Friday 30 January 2015

Oxford TTIP Meeting

I've talked recently about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, see:, and yesterday evening I attended a meeting in Oxford dedicated to the subject, intended mostly for its opponents. Rather unusually this was held in a church. I arrived half and hour early because the start time stated on the church's website was wrong. As I entered the door, a group of Brownies were rehearsing a dance routine. I stood by the doorway watching the young girls prancing around in skilful synchronicity and enjoyed the show. I then experienced an interesting moment of unlearning and then self-discipline. I was struck by a sudden sense that a man like me shouldn't be watching a group of eight to ten-year-old girls in brown tights and jerseys dancing. I quickly identified this as a controlled response, a thoughtcrime caused by Big Brother nanny state programming; I shouldn't watch young girls dancing because people might think I was a paedophile. Yes, even though I was watching the girls in all innocence. I felt guilty for a moment, even dirty, as if I actually were a paedophile just for enjoying a dance by young girls in a totally non-sexual way. I commanded the thought to leave my mind and I made a point of carrying on watching till the end of the show just as a little personal rebellion against both the Big Brother in society, and the one inside my head. (How ironic that the same Big Brother state which is so obsessed with "child protection" turns a blind eye to real child abuse of a horrific severity and scale, see: I'll have to do a dedicated article about this.) The church was lit by bright white bulbs and its nave split by a wide aisle with a large chapel on either side full of piled up hymnbooks, a small electric organ and other ecclesiastical detritus. On one of the pillars there was a stone relief of Abraham about to stab his son Isaac to death before God stopped him; I hate that story! Once the Brownies had left, the TTIP meeting began. Although about forty people turned up there, none of the big names on the local liberal and environmental scene were there, like Peter Tatchell and Mark Lynas. Most of the attendees appeared to be in the Green Party and the leaflets they handed out were Green publications. Oddly enough there was a policeman standing outside in the vestibule for the first part of the meeting. He hadd been there when the Brownies were in the church; was that to keep a watchful eye on them... or us?

The main speaker was a bit late because of the traffic and the chairman introduced her as Annaliese Dodds, see: He stressed that this was a non-partisan all-party meeting, yet Ms Dodds was in the Labour Party. She had been elected to the European Parliament for the Southeast England constituency in May 2014 and lives in Rose Hill, Oxford. Because of an admitted prejudice against Labour politicians, and Ms Dodds' somewhat austere and academic look, I was surprised when she actually came across as quite amiable and down-to-Earth. I expected her to have a prim schoolmarmish accent but she had a musical Scottish twang. All ten of the constituency's MEP's were invited to this meeting, including Nigel Farage of UKIP, but only Ms Dodds agreed to speak there. It seems a lot of people are aware of TTIP, as George Monbiot said in his Guardian column, see background link above; Ms Dodds says that out of the eight thousand emails she receives every week five thousand one hundred are about TTIP. She presented the subject in an impartial, professional and very political way; you can tell she's used to negotiation and diplomacy. The idea for TTIP came out as an alternative to the ill-fated agreements of the World Trade Organization in the 1990's. International trade needs regulation and before the WTO there was nothing but various bilateral agreements between nations and regions which doesn't work, in Ms Dodds' view. It's too fragmented. TTIP is the biggest and most ambitious of any international trade agreement so far; covering the United States of America and the European Union it amounts to a quarter of all the world's commerce. Ms Dodds is a member of a loose tendency in the European Parliament known as the "socialists and democrats", one of the largest. This group is in favour of globalist organization of trade because of the disorganized nature of it otherwise. The example Ms Dodds gives is the famous BMW car factory in Oxford. Because of US customs laws that factory cannot export cars to the USA unless they're dismantled first; then they have to be put back together at another plant in the USA. I agree that's insane, but I don't see TTIP as the solution; not least because of the dangers of TTIP I explain in the background link above. The EU Parliament will eventually get to vote on TTIP, but the "Socialists and Democrats" group would rather shape the deal into a form they can accept, not just reject it out of hand. Anneliese Dodds described how she was allowed to view the TTIP proposal papers, but she had to pass through a security door into a vault; and she was made to sign a non-disclosure agreement first! This is really scary; why would the basis of an EU Parliamentary bill be kept confidential? Ms Dodds of course couldn't tell us anything about the actual contents of the documents but she told us: "Some of my concerns were allayed, but not all." National governments play an important role too, she said, because they can exclude certain elements of TTIP; Labour, "my party" as she called it in this politically-neutral meeting, wants to protect the NHS from the dangers of runaway corporate privatization... erm... that horse has already bolted I'm afraid, see: I also question the abilities of national governments as the power of the European superstate increases year by year. The part of TTIP that worries "Lord Mon-bee-ott!" as Alex Jones calls him, the most is the ISDS- investor-state dispute settlements; Ms Dodds has mixed feelings about them. She sees a separate decision-making structure as something very useful in a non-democratic country without a stable and effective judiciary. She herself has experience of working in Montenegro, a state that was once a part of Yugoslavia and after the death of that communist federation it was reestablished. However its current government is still very rickety, only having become fully independent from Serbia in 2006. She believes ISDS could do a lot of good in such a fragile nation. However the EU and its member states all have a perfectly functional judiciary and so don't need third party interlopers; indeed such processes might do harm. Ms Dodds minces her words far more than George Monbiot does, and when the Q and A session began, a lot of the audience brought their fears to the table. The TTIP and ISDS represents a threat to national sovereignty; I know Ms Dodds won't agree with me, but I think a Europhile complaining about a loss of national sovereignty is something of a denialist. However TTIP poses a different and specific threat in that it replaces national sovereignty with corporate sovereignty, as Monbiot explains far more bluntly.

