How to Save Syria: a deal with two devils is urgently needed

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP
Houses of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

19/02/2016

Dear Sarah,

Next month will mark the 5th anniversary of the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, a conflict which according to various estimates, has so far cost the lives of between two hundred thousand and half a million people – men, women and children. In addition, an estimated 1.9 million people, both combatant and non-combatant have been wounded in the seemingly endless fighting. Beyond death and injury, the costs of the conflict to the civilian population have been immense.

Half of the country’s pre-war population, more than 12 million people has been killed or forced to flee their homes. There are thought to be 1.6 million Syrian war refugees living in Turkey. Another 8 million of more are either internally displaced within Syria or have crossed the border and are living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. In 2015, over one million Syrians fled to Western Europe from the conflict zone and nearly 4,000 of them are thought to have drowned making the attempt. The first 6 weeks of 2016 have seen more than 80,000 Syrian refugees make the perilous journey to Europe.

As the Economist reported this week:

“Syria is a nasty complex of wars within a war: an uprising against dictatorship; a sectarian battle between Sunnis and Alawites (and their Shia allies); an internecine struggle among Sunni Arabs; a Kurdish quest for a homeland; a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran; and a geopolitical contest between a timid America and a resurgent Russia.”

It is now time for the West to act decisively to bring this dreadful conflict to a conclusion. A failure to do so will mean that the war will drag on endlessly into the future, destabilising the Middle East even further and allowing hundreds of thousands more Syrians to be killed and injured. An already over-stretched Europe will see millions of additional refugees in the years to come.

Further inaction is not an option in the face of this calamity of biblical proportions. It seems likely that the Syrian peace talks as presently configured will turn into an international talkfest that could go on for years without achieving anything significant. It is very clear to me that any realistic plan to bring the conflict to a rapid conclusion is going to require an ultra-pragmatic approach which will require the unthinkable to be thought. In practical terms this will mean the following:

 • Involving Bashar al-Assad in the peace talks. Christopher Hill, retired US Ambassador to Iraq and veteran of the 1995 Dayton peace talks which brokered the Bosnian peace settlement, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 this week commented “The biggest mistake the US and UK have made in Syria was deciding at the start of the conflict that they could not deal with President Assad”. He went on to make the point that due to the complex multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian nature of Syria, it is vital that he [Assad] be included in talks because without him a solution to the crisis is unlikely. And so he must.

 • Acknowledging the blindingly obvious, self-evident truth that the only significant, effective military forces in Syria at the moment are those of the Assad Regime and the Russians. Any rapid resolution of the conflict and the defeat of ISIL must inevitably involve the West doing a deal with two devils: Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.

 • The West has a long history of dealing pragmatically with unsavoury leaders in pursuit of honourable objectives.

 • Assad and his local allies should be supported in taking on ISIL by the West and by Russia. The so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria on seeing the West line up with the regime and the Russians will recognise that the “game is up” and lay down their arms, disband and return to their communities. They will be very frustrated that their efforts to oust Assad have failed and disappointed in the West for its change of heart, but at least they will be alive and with a country and a future. Their security must be guaranteed as part of any future political settlement in Syria.

 • In exchange for lending its support to Assad, the West needs to extract a firm commitment from both him and the Russians, that minority groups in Syria must be protected. Prior to the civil war, there was a long history of religious and ethnic minorities in Syria living reasonably harmoniously with the Sunni majority.

 • A vital part of any peace deal in Syria will require a transition plan being agreed that will eventually see Bashar al- Assad exit the Syrian stage into retirement outside the country. If allowing Assad, the dignity of exile rather than the indignity of a war crimes trial at the ICC saves the life of a single Syrian, it will have been a deal worth making.

 • Post conflict there may be a requirement for some kind of UN led stabilisation force as happened in the Balkans in the 1990s. The UK and US must be prepared to support this with boots on the ground. This probably would also include a Russian component.

 • Syria will need to be rebuilt and that is going to cost many billions of dollars, much of which will have to come from Europe and the US. It must be made clear to the Syrians that support for the rebuilding of the country will only be forthcoming if there is significant progress in determining the future political arrangements for the country. These must include real democratic reforms, a realistic timetable for their implementation and the inclusion of significant constitutional protections as part of the political settlement for minority groups in the country.

