Posted by: aboutalbion | September 30, 2016

EU referendum vote (9)

I approve of Mr Justice Cranston’s decision in the High Court this week to order the skeleton arguments of both sides in the forthcoming hearing (scheduled to begin on Thursday 13 October) to be put into the public domain.  The public were invited to fully participate in the referendum, and I see no good reason for the public to be locked out of the build-up to the first round of the ‘civil war’ that follows the ‘leave’ vote.

The ‘People’s Challenge’ will argue that the Sovereignty of Parliament means that a vote in the Houses of Parliament is needed to authorise the Prime Minister to trigger the formal leave-taking from the EU (by invoking Article 50).  The Government will argue that there remain discretionary powers in the hands of the Crown, the so-called Royal Prerogative, which the Prime Minister can exercise without a vote on a statute in the Houses of Parliament.

In favour of the ‘People’s Challenge’ is the ceaseless consolidation over recent centuries of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament.  In favour of the Government’s argument is the absence of the use of an authorising statute which could be repealed by a later vote in Parliament, and a corresponding reliance that no future Prime Minister would allow a vote to re-join the EU (if indeed the EU survives).

Blackstone’s opinion in the eighteenth century suggested that the Royal Prerogative was limited to an action that no other person in the UK could take … and he had in mind the dissolution of Parliament.  Dicey’s opinion in the nineteenth century suggested that the Royal prerogative was the exercise of discretion by the Crown wherever statute didn’t prohibited it.

Whatever the High Court decision, I feel that leave to appeal to the higher courts needs to be given because the issues at stake in the reception and understanding of the referendum result are so foundational to our understanding that we live in a ‘rule of law’ society.

Posted by: aboutalbion | August 29, 2016

Chocolate Korma Gateau

When I was asked to engineer a special cake recently, I began to think of an adventure in the kitchen … and I wondered if tongues would dance with a combination of chocolate and curry … and with desiccated coconut throughout.

The moist chocolate sponge is surrounded by a korma flavoured buttercream.  You might even think about serving this interesting gateau with coconut ice-cream.


The quantities here will make two 20 cm [8 in] sponges for a double layer gateau.


350 g self-raising FLOUR
80 g COCOA powder
2 t BAKING powder
½ t SALT
250 g caster SUGAR
50 g desiccated COCONUT

180 g vegetable OIL
480 g WATER
2T cider VINEGAR
2t VANILLA extract


250 g BUTTER (fridge cold)
3 t korma CURRY powder
150 g desiccated COCONUT


Preheat the oven to 190C.  Line (base and side) two 20 cm [8 in] ‘spring form’ sponge tins.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the sponges.  Make a well in the centre, and add the wet ingredients for the sponges.  With a large spoon, slowly stir from the centre [pancake method] gradually incorporating ever more dry ingredients into the mixture … until only a few lumps remain.  Use a hand whisk (or electric whisk) for a few seconds to disperse these lumps.

Divide the batter equally between the two sponge tins and bake for around 30 minutes (until the tops spring back to your touch).

Allow the sponges to cool completely in their tins, before turning them out.

To make the frosting, dice the cold butter into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk the butter until it is soft.  After mixing the curry powder into the icing sugar, gradually add (through a sieve) the curried icing sugar to the butter (whisking between each addition).  Add carefully just enough milk until the frosting is soft and spreadable.  Now stir in the coconut (and carefully use a little more milk, if necessary, to make the frosting pliable).

Turn one sponge upside down for the base layer, and use a palette knife to spread an even layer of korma buttercream over it.  Crown this with the second sponge, and use a palette knife to spread the remaining korma buttercream all over the top and side to compose the gateau.  Dust the top of the gateau with a little cocoa powder to finish.  Place the gateau in a fridge until a short time before serving.

Posted by: aboutalbion | July 31, 2016

EU referendum vote (8)

I prefer to go to bed early these days … so when I voted to ‘Remain’ in the EU on referendum day, I felt very sure that I would wake up the following day with the UK’s relationship with the EU unchanged.

I was shocked at the referendum outcome on the Friday morning … and then surprised.  I was surprised at how shocked I felt …  I felt as though I had woken up in a different country to the one I had gone to sleep in the night before.  And that feeling that the UK is a different country still persists even now … even though it is more than five weeks since the vote.

