Monday, 29 February 2016

The EU cannot survive the desire for democracy

All this Brexit problematising really should be a wake-up call. The message here is that integration has gone too deep to realistically untangle ourselves. That's not far off the truth as it happens. Even if we vote out now we're not going to get out all in one go and it will take many years to accomplish. It will take a mammoth effort to escape the gravitational pull of the EU. I suppose that was the intent of the EU modus operandi - to never give anybody a say until it is too late.

And so in this, anyone thinking of voting to remain on the basis of it not being the right time, the truth is, there is never going to be a right time and it is only ever going to get worse. It might even be now or never.

Given that there has been no treaty reform, no powers have been restored, no competences reviewed, no opt-outs secured, a vote to remain is very much a vote to remain in an unreformed EU - and one that is never going to be reformed.

Even if Cameron had secured a stop on ever closer union, in practice it will not be upheld not least since we don't have the early warning mechanism of effective representation. We won't know when the EU has abused its power until it's too late and the likelihood is that the media won't report it even if it notices it at all. They don't know where to look or what channels to monitor and are too distracted by the trivialities of Wesminster. There are no guarantees against further integration by stealth.

The Remain camp speaks of uncertainty, but they have no more idea what the EU's agenda is any more than I do. We only know one thing and that is that power will continue to flow away from member states and into the hands of the EU at every opportunity. The very opposite of democracy. And once power is taken and asserted, it is never returned.

We have heard the mantra for years that "the EU is not perfect but we should stay and reform it". We get this from those part-timers who know little about the EU and pay little attention to it. It's empty rhetoric. The democratic deficit, to which they freely admit will never be plugged. While europhiles sneer at those old fogeys at Grassroots Out meetings, they're the ones who have been watching the EU for as long as I've been alive - and they know what I know. The EU is the most reform immune institution on earth. That is why there is such burning resentment of it. It's lie after lie.

In this we should worry. If Leave loses this vote, we can say it's likely that forty per cert or more will still want to leave the EU, with a large proportion of Remain voters actively disliking the EU. If we are locked in a system where decisions are irreversible and nothing is ever up for renegotiation then the people are ensnared. It may not be for some time until people wake up and realise what has been done to them, but when they realise their are no democratic tools at their disposal to change their government (and yes, the EU is a government), what then? Civil disobedience? Rioting? Forced exit?

When such an unpopular entity holds so much power, with so little accountability, and so little mandate, how can we ever expect to de-toxify politics, especially when our establishment have used every means at its disposal to ensure we stay in? At least in the Scottish referendum the losers could be somewhat pacified by DevoMax, which is not altogether a poor package of devolution, but what to the British voters get? Nothing. Nothing at all. They'll get gloating europhiles rubbing their noses in it while the con-man Prime Minister gets away with it. There will be a price to pay. There has to be.

Does this really need to be spelled out again?

There, see. A bespoke agreement inside two years under Article 50 is just not going to happen. That means, as per yesterday's post, the EEA will be the most likely default option. Everybody wants this done with the least amount of fuss, the least amount of uncertainty and continuity of trade. As much as neither side wants any headaches, it will also be negotiated by a government that doesn't actually want to leave - so will opt for the relationship that most resembles EU membership.

As you can see from the table below this post, that gives us a great many immediate advantages. Kippers will complain that it means freedom of movement but this isn't a referendum on immigration - this is a referendum on leaving the EU. In any case, leaving the EU does nothing about asylum laws or human rights laws that really do give us less control than we should have. Ending freedom of movement solves little, if anything.

Incidentally, the above table demonstrates a singularly excellent reason why we should leave the EU in that it takes several years to accomplish deals when we could be making individual deals, smaller in scope - and enjoying the advantages of them while the EU is still sat at the table.

But yes, an EEA deal still means we pay into the budget (and we always will) and no it doesn't mean any major deregulation. It means we pay a lot less, and it means we get control of fishing and agriculture back along with trade aid and energy policy. There are limitation to this option, but as we continue to spell out, Brexit is a process not an event. There are pitfalls, but also a great many freedoms and future opportunities.

Adding our weight to Efta, we then have sufficient clout and leverage to renegotiate the EEA agreement at a later date, including freedom of movement, which is due for review anyway. Those are negotiations we would never get while we remain in the EU, especially not after this referendum and the sham reforms of David Cameron. IF you don't like it, that's tough. This is how it's going down, and your only other option is to stay in the EU. Got it?

And no, there are no other routes than Article 50. It is the law, it's in the treaty we signed and it is the only mechanism that compels the EU to come to the table to agree a settlement. The only other way is to withdraw unilaterally - which utterly shafts us, the EU and all of our trading partners. Nobody wants that and no government would ever do it - and if they tried, parliament would stop them.

You can't have everything you want all at once and you can't immediately have it all your own way without some compromise. Only toddlers think otherwise. Can we please move on now and focus on winning??

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Leave campaign is bad - but what can Remain offer?

I have lambasted the so-called mainstream media for it's weak and shallow approach to this referendum. Surprising then that we should see something measured, insightful and mature from the Observer. I'm not going to agree with all of the calculations or haggle over the details because it has adequately summed up the situation in spirit.

It describes an increasingly bewildering society where ever more are short-changed by inequality of opportunity and injustice, and more acutely, a stagnating political establishment with no real ideas on how to address it. The Observer concludes that:
Project Fear may well be the right strategy for the Remain campaign to secure victory, but it does not answer the question of how mainstream politicians can speak to those disaffected voters who helped trigger this referendum. How do you help people cope with the unequal impacts of globalisation, demographic change and technological progress? How can people begin to trust again in a market economy that seems, in places, to be rigged by ever larger global firms that have an uncanny ability to reduce their tax liabilities; how can they feel confident again in a form of late capitalism where benefits seem to accrue unevenly to a smaller and smaller number of people?

Neither side has found ways of addressing these concerns. The referendum, irrespective of whether it is a vote to Leave or Remain, is not going to make this issue go away.
And how right they are. Prior to their conclusion they venture that neither side of the referendum campaign has put forth a vision that speaks to any real concern driving this long standing argument - especially so the Leave campaign, which is something this blog has said from the outset. It has no plan and no vision and will likely lose. The problem is, as the Observer notes, if we lose the referendum, there are no clear winners.

Should we lose, the Remain camp will celebrate - they will have their time in the spotlight, but when the referendum noise dies down we will be exactly where we were when hopes of a referendum were only distant ambitions. We will have come full circle - with nothing gained or resolved.

Only this time I see the resentment and protest being ever more fierce. Not satisfied with having put down a political insurgency, the establishment will see fit to crow and gloat about it, rubbing the faces of ordinary people in their loss. I cannot see how this won't have disturbing consequences and massive political "uncertainty".

As much as Brexit brings no particular resolution to immigration issues, the status quo most certainly doesn't, nor does it do anything to lift us out of our economic quagmire or address the democratic imbalance.

In this, we have been told that the EU is our lifeboat for jobs, security and prosperity, but who is actually buying that? I'm not. Push all the digital single market propaganda at me you like but I don't recognise it as something that speaks to my world.

Tell a young man on minimum wage in Wiltshire that he now has the right to watch Netflix anywhere in Europe on his iPhone and he'll laugh. Whatever the eurocrats think, flying around Europe is still a luxury for the well off. Flights to the continent plus accommodation is still the better part of a months wage. The era of "cheap flights" never existed for many ordinary people.

Nothing we're hearing from either camp speaks to the obscene rent costs we experience, nor are we seeing any real moves to get people into affordable housing. For many, home ownership is a pipedream. Certainly not without sacrificing the few things that bring pleasure.

Moreover, we see nothing that tackles the imbalance of injustice whereby corporates can treat people any way they choose with no legal redress, upheld by the courts in a system where justice is only available to those who can afford it. One where police mainly serve to suppress dissent rather than serve the public.

It is the view of this blog that we need a whole new paradigm in government, and a major overhaul of our creaking, stinking politics. In this, it would require some radicalism and political courage that simply isn't present in our current politics. For some Corbyn was the great white hope, but in the end retreated to the margins to become just another pro-EU cardboard cut-out who will challenge no orthodoxies and accomplish nothing. We need a revolution.

Unlucky for us though, things aren't quite bad enough to spark a political insurgency of any kind. People just don't care enough. So we are condemned to a depressing stagnation, and a gradual retreat from democracy - to become mere economic units in a system of benign managerialism. To me it feels like the end of opportunity, the end of ambition and the end of hope.

That is why Brexit is so very important - if only as a symbol that we are departing from the status quo. That's why it is so important to win.

