* Alisdair Calder McGregor is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Calder Valley.
I have spoken to Euan Sutherland about why he quit as chief executive of the Co-operative Group.
And he insisted that his resignation had been long considered, even though he had only been in the job for just over ten months.
What tipped him over the edge was the disclosure to the Observer newspaper of his £3m-per-year pay package, but he saw it as just the latest manifestation of a determination by some elected Co-op officials to frustrate his attempt to reform the way the group is run, its governance.
"The senior democrats [as elected Co-op officials are often called] talk the talk of reform, but in practice they won't do it," he told me.
What appears to have annoyed him most was regular leaks of the big strategic moves planned by the group - such as its sale of farms and likely disposal of pharmacies - which he saw as an attempt to foment dissent.
I can't really complain about these leaks, since I was a beneficiary. But I can see it from his point of view.
His hope therefore is that by resigning and highlighting that the group is a long way from mended (it still needs to reassure the banks that it is reducing large debts of £1.5bn, it has promised the Bank of England to inject £260m into Co-op Bank), the change to management structure he believes necessary will now happen.
"My hope is that from the resignation will come healthy reform," he said.
He had three other things he wanted to get off his chest.
First, he insisted that a quartet of senior executives led by him - including the finance director Richard Pennycook, who has replaced Mr Sutherland temporarily - were "there for the pride of revitalising the Co-op".
He added: "We want it become a campaigning organisation again, especially in communities. And it has to be for more than just the 600 activists, but also for the millions of members and customers".
And here we get to the heart of his critique of the organisational structure of Co-op Group. He is concerned that too much of the benefit of the group goes to those who get elected to the Co-op's regional boards and local area committees, and not enough to the five million members and customers.
"Who is the Co-op for? Is it for the 600 activists, the 90,000 employees or the millions of members and customers?" he asked. "In my view it is for all of them."
His plea, he said, was therefore for the group to implement the reforms to the management structure and governance being prepared by Lord Myners, the former fund manager and erstwhile City minister.
The thrust of those reforms would be to empower the group's executives and - to an extent - marginalise the elected officials.
However, Mr Sutherland denied that he had been trying to rush through the changes. "I was committed to take through the reforms at the pace that the democrats [elected officials] wanted."
But that required some movement by those elected officials. And he increasingly feared that they did not want fundamental change at all.
Mr Full Metal Havok <snip> Frostnova
A New Zealand lad is finally feeling the full effect of a lost poker bet some five years after he was obliged to change his name to "Full Metal Havok More Sexy N Intelligent Than Spock And All The Superheroes Combined With Frostnova."…
The fact a YouGov EU referendum poll, which shows In ahead only for the second time, gets more coverage abroad than in the UK, says a lot.
— Alberto Nardelli (@AlbertoNardelli) March 11, 2014
What could have potency is “being denied a vote”
We are now just ten weeks away from the Euro Elections and today sees Ed Miliband make a speech in which, effectively, he rules out offering an referendum on whether the UK should stay IN or OUT.
This creates a clear dividing line with David Cameron and reinforces the Tory line that the only sure way of getting a referendum is by going blue.
Yesterday YouGov published its monthly EU referendum tracker which showed only for the second time that IN was ahead of OUT – a finding that got much wider coverage in the international media than in the UK. Looking at the detail the percentage wanting OUT remained the same. What changed was a 5% uplift in the STAY number from the don’t knows and won’t votes.
If YouGov is reading the public mood correctly then Miliband’s move has fewer risks for LAB than might have appeared. For all the pressure for a referendum has come from those who want out not those who want to remain.
Until now almost all the pointers have been that the outcome of the vote would be OUT. If that appears not to be the case then it might take the edge of their enthusiasm for a referendum.
The finding could also help Nick Clegg who has positioned the LDs as the party of IN and, of course, he’s due to have his public debates with Nigel Farage. Maybe the niche market that Clegg was aiming for is larger than we think.