The administrative civil service continues its work, but the politicians around the Cabinet table have (mostly) changed.  The new team of government ministers are now quietly spending the summer creating a new narrative of what has happened and what they would like to see happen next.

If the EU was viewed as a continental economic building block in the formation of a world government, then the referendum vote can be seen as a withdrawal from this aspirational project.  If the EU was seen as a ‘rich man’s club’, then the referendum vote was a protest by the many at being left behind by the few.

As I see it, the challenge for policy makers now is to create a fresh sustainable strategy for the UK that avoids civil war.

Posted by: aboutalbion | June 22, 2016

EU referendum vote (7)

Tomorrow is voting day, and this post will indicate the way I shall vote.

I have found the nature of this prolonged referendum debate disappointing, and my inclinations about voting have not been consistent.

I find both sides have preferred to inhabit fantasy-role play scenes.  A common question on the ‘Leave’ side has been, ”If we were outside the EU, would we vote to join the EU now?”.   On the ‘Remain’ side, the assertion has repeatedly been made that “you will be better off remaining in”, implying a little more pocket money … against a backdrop of the ongoing years of ‘necessary’ austerity measures.

I find that both sides have declined to offer (and to refer to) a political programme for the remainder of this five year Parliament.  This lack of detail about the immediate political future seems to me to affect both sides.  The ‘Leave’ side, manifestly not a united ‘party’ (not even on the type of trade deal to be sought with the EU single market), are asking the electorate to sign a blank cheque.  The ‘Remain’ side, while relying on a vote to maintain ‘business as usual’, seem to me to have missed an opportunity to signal how concerns about immigration will be addressed.

I find that both sides have been unrealistic about the influence of the UK in the world, and about the associated security of the UK (especially for refugees).  As far as I can make out, neither side has mentioned the agency that launched a successful lethal nuclear strike on a UK resident in 2006.  I can’t recall either side referring to the need for a forceful response after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

I find that both sides have misrepresented the “control” concept.  I find that both sides have overstated the degree of “control” they would like (or have) because both sides have conveniently forgotten to mention that the UK has a significant national debt to UK government bond holders.  In my understanding of the real world, the behaviour of these bond holders exercises constraints on the degree of “control” exercised through the sovereignty of Parliament.  I find myself in agreement with those who say that the decisive vote of these bond holders will be expressed in the days immediately after the referendum vote closes.

I find that both sides are compromised over the status of the referendum.  Both sides seem to me to want to maintain the supremacy of Parliament, and at the same time to want this referendum result to be “irreversible” and binding on Parliament.  To me, these two desires are not compatible.

In 1978, Lord Hailsham [Lord Chancellor 1979-1987] wrote: “Referenda are of different kinds.  In what circumstances is it to be thought proper to have resort to one?  …  Is the referendum to be taken before, or after legislation has passed Parliament?  Is its effect to be conclusive or only advisory?  …  What subjects are to be referable?  Who may set the machinery in motion?  …  I do not claim to be able to answer these questions.  …  What is strange is that there has been practically no discussion as to how, or in what form, the institution [of a referendum] should be systematized.” [1979 (paperback) The Dilemma of Democracy. London, Collins Fount, p176f.]  To my mind, it is foreseeable that a LEAVE vote will be followed by years of constitutional “civil war” over the status of tomorrow’s UK wide referendum.

For myself, I want to protest about the childish way the two sides have conducted themselves.  Left to just myself, I would abstain from this referendum vote.

However, ‘no man is an island’, and I have children and grandchildren.  Tomorrow, with my immediate descendants very much in mind, I shall vote REMAIN in order to avoid the foreseeable “civil war” which the alternative outcome is likely to entail.  But I also wish my vote to be advisory to (and not binding on) Parliament because I do not wish to dilute the sovereignty of Parliament.

And, finally, in voting to stay in the EU tomorrow, I would like my vote to be understood as a vote to stay in the EU until the either France or Germany leaves the EU.  When either of those countries leaves, then that will be the appropriate time for the UK to leave as well.

