This new year, raise your glass to a Buy British campaign

Didn’t they do a blind tasting with a load of French oenophiles, in which the French unwittingly plumped for English sparkling wine over their own champagne? This was a British product, and even if the labourers who picked it almost certainly numbered some hard-working immigrants from Eastern Europe, to buy this bottle was surely in some sense a patriotic act. I would be supporting a British firm, helping its cash flow in a tough time; and as my fingers fastened around the neck of the bottle I was filled with a sense of mission.

Imagine if we all bought English wine, as well as British beef and British milk.Imagine if every government-funded function were refreshed with English wine, rather than Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Think of the boost for jobs and growth in the wine sector in this country. Think of the difference to the balance of trade – now about as bad as it has been in our lifetimes. Think of the difference to this country’s prospects if – ceteris paribus – we bought British.

You don’t have to tell me about previous Buy British campaigns, and how they ended in derision and dismay. There was the famous initiative launched in 1968 by five Surbiton secretaries. They were so worried about the state of the economy that they announced they would work an extra half day per week – gratis, all for the sake of boosting national output.

Within days, several national newspapers had taken up their cause. Every party leader endorsed them. The Duke of Edinburgh said it was the finest thing he had seen all year, and soon the entire nation was in the grip of a movement called “I’m Backing Britain”.

Among other acts of selfless supererogation, a disc jockey called Jimmy Savile volunteered to work for nine days, without pay, as a hospital porter at Leeds Infirmary. Then the saintly Robert Maxwell leapt on the bandwagon, going on The David Frost Show and calling on people to “Buy British”.

Then things began to go wrong. First the unions objected to the whole concept of unpaid labour. Then it turned out that the “I’m Backing Britain” T-shirts had been made in Portugal.

After that, someone had the temerity to point out that Maxwell’s Pergamon Press printed most of its stuff in Eastern Europe, and that much of his output consisted of hagiographical accounts of Soviet bloc dictators. The whole campaign was wound in general sneering and ignominy, and the poor Surbiton secretaries complained that they hadn’t been able to do any work anyway, because they had been so busy giving interviews to tub-thumping newspapers.

Yes, the last great Buy British movement was a fiasco, and yet I can’t help feeling that the idea still has great merit. I am not calling for tariffs or protection – far from it. I don’t want the Government to pick winners, and I don’t want the taxpayer to cough up for mad attempts at import substitution, such as Tony Benn’s Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative, or Lymeswold cheese – a brand that never recovered from being compared in flavour to banana toothpaste.

But it is surely common sense that if we collectively make more of an effort to buy goods and services where value has been added in this country (I say nothing about ownership), then we will be helping to boost employment, and helping to reduce the costs of welfare that we all fund in our taxes. All we need is to be more aware of what we produce – and when you dig into it, the answers are amazing. It is a pernicious myth that “we don’t make anything any more”.

We make just about everything you could imagine: clothes, toys, food, drink, household goods, consumer electronics, cars, planes, missiles. Check out the Buy British website. We forget that we are still the sixth largest manufacturer on earth. There are thousands and thousands of British firms that are struggling to compete in the global export market, and whose ambitions would certainly be helped by stronger domestic consumption.

You don’t have to be out of pocket; you don’t have to buy some shoddy domestic product rather than a snazzy imported one. But when there are two virtually identical products, and the only difference is not price but nationality – then it surely makes sense to Buy British. That’s my New Year’s Resolution, and I hope it will be yours as well.

The wine was terrific, by the way.

How Gangnam Style and Fifty Shades gave culture a spanking

As soon as Fifty Shades took off, the DIY shops reported a troubling surge in the demand for rope, of a kind that could be used to strap your partner to the bed without doing unnecessary damage to her wrists. Some couples said that their relationships had been saved. In other cases, it was said, there were chaps who felt a bit unmanned by the sudden feminine demand for reef-knots and general masterfulness.

