Monday, 20 June 2016

EU referendum: Power and Prejudice from suburban council estate to EU Parliament: A Trans Personal View

Voltaire: Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.

So yes we've finally made it; we've reached the last week of EU Referendum campaigning!
#SoundTheSelfHappyClappingKlaxon. In 3 days time we, the "braying proletariat" aka "The UK/Commonwealth/Irish Citizen Voters Alliance" can all breathe a mahoosive sigh of relief because the endless personality fuelled jibes and vacuous 24/7 fact stat churning machine coming from both the Leave and Remain official campaigns will have ended. The UK will hopefully begin to make sense of the toxic political climate that has arisen as a result of Monsieur Cameron's rancid determination to exercise democracy "within a carefully constructed timeframe." Whether we have voted to Remain or Leave the EU, the days of the "Old Boys Club" being able to get into Parliament unopposed in rural consistencies, making decisions most of their constituents would absolutely disagree with without consultation and only using their elected power to suit their own Machiavellian inspired ends will be over.  At least some of us hope they will be! Unfortunately I no longer believe that leaving the EU will lead to a GE or any change in the status quo in the autumn; it may lead to further discussion of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish independence referendums and it may lead to Cameron and Osborne desperately trying to push through their "1984 Orwellian style punition Budget" to stop their austerity measures from unravelling around them with Labour, the SNP and mutinous/victorious Tories systematically halting their manoeuvring techniques with gusto.

To be brutally honest I've been struck at how much the political discourse has been entirely focused on "what the EU can do for the UK" rather than "what the UK can do for the EU". For me, being part of the EU means fundamentally being part of a UNION of 27 other member states, all with their own unique cultural, social and political differences but yet all having the desire to work together to achieve common goals. A bit like a family with a staunchly conservative Father, an environmentally friendly Sister and an openly flirtatious but slightly creepy Uncle. For months now I've heard some people in my constituency of Lincoln (which also happens to be the oldest constituency in England) wittering on about the need to "take back control" from "an unelected commission" whilst admitting the fact they've never voted for their local East Midlands MEPs (of which there are 5) and have very little intention of doing so. They've talked about the need for "democracy to finally return to the UK" but fail to mention the fact that no members of the Tory government have refused to abolish the unelected House of Lords, with its 802 ermine clad members, some relishing their daily paycheck even though they rarely contribute much to the debate. Some people hold Nigel Farage up as "the ultimate hero of the people", a modern day Churchill fighting for Britain to "retain sovereignty over our laws and restart the heart of our British (English) society".

They fail to realise Churchill had a burning desire for Europe to find a framework for cohesion and collective responsibility; a need for countries to work together to achieve outcomes which benefit all EU citizens and not just a select few. He understood the fallacy of "ultimate power" within a democratic system. He saw that happen in Nazi Germany which is key reason why he was so insistent on there being a politically  collaborative framework in place to deal with power hungry ideologies head on. This fallacy of "ultimate power" needs to be expanded upon as I attempt to do below.

Power and Prejudice: A Philosophical View

Power and control are extremely interesting but sometimes rather vacuous, very open ended philosophical concepts on the same level of complexity as democracy and freedom. I quite like Björn Kraus's 2014 epistemological classification of power where he splits the concept into 2 camps: instructive power gives individuals the chance to determine the actions and thoughts of another person whereas destructive power gives individuals the chance to diminish the power of others to suit their own ends. Instructive power can be combatted, but destructive power cannot. Politicians should always aim to be instructive rather than destructive with the power they yield in the EU Parliament and our own Houses of Parliament, but it can be very difficult to determine whether their actions can be seen as instructive or destructive without being biased in some form. However, taking into consideration this epistemological divide, it is easy to establish that we all want some form of power and control over our daily lives, whether it be choosing whether to have chocolate or strawberry milkshake at McDonalds or reading Pride and Prejudice over Sense and Sensibility as part of your A Level English Literature coursework.  The key question is: to what extent do we want AND need power and control and should it be at the expense of all others most of the time even if this power turns out to be destructive?

I can understand Brexiteers' key epistemological arguments over sovereignty and control. As far as I can make out based on the social media exchanges I've had over the past month and from reading various online blogs, they want to have a power base entirely centered around our Anglocentric (rather antiquated) British Parliamentary structure and by returning power back to London they'd feel more confident in electing their MPs who areaccountable” to their needs and wishes, whatever those may appear to be in public and how different they may be in private.

Now it's very important to remember that Brexiteers are not a homogenous group; they will vote to leave the EU for a whole multitude of reasons- everything from giving fishermen the power to decide how much fish they want to catch in a given weekly voyage in the North Sea to Labour voters using their Leave vote as a mechanism for getting David Cameron (and the Tories) out of office sooner than 2020.

However, most Brexiteers do now seem to back claims that have been  recently made in a "manifesto" issued by the Vote Leave official campaign detailing how their "popular figure" of £350 million a week saved as a result of leaving the EU will be spent. Their main pledge is to give £100m to the NHS and it has proved highly popular across the social media platforms. It's all very well to want to increase NHS funding across the UK and it's something I've wanted to see happen for quite a few years. We need more specialist wards and GP surgeries to deal with our ageing population  in Lincolnshire, particularly in East Coastal resorts like Mablethorpe and we need more funding to be available for British educated individuals who want to become nurses but can't get onto a training programme and are now expected to pay back the money given to them to train in any case. I'd love these trainee nurses to know they'll have a secure job at the end of their training. Leaving the EU may provide funding for training schemes and hospital building programmes provided there are MPs in place from all parties willing to accept and vote for such funding to go ahead. But why hasn't funding been increased regardless of whether this extra stream is available or not? Even with increased funding, it will be difficult to address certain local NHS issues, such as the difficulty in attracting trained nurses and GPs into the Lincolnshire area due to its international lack of presence in the media. In fact it seems rather strange to me that Mr Gove and Mr Johnson haven't chosen to state this wish to go against Mr Osborne's austerity measures before the EU referendum was called, all rather opportunistic and contrived to try and win Leave votes from Labour working class members maybe?!

Equally the £350m figure been quoted several times by key Remain campaigners as misleading because it is based on "the Treasury's estimation of the GROSS amount the UK contributed to the EU last year, which was actually £17.6bn or £342m a week" (from the Guardian article: Why Vote Leave's £350m weekly EU cost claim is wrong When you take account of the rebate that was negotiated the figure falls to £242m.

Vote Leave hasn't yet analysed how much of the £242m or whatever estimate currently favoured by Leave experts is spent on EU agricultural subsidies, and how much of the amount, if any, covers the special EU Social Fund grants which help keep charities and organisations like Just Lincolnshire afloat. Would such grants and subsidies be maintained or increased through UK funding in the event of Brexit?

I've heard a lot about how Brexit will help the fishing industry (despite the UK having the second best fishing catch record after Spain in the EU) and I'm sure in some areas of the country, like in Grimsby this would be welcomed. I've heard very little on how Lincolnshire Arts funding may be affected or how much would be spent on unemployment programmes (that rely on the EU Social Fund to sustain their budgets despite being part of the Work Programme) to help those not in employment, education or training (NEETs) in the East Midlands post Brexit. Do these areas not matter as much to the Brexit campaign as the fishing industry? According to the Creative Industries website, there are 2.8 million people employed in the creative industry as of 2015; surely their concerns over future funding are just as valid as those involved in the Fishing industry?

For me, it is telling that all too often in the past MPs have been shortlisted in rural areas who have no personal connection to those areas; the party whip has decreed they need "more bums on seats" and will strive to achieve this through any means necessary. Labour MP selections are more democratic than Conservative ones in regards to recruitment and selection despite the "All Women Shortlists" issue that has divided political opinion since their introduction in the 1992 General Election. The same seems to be the same with MEP seats, particularly where UKIP are concerned. I've heard very little from my local UKIP MEPs about how they are helping to promote East Midlands issues in the European Parliament. They make little effort to connect on social media with those from other parties within the Parliament. They just take the "gravy train money" with no feeling of guilt. Yet these UKIP MEPs are accountable to local East Midlands electorate, whether you voted for them directly or not. Why don't more voters have the courage to approach them then?