Posted by: aboutalbion | June 19, 2016

EU referendum vote (6)

As the referendum vote comes near, I join in mourning the death (by ideological murder) of Jo Cox MP last week.  I think the most fitting tribute to the memory of her brief parliamentary career would be for a record-breaking turn-out at the referendum itself – whatever the result.

At the moment I am thinking about the sovereignty of Parliament, and this post is about the status of the forthcoming IN/OUT referendum itself.

I believe that Britain has only held two UK-wide referendums before – in 1975 and 2011.  In other words, the UK practice of holding such a referendum has coincided with the UK’s ‘membership of Europe’ which began with the passing of the European Communities Act 1972.  I’m asking myself whether or not the holding of a referendum is a procedure that comes from mainland Europe.

The status of the forthcoming EU referendum result isn’t clear to me.  Is it advisory to the UK Parliament?  Or is it binding on the UK Parliament?  If the latter, what has happened to the sovereignty of Parliament in this case?

And as campaigning resumes today, I hear unfamiliar voices.

On the ‘Leave’ side, I hear it said that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take back control of our democracy”.  This suggests that the sovereignty of a referendum eclipses the sovereignty of Parliament.

On the ‘Remain’ side, I hear it said that this referendum is an “irreversible” one with “no turning back”.  This suggestion is contrary to the conventions of the sovereignty of Parliament in which all legislation is in principle “reversible”.

Both sides seem to agree that this referendum is about a substantial constitutional issue.  But where does the assumption come from that a simple majority is enough to decide the result?  I incline to the view that something more than a simple majority is required for an alleged “irreversible” decision.

And must the necessary majority emerge from the UK as a whole, or must the necessary majority be present in all the principal regions of the UK?

For me, the sovereignty of Parliament can only be maintained if the referendum next Thursday is advisory to the members of Parliament.  It follows that something like a constitutional crisis will occur if the result of the referendum is not affirmed by subsequent votes in the two Houses of Parliament.

Posted by: aboutalbion | May 29, 2016

EU referendum vote (5)

In today’s hustings, reference to the corrosion of public trust has been made.

I want to suggest that the agreement between both sides of the debate not to discuss the bankruptcy (or otherwise) of the UK is a deliberate cover-up and, as such, a corrosion of public trust.

Successive UK governments have increased the National Debt to currently over £1.6 trillion, which is over £25,000 for each man, woman, and child in the population.

The latest figures (for 2015) from the ONS for the UK balance of payments show a deficit of £96.2 billion (or £1,500 for each man, woman, and child in the population).  This was the largest annual deficit (as a percentage of GDP at current market prices) since annual records began in 1948.

I conclude from these two sets of figures that the UK is addicted to debt and trading at a substantial loss.

I further conclude that the two sides in the Referendum debate have joined a conspiracy to conceal the current malignancy affecting the UK economy.  To my mind, the UK’s politicians are infantilising the British electorate by their silence on this issue.

Posted by: aboutalbion | April 27, 2016

EU referendum vote (4)

In this post, I want to contrast what I believe to be the core political choice.

I believe that that mainland Europe has a tendency towards absolute governance, in the sense that those with political power can (if necessary) raise taxes without the consent of the citizenry through a Parliament.  And my understanding of the British way (for the last three hundred years or so) is that those with political power can only raise taxes with the consent of the citizenry expressed through a vote in a Parliament – that is, limited governance.

If there is any credibility in this contrast, then it would begin to explain two things.

First, it would begin to explain why there is always likely to be an unbridgeable gap between the two schools of thought about governance.

Second, it would begin to explain the historic basis of British foreign policy (as it has been explained to me) of wishing to prevent our nearest continental neighbours from joining up together in any sort of alliance against us.

So if, and I repeat if, there is a clear consensus case for leaving, I reach the provisional conclusion that it might well not be in the UK’s interest to actually leave until France and Germany separate (on account of the EU not being sustainable).

From that perspective, I can understand that the UK government does not wish to go down in history as the apparent agent which triggered the collapse of the EU.

Posted by: aboutalbion | March 6, 2016

EU referendum vote (3)

Most of us know that debtors are not free agents until a debt has been paid off.  Significant decisions have to have a clearance from those who have lent us money.