 Vladimir Putin is clearly a very tricky customer for the West to deal with and making concessions to him, anathema for us. However, if peace in Syria requires that at least some of the Russian demands are to be allowed, then the UK and US must demonstrate some flexibility. For example, if the Russians request, as seems likely, continuing access to their Mediterranean naval base at Tartus as part of the deal, then we must be prepared to consider it seriously.

Yours sincerely,

David

The Sorry Tale of the Stink Bombs on the Bus

stink-bombs-glass-vialsIn the margins of my recent shock, horror revelation that I have begun an exercise programme, I had a splendid conversation with Steven, one of my oldest friends, who for some inexplicable reason, was always called Fred at school. I will continue with that convention for the purposes of this little tale.

Fred and I have known each other since we were 8 or 9 and we were pupils at the same schools and in a lot of the same classes right up until our A levels. During our conversation, we revisited the almost forgotten episode of the “Stink bomb on the bus” an event that happened 45 years ago. This was undoubtedly, one of the lowest and most shameful (amongst many shameful and low points…) points of my rather chequered school career. On the basis that it is often said that it is better to talk about these things rather than to hold them in, I would like to share the details of this sorry tale and of the conversation with Fred with my friends.

Me: Got a few aching muscles now after the training session, but feeling very good overall. As Tommy Carr, our tyrannical sports master at school used to say in his proper Welsh accent – “Remember boys, no pain, no gain”. And he was right. Shame it’s taken me 45 years to see it….

Fred: Mr Carr tyrannical? I think you might have been a bit luckier than you realised at the time!

Me: I can remember him getting in my face once after I’d “forgotten” my games kit for the 10th time that term and saying “You really hate me don’t you sunshine?” I’m ashamed to admit that I lied through my teeth and replied “No sir, actually I quite like you.” Well that set him off, and he then proceeded to leather my large backside with a stained old, off-white dap (pumps for my northern friends and training shoe for everybody else) as we say in South Wales that he kept specifically for that purpose.

Of course that wasn’t the only time I got whacked at school – I fully recognise that I was not the easiest pupil sometimes…. One particular exploit which resulted in the evacuation of a Red and White double decker school bus and quite a severe thrashing for me from the deputy head still causes me to pause sometimes and think “Did I really do that!”

In all honesty, I don’t think the various beatings I received at the hands of a variety of teachers did me any lasting harm because I deserved all of them and I was fully prepared to face the music. That said, times have changed for the better and it is absolutely right that teachers and parents are no longer allowed to hit children. But getting back to Mr Carr, I think it fair to stay that I probably had a different kind of relationship with him than you did.

Fred: I suppose so. I did actually start to like games when I was about 14, so I suppose I have probably suppressed most of what happened before that.

Me: I vividly remember my first games lesson in September 1970. We gathered in the gym and we had to choose a sport for our first winter term at the school. Tommy Carr said in his strong Valleys accent (and his words remain etched into my memory): “Well boys, you’ve got two choices, you can play rugby or you can play rugby. What’s it going to be then?”

Fred: Yes that sounds about right. You weren’t alone in hating rugby back then though. My first bad memory actually goes back further to St John’s when someone decided to play a mean trick by nominating me to play for one of the school teams. When I queried it, after letting me stew for a bit, they said it’s OK, I was only the number 16 so in fact I would be a linesman. After an all too brief training (I never quite could sort out which way to point the flag), I found it quite hard even to keep up with the play. I set off running up the side of the pitch and suddenly the whistle blows and they awarded a line-out. I said what was that for, and they said I had been waving the flag in whichever direction it was. I hadn’t really been waving the flag at all, just flailing in my efforts to run as fast as I could. Anyway, they never picked me again, thank goodness.

Me: St Johns on the Hill or the “Dump on the Tump” as I used to call it. The headmaster was an unusual character as I remember and I’ve done my best to forget my undistinguished sojourn there.

Fred: Are you willing to reveal what you did on the bus?

Me: Ah, the “Stink bomb on the bus episode” – was not one of my finer moments I’m afraid. It happened one Monday in September after a weekend expedition to the joke shop on Christmas Steps in Bristol when I was about twelve as I remember. I’d purchased several phials of a very noxious fluid called Stinko. Each was equivalent to about 10 normal stink bombs. My intention was to resell them at a profit in school.

