Labour must get involved in the TTIP negotiations. Photo: Getty
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We need an approach you can trust on TTIP

The Prime Minister shows contempt for people's concerns about this trade deal.

When David Cameron, together with the other prime ministers of the European Union, gave the green light to the European Commission to start negotiating a trade deal with the US, he would have been well-advised to keep a much closer brief on what was being discussed.

Now, nearly 18 months into the largest grassroots campaign on a trade deal since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was set up 20 years ago, the Prime Minister has been caught short, and his true contempt for people’s concerns is once more coming to shore.  When referring to widespread fears about safety, fairness and democracy as “nonsense” while asking for the unreserved trust of the very people he has spurned, David Cameron is only demonstrating that the public is better informed than he is on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  These warnings he should heed.

Legitimate concerns and distrust in our national and European institutions can also lead to misinformation and exaggeration. In truth, any positive or negative claims about what is or is not in TTIP should be taken with a pinch of salt as no common text has yet been agreed on any of the chapters of TTIP.  That, in itself, is one of the major problems.

To make sense of the TTIP debate, it is therefore crucial to understand the distinction between the various arguments being used. Arguments based on the content of the negotiating mandate can state with certainty what the European Commission is allowed to accept, what it cannot compromise over and what it is expected to achieve. Arguments based on the content of recently concluded trade deals, such as the agreement with Canada (CETA), give an indication on what the Commission is aiming for, and what the government has been doing in similar situations in the past. Claims based on anything else mostly reflect fears and hopes, and fears and hopes only. But it’s these fears and hopes that could easily derail TTIP.

As the Labour Party’s spokespersons on TTIP in the European Parliament and Westminster, we have heard the concerns voiced by thousands across the UK, and we will listen to thousands more in the weeks and months to come. We have also heard the positive expectations that this trade deal triggers. Faced with a choice between Cassandra and Pollyanna, we choose to stick to the only sensible approach we know: honesty and hard work.

To be honest is to recognise the legitimate concerns that TTIP could seriously hamper our ability to restore fairness in Britain. Insufficient exemptions for the NHS, and other public services could lead to serious legal challenges to any future re-nationalisation. There are concerns that TTIP could also challenge transparency and accountability, as any Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), even a reformed one, could create the perception of transferring power away from the people. There are also concerns that our safety could also be at risk. We will be campaigning hard to ensure that proper provisions on labour and environmental standards are included to prevent social dumping, pressures on wages and hampering our efforts to tackle climate change.

But honesty also implies to acknowledge that a deal which properly addresses every single one of our concerns would have to be welcomed. The economic impact of TTIP is widely debated, and it is important to bear in mind that it will entirely depend on its final scope. However, we do know from recent history that balanced trade deals do have a positive impact on economic activity and job creations. Regardless how large this impact might be, if we find that the final deal will help rather than hinder then it would be irresponsible to reject it. We are nonetheless aware that the impact of trade largely depends on the pre-existing levels of unemployment, and this is why we insist that TTIP will need to promote labour rights in the US, as the alternative is that it would harm workers in the EU.

Ultimately, TTIP represents a rare opportunity to regulate globalisation. This opportunity should not be discarded lightly. In a rapidly changing global economy, we are increasingly trading with partners such as China that do not recognise our rights and standards. This unregulated trade already challenges our social and environmental model. A balanced TTIP, one that promotes rather than weaken standards, regulating a quarter of all global trade, could mark a departure from this race to the bottom.

So rather than disengaging by already accepting or rejecting the deal unreservedly before it is even drafted, we have chosen to act in Brussels and in the UK to try to address all of these concerns.  Just as Clement Attlee’s post-war government led the left in regulating global trade by signing Britain up to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs – the forerunner of the WTO.  It’s in that spirit that we have set out our parameters and told the European Commission and the Coalition Government that we would not support the deal if our terms are not met. And we are working hard to build a consensus within the European Parliament and in the House of Commons on these parameters, so that when it comes to a vote the majority will be on the right side of the argument: the side of the people.

We are not prepared to accept any deal that is unfair to the British people. This underpins our arguments.  Crucially this means that public services, including the NHS, must be fully exempted from TTIP. The European Commission mandate prevents it from including  services that are still publicly funded. But it leaves the possibility to include services that have been privatised in recent years.,. TTIP must guarantee our full ability to provide any service publicly if the British people choose to do so. The coalition government claim that the NHS is safe but refuse to specifically exclude it in the draft text. That can only lead you to the conclusion that the biggest threat to our NHS is not TTIP but the Tory-led government.

We are not prepared to accept any deal that does not satisfy our concerns on safety. Upholding high food safety standards and the precautionary principle has been a constant stance of the European Union over the last 20 years, and we do not expect it to change with TTIP. The Commission mandate is very clear in this regard. We are however hugely concerned with the increasingly weak outcomes reached by the Commission in recent trade deals when it comes to protecting workers abroad. In order to be acceptable, TTIP will need to contain strong commitments from the US to establish a level playing field with the EU in terms of labour rights with the EU rights being the baseline on which to build. It goes without saying that any weakening of our own standards would be plainly counterproductive.

We must argue for a deal that puts transparency and accountability at its heart. Private arbitration mechanisms offering the possibility to investors to claim for compensation from the State in case of unfair treatments can be justified in trade deals amongst partners with uneven level of investment protection, and where due process of law cannot be guaranteed. It is not the case as far as both the US and EU are concerned, and we will argue strongly against any mechanism that would create a parallel justice for multinationals, subject to opacity, conflict of interests and able to make undemocratic rulings. Ultimately, TTIP must not challenge our ability to adopt and implement laws and regulations as we see fit and are elected to enact. 

There are ways that the agreement could deliver more for businesses in the UK and help create more jobs. A critical point is that the US States aren’t covered by the agreement and therefore their large procurement budgets wouldn’t be opened up for EU business including Britain. Opening up these procurement markets. This could be deliver big opportunities for our businesses.

We must get fully involved in the TTIP negotiations if we want to avoid our worse fears materialising, and push for a progressive regulation of global trade. The stakes are too high for Labour to afford any complacency, whether stemming from over-confidence that the deal will be positive no matter what or a complete lack of confidence that we cannot influence the negotiations. You can trust us to remain concerned, sensible and engaged about TTIP to ensure it provides the stated benefits and filters down to benefit both small businesses and consumers.

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, European Parliamentary Labour party spokesperson on TTIP; Ian Murray MP, Labour party shadow trade and investment minister

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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