Tuesday 18 January 2011

Where did all the fish and money go?

Britain is famously an island built on coal and surrounded by fish. It helped to make us the greatest and richest power on Earth. So how come we now find ourselves running out of seafood, energy and cash?

The chattering classes currently seem to be more exercised about fish than by their personal trainers. Television coverage has belatedly drawn their attention to the scandal of half the fish caught in the North Sea being thrown back dead to comply with EU quota rules.

It is easy (and enjoyable) to blame this on Edward Heath’s decision to offer up the British fishing industry as a sacrifice to secure the great prize of Common Market entry in 1973.

The argument that joining this apparent trading club would make us all more prosperous seemed pretty persuasive to anyone comparing the relative progress of the British, French and German economies at the time, and came with the assurance that there was “no essential loss of national sovereignty” involved.

This was, we now know, a lie to rank among the biggest of a century that generated more than its fair share.

We foolishly threw open our once rich fisheries to other nations’ bottom-scraping trawlers, which essentially hoovered the seas clean of life.

There is sadly no guarantee that we would not have created this same mess all by ourselves, if left to our own devices. We are guilty, too, of ignoring repeated warnings not to eat endangered species such as tuna and cod, to which we apparently remain as addicted as the Chinese are to the non-existent medical benefits of rhino horn and tiger bones.

In energy, the EU crops up again as the organisation forcing us to close down our coal power stations, though it can reasonably be pointed out that successive British governments had ample warning to come up with an alternative, whether the sane one of nuclear or the crackpot one of covering both land and sea with intermittently wafting windmills.

Then there is the whole cash thing. You will have noted that we no longer have enough of the stuff to fund luxuries like local courts, libraries and municipal flowerbeds, and it can surely only be a matter of time before our council’s only role is to allocate us a time to bring our own rubbish to the recycling centre, and ask whether we would mind stopping to fill in the potholes along our way.

Where has all the money gone? Sucked up in huge trawl nets by rapacious bankers, politicians and Eurocrats? Well, up to a point, though here again sadly many of us are guilty of allowing the lure of easy credit to encourage us to live beyond our means.

Now the day of reckoning has arrived, and some take pleasure in pointing out that the euro zone is in an even bigger mess than we are. This is to misunderstand the whole nature of the euro project, which was never intended to create the economic benefits lauded by its more gullible fans.

It was and is a political project to advance the cause of creating a United States of Europe so that a few well-nourished individuals can strut the world stage claiming parity with the US, China and the other emerging great powers. Disasters affecting peripheral economies saddled with inappropriate interest rates were an entirely predictable consequence, designed to ease the transfer of power from national governments to the centre.

Our politicians continue to dodge the uncomfortable fact that semi-detachment from the European project is untenable in the long run, and we will have to submit ourselves to rule from Brussels or break free. Either course will be painful and dangerous, but only independence can restore Britain’s self-respect. And with it the right to take charge, like grown-ups, of our fisheries, energy policy and money.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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