As for the Korean dance, its effects are still rippling across the country this Christmas. Can there be a household that will not attempt to brighten up a long family binge by going to YouTube and turning up the volume on the laptop? Soon the whole family is pretending to flick the reins, while the knees go up and down like pistons and overweight uncles snap their hamstrings. I have read of at least one sad death caused by the strain of performing the absurd pony-like prancing, and feel sure that others will succumb in the days ahead.

Above all, both Fifty Shades and Gangnam have exposed things we never dreamt of about the way the world really is. It is here, perhaps, that we are able to make a key distinction – and appoint the winner. For us men, the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon was really a bit shattering. Every single member of the female sex seemed to read it; every woman on the Tube; everyone at the office. And they didn’t read it furtively, guiltily. They would look up from their alternative world – where men were men, and women were lashed to bedsteads – and fix you with an accusing gaze.

What else were they supposed to do, their eyes seemed to say, when the world was so populated by weeds and wets? The book was so ubiquitous that it seemed to speak of some aching need, some lack, some gap in a modern woman’s life that we feminist males had never really bargained for. It seemed to be as revolutionary, in its way, as the Female Eunuch – and yet it was nothing like as seismic as Gangnam Style. Let’s be frank, I think most of us had only a very hazy notion of Korea before Psy appeared before us. We had heard of a land of kimchi and roast dog, where giant chaebols produced excellent cars and machine tools. We had no idea about a district called Gangnam, where the women drive a Mercedes-Benz and take group exercise by waving their bums on the banks of the river.

We had no idea that it was thought cool in Gangnam to drink your coffee straight off – down in one – while it is still scalding hot. Psy the rapper has alerted us to an extraordinary fact: that the Koreans are so darned clever that not only can they make cheap and efficient cars. They can also make number one smash hits. He has taken the image of his country and done it a power of good. The whole planet now knows about K-pop, or K-rap, as it is called – and we feel that watcher-in-the-skies feeling, when a new planet has swum into our ken.

So there you go, my friends. On the grounds that there is absolutely no embarrassment in being caught watching it on the web, and because it is innocent, hilarious, surprising and can be enjoyed by all the family, I hereby announce that this year’s winner for the greatest cultural masterpiece of 2012 is Gangnam Style, with Fifty Shades narrowly beaten (in every sense) into second. All we need now is Fifty Shades of Gangnam – but then I expect someone has already done it.

Let’s not dwell on immigration but sow the seeds of integration

After a decade of immigration, whose results can be seen in the extraordinary census figures. Labour has certainly been successful in changing the demographics. You only have to go to a primary school in inner London to see the impact. And they were right to think that this immense change would produce a backlash. There was an ululating why-o-why piece in one of the Sunday newspapers, under the headline “Alien Nation” – as though the country has been taken over by dolichocephalic space monsters with fangs. The author complained that the people of this country no longer have anything in common – no common religion, no history, no jokes, not even a shared language. Islam was on the verge of replacing Christianity as the official state religion, he said, and he was altogether very glum about this country and its future.

For the last four or five years, I have officiated at citizenship ceremonies for people from all over the planet, and it never ceases to amaze me that everyone wants to have their photo taken next to the image of the Queen. I have no doubt that there are plenty of scroungers and fraudsters out there, but in my experience what immigrants want the most is acceptance, and the chance to show their commitment to the society that has given them freedom and hope.

So we need to stop moaning about the damburst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible. What matters is not the colour of your skin or the religion of your great-grandfather. It’s whether you speak English; whether you have a loyalty – a love – for the country that has adopted you.

We live in a society with high taxes and very generous benefits; and people will not support either if they feel they have nothing in common with the beneficiaries. So we need things that breed esprit de corps, a feeling of community, shared experiences. The Jubilee was great. The Olympics and Paralympics were fantastic. Then I might mention one other thing that all human beings share, in addition to a love of tradition and sport, and that is food.