On the double decker bus going to school on Monday morning, I happened to sit upstairs next to someone who could only be described as a serially naughty lad and an unremitting recidivist. Without naming names, do you remember Roger Reece? I told him about the Stinko I had bought in Bristol and we agreed on a price. He handed over the readies and I gave him a couple of tubes of the ghastly concoction.

Then Reecy did something unexpected (as I should have foreseen but didn’t), he walked to the back of the bus where the stairs were located. The bus conductor (those were the days eh!) used to stand downstairs right at the back of the bus by the exit platform. He took the top off one of the tubes of Stinko and said “I wonder what would happen if I tip this all over the shelf right at the back.” He then proceeded to do exactly that and then he opened the second tube and did the same with that one! I was a bit stunned by this, like a deer in the headlights, and I knew in that instant as my life flashed before me, that this was a bad day which could only get worse.

I retreated quickly to the front of the bus and hid. The Stinko fluid, remember we are talking of the equivalent of 20 stink bombs here, dripped down onto the poor old bus conductor and the double decker quickly filled with the intense smell of a thousand farts. To cut a long story short, the bus had to be evacuated at Chepstow bus station and taken out of service for a hose-down and a deep clean. The poor old bus conductor was taken away for decontamination and to be measured-up for the new uniform he needed. I’ll bet he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near his wife for weeks. Other than being extremely annoyed, he was fine I understand and suffered no long-term damage.

Eventually, a replacement bus rolled into the bus station, we were herded on to it and driven up to school, arriving well over an hour late. At this stage, apart from the other kids on the bus, nobody in any kind of authority had a clue who was responsible for the dastardly deed which had been committed. The odour-free replacement bus pitched-up in the school yard and there was a grim looking reception committee waiting for us; consisting of the head, Mrs Hurt, the deputy head Mr Theophilis, and a couple of heavies from the teaching staff to keep us under control. I suppose we’d call it “kettling” these days? Probably, Tommy Carr was there, cos that was exactly the kind of activity he absolutely relished as a PE teacher, but I couldn’t swear to it in all honesty.

We were lined up outside Mrs Hurt’s office and told, in terms that left no room at all for any doubt, that unless the miscreants owned up, everybody on the bus would be in permanent detention for rest of their lives. The precise question asked of us was “Who was the idiot who had brought the stink bombs onto the bus?” At that point, I knew my goose was well and truly cooked, the chickens had come home to roost etc., and that I was going to have a really, really, poor day…

It’s hard to overstate the peer pressure exerted by the other 50 odd children on the bus who were looking at a lifetime of detention unless I owned up, and they knew exactly who the perpetrators were. Realising, that my case was hopeless and no amount of bullshit was going to get me off this time, I straightened my back, pushed out my chest, sucked in my stomach (to the extent that was possible in those days) and owned up to the crime, to the palpable relief of all the other kids, except Reecy. To his credit, thinking that it would be unfair for me to take the rap all on my own, he ‘fessed up too.

We then got one of the most comprehensive, wide ranging and intensive bollockings it has ever been my privilege to receive. Punishments were meted out and mine was four of the best with some community service (permanent rubbish collection duty as I remember) thrown in for good measure. This was complicated a bit by the fact that Mrs Hurt taught English to the top set in my year. I was a bit of a favourite of hers and also the best English student in the class at the time. That didn’t last long though… Anyway, unable to bring herself to thrash one of her favourite pupils, she delegated that task to the deputy head, Mr Theophilis.

He shared none of her qualms in that respect. The deputy head didn’t use a cane, but a bit of 2 by 2 which he applied to my rear end with what can only be described as considerable enthusiasm. I can remember, taking my punishment like a man without so much as a whimper and then striding purposefully into the boys’ toilets, sitting down and flushing repeatedly to cool down my throbbing posterior.

And that in short, Fred, is the sorry story of stink bomb on the bus. I still think of this sad episode from time to time, tinged as it must be with some regrets of course, and then chuckle and wish I’d struck a better deal for the Stinko with Reecy. But, hey, life is too short to dwell on the “What ifs and what might have beens” don’t you think?

Should We Stay or Should We Go? – some old farts debate the EU referendum

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A reputable German think-tank recently published a much less-than-positive forecast of the UK’s position in the event that we decide to leave the EU. At the same time, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn made his first substantial intervention for the Remain campaign.  He acknowledged his long held EU-scepticism whilst at the same time putting a solid case for the UK to remain as a member. These two events prompted, an at times, heated debate among a number of old farts on the merits or not, of the UK leaving the EU.

