Monday 11 February 2013

Beyond the stale Euro-debate

Some way underneath the debate about Britain's place in Europe - which we may be pretty sick of by the time we come to the referendum - is another, far more interesting, debate.  But it hardly sticks its head above the parapet.  Certainly not long enough to ask it any questions.

It is about Britain's role in the world.  Where will we trade?  Where will we earn our foreign exchange?  Where will we export to?  Can we afford to be ourselves?

The pro-European argument is pretty clear about that one.  We will trade with Europe.  The Euro-sceptic argument is a bit more confused.  Sometimes they say we will carry on trading with Europe.  Sometimes there is a sort of implication that we will be closer to the United States (there is a geographical problem about that: my Latin master wrote a book of poetry years ago called Atlantic River, but it isn't actually even a Channel).  Sometimes there is the germ of an idea that we will trade instead with the emerging markets, India, Brazil and all the rest.

These are very important issues, because all four options need thinking about and planning for - and there is precious little debate about Britain's economic future over the next generation, and rather a lot of assumptions that the money is just going to flow in to run our services and schools.

Personally, I'm coming round to the idea that we need a different way of creating money altogether - but that is another issue.

For the time being, who is going to have this debate?  Are we just going to be battered by the Daily Express for the next four years, while we cower in the trenches?  Or watch miserably as Newsnight pits a rabid pro-European against a rabid Euro-sceptic and the argument doesn't even inch forward a few inches?  The trench warfare metaphor keeps popping up unbidden - I can't help it....

How do we really engage people, and help them think about our national future, broadly and intelligently?

Well, my friend Titus Alexander has been thinking about this and has proposed a Citizen's Forum for Britain in the World, designed to spread the discussion in radical new ways - paid for by replacing the current costs of consultation, by out-sourcing and crowd-sourcing some of the costs of policy development, and by strengthening the British case in EU negotiations.

This is how he sets out the case.  See what you think.

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