They tell us that certainty is sacrosanct. The slogan of Stronger In is "don't risk it". Don't risk what exactly? You mean I could lose my opportunity to be a passenger in my own country without any connection to the politics that run it all? To be tossed around without a stake in the society I live in? Is that all they can offer me? Meh.

Instead of that, Brexit could be the revolution we need. It could be the start of a new road - something big, something major, something challenging, something exciting and most definitely something NOT boring.

But since, as the entire ideas-free establishment will skew the vote to get the result it wants, we will not get that revolution. We will instead simply fade into a bland euro-morass. Nothing to achieve, nothing to celebrate, nothing to take pride in. A slow road to political oblivion. Eventually, I can see that dynamic sparking a political revolution. One a lot more risky than ending up like Norway - who would still overwhelmingly reject EU membership, by the way. This is why we should leave. It's probably our last chance to do it the right way.

Brexit: the default option

The Remain camp keep saying "Leave doesn't know what out looks like". This blog does. But for reasons that escape me, Vote Leave is still wedded to the suicide option and Leave.EU honestly can't tell their arse from their elbow. At this point it really is better if they advance no plan at all. The window of opportunity has been and gone.

If we are to reassure voters, it will have to be through Leave Alliance efforts, and we can only do what we can with what we have (and yes that is a hint for a donation).

We know about the options punted by the pundits, and we can say with confidence that their understanding is shallow. Since this blog has already been over the basics, I thought it would be a useful exercise to to imagine what the default option looks like. 

We know that full and immediate severance, as Vote Leave proposes has no basis in reality. Neither party would seek it, and would actively seek to avoid such a disaster. A sudden death Brexit has massive consequences for Britain and the EU alike, nobody wants it therefore they will not let it happen.

From a starting point we will want to retain our preferential access to the single market. We will not want tariffs, but more than this we will want to retain our customs privileges. At the very worst this means a non-tariff agreement along with a mutual recognition agreement, which could be fixed up in a hurry, but would be ill advised in that there is still much more ground to cover.

Since the negotiations will be conducted by a government that doesn't even want to leave, it will likely look at off the shelf solutions. This means we'll look at every existing legal instrument presently available In this, the one silver bullet is the EEA. It takes care of the fundamentals.

This will cause uproar at homes for all the people who thought they were voting to take control of our borders as the EEA means freedom of movement. The government will then change its tune on the Norway Option and point to the EEA emergency brake which is far more substantial than the flimsy "reforms" the PM has notionally secured. The public will not like it but as far as the government is concerned, it will be delivering on that which it has a mandate to do: leave the EU. This isn't a referendum on controlling immigration.

Those who are outraged by this will have only themselves to blame for going gone along with the bovine Farage notion that freedom of movement means open borders. Being stupid sucks doesn't it?

There will be those who mutter about the Swiss Option, but they haven't stopped to ask if the EU wants that. It doesn't. It puts Switzerland in a perpetual state of constitutional crisis and the EU is less than amused at having to tailor its own internal system for the benefit of the Swiss alone. With the clock ticking on Article 50 negotiations nobody will be in a mood to mess around.

In every respect both sides will play it safe. What we end up with will be as close to EU membership without actually being EU membership. And that's a good thing because it gives us much of what we want in the first instance - out of the EU, able to trade freely, a veto on new laws we don't want and control over fishing and agriculture.

If we want to go further we will have to evolve out of the EEA one issue at a time. Adding our weight to Efta, we have a good deal of leverage to renegotiate or even replace the EEA agreement for all Efta members - but that comes afterwards. In the meantime, our main concern is leaving the EU.

This is why the Leave campaign should be looking to play the long game and accept that Brexit is a process and not an event. Instead of pushing for the suicidal stupid and politically unrealisable sudden death Brexit, they should be pushing for the staged withdrawal, not least because an EEA settlement, with full market access and no change to the business environment takes the sting out of all of the scare stories.

Naturally, because the Leave movement is made up of ignorant kippers and delusional Tory free marketeers, they are not going to drop their delusional fantasies and so the Leave Alliance campaigning on this plan will be like trying to take off with the brake parachute fully deployed. Never in my life have I encountered a bunch so impervious to reality.

But in any case in any realistic scenario, we will see continued single market membership simply because the consequences of any other route are unthinkable to both Britain and the EU - and their best economists will be telling them the same. Brexit will mean the hard line leavers making massive compromises they were not anticipating and this is largely their own fault for being so intellectually ill-equipped and underprepared.

Naturally this will have some people asking why we should even bother - and that is really why I expect we will fail, because while the Leave campaigns won't admit Brexit their fantasies are delusional, the public will gradually get wind of the basic Brexit facts of life - and nobody apart from us lowly bloggers will be making a coherent case as to why it's still worth the trouble.

The answer of course is what we do after Brexit. We have so many choices in so many things, including the potential for massive democratic reform. This is the vision we should have been selling from the beginning. But instead we have incompetent Leave campaigns whose whole vision doesn't extend much further than closing the borders, and cluelessly hacking away at regulations. Were I not aware of what was at stake and what we could have instead of the EU, I certainly wouldn't vote for these losers.

That said, with our collective hit traffic across our network of blogs and our increased retweets, I am starting to feel a little more optimistic. I think a good many Brexit campaigners are starting to see the folly of dogmatic eurosceptic ideas and are starting to turn to the blogs for fresh angles. Though we may never reach large audiences, ideas have power and travel fast. It is for this reason I will be blogging until my fingers bleed. We might just make a difference. That said, if we win, it will be in spite of the leave campaigns - not because of them.

European Union: the Microsoft way of doing things

The Microsoft "progress" bar

As a software developer I am increasingly irritated by the dumbing down of interfaces. There's nothing wrong with giving things a facelift, but you still need things to be where they have always been in order to keep up the same level of productivity. In this I quite liked Windows 7. There wasn't much wrong with it.

But that wasn't good enough for Microsoft. It had to poke around and make a one-size-fits-all operating system that functioned on all devices. Windows 10. For me that now means I can't find anything, it's slower, has no added value and is a lot more prone to crashing. 

More to the point, I never had any choice in upgrading. I didn't want it and never asked for it. The constant interruptions of updates from the centre and the nagging pop-ups disrupt productivity.

Some would argue that Windows 10 was a complete reinvention for the modern world, and while the user doesn't appreciate the change in architecture, it has been made so that it is better prepared for the future. So much goes on in computing that the user does not see and can never appreciate why certain changes are necessary. That's as maybe but all of this has been done without reference to the customer.

Moreover, it's not just the operating system. It intrudes on every day tools. I'm a huge fan of Microsoft Office, and superusers will know of some hidden extras that make all the difference to productivity. What we find in later editions is these tools have been deprecated, utterly shafting users (loyal customers) in the process, requiring that systems be redeveloped at great expense to do the same thing only less well. And if you don't like it, who do you complain to who's going to respond? Nobody. 

At the micro level it makes me reconsider if Microsoft is still the way forward. And in this there is an inherent hypocrisy in that the high end developer tools have barely changed. The coding environment looks more or less the same as ever it did. The plebs users must have their productivity messed with, but not the people in charge.

Now I find, having had a prolonged break from front-line developing, I find I am largely unfamiliar with what I have always been used to and I am now faced with a choice. I can either put in the extra hard work to persist with something that I don't like, or I can move beyond Microsoft and look at other solutions that bring down costs, enhance my capabilities and prospects. I have a big task ahead of me, so why not reconsider my whole approach.

In this, there are several options on the table. There are some who would rather deny any progress and revert to Windows 95, pulling the internet cable out and watch VHS tapes instead, then there are those who think with a bit of pressure, Microsoft might restore Windows to how it looked in 2011. The former is pointless and would not work, the latter may mean some cosmetic changes but the essence of what it is and how it works does not change. Neither really works for me.  

What I want is something different that responds to voters users that basically does the same thing, but one that largely leaves me alone, offers me a choice if I want certain upgrades, allows for better connectivity without having being locked into using the same ISP, and something that lets my computer talk directly to other computers without everything having to go through a central computer that has the authority to deny my transactions. I want to keep all the modern functionality but I want control over how it looks and feels, I want the freedom to climb in and fix things myself if they don't work and I want it to be less intrusive. 

In this, in the modern age, we find that the operating system is becoming increasingly irrelevant anyway. We no longer have to buy and install applications in that websites are becoming ever more sophisticated. Let's call them Windows Tailored Operations (WTO). 

A lot of the native tools that come as standard with the operating system are simply not required and rather than hunting around for the menu shortcut, I can just go to a URL where I know I have almost instant access to free tools that work just as well. More to the point, I can access them anywhere in the world without having to take my own computer with me. It's more agile. I can do the same task from any machine so long as it has a browser.