David L: The German report seriously questions the frequently cited estimates that leaving the EU could cut 1 to 5 percentage points from UK GDP and instead opts for a much larger figure saying: “Overall, net economic damage in the order of 10 per cent of economic output and more cannot be precluded in a more pessimistic scenario in the longer run.”

It acknowledges the argument which the Leave campaigners make that Britain’s trade deficit in goods gives many EU countries some incentive to seek a free-trade agreement with the UK. Other states, “would remain interested in keeping good political relations with a close and important neighbour,” the report says.

But it adds that this incentive to co-operate is likely to be outweighed by other considerations. Listing the “strategic misconceptions” of Britain, it notes, “the UK would rely more on market access to the EU than vice versa” and “political considerations could outweigh economic considerations, as the EU might fear that other [member] countries could follow the UK in exiting the EU”.

……one of the hardest things I have had to think about for a long time.

How I vote in the June referendum – whether we decide to stay or whether we decide to leave the EU is one of the hardest things I have had to think about for a long time. It’s one of those complex 49/51 decisions for which there will be no simple technical solution on offer and where the result may have profound consequences for the UK. When I go into the voting booth on referendum day, I will have to rely on both my head and my gut instinct.

Ali G: Dave – all economic arguments aside, I just believe in the security of Europe, for our youngsters to move freely, and for a united stance in the world, membership of the EU has to be the best thing. People easily forget what peace means. We are part of Europe and have been even before Julius Caesar visited (think you SW folk were trading tin 3000 years ago!!). Vote to stay in!

…..The peace element is being very underplayed……..

Dave M: The peace element is being very underplayed. I believe EU membership has had a big, if not critical impact on the Irish Accord and peace in Northern Ireland and more generally throughout Europe. We also have seen Spain coming into full democracy with EU support, German reunification and significant EU resources and efforts going to restore stability in the Balkans after the civil war there.

Tim E: Always interesting to hear your views, Dave. For myself, I suspect that the economic arguments are vastly overplayed by both sides and that, after a period of instability, everything will continue (as it always has) to be dictated by national and corporate self-interest, and that therefore economically not much will actually change. The questions of national security and social stability seem much more significant and probably slightly favour staying in the EU, based on the questionable premise that the EU as a whole will remain intact.

…I suspect that the economic arguments are being vastly overplayed by both sides..

Really, the only issue that I’m absolutely sure of, is that the EU institution itself is an appallingly unaccountable body of self-interested politicians, oligarchic bureaucrats, corporate lobbyists and straightforward gangsters; and that this is unlikely to improve in the future. I believe that the importance of accountable, local democracy, is vastly under appreciated by most of the people who are lucky enough to enjoy its benefits. Therefore, on balance, I favour an exit. Embarrassing as it is to find myself lining up with some very unpleasant xenophobic nutters.

Dave L: For better or worse, most of my friends share fairly similar political views to my own. I would guess that 75 or 80 per cent of them are of the centre or varying degrees of left of centre in terms of their political outlook. I find it fascinating that the EU issue is one that seems to be transcending politics. Quite a few of my friends who I would have thought would be firm stayers are in fact turning out to be Leavers. Conversely, some of them whom I would have predicted would want to leave are passionate Remainers.

I guess at the heart of the issue is the question of national identity and how we want to see ourselves: as Britons or as Europeans or are happy with a compromise in some place between the two positions. As you rightly point out, the EU is a very imperfect project with many serious issues and problems that need to be sorted out. Our own democracy in the UK is also a work in progress. It has taken 1000 years to reach the point where the Prime Minister and Chancellor feel obliged to publish their tax returns…. But we are not going to give up on it and we will as a people continue to try to improve and perfect our democracy because we recognise that this is the best option for us in the long run.

……….And this is how I look at the EU: also as a work in progress…….

And this is how I look at the EU: also as a work in progress. A project where much remains to be done but where a decent start was made 40 or 50 years ago. The original objectives were very worthy: peace, European cooperation and rising prosperity for all. Of course, the results thus far have been quite patchy but we must not be too impatient.

Chou en Lai, the first premier of post revolution China was asked back in the 1960s what he thought the impact of the French revolution had been. He considered the question for a moment and replied “It’s too early to tell”. And that’s about my view of the EU. Whilst I will freely admit that part of me thinks it is bound to implode due to its democratic deficits, poor management, its inability to take tough decisions etc., another part of me says, these are very early days and we should give it a real chance to succeed. After all, human progress tends to happen millimetrically rather than in great leaps and bounds.