Knowledge is Power” so wrote the poststructuralist French genius Michel Foucault, but having seen the results from my personal Twitter Poll on EU legislation awareness, individuals in the UK seem to lack fundamental knowledge about EU directives and the workings of the European Parliament! Now I think sometimes it is important as a human being to unashamedly accept that sometimes you do not know better than someone else on a particular issue, notably if there is a strong consensus of opinion built around that issue. For example, when you don't know something about quadratic equations or want to find a recipe for profiteroles for your Mum's 50th birthday, you don't just around cursing your lack of knowledge and berating those that know more than you do; you go to trusted sources like your Maths teacher or the BBC Recipes website to get the methodology to carry out the action you wish to perform. Often that process will involve some element of assimilation, whether that be through intense interrogation of the topic, negotiating together on that methodology or framework to make it easier to follow next time should you or someone else needs to use it and/or cooperating during the process of enactment to achieve the final result whether it is considered perfect or not. At least your effect to engage positively is appreciated! This is why Brexiteers and Remainers alike should at least consult with their MEPs post the EU Referendum if we vote to Remain so they can find out which issues MEPs are trying to deal with in the EU Parliament and for voters to raise issues directly with their MEPs so MEPs can raise and try to deal with them on an EU consensus basis when necessary. "If you don't ask you don't get", as the old maxim goes.

Negotiation and cooperation are two of the most fundamental tools that we use within a modern democratic system and a natural consequence of accepting their functional use is that sometimes you won't get your own way on some issues. Being part of the EU framework means you have to accept that your power and influence should not be greater than the sum of nations within that framework. Sweden and Denmark, due to their smaller population size, only get to send 33 MEPs to sit in the EU Parliament. Britain gets to send 73! Do you know how irksome it is for some of those Swedish and Danish MEPs to watch UKIP ones abstain and disrupt proceedings within the EU Parliament? You can use the excuse that the Parliament really doesn't “do anything” all you like but if you haven't gone to the Parliament, read excerpts from the proceedings or even bothered to elect the MEPs in question, how do you have the right to complain about any lack of power control and accountability? My Swedish and Danish friends ask me about why we accept UKIP MEPs being so rude to those who hold oppositional views, like Nordic Left MEPs when those MEPs listen to UKIP arguments and scrutinise them closely?  This blatant lack of respect for the EU democratic system is one reason why I'm such a strong advocate for better Political, Social and Financial education in the UK starting at primary school level. I believe it is thoroughly shocking that some voters are going into an EU Referendum without having the desire to understand the EU mechanism, EU directives accept willingly that UKIP MEPs should not engage in the EU Parliamentary process despite having seats on several committees! Why elect people who can't be bothered to take part in the process in the first place? It is counterproductive and paints our politicians in a generally bad light across the EU.

I also think it's shameful that we pride ourselves on living in a "great democracy" where certain individuals feel it's OK to deny 16 and 17 year olds the vote because they are too "naïve" to have their say on political, social, cultural and moral issues (despite the fact many of them now study A Level General Studies which includes politics). Leavers have moaned and moaned: "they  don't have the knowledge to form an opinion on any issue..."Yada Yada Yada! They said it during the Scottish Independence Referendum and now they are saying it again. Same Old Bile, different issue. There are many engaged teenage voters who would be only too happy to have their say on the EU Referendum because they know how important it is to have some control over the future direction of their country whether within or outside the EU. If they are old enough to get married, have sex and pay National Insurance contributions then they are old enough to vote. And yes, some of these voters would happen to be Brexit voters! How does the Leave campaign feel about locking out THESE potential voters?  Guaranteeing a vote at 16 is something I'll continue to campaign for regardless of whether the UK chooses to Remain or Leave. Watch this space!

Transgender rights and the EU Referendum

We British people sometimes have to accept, notably on the human rights front, that we are NOT the font of all knowledge. We may be proud to claim we "lead the world" in promotion of human rights and we may indeed have established the Equality Act (2010) which goes further in some rights areas than the EU Fundamental Charter of Human Rights. That still doesn't mean we can act as if we have the "moral high ground" strutting about like a cat on heat without any desire to help other EU countries achieve a parity of rights legislation. That's just plain irresponsible!

One area which everyone seem reluctant to rebuke, is that of the EU's contribution to securing transgender rights in the UK. It could be because they feel that transrights are "too low down on their list of human rights to address", or they think because it only affects a “small” proportion of the population it's not worth addressing. Either that or they're just not able to accept that the first level of  transgender employment rights only became enshrined in law after a "dreaded" European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision taken in April 1996 known as the P v S and Cornwall County Council Case, where a member Press For Change, the UK's key experts in Transgender Law successfully took Cornwall County Council to court and secured essential employment protection for transgender people throughout the EU.

