Sunday, 29 May 2016

May bank holiday – more Sunday ramblings...

Comparing yesterday's weather with today's is a fairly easy thing to do; yesterday was like a hot summer day, whereas today was slightly cooler. When I left the house this morning I considered putting on my gloves and there was no way I was going out in just a tee shirt.

It was weird being back on the bike after the my two rides in the USA, mainly because the hybrid I rented was much more in tune with the type of riding I was doing and, to make things even better, everything worked. Now, as I wound my way along Ellenbridge Road I could hear the old Scrap creaking and shaking as I changed gear, not risking standing up on the pedals as I rode up Elmfield Way just in case the gears slipped and I damaged the old Jacobs.

I left the house around 0730hrs and reached the green around 0800hrs. Andy arrived shortly after me and we both knew where we were headed: Westerham for tea and toast at the Tudor Rose Café – as always, just what the doctor ordered.

Sanderstead pond, Sunday morning around 1030hrs
The ride to Westerham was punctuated with chat about the forthcoming European Union referendum. Andy is 100% for Brexit, but I'm not 100% sure. I find it difficult to be certain that I will tick the right box and I really am convinced that most people haven't a clue about what they're doing.

There are plenty of Brexit voters who want out mainly because of immigration and the fact that if we remain in the EU – they say – we won't be able to do anything about EU citizens simply turning up on our doorstep and 'taking our jobs and reducing our wages in the process'. Before I start taking the piss, this is a serious concern. Many areas of the UK have physically changed as a result and wages have come down too. And if we really can't do anything about it if we stay in the EU, then, for a lot of people, uncontrolled immigration is one good reason to vote out.

The 'remain' camp, of course, will say that immigration  is a positive thing. The immigrants, they say, are doing the jobs we, the British, are not prepared to do, like picking strawberries and, they say, what's wrong with that? While they can come over here and work, we can go over there too! So what's the problem? Well, there's one huge problem. Who wants to go and live in Romania or Bulgaria? They are poor countries by comparison where, I'm guessing, the state isn't going to find anybody a home or pay for it with state benefits. While a lot of 'remain' voters will try to accuse Brexiters using immigration as a reason to vote out as racists, this angle no longer holds water. Being concerned about immigrants, be they fleeing war zones or simply opportunists looking for a better life, is not racism. For a lot of people it's a genuine worry.

There has, of course, been a lot of rubbish spoken by those in the 'remain' camp and most of it has come out of David Cameron's mouth. He's threatened World War lll, falling house prices, recession, more austerity, you name it, and the people are getting tired – sick and tired – of Cameron and his cronies trying to frighten people into staying put. In my view it makes me wonder why he's so desperate that we should stay in the EU. Perhaps there's something sinister afoot. I mean, take TTIP  – the proposed Transaltantic Trade & Investment Partnership between the EU and the USA. This has been largely negotiated behind closed doors by unelected officials who have been quoted as saying that they do not take their mandate from the European people. In fact 'they' is one person, a lady called Cecilia Malmstrom. She was interviewed some weeks ago by the Independent newspaper here in the UK and was quoted as saying just that, that she, an unelected official, does not take her mandate from the European people, meaning she doesn't really care European people think, they've got to like it or lump it. Malmstrom, incidentally, takes her mandate from corporate lobbyists.

My 10-year-old Kona Scrap on Sanderstead Green this morning
TTIP is supposedly on the ropes. Greenpeace has managed to get hold of the negotiation documents and has discovered some awful things about the agreement, like the fact that big US corporations will be capable, under the agreement, of suing the national government of a sovereign nation if they feel that certain legislation in any way negatively impacts their business. If this is true, then Philip Morris, the big cigarette manufacturer, will be able to sue, say, the UK Government for it's decision to keep cigarettes out of sight in supermarkets and newsagents and garage forecourts. They might argue that such a practice is restricting cigarette sales and therefore damaging their profitability. There are plenty of other worrying elements too, and I'll generalise a little bit here: first, you must remember that within in the EU there are some pretty stringent rules and regulations governing the quality of foodstuffs and also the use of pesticides. In the USA they are not so stringent. They, for instance, pump growth hormone into their beef products – we don't. But the big issue here is whether we trade down to meet their shoddy standards or do they trade up to meet ours? Now, I don't know about you, but what's the betting that we'll be trading down to meet them? In many ways it's really quite shocking. The fact that the EU has spent so much time and money developing rigid standards for food manufacturing and farming and the use of pesticides and so on, but when the USA says they want a deal, greed sets in, the EU sees the colour of their money and is quite prepared to sacrifice the health of the nation – or rather the health of the EU nations – in order to make a fast buck.

