The sharp overnight frost reminded us that winter is far from over, but already the daffodils are showing their tips and birds are beginning to perform their seemingly hostile courtship routines. We codgers are less naive – no courtships and no one has so much as considered dispensing with their thermals. Apart from caring for the hens our main activity on the allotments takes place in the large heated greenhouses and the early propagation of plants that will be ahead of the game when transplanted in late March.
Outside the plots look empty and forlorn, but every vacant one has been taken and come Easter the allotments will be a hive of activity. For us the exciting fact is that many of the new owners are young people, a sign perhaps that the age of austerity has its positive aspects.
Meantime the greatest pleasure we codgers derive from our daily routine is the sense of togetherness as we gather around the shed stove for our daily brew. This morning’s conversation was focussed on the EU, a subject that regularly rears its head. Today it was Viviane Reding, the EU’s vice-president, that triggered indignation. Yesterday she made it clear that free movement of EU citizens is “non-negotiable”, and went on to say that : “We need a true political union….a United States of Europe with the Commission as government, and two chambers – the European Parliament and a ‘Senate’ of Member States”. Never has the fear that haunts so many Brits been set out so clearly! And we are not alone, according to the Commission’s own polling agency, 60 per cent of European citizens “tend not to trust the EU” – up from 32 per cent five years ago.
At almost the same time as Ms Reding was spelling out her dream, over one hundred Conservative MPs released a copy of a letter that they have delivered to our dear leader. They represent more than half of Cameron’s backbenchers and claim to speak for the mainstream of the modern Tory party. They support the promise of a referendum on EU membership, but see it as so much hot air if the leadership fails to spell out exactly what reforms are required to justify a recommendation to vote yes.
Amongst other things they demand that free movement be modified to read “qualified right” to enable individual countries to control their population growth. They point to recent polls showing that 72 per cent of the people are in favour of restrictions on immigration, and even more support the idea of benefits being withheld for two years in the case of those admitted.
Most significant of all is the demand that Westminster has a veto on any new law introduced by Brussels. In other words they are for the first time tabling the issue of sovereignty, of who governs Britain. It fits well with the statement by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who recently said that “parliamentary sovereignty must not be exported”. It almost certainly fits well too with what most British people feel, be they Conservative, Labour. Lib Dem, Ukip or none of the above.
We codgers are guilty of many things but being right-wing is not one of them. But it seems to us that the letter is to be welcomed. So far only Ukip and the Lib Dems have made clear their stance on EU membership with the former favouring withdrawal and the latter supporting membership whatever the cost. Labour seems to support the status quo and the Conservatives are vague about the conditions to be renegotiated. The people seek a clear choice based on the best terms available, and if these do not include border controls and the sovereignty of the British parliament it is not difficult to predict the verdict.
For David Cameron the moment of truth has arrived. Can he ignore the demands of the majority of his bankbenchers whose views broadly reflect the national mood? He can, but in doing so he will torpedo any hope his party has of thwarting the Ukip threat or of establishing clear water between its policy and those if the other major parties!
The quarrel that so many have with the EU does not centre solely on borders or sovereignty. Membership involves a huge financial contribution at a time when just about every public service is suffering death by a thousand cuts, and the extravagance and waste of the Brussels crowd is breathtaking. Today we learn that the decision to stage debates in Strasbourg for four days each month is costing millions each month. The cost of chartering two express trains from Brussels to Strasbourg costs £200,000 and the cost of travel and expenses for freelance interpreters, based in Brussels, to go to Strasbourg is £2.5 million. The EU admits that the travelling circus will cost £928 million over its budget cycle.
I can scarcely believe that I am saying this, but we are all in debt to the Conservative MPs. The issues of immigration, sovereignty and cost must come to a head. The chance of that happening has suddenly improved!
OOOOOOOOOciation of my native land in the usual way of getting out of it as soon as I possibly could!”…George Bernard Shaw
Albert claims that his dog is more efficient than the rest of us. Here is his proof positive: