Tuesday, May 31, 2005

EU What?

I have Listened and I have Learned

Selective hearing is a condition which appears to afflict an ever increasing number of people. In the days when I spent too much time hanging round in bars it was easy to spot. A number of my friends would immediately respond to the question "do you want another beer?" but saying "it's your round, isn't it?" never seemed to elicit quite such a hasty response. I suffer from the condition myself to some degree. I'm far more likely to hear "would you like a cup of tea?" than "I think the dishes need doing". It does seem to be mostly, but not exclusively, a male condition.

Our great leader has developed selective hearing into something of an art form. The general election result is a case in point. Labour's share of the vote dropped by 5.5%. The Tories share increased by a tiny 0.6%, and the Liberal Democrats share increased by 3.7%. Mr Blair hears this as an endorsement of his policies and a sign that he needs to step further to the right.
That goes beyond selective hearing and reaches a whole new level. I call it twisted listening.

Here's another recent example. The Independent commisioned a poll which showed that 62% of people favoured a switch to a fairer voting system. Our great leader's response was to send out his old flatmate, Lord Falconer, to tell the nation that there was no "groundswell" of support for changes to the system. Blair also put John 'Herod' Prescott in charge of the committee examining the case for electoral reform. Here we see a further evolution to the listening strategy being employed. I think of it as the "not listening but talking" strategy or alternatively the "I'll continually tell you what you think in a loud irritating voice " strategy. I believe this can be used to best effect when you've already made a cast iron commitment to listen on a particular issue. Like this, for example:
We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.
Labour Party manifesto, 1997
I suppose this could also be called the "selective willingness to listen when listening might mean your grasping fingers will be removed from the levers of power" strategy (not really a catchy one that though).

The latest piece of news to reach our great leader has travelled all the way from France. The French have said no to the EU constitution. There are a number of reasons for this "no" vote but it seems partly due to the fact that many French people believe the constitution is full of Anglo-Saxon liberal free market ideas. It is a very complex problem and it will require some careful and considered listening in order to understand where the EU goes next. Our great leader is currently on holiday in Tuscany (I wonder if he has bruschettas for breakfast?) but here's what he had to say:
"The problem is there is another debate going on in Europe, among the people of Europe, which is to do with jobs, economic security, public services and welfare reform in an era of globalisation, illegal immigration, organised crime - issues to do, in other words, with the economy and security that seem to them the issues they want to see leadership from Europe on."
He argued that the constitution was a "perfectly sensible set of rules to govern Europe", but added that there was a "bigger debate now in Europe....
How do we give our citizens proper protection, proper welfare and public services and at the same time remaining strong and competitive and prosperous in this modern world? Now that, in my view, is the question that we need to debate in Europe, alongside whatever decisions are made about Europe."
The Guardian
The Guardians says: "Mr Blair's response is a bit like offering a child a vindaloo curry after they have just said they don't eat spicy food."
The Times says:
Tony Blair seized on the French “no” vote yesterday to back his case for greater economic reform, telling EU members the result showed they must face up to the challenges of globalisation.

Mr Blair takes over the EU presidency in July. It will be a difficult period. The future direction of the EU is up for discussion and many views will have to be reconciled. I hope our great leader takes the time to listen to the debate. Unfortunately for our European friends, I feel it may be beyond him.

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