What we then find is that the browser becomes more important than the operating system, and eventually we come full circle where all we need is a dumb terminal whose performance is entirely dependent on how good the connection to the outside world is. In this I don't care about the cosmetic changes, and I am more interested in the service providers where I can look the world over for services that enhance my productivity.

Now I realise I have beaten this particular dead horse into a puddle of glue but the metaphor doesn't need expanding does it? We're at a crossroads where we need to decide if we are going to hide from the march of progress and persist with something that is becoming increasingly an irritation, or are we going to let go of what we have been used to and design something more liberating that's more in tune with the world as it is rather than how we wish it was?

Nobody really wants to go through the process of backing up personal data, wiping the machine and starting over, but that's ok, because there are ways to do it without all that pain these days - but in the end, you know what happens if you don't do it. The registry gets clogged up, licences run out out, programmes stop working and you're much more susceptible to viruses that gradually erode your productivity, privacy and agility.

Everything becomes a painful chore while everybody else is moving light-years ahead using systems built on a wholly different architecture. We can admit these tools served us well in the 90's and helped us get where we are, but that should not stop us parting company with obsolete ideas. 

In this we see Microsoft doing whatever it can to lock you into doing things their way, making it ever more difficult to break away, but there comes a time where the recurrent costs just outweigh the benefits and it just doesn't compete with similar that does just almost as much for a fraction of the cost. 

In the end you just have to be ruthless and say enough is enough. It's a major personal decision but it's also a business decision. It will take some work to make it happen. It will require some adjustment and some personal investment, and maybe even some up-front costs, but on the other side of the mountain, you're more engaged, better connected, less distracted, more capable and ultimately happier. Let's not be luddites about it. Let's stop living in the past, let's stop living in denial and do what needs to be done. 

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Taking InFacts to task

Michael Gove, apparently

The great thing about being independent of any party line or tribal loyalty to a campaign is that I can attack idiocy with impunity. I don't have to side with Michael Gove or defend him when he's attacked - and I'm not going to, but that doesn't mean I'm doing any favours for InFacts, the europhile propaganda unit of Hugo Dixon. Just a cursory fisking shows that InFacts are just as dinosauric as Michael Gove. Let's take a look!
Michael Gove has been widely praised for writing a well argued essay explaining why Britain should quit the EU. The justice minister’s case is actually full of misleading examples and downright contradictions.

“I believe that … the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change”

EU laws have to be agreed by ministers in the Council – in which the UK government has influence and has been on the winning side 87% of the time. They also usually have to be approved by the directly elected representatives in the European parliament, 73 of whom are British. The justice secretary is just plain wrong when he says later no British politician can “alter in any way” EU legislation.

Gove must also be aware that the government has a veto on EU harmonised taxes, so it can block any tax law it does not like. He also presumably knows that only 2.15% of the £600 billion-odd in taxes British people pay goes to the EU – and a big chunk of that comes back.
This is going to be one of those interminable disputes that will go on until the end of time - or until Britain leaves the EU. Gove believes the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. I have a lot of sympathy with this view. That's exactly what I want too. Where I differ is that I live on planet Earth and I understand that this highly improbable.

We are always going to have to compromise on some of our laws, we won't have a deciding say in all of them and though I am in this for the very purpose of extensive democratic reform, even I recognise there will be limitations. The EU debate though, is more a question of extent. On what do we compromise, and in what areas do we cede sovereignty - and to whom.

It is my view that the EU holds too much power over areas where it should never hold power - as this post will demonstrate. Furthermore, sovereignty pooling should only ever be acceptable when the power is on loan. Where the EU is concerned, the dynamic is power flowing persistently away from the people and into the hands of the unwanted and irremovable - without the ultimate right to say no. Selective and partial vetoes will forever be insufficient. 

InFacts can bleat all they like about "elected representatives" and percentages of votes til the cows come home, but that will never make the EU a democracy. They obsess over ritual and process but the people themselves are not empowered to change the laws they live by. In theory they can, in practice they cannot. This is why the EU is so fundamentally unreformable - and it is why the Prime Minister didn't even attempt real EU reform. He knows as well as the rest of us that it's never going to happen.
“Hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk none of which were requested by the UK Parliament”

The British government regularly asks Brussels to act in particular areas – for example to create a single market in energy, capital markets, and digital – as well as to sign a free trade deal with the US. All are areas the EU is currently working on.
Britain will always be a law taker and there will always be instances where parliament has had no direct say and is in any instance not a good mechanism for scrutiny. Even over the last year, my views have evolved in that we're never going to have full control over the laws we adopt and parliament couldn't reasonably sift through all of them. Gove is just not on this planet if he thinks leaving the EU means an end to rules made over and above the UK legislature.

The point, however, is that Brexit gives us some choice in which areas we opt out from - where there is no need of a common framework - and where a common framework is more to do with advancing a political agenda rather than removing barriers to trade.

But then InFacts need pulling up too. We have asked Brussels to initiate a number of trade deals. The point is, we shouldn't have to - and we do better by dealing direct. TTIP for instance has already been years in the making and won't come to fruition any time soon. We'd have got further with a series of partial cope agreements suited to those UK industries who trade with the US - and those could have been accomplished sooner and we could be enjoying the benefits of them already.

As to the rules of digital single market and banking rules, the EU will soon find it has the same problem as Gove, with hundreds, if not thousands of new rules landing on Commissioners desks, none of which were requested by any parliament or any commissioner. The EU is just as much a law taker - and the technical rules will be made by global super-regulators - the real top tables where we need our own independent voice.
The government “cannot remove or reduce VAT”

VAT is harmonised within the single market for a very good reason – as products can be freely transported across borders, you do not want people simply shopping around for the country with the lowest rate. That said, Britain is still free to cut the main VAT rate to as low as 15%, or to offer a reduced rate on a range of extra products and services. It is a bit rich for Gove, who was part of the government that jacked up VAT to 20%, to suggest the EU won’t let us cut it.
This demonstrates the folly of any people's campaign rallying around politicians. It's hard not to share a chuckle with InFacts in that this Tory government are probably the least economically liberal bunch we've had for a long time. One in which Gove is a serving cabinet member. That is why I have argued that this should remain a people's campaign that bypasses the politicians. It actually shows how unpractised the media and public are in handling referendums.

But that's really besides the point. The point is we couldn't go lower than 15% if we wanted to and we don't get to pick and choose what it applies to. We should have better means of lodging exemptions - and the process for obtaining them is cumbersome, slow and all too often futile.

It is my personal view that Eurosceptics are deluded if they believe we could junk VAT if we left the EU, and even if we had the freedom to remove it, we probably wouldn't nor would we significantly deviate from EU levels. Doing so could create more problems than competitive advantages.That said, VAT is long overdue a massive overhaul. It needs major reform, and that is not going to happen while we are in the EU. Being outside of the EU gives us certain leverage so that we could put that at the top of the EU agenda in ways we presently cannot.
The government “cannot support a steel plant through troubled times”

Gove is referring to the EU’s state aid rules, which mean a general prohibition on governments subsidising particular companies or sectors. Such rules are intended to prevent protectionist-minded governments from distorting or harming competition. For example, the Commission is now using them to investigate sweetheart tax arrangements for multinationals and to stop Estonia subsidising its national flag-carrier.

The British government “support[s] strong State aid rules to ensure aid is well targeted ”, citing the benefits such strong rules can have for innovation, new market entrants and consumers. Leon Brittan, a British Conservative, bears a lot of the credit for the EU’s tough anti-subsidy rules. It’s odd that Gove is wearing a protectionist cloak.
I've studiously avoided diving into this one because it's a minefield. It is multifaceted and heaping all of the blame on the EU is as petulant as it looks. In this, Gove, among many other supposed free marketeers have hinted they would like to see protectionist measures which does our cause no favours among undecided conservatives. We don't want to be protectionist, but then at the same time, reserving a base level of steel capacity as a strategic national asset may well be justified. That's a debate we need to have - where we may find the EU an obstacle.

In this, our own government could have done more with the powers it has to protect our steel industry and has failed, but what we can say is that EU energy policy in tandem with our own maladministration has no done the sector any favours at all.

For me, the point is a broader one in that the global steel industry is under heavy stresses and nobody, not even China, coping very well in a turbulent global market. In sectors like this it is only natural to expect Western producers with high wage costs and (rightly) considerably tighter regulations, that we will see some plants closing.

What matters is our capacity to adapt and mitigate, in which case, while we have lost a thousand jobs in the industry just recently, a nation with its own trade policy would have the agility to easily replace those jobs. For me, that is one the deciding factors in my decision to vote to leave.
The government “cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country”

As InFacts has previously shown, the UK can still deport those it deems a serious threat.

Of course, each situation needs to be taken on its own merits, and the government does not have unlimited freedom of action. It has to operate within the law. But isn’t that something Gove should welcome? In the very same essay where he rails against the government’s lack of untrammelled powers, the justice secretary sings the praises of checks and balances, noting with approval that “in Britain … we ensured no-one could be arbitrarily detained at the behest of the government”.
Unusually, I'm going to bottle this one because it's a whole different strata of the debate that requires individual examination. In a lot of cases, we see that while we hate the results of such trials, having to play host to some unsavoury individuals, from the perspective of human rights judgements, they often prove to be correct. The law is very much an ass, and while it sucks that we have to put up with it, I prefer it to the state having the power to act arbitrarily.

It should also be noted that the ECHR is not an EU institution, and Brexit is not going to provide any immediate remedy to our problems. Much will carry over when we leave. What matters is that when we come to review and reform the various legal constructs, Britain will be a wholly independent voice - as indeed Norway is. Flexcit has more to say on this than I do.
EU rules dictate … the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds (five kilometres).

Gove is presumably thinking of the Habitats Directive, which says countries should take “appropriate steps” to avoid disturbance of protected species in special conservation areas. But nowhere does it say houses can’t be built within 5 kilometres of such areas.

Under UK regulations implementing the directive, Natural England, the public body responsible for wildlife protection, can put the brakes on any building development plans which it feels might have a significant effect on such conservation areas. Natural England’s advice, reflected in local planning policy but not law, means those hoping to build within 5 kilometres of certain special protection areas must jump through various additional hoops. But even then there is no outright ban. Not only has Gove exaggerated the nature of the UK’s rules; the detail comes from Britain not Brussels.
I'm not going to argue the toss here. All I will say is that life the Somerset flooding investigation, we find there is a morass of conflicting rules and regulations - some of them binding, others more advisory, with much confusion as to which holds supremacy, where there are government departments working to different agendas, often at odds with each other, often creating as many problems as they solve. In that we also find the Habitats directive is the cause of much confusion.

In this, I would happily leave the EU and suggest the directive be the first thing to go into the bin. There is a global convention on habitats which the UK has ratified and we would be better off without having the EU's own agenda impressed upon it. In this we need reform at all levels to bring about some clarity and a little bit more democracy. What we have seen is traditional husbandry of habitats is by far the best means of administration in that it places local knowledge at the centre of decision making.

In this we can have a national set of rules, with regional and sub-regional authorities with their own by-laws and we can dispense with EU interference altogether. We don't need a "single market" in wildlife habitats and we don't need a common approach and the very worst thing you can do in this regard is start introducing quotas for the creation of new habitats. The net result can often mean, through bureaucracy, the total destruction of exiting habitats.

It may be that the global convention need revising and if wildlife NGOs feel that is the case, then they can lobby our own government to go direct to the top table in this. We don't need the EU acting as a middleman and it will work better if we shorten the chain of accountability. 
EU rules dictate … the maximum size of containers in which olive oil may be sold (five litres)

EU rules on olive oil marketing standards do impose a 5-litre limit for the containers olive oil is sold in. This is because, if olive oil is left around for too long, it risks going rancid. The rule is overkill. But what Gove doesn’t mention is that the EU allows countries to waive the 5-litre rule for those who might want or need to get their olive oil in greater containers, such as restaurants and hospitals. The UK decided not to. If Gove really thinks this is a big issue, he should be pushing our government, of which he is still a member, to change the rule.
This is what I call Bent Banana Histrionics - a most loathsome characteristic of dinosaur eurosceptics. Of all the things to go to the barricades with and Gove chooses marketing standards on olive oil? Planet, which, on?

But there's a broader point here. Without climbing into the nuts and bolts of the regulation, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that olive oil marketing standards are almost certain not EU in origin and this would be law that has been copied verbatim from the UN FOA/Codex.

In some instances it's the other way around where earlier EU regulations have been adopted by global standards bodies - but the point is, this is going to be an area increasingly administered by global organisations, whereby if we want to change the rules we will have to go to the very top table.

In this we are better off not joining the long queue to go through the EU middleman and raise our concerns directly. We can do that already but we can be summarily overruled if the EU chooses to assume exclusive competence. It's another area where the EU is becoming increasingly redundant - and where it holds dominance, it creates an exclusionary regulatory regime that ultimately harms developing nations.

In this though, the confusion of both InFacts and Gove is illustrative in that if I don't know, and Gove doesn't know and InFacts doesn't know, who does? Again there is no clear line of accountability and if a government minister doesn't know where to look then we have a problem don't we? (Notwithstanding Gove being an idiot). Since we are talking about the creation and reform of global trade rules, we are better off bypassing the EU in order to have a stronger voice in shaping single market rules. 


InFacts is going for low hanging fruit. To say that Gove is talking crap is a bit like saying the sea is blue. But what we see from InFacts is the classic europhile mantras that are still largely blind to the process of globalisation. InFacts have done a half decent job of establishing that Michael Gove is an intellectual lightweight and full time idiot who can't make a good case for leaving the EU, but I'm still not seeing a compelling case for staying in.

I am often accused of attacking my own side, but here we see there's nothing at all lost in saying Michael Gove is a bit of a douchebag, and just because InFacts agrees doesn't mean they're not a bunch of lightweights either. Your move.

We should never cave into fear

Keeping the peace, RAF style

I keep seeing a meme bandied about that Putin will be rubbing his hands with glee if Britain leaves the EU. It's offensive. What the remain camp is essentially saying is that Britain should cower and let Russia set our democratic agenda. It's such withering cowardice to suggest our political landscape should be cross-referenced with what Putin may or may not want.

The simple point is that if Britain wants to be an independent democracy and the people demand that, then we should defer to nobody. If Putin thinks this does him any favours he is mistaken. We have never needed a supranational entity like the EU to stand up to bullies before and we don't need one now.

The EU has not been responsible for peace in Europe. If anything has kept the peace it is NATO, but more specifically, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. This historically illiterate notion that the EU has in any sense, in any of its incarnations, been instrumental to fending off Russia or any of our enemies is sickening.

Call this jingoistic if you want, but Brits have every right to feel pride in their country and their long standing contribution to global security. I'm not going to pretend we have got everything right, and certainly our misadventures of late have been less than glorious, but should Russia attempt further aggressive moves, Britain will be one of the first to the line with or without the EU while Europe is still prevaricating.

Meanwhile, say what you like about what happened in Ukraine in 2014, the fact remains the EU was all too happy to ram through the association agreement but has never had any intention of lifting a finger in support of Ukraine in defending her sovereign territory. It won't act now and it never will.

As much as there is no political will to take the EU to war, there is no internal mandate - and no agreement would ever be reached. It is European Unity in name only. EU pooled sovereignty delivers nothing but navel-gazing, vacillation and self-deception. It is only through NATO can we rely on our mutual defence.

We saw in Libya the inability of the EU to reach a common position on intervention - which in the end went ahead as a NATO mission, with the EU Commission stamping its brand all over the diplomatic efforts. There was no clear definition of the mission, it shifted in scope and Libya was left to rot in the aftermath.

Libya became the EU's Iraq through political cowardice, indecision and procrastination. We saw an almost total abandonment of Libya with zero intention of making decisive moves to help - resulting in many of the disturbing images we saw of migrants downing by the thousand.

Then if we rewind to 2008 and the invasion of Georgia, again we saw no decisive EU action. Sarkozy's "triumph" allowed the Russians to call their troops peacekeepers. French mediators caved in and allowed this, thus the stipulated withdrawal of combatants did not apply. Under the ceasefire agreement Moscow could claim - in a strictly legal sense - that Russian troops could stay in Georgia indefinitely. Europe has persistently caved into Russia and now europhiles are suggesting we do the same when we decide who should govern us. 

At every turn in pushing the EU agenda we have seen that the EU wants all of the power, all of the credit but none of the responsibility. It makes mess after mess leaving member states and NATO to clean up the aftermath. I fail to see how that makes us safer and more secure.

And though we have heard plenty from our top brass, who say we would be weakened in NATO should we leave the EU, they are the men who delivered humiliating retreats in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their fixation with the expensive toys that play into the EU's joint military ambitions blinded them to the operational requirements of the wars we were fighting.

Leaving the EU does not weaken our friendship with France or Germany, and in many ways Brexit can only enhance our relationships as we are then willing partners by choice rather than reluctant servants of le grande project. It does not change our commitment to NATO, nor does it reduce our capacity to integrate our forces or cooperate. 

We are as committed to freedom now as ever we were. We do not need political subordination in order to fight in the name of freedom - and the europhiles who suggest we are safer by surrendering our democracy have no idea how idiotic that is, or precisely how offensive they are. My vote will not be cast on the basis of what Putin may or may not think.

The fear is that the EU will fold without Britain and that Putin would exploit the chaos. Ukraine has already shown the EU up as indecisive and weak. Already Russia is making moves in the Balkans and has eyes on Moldova. The EU will say nothing. The EU will do nothing.

More than anything, as a political project, as it forges without the consent of the peoples of Europe, it will never have a mandate to act militarily - and will only ever delay and dilute our collective response. That is the weakness Putin will exploit.

I would venture that Putin has more to fear from a resurgent Briain renewing its commitment to independence, democracy and liberty - and if he doesn't, then he is the fool I take him for. Brexit naturally means we must work harder to build and restore traditional alliances, and in that we will necessarily have to reaffirm our commitment to NATO - but that will be the gesture that keeps Europe safe. 

In this regard, if the EU cannot survive without a subordinate Britain then it does not deserve to - and for as long as there is an egotistical existential conflict between NATO and the EU, we are vulnerable. If I am forced to choose which should survive, I choose NATO every single time. 

NATO has kept Russia at bay all of my life, with Britain as a leading member, and it is the institution I trust to uphold our values. In that, I have no faith in the EU. The EU is designed to remove democracy, not uphold it. That is ultimately why I am voting to leave. Democracy comes first above all things - and it is the thing Putin fears the most.

If we ever want democracy, we have to leave the EU

Europhiles and sceptics alike give me a headache. Europhiles insist the EU is a democracy because there are elections where we send the intellectually subnormal to go and press button to wave through technical regulations they could not possibly understand and haven't even read in any great detail.

Also they say that because a fraction of the council of ministers are elected and appointed by a Prime Minister we did not directly elect that this is somehow democracy and we have control over the things they do in our name - even when we are all too often structurally outnumbered. 

Democracy means "people power". The word democracy stems from the Greek word, dēmokratía, comprising two parts: dêmos "people" and kratos "power". If the people do not hold the power, then there is no democracy. Simples.

But by the same token, Eurosceptics waffling about returning power to Westminster is equally inane. For the five years in between general elections, you have no say and very little power over how your MP votes. And though you can vote for someone else, that doesn't really make much of a difference, if any at all. For reasons that escape me, we're supposed to be satisfied with this arrangement.

There are some who argue that we should switch to proportional representation, but we are still only tinkering with voting mechanisms. Such a change still does not result in the people holding and wielding power in their own name.

Every five years you get to vote for one of these morons who is largely impervious to new information and sees the position of MP as one of authority, whereby they preach to us and make decisions for us - rather than doing as instructed. That model of "democracy" is merely the freedom to vote for your dictators, which isn't democracy at all. 

In the Brexit debate, as yet undecided voters I talk to aren't convinced that we should leave the EU just because it is not a democracy because there's not much you could call democratic about our own system. They are right. 

Our current system of government is known as "representative democracy". That phrase is a misuse of the word democracy. If people do not hold power: that system cannot by definition be a democracy. It represents democracy in the same way a stick man represents a person.

So by any estimation, to say we should simply leave the EU to restore democracy still isn't good enough. It still leaves the likes of John Redwood and Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall making decisions. Why should we be satisfied with that? Answer: we shouldn't.

What we need is an entirely new model of government that puts the people in control and downgrades the Westminster relic to a council for dealing with national emergencies and ceremonial events. We have the technology where we no longer need to delegate powers to idiots.  

And though that might not mean more intelligent decisions, they could not possibly be worse than what happens when you put a rabble of Westminster bubble dwellers into one room, without the need to talk to voters for five years at a time. Moreover, if we devolve policy to levels as local as possible, the number of people affected by bad decisions is smaller and the decisions are more easily revisited when they fail.

I am, of course, talking about The Harrogate Agenda, with our demands listed below. Some say this is too ambitious - but why shouldn't it be? Why should we not want to make professional politics obsolete when we have the means at our disposal? Why should politics be about personalities when it could be about issues?

In this referendum debate there have been two Brexit debates going on. There's the debate among London hacks and politicians - and then there's the debate between citizens, which has been more thorough, more honest, more accurate and more up to date. Let's trust the people to sort it all out instead of these oxygen thieves. We don't need the former at all. It's a waste of our time and does not produce a legitimate result.  

As this blog has said from the beginning, we don't want to "return power to Westminster" because these are the bastards who did this to us in the first place. Brexit is the first baby-step to democracy, but it doesn't end there and just because Westminster isn't a democracy is absolutely no excuse to remain in the EU.

IF you want democracy then we can't even begin to talk about it until we have left the EU and if you think the EU is in any way democratic by way of holding votes then really, you deserve everything that government inevitably does to you. This referendum is your chance. Don't blow it. Nevermind what the MPs, ministers, bosses, banks and celebs say. This is a referendum. This is about what YOU want - not their wants. 

Shut up, Skeletor. Nobody cares about Greece.

For all the whining about "harsh austerity" and EU enforced "neoliberalism", one might first lift the lid on Greek shipping to get a good look at what we're dealing with. Greece owns 74 percent of the shares in Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports, which are the main inlet the the majority of counterfeit goods coming from China.

The low "tax consciousnesses‟ among the Greek public drives the black market, and the "informal economy" in the country that accounts for up to 30% of the GDP, - the largest informal economy in the EU.

Greece is known as a poor country inhabited by rich people. In most other countries, a closure of the banks would cause the country to grind to a halt, but not Greece because it is still largely a cash economy with most of it undeclared. Greeks would rather put their money in a mattress than a Greek bank because Greek banks are shell operations owned by the shipping families of Greece who are in effect a ruling mafia.

Smuggling in Greece is a national pastime which concerns counterfeit articles, stolen cars, weapons, radioactive material and products where excise duties are levied, like cigarettes. It's not just fake Gucci handbags (for which there is a massive tolerance for in Greece) but also falsified foods and pharmaceuticals. Acceptance of such in Greece is a societal norm.

The shipping industry, with the whole world as its workplace and its frequent contact with officials and authorities, is vulnerable to attempts at corruption, bribery and demands of so-called ‘facilitation payments’, which can have serious consequences for the crew, employees and ships, as these can be held back if the shipping companies refuse to pay. One might expect this of Nigeria, but not a modern EU port. Greece's endemic corruption harms all EU trade.

Yet on its maiden day in office, in spite of it being a condition of the previous bailout, Syriza announced that a privatisation programme (launched to trim the country’s staggering debt load) was in effect null and void. Plans to sell off further port assets – repair docks as well as car, passenger and cruise ship terminals that Cosco had been bidding for were been scrapped. Perversely, by defaulting, Greece has signed a new bailout agreement where the EU has put port privatisation back on the agenda. This is what the left (and now bizarrely some on the right) call "neoliberalism" imposed by the EU.

The truth is that Europe cannot afford for Greece to be the weak link in the chain of global trade. The Greek economy was built on Greek shipping - but Greek shipping and corruption go hand in hand, and this is what the EU wants to fix because without such reforms (on which the whole economy is pegged) we will see Greece in a mess again. Rightly, Germans are asking why they should bail out Greece if they're going to end up doing it again for much the same reasons.

The EU never said Greece must accept the bailout, but there were entirely reasonable conditions attached to it, and if Greece wants a shot at being a modern wealthy nation instead of a socialist basketcase then there are reforms it must undergo. I can think of a dozen good reasons to oppose the EU, but really Greece is not one of them.

If you've been reading this blog, you'll see I've put a lot of work into examining technical barriers to trade. Corruption and delays at ports are one of the chief barriers to opening up trade with the rest of the world, and addressing such must make up any rational case for leaving the EU. We have criticised the EU for being slow to respond to these global challenges, yet bizarrely the eurosceptics are attacking the EU for doing exactly that for a change. The outcry over Greece from the left and the hard right is wholly irrational.

Eurosceptics should sympathise, rather than lecturing the Germans. We avoided the euro but they're in it and need to try and make it work. Syriza are not analogous to the British constituency who want to leave the EU to have more economic liberalism from our relatively good starting position. They want less from Greece's relatively bad starting position. This is absurd. Germany doesn't want to be in a currency union with a socialist basketcase and nor would we.

If there is any criticism to make here it is that the EU, having dishonestly accepted Greece into the Euro, did far too little, far too late to avoid the massive mess it is presently in. THAT should be the wake up call, not the long overdue corrective action. To say that Greece isn't getting exactly what it deserves is to treat voters like children and assume these hackneyed leftists sentiments are enough to win over the UK left.

Well, I have some news for Kate Hoey and Leave.EU. Voters aren't as spectacularly uninformed as you are - nobody is buying this crap (nor the scares about TTIP) - and nobody, absolutely NOBODY is going to base their Brexit vote on anything remotely connected with Greece. If you can't grow up, please shut up. Losers.

How Leave can win

While I have my bleak and pessimistic days, I have to remind myself that winning is still possible. It's just case of getting a few simple messages out to everybody.

Firstly that leaving the EU is not a risk to life and limb and that Martians will not invade. We know this is true because even though there are bitter disputes about the models on offer, they're all with a view to retaining single market access with no tariffs. The disputes come from some on our side being woefully under-informed as to what concessions are required of us in order to achieve this.

The point being that we don't want a messy separation and nor does the EU. Nobody wants it dragging on and nobody wants to introduce unnecessary risk. The Euro couldn't cope otherwise. It's pretty well established now that some freedom of movement is involved, there isn't much deregulation and we're not going to be saving much money any time soon - but that's ok. Leaving the EU is a process, not an event.  

In this, the Leave campaigns are bunch of mouth-breathing dunces who don't understand this - and we shouldn't be afraid to say so. This is the people's referendum and the Leave campaigns are a bunch of third rate politicians and SW1 hacks who we need to disown if we want to win. It's my voice and your voice that matters - not them. Especially NOT Boris Johnson.

When talking to undecided people, I make a point of hanging a lantern on the fact the Leave campaign are monstrously stupid because the bolder I am in saying so, the more honest and reasonable I seem. The Leave and Remain camps are propaganda outfits and they are all pushing lies, distortions and untruths. Let's ignore them. And let's ignore MPs too.

The fact is we are going to have to make compromises to leave the EU - it's no silver bullet and a lot of hard liners are going to be disappointed. But that's ok because the hard liners are in the extreme minority. They are loud so they set the tone of the Leave campaigns but that's only to be expected when you have a massive idiot like Arron Banks at the helm.

In the end voters will respect honesty and integrity over hyperbole and spin. We are all sick to death of it. The above illustration shows that we can leave the EU but stay in the single market and there are a great many benefits to doing to. I expand on some of these issues in this post.

It's not going to be as simple as knocking up a free trade deal and it is not going to be completed overnight and it will require a gradual evolution away from the decades of political integration - the same way as we went in. It's not exactly what we wanted, but it's the safest, most reassuring way.

The ultimate goal is greater participation in global affairs as an independent state with an enhanced democracy and revitalised politics. What we are saying is that Brexit is the first step in a long road to proper democracy.

While there is no such thing as full sovereignty in global politics and regulation anymore some is better than none - and while we are in the EU, the EU is ultimately the supreme authority to whom the people cannot say no. By definition, that is not a democracy - and will never be one. We need to say so.

David Cameron's "reforms" are not legally binding - they do not in any way modify the founding treaties and reform is not even on the table. The EU is unreformable therefore there is no reason to stay. Because Cameron's reforms are a transparent sham, this referendum really solves nothing unless we do leave and the issue will not go away until until we do. That has problems and uncertainties of its own.

This referendum is our chance to leave the EU amicably, peacefully and carefully - and it is our last chance. The real question is: Do you want Britain to run under the umbrella of a supreme government for Europe? We don't and never did.

Yes, Brexit presents us with some technical difficulties to overcome - but they are not insurmountable - and if we truly stand for democracy then we should not flinch from that challenge. There is never going to be a convenient time to do it so now is as good a time as any - and it presents a great many opportunities in that we will have a new found agility abroad and new found freedoms at home.

It's not going to see the Tories feeding workers rights into the shredder, nor is it going to see Labour renationalise the railways. They will only get away with what we allow. That's the deal with democracy.

If we can speak to people in those terms - with integrity, realism and truth then we can win. We won't change minds by lying to people and we certainly won't win allies by not treating people like adults. 

So, in case you were wondering, I'm still going to heap scorn on Farage, Hannan, Johnson, Hoey and all the hacks because I don't see their witless hyperventilation as an asset to our cause. If they were a political party I would want them to lose. So really let's keep this referendum a people's referendum, ignore the losers on both sides - and speak directly to each other. 

Friday, 26 February 2016

Uncertainty? Yes please!!

The EU: needlessly tedious

Three years ago I thought that leaving the EU would give us back control of our law-making. I thought it would save a lot of money. I thought it would help slow immigration. I thought it would mean massive deregulation. I was wrong on all counts. And that's ok. I couldn't be more at ease with the europhiles winning those arguments. I can still make a case for leaving and I still want to leave.

The question is so much more than these peripheral issues. It's a question of where we are and where we want to be. So let's look at where we are. Presently, if you filter out a lot of the hyperventilation and left wing noise, most people don't recognise Britain as an austerity wracked neoliberal hellhole. It's doing ok. It could be better, but it's ok.

That's a problem for people who want political change because things usually have to be worse than this to instigate political change of Brexit magnitude. We are told that there is a serious anti-politics sentiment afoot, but all that flies out of the window in a referendum where all the Brexiteers are rushing to worship at the altar of Boris. It's pathetic really.

Certainly I don't see a discontented broken society yearning for change. It's all very peaceful and all very bovine. Compared to the mainland of Europe we are sitting pretty and those of us who believe we have problem immigration just don't know the half of what Paris puts up with. For sure we hear some chilling tales coming out of East London, but when has East London ever not been a hovel?

Meanwhile, my own experience does not reflect the picture painted in the media. I live in Bristol - which to my mind is a peaceful, clean and friendly city with lots to do, and things to see. Certainly my limited needs in terms of healthcare and dentistry have been well catered for, and I don't recognise this "NHS at breaking point" in practice. Perhaps I live a charmed existence.

It would seem that the benign managerialism of government works quite well. Except that there's a certain political ennui about it. I know that politics should not exist for the entertainment of political wonks and bloggers and if it is working well it should be profoundly uninteresting to normal people, and the fact that it is free of any major conflict ought to be encouraging - but something doesn't seem right still.

In a sense it feels like we are passengers. We don't have any power over things that happen in the political domain. We are powerless observers. Parliament voted to go and drop munitions on Syria last year, and though we had a big political row about it, parliament voted by a large margin to take us to war. Our voices didn't matter.

Similarly, a vast majority of people wanted a say over the Lisbon treaty, But that was ratified without a referendum. We are now stuck in a relationship that nearly half the population definitely do not want with an undecided margin that go either way. What makes the decision more difficult is the complexities thrown up by the existence of the Lisbon treaty and Article 50. It's enough to sow doubt that we could get an equitable deal.

In this, we all have a gut feeling that the referendum is being manipulated by the establishment, cutting short the lead time, fudging and faking reforms and abusing the processes to make it go the government's way. The soul of Britain wants to leave the EU but we know our politicians do not serve the people. And that's at the heart of it. Britain is soul sick.

You can see it in our politics as the left wing struggle for relevance, dragging up 1980's arguments from when they were last relevant, desperately trying to manipulate a mental image of a Dickensian Britain that simply doesn't exist. The whole political core is at a loose end. The Labour party was coopted by a small and motivated band of hard leftists largely because nobody cared enough to stop them.

It's all so jaded now that so much as I dislike the politics of Jeremy Corbyn I sometimes think it might be amusing to watch were he to get into Number 10. Anything to save us from another charmless suit without a hint of sincerity. Truth be known, were Corbyn not such a colossal moral coward I could overlook his socialism and even vote for him - but in the end he buckled on the matter of the EU and has proven he is just as much a hypocrite as the rest of them.

Tories will warn that a Corbyn government would be a disaster for the country and that he is a major threat to national security. I seriously doubt that he would be because while we are in the EU he is bound by the law the same as David Cameron is. He will do as he is told.

Some would have it that this is why we should be in the EU, to stop politicians doing what they are elected to do. The left want the EU right now because they believe it stops the Tories trampling on workers rights, and the Tories would want it to ensure Corbyn didn't hoist the Hammer and Sickle over Buckingham Palace.

And this is why the EU sucks. We can have any government of any stripe so long as it performs within a set of predefined parameters and does as it is told. How very dull. In dispensing with democracy we have dispensed with politics and in place of politics we have civic administration where everything is merely about the allocation of resources. Where's the big idea?