But guess what? The EU has been rumbled. There has been growing anxiety over TTIP for many months and now, thanks to Greenpeace, we know the truth: the EU is quite prepared to make deals with the USA that will have a negative effect on the European people in order to make money. And the don't necessarily care about the European people. Perhaps they'll say to the USA, "Fine, we'll accept your beef with it's cancer-causing growth hormone and we're quite happy to have your pesticides used on our farmland and consume your GM crops, we'll do anything, we'll compromise our rigid standards on food quality that we have developed over many years, whatever you say, Mr. President."

It is argued that if we come out of the EU on 23 June Dodgy Dave (that's David Cameron, our Prime Minister) will be eager to sign up for TTIP as he'll be desperate for any deal he can get with the USA, especially after Obama told us all recently that if we vote to leave the EU we'll have to go to the back of the queue when it comes to business deals. So much for that 'special relationship'.

I think one of the problems with the EU referendum is that people will probably vote on the personalities involved. On the Brexit side we have Boris Johnson, that phoney buffoon, and Michael 'call me Orville' Gove, not to mention the rather sinister Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) and, of course, Chris Grayling. The only one on the Brexit side who makes me think leaving the EU is possibly a good thing is Lord Owen. He's always struck me as one of those 'proper politicians' along with people like Kenneth Clarke and the late Tony Benn. I've always had a lot of respect for David Owen and was, until recently, unaware that he'd be on the side of Brexit. But he is, so there's hope for those who want out of Europe – it might not be that stupid an idea after all.

Sticking with the personalities, my view on Dodgy Dave and George Osborne is that if they want us all to stay in, then surely we should all vote out.

There is something sinister about the EU. We already know that it hasn't got our best interests at heart, just look at the way TTIP has been negotiated. So, I find myself thinking: Dodgy Dave, he of the Panama Papers fiasco, and George Osborne and, wait for it, Tony Blair, they all want in. Three good reasons to leave, perhaps?

EU immigration, however, won't stop unless we leave the EU – or so it is argued – and that, for most people, is a big issue.

As for me, I'm still undecided. I tend to lean towards staying in Europe along the lines of 'better the devil you know',  but also because I like to consider myself a European, I agree with our new London mayor when he says we should embrace the rest of the world, and in particular our place within Europe, rather than being insular and nationalistic and old fashioned and, some would argue, bigoted. I'm definitely not a 'Little Englander' and for these reasons I think I'll vote 'remain', but I won't say that I'm not concerned about the issues put forward by the Brexit campaigners.

The single market, says Cameron on Countryfile as I write this, is crucial for our future, but the Brexit campaigners complain about the mass of regulations involved. The farming community relies upon migrant workers from the EU, but nine out of 10 people working in agriculture are British.

There's a lot more to the argument, but the above is, roughly, what Andy and I discussed as we sat outside the Tudor Rose Café munching buttered toast and drinking tea from a dark brown teapot. Well, we had cups, it wasn't as if we were drinking Sangria in Spain. We poured the tea into China cups rather than suck it out through the spout.

Soon it was time to face our worst nightmare – the hill out of Westerham heading towards Botley Hill Farmhouse. It didn't phase us one bit and soon we were racing down the 269. We parted company at Warlingham Green and plan a ride to the lakes tomorrow (Bank Holiday Monday), although we might just go to Westerham again.

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