For example, I read that a retired star player associated with Yorkshire County Cricket Club [CCC] is currently seeking election to the board because he feels that the voices of the supporters of Yorkshire CCC are being ignored by board decisions that have increased the club’s debt from something like £5M in 2002 to approaching £25M in 2014.

What I have noted in the opening days of the EU referendum campaign is that neither side is referring to the management of the UK’s public debt, which is currently close to £1.7T (or more than £25,000 per head of the UK population), and increasing every day because the UK is addicted to debt and living beyond its means.

Both sides say the UK electorate will decide the referendum.  I am hoping that both sides will (sooner rather than later) be honest about the ownership profile of UK bonds, and will invite representatives of the owners of UK bonds to express an opinion in public about the question on the referendum voting paper.

I would prefer this latter course of action over ‘turbulence’ in the UK bond market.

Posted by: aboutalbion | February 28, 2016

EU referendum vote (2)

It is said that history never repeats itself … but has the UK been in something like this position before?

In the early 1530s, England’s King wanted to negotiate a ‘special status’ with the pan-European organisation we now call western Christendom and which was centred in iconic buildings in Rome.

The King’s negotiators failed in their task on that occasion, and the King led England away from European Rome by legislation in 1534.  At that time, I note that there were other nationalist movements agitating for a break with Rome in northern Europe.

From 1534, England was running its own country and passing its own laws.  But did it lead to stable and sustainable governance of England?

The history books I read suggest that there was civil strife in England, and eventually civil war, for over a hundred years after 1534.  We refer today to the two sides as high church Anglicans (who wanted to continue post-Constantine arrangements in the Church of England) and Puritans (who wanted to return to pre-Constantine arrangements in church life).

Fast forward to today, and I can imagine that the ‘staying in’ organisation will assert that the UK has indeed achieved a ‘special status’ within the EU in the recent negotiations, and therefore a vote to remain in the EU will avoid civil strife and maintain the current status quo.

I can also imagine that the two ‘leave’ organisations might be conflicted over how much EU inspired legislation of the past two generations needs to be repealed so that UK citizens feel that they have indeed left the EU.  I speculate to myself that a ‘No’ vote might be followed by a century of civil strife between the ‘metric’ party (who want to keep the metric system we have adopted) and the ‘imperial’ party (who want to return to lbs and ozs and feet and inches).  Both parties would be claiming to enact their referendum manifesto commitment to run our own country and pass our own laws.

As I look ahead to the outcome of the in-out referendum, I find that history reminds me that every action is liable to be followed by unintended consequences.

Posted by: aboutalbion | February 21, 2016

EU referendum vote (1)

Yesterday, the UK Prime Minister announced that he has arranged (on Thursday 23 June 2016) for the UK to vote on the issue of staying in, or leaving, the EU.

Although, this blog hasn’t been very active in recent months (because I’m working on another writing project), I would like to record some reflections as the time for this vote approaches.

Perhaps, I can begin this post by stating that I’m not committed ideologically to either side of the debate.

Rather, now that I’ve had my ‘three score years and ten’, my central concern is to see that this corner of the world (known as England) has a sustainable way of life in which my children and grandchildren and all my descendants may participate (if they choose).

So my first thought is that this vote needs to be about ideas (and not people) for the governance of the UK starting from the day after the referendum.  And on this point, I register my disappointment that media comment during the last twenty four hours has been about the voting intention of the current Mayor of London.

From the point of view of the stability and sustainability of the UK, I shall listen for what each side of the argument commits to.

I’m expecting the ‘staying in’ side to advocate the advantages of the status quo and say that there will be ‘no change’ … apart from the small adjustments that were granted to the UK at the EU summit last week.

The ‘leaving’ side is at a disadvantage at the moment because it is divided.  Currently, there are two groups wanting to be recognised as the ‘official’ ‘leaving’ organisation, and until that matter is resolved the ‘leaving’ voices are not yet harmonised.

It is often said that it is easier to be against a project than for a project.  As I see it, the ‘leaving’ sides are unsure about a fresh direction for the government that would underpin the future stability and sustainability of the UK.

For this referendum vote, I maintain that policy ideas, when mandated by the UK electorate and enshrined in law, matter more than politicians.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »