Royals and dope smoking etiquette

Advice on meeting the queen, meeting foreigners and meeting your past...

Dear Marina

I am a young Arab male who has recently moved here from Iran to study, and I cannot tell if the UK is progressive and open-minded due to all the talk on multiculturalism, or if they are prejudiced and nationalistic and afraid of change. Does Britain welcome me earnestly or begrudgingly?

Omid, London

At a guess I’d say you are not at all welcome. However hard you study, however useful your skills base, the fact is, you’re not from round these parts, are you?

As a guest in a country where people from neighbouring villages treat each other with deep suspicion you’re up against it I’m afraid.

The Prime Minister’s from Scotland and that’s pushing it for many south of the border. But Iran? Blimey – they eat babies don’t they?

Once we start bombing your people it should become clearer to you. No doubt you’ll be rounded up with your fellow Iranians for incarceration leaving you in little doubt as to the true multiculturalism of this once great empire!

Multiculturalism by the way, refers to the fact that Britain is an island populated by people from all over the place.

There is nothing inherent in the reference that suggests we actively enjoy each other’s company.

But hey, the Brits are a complex bunch. They will happily berate the fact that foreigners over running the place while queuing for a takeaway chicken madras without feeling the slightest bit ironic.

No wonder you’re confused: so are we!

Dear Marina

I’ve been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. As a republican I am loath to curtsey or address a fellow human being as “Your Majesty”. What should I do if presented to the Queen.

Liz, Lewes.

PS: Would it be disrespectful to smoke a spliff in the grounds.

I myself faced a similar dilemma just this week. Pulled from a crowd of 8,000 guests to meet the monarch was a surprise and to be honest I’d not given it as much thought as you have. So I had to think on my feet.

Last time I met royalty I stood in line next to Norman Baker MP as Camilla approached. “Are you intending to curtsey?” he enquired. “What do you think?” I replied. We both made do with a nod of the head.

So as the Queen approached myself and my friend whispered in agreement: “We won’t curtsey, we won’t.” Whatever the Lord Chamberlain recommends – a quick jerk of the knee, as it happens - they can’t MAKE you cowtow.

As it happens the curtsey bit takes care of itself. She’s so tiny one has to stoop in order to shake hands and that kind of passes as a curtsey if you’re quick about it.

I was much more concerned at the state of my hands. I’d just snaffled a cutting from her herbaceous borders and the royal dirt was clinging to my fingernails. But you can’t keep them behind your back when the regal glove is coming at you. Said dirt transferred and I can only assume a footman was later dispatched to remove them to the royal laundry basket.

She was surprisingly good company – we had a lively conversation covering gardening – she’s given it up but was most impressed with my muscles (from digging) - finding strength to go out and meet people when what you really desire is a duvet day and the need for her generation to get involved with the revolution. Expect the Queen to launch her own brand of community action against climate change soon. And we didn’t use Your Majesty or Ma’am (to rhyme with spam) once. Oops!

In short, while the minions that surround her seem to seriously believe we are not all equal, the Queen is well up for getting down with the people. I feel she drew great strength from our meeting. At least now she knows that while her government does nothing, her people care about the unsustainability of current lifestyle choices and some of us are actively trying to do something about it.

As for toking, I did notice a discreet sign just inside the grand entrance stating that it is against the law to smoke at Buckingham Palace. But it’s a big garden and if you skin up behind your hat, you will, like countless others before you probably get away with it. Indeed a quick toke might get you relaxed enough to enjoy dispensing with formalities. The revolution, is, after all, ON. And should you get an attack of the munchies, I recommend the Victoria sponge. It certainly worked for me.

Dear Marina,

Are you on Facebook and why do you think it's so popular? I'm finding it irritating everyone going on about it the whole time. Don't you think it's a bit sad, are we all living in the past or just plain nosey?

Thanks
Orlando Jones Birmingham

I recently tried to join Facebook and attempted to fill in details about the festival I’m organizing for September. That’s Out of the Ordinary (www.outoftheordinaryfestival.com) a community event designed to help us to engage with the landscape and do something about climate change. It’s going to be fun. I’m especially delighted with the response from the black community who don’t generally tend to get involved with such events, unless they’re onstage drumming, as a rule. A multicultural festival indeed.

The preparations are going well – but we do need to sell more tickets to balance the budget – hence me trying to use Facebook. But I couldn’t work it out.

I know Ming Campbell is very trendy and loves his Facebook, having more friends than any other political leader. But me, I just can’t keep up with this newfangled communications tool. Perhaps that’s why he’s leader and I’m a disenchanted town councillor.

As I have no idea really what Facebook is all about I can’t say what motivates users. Perhaps it signals the isolation in which individuals find themselves living in this ironically titled age of communication. Do please send a carrier pigeon if you work it out first.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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Is TTIP a threat or an opportunity?

TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US - we should keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Barack Obama made it abundantly clear during his visit to the UK that if Britain left the European Union then it would be quite some time before we would be able to negotiate a trade deal with the United States. All the more reason to examine carefully what the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will mean for the UK. For Labour this is especially important because a number of trade unionists and Party members have expressed concerns about what TTIP could mean.

The economic worth of such a partnership between the European Union and the US has been questioned and it has been frequently stated that TTIP could give multinational companies unprecedented influence and undermine the British NHS.

With regard to the economic benefits of TTIP there are few that would argue that there are no economic gains to be achieved through the partnership. The question is to what extent economic growth will be stimulated. On the positive side the European Commission has argued that an agreement could bring economic gains of between €68 billion to €119 billion per year to the EU (0.3% to 0.5% of GDP) and €50 billion to €95 billion (0.2% to 0.4% of GDP) to the US. For Britain, this means that an agreement could add up to £10 billion annually to the UK economy.

On the negative side, a study commissioned by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament has maintained that TTIP would bring only “limited economic gains”. These gains have to be weighed, it was argued, against the “downside risks”. Those risks have been identified as coming from the alignment of standards in areas such as consumer safety, environmental protection and public health.

These are important concerns and they should not be quickly dismissed. They are made all the more important because the existence of already low tariffs between the EU and the US make the negotiations to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade all the more significant.

There are a number of areas of concern. These include food standards and the regulation of GM crops and the worry that the EU’s focus on applying the environmental precautionary principle might be weakened. The European Commission, which has a responsibility for negotiating TTIP on behalf of the EU, is however acutely aware of these concerns and is mindful of its legal responsibility to uphold, and not to in any way weaken, the agreed legal standards to which the EU adheres. A concern has been expressed that irrespective of what European law may say, TTIP could undermine those standards. This I find difficult to accept because the ‘rule of law’ is absolutely central to the negotiations and the adoption of the final agreement.

But the EU is mindful of this concern and has brought forward measures which have sought to address these fears. The latest proposals from the Commission clearly set out that it is the right of individual governments to take measures to achieve public policy objectives on the level that they deem appropriate. As the Commission’s proposal states, the Agreement shall not affect the right of the parties to regulate within their own territories in order to achieve policy objectives including “the protection of public health, safety, environmental or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity”.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there should not be vigilance, but equally I believe it would be wrong to assume the theoretical problems would inevitably become reality.

The main area of concern which has been expressed in Britain about TTIP relates to the NHS and the role of the private sector. Under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions investors would be able to bring proceedings against a foreign government that is party to the treaty. This would be done in tribunals outside the domestic legal system. If a Government is found to be in breach of its treaty obligations the investor who has been harmed could receive monetary compensation or other forms of redress.

The concern is that the ISDS arrangements will undermine the ability of democratically elected governments to act on behalf of their citizens. Some have maintained that measures to open up the NHS to competition could be made irreversible if US companies had to be compensated when there is a change of policy from a future Labour Government.

In response to these concerns the European Commission has proposed an Investor Court System. This would be based on judgements being made by publicly appointed and experienced judges and that cases would only be brought forward if they were precisely defined. Specifically, it is proposed that cases would be limited to targeted discrimination on the basis of gender, race or religion, or nationality, expropriation without compensation or the denial of justice.

Why, you might ask, is there a need at all for a trans-national Investor Court System? The reason in part lies in the parlous state of the judicial systems in some of the relatively recent EU accession countries in Eastern Europe. To be frank, it is sadly the case that there are significant shortcomings in the judiciary of some countries and the rule of law is, in these cases, more apparent than real. It is therefore not unreasonable for investors to have an international framework and structure which will give them confidence to invest. It should also be noted that there is nothing proposed in TTIP which contradicts anything which is already in UK law.

We need to remember too that this is not only about US investment in Europe, it is also about European investment in the US. No US-wide law prohibits discrimination against foreign investors, and international law, such as free trade and investment agreements like TTIP, cannot be invoked in US courts. The Investor Court System would therefore benefit European companies, especially Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. 

It is of course impossible to come to a definitive conclusion about these provisions because the negotiations are ongoing. But it would surely be unwise to assume that the final agreement would inevitably be problematic.

This is especially true regarding the NHS. Last year Unite the Union commissioned Michael Bowsher QC to provide an opinion. His opinion was that “TTIP does pose a threat to a future government wishing to take back control of health services”. The opinion does not express a view on whether TTIP will “force” the privatisation of the health service (as some have claimed) and Bowsher admits that much of the debate is “conducted at a rather speculative level” and he has been unable to produce any tangible evidence to support his contention about future problems. On the other hand, it is the case that there is nothing in the proposed agreement which would alter existing arrangements for compensation. There are of course many legal opinions which underpin the view that existing legal arrangements would continue. While I accept that it is theoretically possible for the Bowsher scenario to occur, it is nevertheless extremely improbable. That is not to say that there ought not to be watertight safeguards in the agreement, but let us not elevate the extremely improbable to the highly likely.

A frequently heard criticism of TTIP is that the negotiations between the US and the EU are being conducted in ‘secret’.  Greenpeace, for example, has strongly sought to make this a central part of their campaign.  Although the Commission publishes EU position papers and negotiating proposals soon after they are tabled, it is impossible to see how complex negotiations of this kind can be practically conducted in public.  However, I believe that the draft agreement should be made public well before the final decisions are taken.

Once the negotiations have been concluded, the draft agreement will be presented to the European Council and the European Parliament, both of which have to agree the text. The European Council is, of course, made up of representatives of the governments of the EU and the European Parliament is democratically elected. Both Houses of the British Parliament will also debate the draft and there will need to be parliamentary approval of the agreement.

Transparency and democratic scrutiny are two things which there cannot be too much of. But, in practical terms, it is difficult to see how there could be more of either without making it nigh on impossible to secure such a complex agreement. Unite, of which I am a member, and others are quite right to express their concerns about TTIP, but let’s not exaggerate the potential difficulties and let’s not assume that the worst case scenario will always come about. TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US, and we should therefore at least keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Wayne David is the Labour MP for Caerphilly and is Shadow Minister for Political Reform and Justice. He is a former Shadow Europe Minister and was a junior minister in the last Labour government.