was diluted. Also that in exploring their own sexuality they were more likely to be accepting of other less traditional sexual situations. That in the main, those who watch porn have a more open mind towards sex. So there’s another positive aspect porn.

And what of the women I hear you ask? Commercial porn is a very well regulated industry with actors and actresses documented and regularly tested for STIs. Feminist porn director Anna Span described to me how the performers she uses must all show their passports, have their photos taken holding their passports to show the pictures match, and store these photos on record permanently. UK producers must conform to the US 18 USC 2257 law, otherwise they cannot sell their content across the Atlantic. The porn industry has already pre-emptively dealt with child access issues by developing a web site labelling system known as Restricted To Adult . This embeds a code into adult material so that online filtering tools can easily identify porn and stop children accessing it. In terms of health all producers demand certificates and check for fakes. Porn performers must have health checks every 28 days.

Anti-porn repression and moral panic will lead to less equality all round and more violence towards women and LBGT people. Censorship will definitely not lead to some glorious utopia of equality that our ridiculous opinion formers and politicians seem to believe. This sexual counter-revolution must be stopped in its tracks right now because it is dangerous and anti-women. Feminism needs to stop being so childish and one-dimensional. It needs to look further in to the human psyche when dealing with sex and develop a more mature attitude towards it.

So porn can be good for you. Please click the links and enjoy Ms Rachel Rabbit!

Moronic Referendums

Last week, the most comprehensive (and expensive) deal so far was put together by the European Union to save Greece (not to mention the rest of us) from uncontrolled default. Billed (naturally) as the deal that would solve all of Europe’s problems, it was inevitably oversold; yet it was a serious and worthy effort to draw a line under the Greek debt crisis and prevent the spread of the Greek disease to other countries. The deal would write off a portion of Greece’s debt and underwrite banks and governments that may be thrown into difficulties as a result. Markets rallied, as they always do when a little tension is relieved, then slid downward again once the financial dealers of the world returned to work the next day, having consumed a little too much cocaine and fine wine the night before.

Then the unexpected happened: Greek Prime Minister Papandreou decided, without even first warning his cabinet or other EU leaders, to call a referendum on the deal. Europe’s leaders were mortified, as were Papandreou’s fellow cabinet ministers, and of course the markets. The decision was bizarre at many levels. Greeks have been hugely punished for the atrocious financial management of Greek governments (mostly not Papandreou’s, but the conservative administration that preceded it). Incomes have fallen by a shocking amount in a short time, and many Greeks are unable to make ends meet. But the decision was a moronic one: it was impossible to organise a referendum before Greece was owed €8bn from the EU, meaning it would have to default on some debts, and be unable to pay public workers at a time when they are already living on the bread line. It was a slap in the face for other EU countries (chiefly Germany) who were keeping Greece afloat at their own, huge, expense. And the concept of the referendum itself was simply moronic – the Greek people would effectively be asked whether to face financial hardship or the meltdown of their democracy. One can’t help but sympathise with Papandreou who is under unbelievable pressure, but the decision seemed to show he had lost the plot completely.

A rebellion in the government forced Papandreou to U-turn and the referendum was cancelled again within a few days.

I had tweeted that the referendum decision was moronic, and was met with a response from a number of tweeters, left and right, that I was “opposing democracy” or “opposing the right of the Greek people to decide”. I’m not ideologically opposed to referendums, but I can’t think of many cases where they make sense. We (in most of Europe and the US) have representative democracies rather than direct democracies for good reason: most of the population don’t have the time or the inclination to inform themselves on complex issues, nor should they have to – that’s why we have professional politicians, and provide them with the funding to employ economists, historians, political scientists, statisticians and so on.

Attempts by economists to quantify the options have put the cost of preventing a crash at €1tn to €2tn – a mind-blowing amount of cash. Attempts to quantify the alternative are difficult, as chaos is basically unpredictable: would the EU unravel? Would that lead to trade wars or actual wars? The only firm answer seems to be that the cost of not saving Greece would be many times higher than of saving it. Does it make sense to allow the people to make that decision?

The question would seem simple enough: Should Greece accept or reject the EU deal? But more honestly, it would say: Should Greece continue with this pain and try to turn the economy around, or should we face economic collapse, a likely military coup, and drag the rest of Europe down with us? Is it ethical to give Greeks a say as to whether Italy, Spain, France and eventually the rest of Europe down with it? What right do they have to decide that? In reality, Greeks had their say years ago: they elected weak or corrupt leaders who failed to tax the wealthy, and who funded improved lifestyles for the Greek people using cheap loans from European banks. It’s harsh, but it happened. Why not give the Norwegians a referendum on whether it should be sunnier in mid-winter? Surely they have the right to decide that? It would be equally nonsensical – the poor Greek people need and deserve leaders who will make tough but informed decisions on their behalf, not useless paper exercises of “choice” when there is no choice.

The nationalistic British right is becoming equally agitated in their demand for a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU. If you listen to the small minority who actually understand the implications of that choice, you’ll hear that an exit would cause huge, lasting damage to the British economy. A referendum may fairly be phrased: Do you want to see a large cut in your standard of living or not? To which the average Brit may actually make an informed decision. But masking that as “do you want to exit the European Union?” would be another question which 90% of the population is unqualified to answer. You could, of course, make voting contingent on demonstrating a good understanding of the economic and historical issues – which thankfully would exclude most of the electorate. But if you did that, why not just ask those people who are actually qualified instead?

Earlier this year, the British people heavily rejected the Alternative Vote, a minor change to our voting system that would have improved the quality of our democratic process and given us more of a say over who governs us. It was a moronic decision – but how were most voters to know that? They took their lead from the moronic tabloid newspapers. And they represented the interests of the two main political parties, which would have lost their power duopoly under the new system. So rather than spend time and money asking the electorate, why not just ask unelected newspaper owners instead? It would be fast, cheap and give exactly the same result.

Referendums allow the mob to decide, and the mob is easily swung. Two years ago in Switzerland (which runs a system of direct democracy), the people voted to ban the building of tall towers. But not all tall towers: specifically those attached to mosques, also known as minarets. The Swiss, not the most racially diverse people, basically ran an exercise in minority-lynching, in full public view. Democracy at its best? If democracy is another word for lynching, I’ll give it a miss, thanks. As a member of the Jewish minority comprising about 0.3% of the UK population, the thought of such a system of “democracy” makes me queasy.

And look at California: the state adopted a system of direct democracy, allowing measures to be added to every ballot and voted on in each election. Given that most people have little time to research every ballot proposition, the propositions that make it are usually backed by big money interests. In trying to give more power to the people, California instead gave more power to wealthy vested interests. The results? More people in prison (thus profiting prison operators and prison unions). And the biggest debt of any US state. Why? Because people, quite naturally, vote for better services but no tax rises. Who wouldn’t?

Wouldn’t I like referendums on issues of concern to me? It may have been nice to stop the Iraq war from going ahead, for example. Except, we wouldn’t have been able to stop it. If a referendum was called, we’d have been bombarded by the media with the same lies and fear that MPs were, and the majority of people, unable to separate fact from fiction, would have buckled and voted for war. Love or hate our MPs, and moronic as many of them are, they’re still far better informed on world issues than the average Brit. They took the wrong decision on Iraq. So would have most British people.

There are many ways to improve our democracies: elected employee representatives on corporate boards, the right to recall our representatives, freedom of information so journalists can tell us what our politicians are up to, and proportional forms of voting so no vote is wasted. But referendums? They don’t improve democracy, they’re just a straightforward race to the bottom.