……the thought of lining up with swivel-eyed Tory and UKIP loons…..

I suspect that for that reason, I will probably vote to Remain in June although I’m still listening intently to the arguments from both sides. Also the thought of lining up with swivel-eyed Tory and UKIP loons like John Redwood, Nigel Lawson, Nigel Farage and the MP for the 18th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg (and his nanny) is almost too awful to contemplate…..

Tim E: I don’t really disagree with any of your sentiments. It is simply a question of which model of governance I think is best suited to maintaining and improving our society. Generally, I favour the devolution of power to a level where voters can feel engaged with their representatives and can more easily identify and remove the rogues and villains. With regard to national identity; I’m proud to be a European and will remain so whether we leave the EU or not. I would very much like to maintain the free movement of labour and the minimisation of trade barriers and hope that this could be achieved even from outside the “ever closer integration” of the EU.

Also, your listing of some of my swivel-eyed xenophobe fellow travellers was rather a low blow! My only, rather weak, response would be to quote Tony Benn: “When I saw how the European Union was developing, it was very obvious what they had in mind was not democratic. In Britain, you vote for a government so the government has to listen to you, and if you don’t like it you can change it.” A man whom I very often disagreed with on policy but seldom on principle.

 ..Tony Benn as a champion of democracy – there I think you are stretching the truth a bit..

Dave L: Like you Tim, I have a certain respect and affection for Tony Benn and his memory. He was a Tyrannosaurus Rex of the old Labour left who stuck with his long held principles of equality and fairness even as the world changed radically around him, the Tories clocked up 4 election victories on the trot and Essex Man morphed into White Van Man. But TB as a champion of democracy – there I think you are stretching the truth a bit. It is hard to forget the opposition of TB and his Bennites in the 1980’s and 90s to Neil Kinnock and then John Smith’s heroic efforts to democratise the Labour party. Kinnock and Smith struggled vainly for years to introduce “one member one vote” for Labour leadership elections and to diminish the power of the extremely unrepresentative trades unions.

The Bennites fiercely resisted this approach preferring instead, an Electoral College that gave 40% of the vote, not to ordinary trade unionists, but to be cast as block votes by a very small number of very powerful trades union General Secretaries. The 30% given to Constituency Labour Parties also didn’t have to involve all members being balloted but was generally determined by the small number of the most active members on the CLP General Committee who turned up to the long tedious meetings with “winner takes all” applying to all of the CLP’s votes. It is an approach which enabled Ed Miliband to snatch victory in the 2010 Labour leadership election from his much more electable brother, David and one which hardly represents democracy in action!

As Groucho Marx once said “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Sadly, his cynical maxim was adopted even by a politician of generally high principles like Tony Benn on occasion when it suited….

…….the EU’s democratic deficits need sorting out……

As far as the EU’s democratic deficits go, I agree with you completely that these need to be sorted out. The current arrangements are clearly unsatisfactory with too much unaccountable power being wielded by very handsomely rewarded Eurocrats in Brussels. The EU and its member states need to approach the necessary reforms seriously. This will require time, resources and commitment. In the meantime, all the other mechanisms for governing our green and pleasant land will continue to operate as ever they have.

We will still have parish, district and municipal councils. Some “fortunate” cities will have elected mayors (but only if the electorate has agreed in advance by referendum to have them) and we will continue to be blessed by the work of 41 elected Police and Crime Commissioners, although, I must confess, I have yet to understand precisely what it is they actually do? 600+ MPs will still be elected to our national parliament in Westminster to represent their constituents and 73 MEPs will continue to go and bat for Britain in the European Parliament. We mustn’t forget too, the sterling work of the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies or the Scottish Parliament. There is a democratic deficit in the UK? – I think not!

…..the overwhelming focus of Westminster is on British legislation for British people….

Newsnight had a fascinating debate about the EU referendum recently. Whilst, as unfortunately seems to be the case in any discussion about the referendum, there was a lot more heat than light generated, there were some very interesting points made by the participants. Amongst them were some statistics presented by the BBC’s legal correspondent. He had been asked look at the period between 1993 and 2014 to identify how much UK legislation was as a direct or indirect result of EU initiatives or directives. Of the 945 Acts of Parliament enacted during the period, 231 of them had some sort of European dimension. Of the 33,160 statutory instruments passed by Westminster, 4,283 were responding to EU requirements. Overall, only 13% of British laws or statutory instruments have any connection with the EU, implying that 87% of our Parliament’s legislative efforts are purely home grown in origin, devised by Britons and addressing purely British issues.

Of course, there is also a debate to be had about the impact of legislation. However, to suggest as many in the Leave camp do, that the UK is swamped by EU laws and regulations, and that we no longer have any control over our domestic affairs is patently wrong.

…….My policy on cake is that I am pro having it and pro eating it……

It appears that whilst you would prefer to leave the EU, you would also like to retain the free movement of people and maintain the UK’s existing free trade arrangements with the EU. Presumably you would like this to happen without any UK contribution to the EU’s coffers? Boris Johnson was once asked what was his view of cake? He replied “My policy on cake is that I am pro having it and pro eating it.” Which just about sums up your position on the EU as far as I can see. Sadly, I’m swiftly coming to the conclusion that in the real world, this is very unlikely to be possible. Even the august IMF was warning us this week to batten down the hatches and reef the national mainsail if the UK decided to leave the EU, ‘cos stormy and very uncertain economic and political seas would result.

As I said at the beginning of our discussion, this is a tricky issue for which there is very little unbiased, solid, empirical data available on which to base a decision. It is very much the case that each and every one of us will have to evaluate the various issues: sovereignty, economic well-being, free trade, peace & security, migration etc. and listen to the multitude of different voices and opinions, then weigh it all up and make a binary decision – In or Out.

………very confident claims that after a brief period of uncertainty, some nirvana-like,  sun-lit economic uplands would reveal themselves…..

This is where I’m finding it increasingly difficult to contemplate lining up with the unruly mob of chancers, dreamers, city boys, obsessives, Right Wing Tory/UKIP awkward squad members and the out and out mountebanks who are leading or involved with the Leave campaign. Their very confident claims that after a brief period of turmoil and uncertainty, some nirvana-like, sun-lit economic uplands will reveal themselves, are beginning to look rather hollow. I would be more than happy to spend an evening in a pub with either Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage (or preferably both) – and I am sure it would be a complete hoot! However, I would have to think very hard before accepting at face value any of their glib promises about the UK’s prospects if we were to vote to leave the EU.

In contrast, whilst it would be hard to argue that the Remain campaign has got off to a flying start, the quality of its leaders and backers is generally a quantum leap ahead of the Brexiteers – the vast majority of the parliamentary Labour Party, the sensible half of the Tory Party, Alan Johnson, President Obama, Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, Mark Carney, Scotland etc. etc.

I’m sure if the Dalai Lama himself has a view on Brexit, it would be for the UK to remain in the EU and to cooperate and work through its problems with our European neighbours. I can’t see the tight-arsed, xenophobic, nationalistic, Little Englander approach of the Leave campaign being one that would be particularly attractive to his Holiness.

……..Jeremy, I completely agree with you……

I don’t know if you saw it or not, but Jeremy Corbyn made his first significant contribution to the EU debate yesterday. I never thought I would ever find myself saying this – but Jeremy, I completely agree with you. It was a very honest and thoughtful intervention which plainly acknowledged his longstanding Euro-skepticism whilst at the same time making a very coherent case for us to remain.

Tim E: Dave. His argument maybe cogent (but only when considered in light of the current political balance held within the EU). But describing it as ‘honest’ given pretty much every previous statement made on the issue, prior to becoming Labour leader, seems suspiciously like you’re trying to wind me up.

Dave L: Tim, I would never try and do that…..

A quote frequently attributed to John Maynard Keynes comes to mind – “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Becoming the leader of a major political party might, not unreasonably, cause a person to reappraise a view or position.

Tim E: I know, I really shouldn’t get dragged into this again; but, I just can’t help myself. Just for a moment, consider Jeremy’s (I notice you’re currently on first name terms) argument with an alternative scenario; one where a future European parliament has a large far right majority. A far less attractive possibility and one which Mr Corbyn used to be well aware of, prior to his Keynesian mind flop.

 …….the European parliament is really of fairly marginal importance to the UK……

David L: Tim, as we discussed before, the European parliament is really of fairly marginal importance to the UK. If you believe the recent BBC analysis of UK legislation, and I have no reason to doubt it, the overwhelming focus of Westminster is on British legislation for British people. What I find particularly entertaining is that you make this argument having previously acknowledged that it will be the UK’s own home-grown contingent of right wing zealots that you will have to line-up with if we are to leave the EU. Forgive me, but I can see a smidgen of contradiction here…..

…..the last time we had far-right nutters running Europe was between 1939 and 1945. They managed to kill an estimated 60 million people……

Of course, the real clincher for me is that the last time we had far-right nutters running Europe was between 1939 and 1945. They managed to kill an estimated 60 million people. This is a fact. One can argue about the impact of NATO, the USSR and nuclear weapons ad infinitum but since the attempts at greater European cooperation began with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, we have not had another World War. That’s another fact.

…..it is probably true that the EU played a part in maintaining the peace in Europe during the 20th Century….

Tim E: I agree that it is probably true that the EU played a part (among many, many, other factors) in maintaining the peace in Europe during the 20th Century. However, we are not now considering the old EC, but a very different 21st Century institution that at its very core has the policy of ‘ever closer union’. In some, possibly many, situations this may result in entirely beneficial outcomes. But, politics are cyclical and will change, and what the EC was in the past will not be what the EU will develop into in the future. I am sure that in my remaining lifetime I will see both left wing and right wing political sentiment hold sway.

I am also sure that a national level of democracy with established checks and balances is far better placed to mitigate the damage caused by extremists on both sides during their periods in power. What we are voting about should not be short term economic gain, nor whether the actions of the current political establishment fall in line with our own thinking. What is important is which democratic model will best allow us to control the extremes and vote them out of power once people see through their hollow promises. If you believe that an EU super state would be more likely to achieve it then you are right to vote remain.

Also, well aware of the contradiction of arguing a case on the same side as some very unpleasant people. Nonetheless, I believe that this is an important issue and should be considered on its merits, as I perceive them; and not decided by which side I considered has the most attractive personalities.

…….national systems of checks and balances to keep extremism in check worked really well in Germany, Italy and Japan during the 1930s!

David L: Of course, national systems of checks and balances to keep extremism under control worked really well in Germany, Italy and Japan during the 1930s…. As far as the UK becoming part of a European super state, I think it highly unlikely that could ever happen for one main reason – the British people would never allow it. Crikey, we’ve opted out of Schengen, we’ve opted out of the Eurozone, we’ve opted  out of ever closer union, we still have most of Maggie Thatcher’s rebate and quite honestly we have been allowed by the other member states to adopt an almost “pick and mix” approach to our membership. Quite why they let us stay and don’t have a Europe-wide referendum on the merits of throwing us out of the EU is a mystery to me, I’ll admit…..

Dave L: For me, this is 100 percent about the issues and not the personalities. But an intriguing question that I must admit does lurk at the back of my mind is: why does the issue of European cooperation (i.e. working more effectively with our continental cousins in pursuit of some very sensible objectives) obsess these strange and unpleasant people to the extent that it does? For me, that is the real question?

Tim, methinks we are starting to go round and round in circles. I think we will just have to agree to disagree on the issue of the referendum.

Tim E: Very true. I therefore win this debate on the basis of a technical knock-out!

David L: Incidentally, when I said that we were starting to go round and round in circles, I was not including my own contribution in that observation. As far as you winning this debate on the basis of a technical knock-out, I would challenge that very strongly. I propose a game of rock, paper, scissors next time we meet to clinch it!

Tim E: Given your statement “How I vote in the June referendum vote on whether we stay or whether we leave the EU is one of the hardest things I have had to think about for a long time. It’s one of those complex 49/51 decisions…” You certainly seem to have managed to clarify your opinions in just 3 days. 10/90 now is it? I’ll take the credit.

…..My head and my heart are now clearly telling me to stop dithering and to vote REMAIN!

David L: Tim, credit where credit is due and thanks for helping me with the process. I had been dithering (i.e. putting off really thinking about the issues) but our excellent debate has forced me to put in the necessary time and effort.

Adventurous by nature, I have always been prepared to challenge the status quo and to take a chance if I thought the potential benefits were worth it. I have now thought about these referendum questions much more thoroughly, prompted by our discussion for which I am most grateful. I have achieved much greater clarity in relation to the risks versus potential benefits to the UK, of both leaving or remaining in the EU. As a result, my head and my heart are clearly telling me to stop dithering and to vote REMAIN!