Where today’s announcement by the LAB leader could be risky is that it could be portrayed as wanting to deny giving voters a choice. That might have salience.
Over to you Mr Farage. If you allow Labour in by the back door by splitting the Eurosceptic vote the British people won't get a referendum.
— Tim Montgomerie (@TimMontgomerie) March 11, 2014
2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble
Eventually I figured out that meant it was 6 after 12 midnight.
3 police officers or border guards, 2 Polish and 1 German as far as I could tell (the one who spoke to me was Polish) boarded train EC 40, the Warszawa – Berlin express, at Rzepin on 11th March 2014. I was in the front carriage of the train, where the officers boarded. A few minutes after the train departed Rzepin the police passed through the train, and the following conversation followed when I was approached by the officer. This is the word for word transcript of the conversation:
Border Guard (BG): (says something in Polish)
Jon (J): Sorry I don’t speak Polish
BG: Polish border guard. I would like to see your ID or passport.
J: It’s an identity check or a border control?
BG: No it’s not a border control
J: (I get my wallet and take out my German driving license)
BG: It’s not enough. It’s a driving license. Your ID or passport.
J: Could you tell me why that’s not enough?
BG: Because the driving license does not allow you to cross the border
J: But this is an identity check not a border control?
BG: It’s not a border control.
J: So you’re demanding the document from me…
BG: I’m not demanding you. The law says that in order to cross the border which you are going to cross…
J: So it IS a border control
BG: No it is not a border control. It is an identity control.
J: So hence my driving license is OK.
BG: You need to show what you need to cross the border.
J: Sorry. That is a contradiction. That is a border control.
BG: It isn’t.
J: (I show him my passport)
BG: When you are going from France to Great Britain they do the same as here.
J: Yes, I know, I teach European law, that’s why I am asking you.
BG: European law says exactly what I told you.
J: No it doesn’t.
BG: You better read… (Border Guard walks off)
So what is going on here?
The official had no obvious emblems on his clothing, so I cannot confirm whether he was indeed a policeman or border guard. His jacket was obscured by a yellow high visibility vest. However he introduced himself with the words “Polish border guard”.
Border controls are not allowed in Schengen, and ID checks in border areas are regulated by Article 21 of the Schengen borders code:
Checks within the territory
The abolition of border control at internal borders shall not affect:
(a) the exercise of police powers by the competent authorities of the Member States under national law, insofar as the exercise of those powers does not have an effect equivalent to border checks; that shall also apply in border areas. Within the meaning of the first sentence, the exercise of police powers may not, in particular, be considered equivalent to the exercise of border checks when the police measures:
(i) do not have border control as an objective,
(ii) are based on general police information and experience regarding possible threats to public security and aim, in particular, to combat cross-border crime,
(iii) are devised and executed in a manner clearly distinct from systematic checks on persons at the external borders,
(iv) are carried out on the basis of spot-checks;
The check to which I was subjected clearly breaches (iii) – the officer introduced himself as a border guard, and talked about “the border you are going to cross” as if this were central to the control he was about to carry out. The guard is right that I do need more than a driving license to cross the border, but he also has no right to demand that from me as he is only conducting an identity check.
The further question then arises: if this were simply an identity check, and not a border control, what are the ID requirements for non-Poles in Poland. The law regulating this is here (in Polish). The important part of this is § 4, Google translated as follows:
§ 4 The officer determined the identity of the person legitymowanej based on:
1) ID card;
3) foreign identity document;
4) else establish a reliable instrument equipped with a photograph and indicating the number or series;
5) statements of another person, whose identity was determined on the basis of the documents referred to in paragraphs 1-4.
So what is my German-issued photocard driving license? Is that covered by 4) or not? If so then the correct procedure would have been similar to the Puttgarden experience where the official could have checked my identity on the basis of the driving license alone, and would have no right to demand to see my passport.