I had to leave before the end of the meeting. I waved goodbye to the church's bubbly female vicar and walked home in the cold. I'm glad I decided to go along to the meeting. It's very clear that the Labour Party, or specifically Annaliese Dodds who represents them in Brussels, is not completely opposed to TTIP, although the Greens, which accounted for most of the audience, definitely are. I'm definitely not an advocate of the Green Party, but I agree with the audience; TTIP sounds like an extremely bad deal. I'm not an economic socialist; on the contrary I'm something of a right wing anarcho-capitalist. However I object to TTIP just as strongly as the liberals, but for different reasons. I don't accept that some kind of centralized rule book is the only way to resolve trade disputes and incompatibilities between different nations. Surely BMW can find some way to negotiate sending the Americans cars in one piece; is it really so complicated that we need international law to intervene? I did warm to Annaliese Dodds; as I said she sounded cheery and unassuming. She was presenting her case in a professional manner, as if she were addressing the EU Parliament itself. It's possible she is totally opposed to TTIP, but can't say as much right now. Politicians are always careful to weigh and measure every single word they utter. However a time will come when Ms Dodds might have to stand up and plant her flag on one side of the line or the other. If it's the correct side, she'll earn my respect and support... even if she never gets my vote.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ben. Thank's for a thoughtful article. I particularly enjoyed your introduction too on; 'Thought Crime'. This is an important issue you raise because the fact that this thought revulsion occurs in us can be used against us, indeed, the technology is being developed that may end up with us having such kit as mobile 'impulse readers' that can read brain activity in order to charge us with having 'inappropriate' reactions.

"I'm not an economic socialist; on the contrary I'm something of a right wing anarcho-capitalist."

Ha, ha... I like that Ben and I would have to agree with you. The threat is coming neither from the left nor the right but from a horrible standerdised society that uses the parameters of left and right for it's own consolidation. This 'deal' sounds like just more consolidation of power within the chosen privy, indeed, behind vaulted doors!. Enjoy the weekend mate. Xy -

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi X. Thanks for commenting. The first paragraph of this post, which covers auxiliary issue, has so far generated much more feedback than the main theme! I'm going to have to write in more detail about the thoughtcrime element to my evening's experience. I know what you mean about the left and the right. I consider myself neither. I'm highly critical of both liberals and conservatives. I suspect the entire mainstream political sphere is intended to pen people into controlled levels of thought. All the best :-) Ben

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

That's odd. If you Google search this article you can't find it