Over the last four years, Rosie Boycott has been running an astonishing programme called Capital Growth. She has created 2,012 new growing spaces for food – in skips and along canals and in the centre of roundabouts, and she has unlocked the love of gardening that has united humanity since we were expelled from Eden. The scheme has been especially successful not just in the leafy suburbs, but in the more deprived inner London areas, where immigrant families – especially women – are engaged in an activity that brings them into contact with others for the first time.

Some of the growing spaces have morphed into small businesses, and about 750 of the volunteer gardeners have gone into jobs in the food sector. So far, the Capital Growth scheme has raised crops on 124 acres of disused land, and inspired 98,000 people to get digging and planting, and 71 per cent of them say that they have made new friends as a result.

London now has more urban agriculture than any city in the world, with the possible exception of Havana. Across a capital that boasts 300 languages, people are coming together to make a physical investment in the soil. If you want to get people to put down roots, then you might as well encourage them to plant carrots – and to do it together. Carrots, by the way: they originally came from Afghanistan and didn’t really arrive on British plates (at least in their orange form) until the 18th century. Kick ’em out, would you?

Ignore the doom merchants, Britain should get fracking

And according to Herr Leinan, neither of us knows what we are getting ourselves into. We are about to release the pent-up shale gas of Britain from its sinister cavities beneath Lancashire and Sussex, and anything can happen. Before we touch the integuments of the planet, he says, the European parliament will produce some regulations to “discipline” the operation.

Regulations? From the Euro-parliament? And these people wonder why we in Britain are increasingly determined to have a referendum on our membership of the EU. I am sure that the SPD politician means well, but just what in the name of hell has it got to do with him? Before he draws up any regulations for the British fracking market, he might care to look at what has been going on in America in the past four years, where the discovery of large quantities of shale gas is turning into one of the most significant political events since the end of the Cold War.

In 2008 the cost of natural gas in the US was $8 a unit. It is now $3 a unit. In China it is still up at $12 a unit – and the result is that the US is now competitive in industries such as fertilisers and chemicals that American politicians had long since assumed were lost to low-cost economies of the East. Statistics found on show that, as a result of the use of gas, the Americans have cut their CO2 emissions to levels not seen since the Nineties, in spite of a growing population.

Indeed, the Americans have now actually met their obligations under the Kyoto protocol on climate change – and they never even signed up for it. The shale gas industry is a huge employer, and has so far contributed $50 billion in tax. As for the anxieties about water poisoning or a murrain on the cattle, there have been 125,000 fracks in the US, and not a single complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is no wonder that some of the more heroic spirits in the Coalition Government are saying that we should get our act together, and make use of what nature has bestowed on Lancashire and elsewhere. As soon as he became Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson announced that he was going to make life easy for potential frackers, with a one-stop permit system. He has the support of George Osborne, who hailed the potential of fracking in the Autumn Statement.

Alas, we are in a Coalition, and the Liberals run the Department of Energy and Climate Change. They have announced a moratorium on fracking, claiming that there have been earthquakes in the Blackpool area – even though there are tiny quakes every day. In what they thought was a cunning move, the Lib Dems also leaked the location of two big reserves of shale gas – in Tatton and Shropshire North. Much to his credit, Owen Paterson immediately announced that he was all in favour of fracking his constituency if it would deliver jobs and growth, and he is dead right. The shale gas discovery is hateful to the Libs and the Greens, because it destroys their narrative about the ever rising cost of hydrocarbons. It is glorious news for humanity. It doesn’t need the subsidy of wind power. I don’t know whether it will work in Britain, but we should get fracking right away.

EU: Boris attacks Government for ‘morally wrong’ policies

London Mayor Boris Johnson set himself on collision course with Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne over their support for closer fiscal union within the eurozone, after he denounced the policy as “anti-democratic and therefore intellectually and probably morally wrong”.

Britain should negotiate a return to a “single market” relationship with the European Union, and then put it to a referendum, Mr Johnson said today.