Anyway, I will submit an official complain to the European Commission about this to test what is happening here. If you’ve managed to read this far then you might also be interested in similar stories from St Jean de Maurienne and Padborg, and the website dedicated this this issue – FreeMovement.net
[UPDATE, 12.3.2014 at 0200]
Since publishing the original blog entry, I have been sent the link to the Polish law covering the border guard rules. PDF here. The rules there are rather similar to the law above that applies to the police – again Google Translated:
§ 4 The officer determined that the person identity legitimacy reformed on the basis of:
1) the identity card;
2) passport document,
3) the travel document;
4) any other niebudzacego doubt a document bearing a photograph-and assigned a number or series;
5) benefits a person who the officer is known to the person;
6) benefits of another person, whose identity it was-cond breakthrough was determined in a way, about whom referred to in paragraphs 1-5.
I’m sat at a conference and there in front of me sits a diplomat from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He’s here to present the UK’s positions on the future of the European Union. His suit is sharp, his role senior, and undoubtedly his bank balance a lot healthier than mine.
His diction is at that ambiguous spot between clear, and patronising (for the sake of the non-native English speakers in the audience), but that does not grate as much as his words do.
Through rhetorical dexterity he explains that, because the Member States of the European Union are more legitimate than the EU itself is, the 28 Member States – acting all together (i.e. with a veto right) – should be the ones setting the political direction for the European Union. Because turnout in European elections is down that means that power for the European Parliament is not the solution to deal with the EU’s democratic deficit that he repeatedly mentions, yet proposes no solution to solve.
The European Commission should simultaneously give more room for manoeuvre to Member States when it comes to freedom of movement, but when it comes to the Single Market the Commission must do more.
National Parliaments’ yellow card should be improved to become a red card, yet he sees no contradiction between this idea and the need to deepen the EU’s Single Market. National Parliaments indeed, in his eyes, are the epitome of democratic accountability, playing to to the UK’s ‘mother of all parliaments’ myth.
He speaks of output legitimacy, of how the European Union must prioritise jobs and competitiveness, and how the new European Commission must focus relentlessly on this. He talks of how the new Commission team must work for the Single Market yet of course neglects to mention the appointment process and how this is connected to the results of the European Parliament elections.
He talks of how gas costs in the USA have plunged 66% since 2005, and risen more than 30% in the EU in the same period, yet later speaks of how climate change is a serious concern. Without pause he talks of the importance of shale gas, and nuclear.
Stop. Really. Please. Just stop. I was squirming in my seat listening to all of this, the smooth phrases masking a contempt for anything not cooked up in the rooms of King Charles Street or Conservative Party HQ.
Anyone with half an understanding of the European Union must realise that most of the above is either contradictory, or unworkable, or both. Even UKIP’s position – that the UK should leave the EU – is more consistent than this.
The gentleman’s position essentially starts from where the European Union is now, where UK politics (and especially the politics of the Conservative Party) are now, and makes minor changes to that, the whole lot rooted in the forlorn pragmatism that is supposed to be a strength of UK politics.
I am sorry, but it is no good.
What is the vision for how the European Union should look, and how are we going to get there? Does EU-wide democracy have a hope of working, or not? Because to bemoan the democratic deficit while proposing the essential renationalisation of decision making is a glaring contradiction. Perhaps it is simply a contradiction so often made we do not realise it is a contradiction any more. It is like strengthening Rheinland-Pfalz or Bayern to improve the German federal level – absurd. You cannot simultaneously demand the Commission be more effective and seek to undermine it. You cannot hope that unanimous decision making is going to be a solution for leadership in the EU.
This, then, at a personal level, is why I am better off as an independent, a freelancer, a blogger. I may live in material poverty in comparison to the FCO gentleman, but I am not beset by the intellectual poverty to which he has succumbed. We essentially have 2 options: we make EU-wide democracy work, or we retrench to the national level. When choosing between the two I am for the former every time.
Maybe I am too much of an idealist. But without ideals, what’s life worth living for?