We have heard from every politician the same vague promises about returning power to the people and restoring localism, but we've heard it from ardent europhiles who do not see the inherent contradiction in their empty words.

By excluding the people from decision making we have killed off social innovation and enterprise, we have beaten the life out of our education system and where our health system works it is more through luck and the application of cash than actual managerial skill. It is little wonder that business looks overseas for skilled individuals in that our schools are micromanaged to the point of insanity, beating the vitality out of teachers so that children are neither engaged nor educated.

Put simply, there is no longer any uncertainty in politics. The corporates have got their own way. They keep saying if we leave the EU, it will cause uncertainty but that's actually exactly what we need. We do need some uncertainty that causes to re-engage in politics and to learn more about civic participation and steer decision making. We need some political risk taking so that we can innovate. It might mean a lot improves and it might mean some things break down. But wouldn't that be more tolerable than the interminable beigeness of modern, post-democracy Britain?

The EU is certainly an uninspiring vision - to homogenise business and culture from Cork to Kiev, under a single boring blue flag with boring yellow stars. (Ok, so yellow stars and Europe always should be boring) - but there's no real energy in it. Even many who want to stay in the EU do so not because the EU is a good idea but because they think Brexit will be a bit tricky and they haven't been offered something better.

For sure, we have the freedom to work and travel anywhere in Europe, but who actually does that? Seriously? If the opportunities were so vast, why is everybody coming here? And if everybody is coming here, why should I bother? Besides, I want to go to Canada.

This is not a jingoistic thing and it's not a nationalistic thing, it's just that I never wanted a supreme government for Europe, I don't see any reason to be subordinated by one, I was never asked and I think things could be a lot more interesting if we could decide for ourselves who our partners are.

I don't really care about immigration, I'm not really going to go to the barricades over helicopter safety regulations, and leaving the EU isn't going to put money back in my wallet so there's sod all reason to get worked up about Ukip arguments, but the idea we could build something bigger and something different without a depressingly mundane destination - that might just be worth voting for. We need to leave the EU before it bores us all to death.

Tim Stanley: playing in the Brexit kindergarden

I know, I know, I'm not supposed to attack my own side. Except, Tim Stanley is not on our side though. If you are not helping us, you are hurting us. And while such issue illiterate drivel could be excused from a rank and file Ukipper, this is a columnist for a leading British broadsheet newspaper. This this must be called out for what it is - lazy irresponsible hackery that damages the case for leaving the EU.

Our side depends on having a credible alternative and a Brexit plan - and to be able to secure the confidence of opinion formers. Without going into too much detail, the EU-Mexico agreement pertains mainly to tariffs, and like so many of the Toryboy ilk, the concept of non-tariff barriers is evidently alien to Tim Stanley.

Unimpeded single market access goes well beyond mere tariffs. We are talking about customs channels, inspection regimes, mutual recognition of standards and qualifications etc etc etc.

In a debate already rich with idiocy, we do not need to Johnny-come-latelys piling on their own ignorance - adding more fuel to the Ukip fire that actively undermines the credibility of the campaign. So in that regard, Tim Stanley should be treated as just another lazy media parasite filling column inches for its own sake.

Somebody in his position has no excuses for knowing so little when this issues have been discussed at length on Twitter and elsewhere since even before the general election.

Our campaign must be able to demonstrate that Brexit is not a risky proposition and that we have good answers to serious questions. One of those questions is continuity of trade and market access, and an EU-Mexico deal doesn't even begin to compare with EEA membership. Not even close.

This is Janet and John stuff, whereby if such details are really beyond Stanley, then he should do us all a favour and go head up the Telegraph's home and gardens section instead - where his ignorance can do the least harm.

Airbus should shut up about Brexit

Airbus Group expects the competitiveness of its British operations to fall if Britons vote to leave the European Union in a referendum, potentially threatening the scale of the planemaker's operations in the country.

The support of France-headquartered Airbus, which employs 16,000 people in Britain, for those campaigning alongside Prime Minister David Cameron to stay in the EU comes a day after a group of company bosses warned that a vote to leave in a June 23 referendum would put the economy at risk.
"If Britain leaves, I cannot imagine that this would have positive consequences for our competitiveness in Britain," Chief Executive Tom Enders told a news conference at the aerospace group's annual results on Wednesday.
This is classic FUD from a loudmouth CEO who doesn't know very much about Brexit. Leaving the EU will have little impact on Airbus operations.

Enders would agree with me that Airbus make aircraft to the very highest available standards. In my many years at Airbus, I never saw any corner cutting - and design leads are probably some of the most risk averse people I have ever met. Airbus people are highly conscientious. They know better than anyone that overlooking or neglecting the fine details can and does cost lives.

In this we can say that if we leave the EU there will be no deviation from those global standards and regulations that Airbus complies with. The reputation of Airbus safety depends on it. It rather shoots down the Eurosceptic claim that we can deviate from regulations and have weaker ones of our own - and we wouldn't be able to export to Toulouse if those standards were not met in any case. Therefore, the claim that we don't know what out looks like is just a piece of empty rhetoric.

We also know that, at the very least, there will be no EU tariffs. That Brexit scenario is highly implausible, not least because nobody wants it - especially not Airbus who are both politically active and influential at the EU level. In short, the business environment does not change.

Where we eventually do get more control by leaving the EU is over labour laws, in which case we might well start to see a more dynamic labour market with employment laws more befitting our distinct working culture. Enders should welcome that. Enders also ought to know better than anyone that visaless access to France was in place before the EU and will be there after we leave.

At worst, we can say Brexit doesn't impact Airbus at all, and at best we can say our trading agility means that we can get better terms on behalf of Airbus UK for imports of the many thousands of small components and materials that go into Airbus aircraft. Airbus purchasing would be the first to tell Enders that there are a number of instances where Airbus suffers from the EU common external tariff.

In any case, if the EU was the ideal trading environment he would not be off-shoring repair design work to India. In that Enders should come clean. He knows that because the Indian aerospace industry is only taking off with the assistance of UK expertise - and every design solution they produce is audited and checked by Airbus UK and their trusted suppliers, simply because the work is not initially up to scratch. In or out of the EU Enders needs Britain, it's schools, colleges and aerospace expertise.

Moreover, Airbus has for a long time been salami slicing the UK operations as Toulouse has almost complete cultural dominance within the company - and that's as much to do with the French government as anything. It's a French company through and through. It should also be noted that the A380 is as much a politically inspired aircraft as anything else and were Airbus completely free of political control, the A380 would have been dropped as a commercial non-starter. This is not a company that has ever shown much loyalty to Britain.

In the end, Airbus will have to learn to live with what ever we choose because they don't have the luxury of ditching Britain. More to the point, Airbus enjoys excellent relations with our Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It's in Airbus's commercial interests to work with them to look closely at the opportunities a free trading UK could bring to Airbus as a whole. It could be a way to source cheaper materials for the whole operation.

In any case, Airbus has operations all over the world including Mobile and Wichita and many other places noted for not being in the EU. Different cultures and regimes are part of the global reality that all multinationals face. Airbus is not special in that regard.

In this we are not looking at the opinion of an informed trade analyst or indeed an especially competitive operator. What we are looking at here is Tom Enders's own personal political preference which is no more valid than yours or mine.

It may be that Brexit throws up a few unexpected challenges on the way, but Enders knows as well as I do that Airbus UK respond to change well, and I am happy to show him around Filton and introduce him to some of the many people who responded to the A380 rib foot design flaw with dedication, skill and good humour. If he thinks he's going to find that anywhere else, he is quite welcome to try. He will fail.

And while he's at Filton we could have a little drive around the airfield for a history lesson. The picture above illustrates that Bristol doesn't need the EU to conquer the skies - and never did. Who governs us is not the business of Airbus - and Enders should not be using Airbus to advance his own personal political beliefs. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Without a vision, we're staying in the EU

The Europhiles are right you know. There are very few Brexit options. That's what this post was about yesterday. If we leave the EU, we have to do it via article 50 and the options are limited. The WTO option is out of the window, the Swiss Option is messy and the EU is not in a hurry to replicate it - and the Australian pathway is suboptimal.

While Richard North, principal author of Flexcit says we are all too hung up on the means of leaving, I happen to disagree. He is right in that leaving is only the first step on a long journey but before we can even discuss the destination, the first step has to be explored.

In this, we actually needed a longer period of deliberation in order to have the necessary debates about each stage. Cameron has cut the debate short, leaving too many arguments unresolved, leaving us in disarray by the time of the final vote.