“If people don’t think the new relationship is an improvement, then they will exercise their sovereign right to leave the EU,” he said.

Boris Johnson: Euro is a ‘calamitous project’

The Euro has shown itself to be “a calamitous project” and Britain has prospered outside it contrary to the warnings of leading economists, said Boris Johnson.

With EU politics increasingly consumed by projects to establish closer union between the eurozone states, the Mayor of London believes “we can no longer pretend that this country is at the heart of Europe”.

Mr Johnson was appearing at an event in London’s Docklands, during which he also said he wanted Britain to have a looser relationship with the EU, which is “boiled down” to membership of the single market.

Britain should pull out of EU-wide social policies, fisheries agreements and other unnecessary bureaucracy, he said.

It is the web, not the press, that must be brought under control

They have shoved their slavering snouts into the parlours of weeping widows, and by their outrageous lies they have driven the relatives of their victims to suicide. When you read Leveson in full, you are left to ponder the mystery of how people can behave like this. Are these journalists that much nastier and more cynical than the rest of the human race? Why do they seem to have got out of control? The answer is simple. The press are no nastier than anyone else; quite the reverse. On the whole, journalists are highly intelligent, amusing and frequently idealistic.

But these days they are afraid. They are like the crew of a plane whose port engine has failed. They can see the ridge of the mountain ahead, and they have been driven to start chucking their principles overboard in the hope of avoiding a crash. That is why they have been so hungrily hacking phones, bribing officials, and claiming that asylum seekers have eaten the donkeys of Greenwich Park. They can see the altimeter of their circulation figures spiralling downwards, and they need stories ever more exotic and titillating to keep the readers buying.

Newspapers have always chased exclusives – and quite right, too. But the pressure on circulation is now so great that some papers have abandoned their grip on ethics and on reality. In the past 10 years, virtually every paper has experienced a drop in hard-copy circulation of between 30 and 40 per cent, and in some cases more. People are getting their news from different sources – principally the profusion of electronic media – and there seems to be no stopping the erosion in support for traditional papers.

That is in itself a sad and bad thing, since it is the Fleet Street papers that have the skills and experience – and public trust – to expose wrongdoing. But for some papers the costs are becoming prohibitive. Every year, every month, they are losing ground to blogs and Twitter and Google News; every year the internet eats more destructively into the business case for old-fashioned journalism. That is at least one of the reasons why some journalists have been driven to behave so disgracefully, squawking ever louder, no matter how erroneously, in the hope of being noticed.

The tragedy is that the cure may now be worse than the disease.

Leveson is proposing to throw shackles around that part of the media that is already struggling – while doing nothing to tackle the riot of bile and slander on the web. It was Twitter that turned the BBC’s awful Newsnight into a monstrous libel of Lord McAlpine; and yet Leveson proposes no code of conduct for the Tweeters. Instead, he endorses just about every politically correct criticism of the mainstream press, to the point where he seems to want to sterilise it of fun and flavour.

He complains, for instance, that the Mail was wrong to say that an asylum seeker was given leave to remain because of the attachment he had formed to his cat. I read the judgment, and the cat was certainly mentioned. It struck me as an entirely legitimate headline.

He seems to want to make the British press as earnest as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, whose front-page splash was once about “100 years of Electric Light in Switzerland”. He wants above all to create a system whereby newspapers would be compulsorily regulated by law – licensed – for the first time since the 17th century. He must be resisted; and the only way is for the media to recognise humbly and sincerely the extent of their recent errors, and accede to the setting up of a powerful and independent monitoring body, capable of wielding hefty fines, whose code they would undertake contractually to obey.

David Cameron’s analysis last week was entirely correct. He has thrown the papers a lifeline, and they need to grab it tight. We want a vital and exuberant media that reports the foibles of the rulers, without fear or favour but also without lying and cheating and cruelty.

If the papers get it right, and act fast, they can rebuild trust, and they may also be able to rebuild some of that lost circulation.