So the lineup for the first-ever Presidential Election in Europe, to select the Commission President 2014-2019, is complete – Martin Schulz for the Party of European Socialists (PES), Jean-Claude Juncker for the European People’s Party (EPP), Guy Verhofstadt for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), José Bové and Ska Keller for the Greens (EGP) and Alexis Tsipras for the European Left (EL). Spiegel English has more about the tensions the process is arousing here.
OK, so the election is not a direct plebiscite, but the principle is that whatever party ‘wins’ the European Parliament elections at the end of May will put forward its candidate for President of the European Commission (see the procedure here). Of course a lot of different things can happen between now and the President taking office, not least the problem that the EPP has a majority in the European Council, and the PES might be the biggest in the EP after the elections.
There will at least be some classic media interest in the election as a result of the parties putting forward nominees for the Commission – the EBU will screen a debate, presumably with all candidates, on 14th May. German broadcasters ARD (and its regional components) and ZDF, together with the Austrian ORF also have a whole range of different events planned.
So what about the UK in all of this? That the EU has a democratic deficit is a common refrain in the UK. Yet when it comes to the decision as to who should be President of the Commission, British voters have very little choice.
The Labour Party, although it still remains a member party of the Party of European Socialists, did not back Martin Schulz in the PES’s internal procedure to choose him, and Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander have spoken out against Schulz’s vision for the EU. Nevertheless Labour could not muster an alternative. When it comes to an eventual vote in the European Parliament after the elections I would be astounded if Labour’s MEPs did not back Schulz to give him a majority, but there will be no mention of Schulz in the election campaign in the UK.
That means that among the UK’s main parties, only the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are part of the process to select top candidates for the Commission, and the Lib Dems actually initially favoured Verhofstadt’s rival, Rehn.
So when it comes to the selection of the Commission President, just like on so much else about the European Union, the UK doesn’t know if it’s in or out, and voters in the UK will hence not be able to really express their view on the future direction of the European Union. That’s a sad state of affairs.
Image rights: the image used to illustrate this post is my own work, drawing on Creative Commons images from Flickr. Full attribution details can be found on Flickr for the 3 versions of the image (Party colours (as shown), colour and black and white). Full resolution versions available to reuse (with attribution) and download are on Flickr.
When it comes to these two fandoms I really, sincerely am happy to read just about anything you care to write. If there's something I don't want to read, I've said so. Otherwise feel free to surprise me! The prompts are for inspiration only and I would love to see what you manage to come up with.
( General information )
( Return to Night )
( The Charioteer )
Here’s a genuine blast from the past: On Facebook, my pal Gary Mizuhara unearthed our fifth grade class picture from Ben Lomond Elementary School in Covina, California, all the way back in (gasp) 1979. See if you can guess which of these kids is me. I think it’s pretty easy to figure out which one I am, but then, I would.
What were you doing in ’79? “Being a gamete” is an entirely acceptable answer, incidentally.
Over the weekend I wrote about Morpheus, a very cool vertical takeoff and lander being used to test advanced navigation for potential landings on asteroids and moons. On March 11, 2014, Morpheus made another short test flight that's every centimeter as amazing as the first one:
Remember, there's no one actually controlling the device; it has software onboard that can make decisions on how to navigate and land, avoiding obstacles and such. During the test it reached a height of 177 meters (580 feet) and moved 255 meters (837 feet) downrange.
The thing that really freaks me out about it is how it moves; it doesn't dodge duck, dip, dive, or dodge. It looks rock solid, like it's somehow mounted in the air. The balance and thrust pointing on it is exquisite, making it look more like a special effect. But it's real, and I'm very glad the folks at NASA are playing with it.
Entertainment One Television (Hell on Wheels) and De Laurentiis Co. (Hannibal) are developing a series based on Pohl’s 1977 novel Gateway, set on an abandoned alien space station that has since been taken over by humans. The novel has won a Hugo Award, Locus Award, Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.