I feel everyone in the LGBTQIA community should know about the case, so summarise it below (thanks to Press for Change for the information:

  •  The general manager of an educational establishment in Cornwall (P) notified her employer (S of Cornwall County Council) of her intention to undertake gender reassignment surgery in April 1992. She had been hired as a male at but had indicated her need to go through the "Life Test" whilst in employment (where a person wishing to change their gender has to live in the mode of their chosen gender which at that time had been set at 1 year).
  • She took sick leave in the summer of 1992 to have initial surgery, yet was given 3 months notice of dismissal in September 1992 and told she couldn't return to work in her female gender role even though her final surgical operation took place before the notice of dismissal expired.
  • She then complained that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her gender citing the UK Sex Discrimination Act and took her case to her local Industrial Tribunal.
  •  Truro Industrial Tribunal accepted that the true reason for dismissal was based on her gender reassignment surgery and not on redundancy as Cornwall County Council had originally alleged.
  • However the UK Sex Discrimination Act did not apply in these circumstances because "domestic provision stated that the legal status of "woman" referred to someone born female and not someone going through gender reassignment.
  • Truro Industrial Tribunal itself decided to refer the case to ECJ for a  preliminary hearing based on the fact that the Equal Treatment Directive (76/207/EEC) may have a wider definition of "woman" than the Sex Discrimination Act. It asked 2 questions:
    • Having regard to the purpose of Directive 76/207/EEC which is stated in Article 1 to put into effect the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment etc. … does the dismissal of a transsexual for a reason related to a gender reassignment constitute a breach of the Directive?
    • Whether Article 3 of the Directive which refers to discrimination on grounds of sex prohibits treatment of an employee on the grounds of the employee’s transsexual state?”
  • The ECJ Advocate General, Tesauro decided that  “Articles 2(1) and 5(1) of Council Directive 76/207/EEC must be interpreted as precluding the dismissal of a transsexual on account of a change of tolerate such discrimination would be tantamount, as regards such a person, to a failure to respect the dignity and freedom to which he or she is entitled, andwhich the Court has a duty to safeguard."

This case is just one of several that has been referred voluntarily by our UK courts to the ECJ for clarification which resulted in a positive change for all EU citizens. I could name several more specifically related to transrights, including the Richards v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2006) where the ECJ found that a British transgender woman had been discriminated against when she was treated as a man and refused a state pension. The battle for trans rights across the EU is far from over so we must our MEP seats at the table to be socially progressive and defend trans people from all forms of prejudice and discrimination. I believe that  power has to be instructive and forceful at times in order to ensure progressive change happens whether the Establishment or "powers that be" in the UK and in the EU like it or not. Having read about ECJ cases in some detail and having spoken to MEPs about the essential role the ECJ plays in helping enshrine key rights for all EU citizens within key legislation I cannot help but choose to vote to Remain in the EU.

To be perfectly honest I fear what might happen should we give an unlimited level of power back to the UK system; back to MPs whose personal mantra is to undo all the social progress the UK has made since the UK joined the EU system in 1975, even if they may not want to admit this in public. Some would at least attempt to undo key elements of EA legislation and destroy the Human Rights Act just so they can have their own "British Bill of Fundamental Rights" (#smugmuch) where they can pick and choose laws at their leisure with no regard for the protection of minority groups.

We have made such rights progress in this country whilst being a part of the EU, what with the Working Time Directive (1998), which gave "6 million UK workers the statutory right to paid annual leave, 2 million of whom had no right to paid leave beforehand" (TUC) or the EU Written Statement Directive, which gave "all employers the right to receive a statement explaining their pay and working conditions within 28 days of starting work" (TUC). The EU are currently reviewing this Directive so they can extend this right to those on zero hour contracts and agency workers; something I feel we would lose out on if we were to leave the EU. Maternity rights may be favourable in the UK, but one area that we can thank the EU for is that since 2008, women on additional maternity leave "have had access to the same contractual rights as women on ordinary maternity leave" which means that employers are now "obliged to make contributions into occupational pension schemes for longer than the first 26 weeks of leave"(TUC). Some Small and Medium sized (SME) employers may hate socially progressive rights legislation and directives because they directly hit their profit line but I have always argued that it's better to protect women who work in administrative, accounting and HR roles who need to take additional leave to recover after a traumatic birth or need to look after their child as a result of them having issues arising from childbirth.

Sometimes standing up for these human rights is equal to wanting a level of domestic power and control.  For me standing up for all European human rights is paramount and non-negotiable. Power and control can be centralised in a number of different locations and used by a number of different people for all sorts of reasons but I feel the more diluted the power is the better. Thus the "Take Back Control" tagline has little effect on me; that power fallacy is one I can very well live without!