I think it's safe to say that while the leaders of the Leave campaigns, aka Team Dinosaur, are still in denial about what can be achieved in the first step, it's a no brainer that the Norway Option is our best possible departure lounge, not least because it doesn't require too much sacrifice by either party. We have to just run with that as though that were a given whether the likes of Bannerman, Lea and Cummings agree or not. It's their short-sightedness that cannot see what an opportunity it presents.

All this time they have been railing against regulation and the single market when really what they need to do to win is embrace it. The Remain campaign has been running articles saying "what has the EU ever done for us" and in so doing they list a great many achievements of the EU - and while we can argue the toss that a lot of what the EU takes credit for is the product of global accords simply adopted and implemented by the EU - or to be more precise, by member states on the EU's instruction, it's only going to make us look petulant by getting into nay-saying slanging matches over it.

What we actually need to do is say that yes, the EU has been in some respects quite effective. The single market has many merits and the EEC was instrumental in modernising our markets and industries. It cost us greatly, as indeed did Mrs Thatcher's economic reforms, but most adults can now agree that it needed to be done and things are mostly better because of it. We need to accept it, thank it and acknowledge it. That, however, does not mean we should stay in the EU. Europhiles themselves make the case for leaving far better than we ever could.

You see, they say we have to pretty much accept the Norway Option because everything else is too complex and couldn't be achieved in two years and would in fact take several years to reach a common agreements.

The tacit admission here is that the EU structures are actually a terrible means of establishing trade relations and access to the EU market. It's overly complex and it takes ages and if it's not easy for an existing member to recalibrate their existing relationship then forging new relationships are going to prove impossible to match single market membership inside my lifetime - and though I am 37, I'm not exactly knocking on a bit.

What we should be saying is that the EU has brought us so far, it has developed a single market of sorts,  but what we actually need to do is expand it and lead it. The goal we should all share is to give everyone the freedom to thrive where and how they want to. I see the EU as a major obstacle to that. While I have the freedom to live and work anywhere in Europe, in practice that's worthless to me since I don't speak Polish, French or German and I am not going to learn. And really I want to go to Japan and Vietnam and Canada to work.

While the EU can say it's in the process of establishing trade links, what it has achieved thus far is insufficient and what exists has already taken years. And more to the point, while there is a notional single market in the EU, anyone who does bring in workers from Poland knows that the red tape barriers to do with banking are far more cumbersome than visa arrangements. So the visaless travel and reciprocal agreements on goods and services are not actually as far reaching as the EU would have us believe.

And so what we have is a very basic single market, where it's really the advancement of customs procedures (TIR) and technology and port harmonisation that has made the big leaps for trade, we need to be asking how we can build a better system that the EU and a framework whereby we can have global agreements on trade where people can opt in on the basis of choice rather than coercion.

Some would rightly argue that this defeats the purpose of an enforce single market, but actually that need not be the problem it once was. Since we have a framework of international standards and the global super regulators create the blueprints of many industrial laws and the ILO creates the basis of labour rights, we already have many of the components we need to construct something of a similar potency on a global scale.

In this we would have to reform the WTO and give it a bit more teeth and by doing so make it a registrar and host of trade agreements feeding into a global trade supercomputer that serves not only as the open data capital of global trade (thus spawning services and economies of its on) but also an organically growing single market that requires no other driver than the trade in its own right, without the imposed political agenda of creating a nation with a set of predetermined values that are not even universally shared. That EU cultural colonialism thing.

In this, there is a huge role for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe which is pretty much the engine of European regulation and could be made to serve the global framework rather than being a rival to the EU.

What we need to say is there is no going back on what we have built in Europe, but the EU political entity is the obstacle to growing it, and expanding it beyond the confines of Europe. As far as post war settlements go, there were better ideas and we could have chosen a better model, but the EEC (rather than the EU), while substandard, was not, from an economic perspective a wholly bad idea.

The Eu though was a dogmatic construct based on fears and paranoias that grew from the mechanised slaughter in the first half of the last century. It may have held some relevance back in 1975 as the scars of WW2 were still visible, but in a post industrial, internet world, the dogma of Monnet and Schuman simply do not hold relevance. It is a bed blocker to something manifestly better.

We do need a global single market and we do need to extend rights and freedoms and harmonise trade but ultimately it is technology and communication that will do that rather than the ossified processes of the EU construct. By its own admission it cannot bring new trade on board inside a decade and that's what happens when a government for 28 nations is tasked with achieving an agreement that all members can agree to. That's never going to be a good idea is it?

So if we have a global forum where nations can meet and get the best for their shared industries on a conceptual basis rather than the limitations of geography then we have a more fluid and dynamic means of reaching agreements that can in fact bypass government altogether. We have alrteady seen this dynamic taking place with agreements between private global super regulators joining forces at the WTO.

By leaving the EU, people say we would be isolated - which isn't actually true in that we would be in Efta with the freedom to join ad-hoc alliances, but in one respect we would be isolated in that we would be standing apart form the EU saying that this era is over - the post-war settlement has done its job - it is no longer suitable for the modern age and we have a new, better idea for a global community of equals where nobody is summarily overruled.

In that we would find our Efta partners immediate allies in that they have been sufficiently pressured to join the single market but never so convinced by supranationalism that they see fit to join the EU. They have been waiting for a better idea and for someone with the clout to make that happen;. Britain as the fifth largest economy could well make that happen.

We really could be leading Europe and the world - with a view to breaking the walls of fortress Europe and busting it wide open - exporting the best of the single market to the world while dumping the dogmatic supranationalism into the dustbin of history - where it belongs.

Presently, eurosceptics are dead set against the single market and want to go back to the commonwealth, which are both fantasies and do not speak to the modern world, but then the europhiles are just as much locked into obsolete paradigms designed long before I was even born. There's no coincidence this EU referendum debate looks almost identical to the last one.

In essence, the europhiles are right in that we do want all these freedoms and open trade but they are mistaken in believing the EU is the embodiment of it, and in reality it is being bypassed by global events and dynamics beyond its awareness and control. The EU wasn't the best solution for the past and it certainly isn't the model for the future. They just can't let go because thus far nobody has presented a better ideal. And that is really the task for the eurosceptics - to stop whinging about what doesn't work and set about offering something that might.

In this, since we haven't been given the time by Mr Cameron to have these very necessary public debates, we are not going to be able to resolve these issues. We're once again being bounced into the status quo. That means, because the Leave campaign is in such a pisspoor state, with Arron Banks this evening belching out the risible scaremongering that TTIP will privatise the NHS, we will probably lose the referendum.

It's almost a foregone conclusion in that we haven't been able to stimulate a thirst for domestic democracy nor have we set out a convincing and exciting alternative vision. In this I would argue that, so much as we need to put up a good fight to keep the issue alive after the referendum, we may need to lose it just so our side will learn the lessons.

The dinosauric euroscepticism we see on display certainly doesn't deserve to win and if they did actually get the UK that they envisage then it would be awful. I don't want those people running the country and I utterly reject their vision. They may waffle about the anglosphere and the commonwealth, but that's not really an alternative, nor is it a vision. It's just a default option - a line of meaningless rhetoric that could not be practically realised and bares no relation to the word as it presently operates. Their whole case for Brexit sucks.

If we lose this we are going to have to have a serious debate about what we actually want and how we get it. Contemporary euroscepticism is a dreadful movement full of dreadful people with bad ideas who have little to offer anybody. It's a whinge on a repeat cycle - not a movement - and they are wrong about just about everything apart from one basic fact - that the EU sucks. They don't understand why anymore - and can't offer anything better which is why they persistently fail.

But do not be disheartened. We are at a crossroads. As much as we have already noted that the Tufton Street losers are dancing their last little dance, it is also the swansong for the old-school eurosceptics. After this defeat we will be having a version of our own Nuremberg trials.

It will be noted that Arron Banks is incompetent, arrogant and profoundly ignorant and it will also be noted that Dominic Cummings is a sociopath with a slim grasp on reality. It will also be noted that the MPs who came out in support of Brexit were thick as pigshit with no ideas of their own and failed to put in the effort to consult expertise or expand the debate outside their grubby little circles.

We will also have a serious inquiry as to the ongoing Ukip malevolence headed by Farage. It will all come out in the wash and pretenders like Redwood and Hannan will also be found guilty. The whole sorry lot will have to answer for their arrogance.

When that is out of the way, they will listen to the voices outside their dismal little clan. And they will say what we have always said. We needed a plan, a vision and a workable alternative. When we have that collective realisation, then we will be able to build a movement and then, we will, most certainly, leave the EU. It is going to happen - just maybe not in 2016 as many had hoped.