Monday, 8 August 2016

The thieves among us

I do not take any credit whatsoever for Flexcit. It is entirely the work of Richard North. My input has been advisory but I am nonetheless invested in it. I have acted for many years in the capacity of a junior researcher. I do not necessarily know what I am looking at but I am finely tuned as to what constitutes useful material from which to draw upon and I would like to think that many of the themes discussed in Flexcit are a result of many of my rare finds. I think my addition by way of looking at the maritime sector in detail has informed quite a lot of the thinking in it but the analysis is very much that of Richard North.

I have performed this particular function for since the early days and I am well versed in the genesis of what we have produced. So when I say "we" on this blog, I mean not just Richard North and myself, I mean all of the people who have contributed to it and all of the people who have made the effort to thoroughly understand it. Even having read it and understood it is something of an investment on the part of the reader and so we feel humbled that many have gone to the effort of understanding it.

During the referendum we set about promoting the Flexcit plan and in so doing allowed fellow bloggers to borrow heavily from it. Some have established themselves quite nicely having done so. Roland Smith calls himself a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute and Ben Kelly has had considerable exposure on the back of what has been explained to him. Both have had their slots in the Daily Telegraph. Something that has been denied to Richard North despite being the brains behind the Booker column.

These are two individuals we counted as friends and allies. We were of a like mind in viewing the debate as being dominated by know-nothing parasites who distort the debate with simplistic mantras. Our strategy was to use the blogosphere to plant key ideas from Flexcit into public discourse. This was largely to combat the white noise produced by the likes of the Institute for Economic Affairs.

The IEA is famous for having sunk €100k into a Brexit prize to produce a practical and legal means of leaving the EU. Through what we suspect to be cronyism, any entries that advocated the use of the EEA were automatically disqualified. The judges were insufficiently informed and were disciples of free market dogma.

That meant that Flexcit was excluded from consideration, but through our sharp elbows it has become the only game in town. Nothing else comes close. But now that the referendum is over and the bogus theories of fantasists have been debunked, those like the IEA who have invested heavily in disproven concepts find themselves lacking any credible input. Consequently, now that the wider concepts are understood and sufficiently distanced from the author, men like Ben Kelly and Roland Smith seek to further their own reputations by using Flexcit content.

Roland Smith has, despite our repeated requests to modify his approach, appropriated Flexcit and relabelled it as "liberal leave" so that the Adam Smith Institute can take ownership of it. Initially I sided with Roland over Richard North, which is very rare for me, as I thought perhaps Roland was doing us a favour. But it soon became apparent that despite protestations to the contrary that Roland's own personal ambitions were being exploited by Sam Bowman of the ASI. Roland is not perceptive enough to realise that he has been used but enjoys the prestige of the ASI nonetheless.

That was disappointing because I quite liked Roland and wished to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ben Kelly though is another matter. We let Ben run the Leave HQ Twitter account and he was paid for his efforts. We thought we had a real ally. But then to see him publish an article on a transitional EEA Brexit for the IEA, without clearing it with either of us first, was something of an insult.

For starters, Flexcit even in the early days was without a rival. If there was an objective judging panel then it should have won. What that would have given us is a lot of money to play with in order to mount a more effective campaign. Instead it went to a junior FCO official to buy a piano - for a policy so bad even the IEA has buried it. But had Flexcit won we could have been setting the agenda and practically dictating the Brexit agenda. That would mean the process would not be nearly so shambolic. We could have made a serious dent.

But through corruption of the process and a Ukipperish aversion to complexity, the IEA preferred simplistic free trade mantras, and Richard North was excluded as a calculated insult. Ben Kelly was well aware of this. Yet he used his licence to use Flexcit material to further his own reputation, lifting entire paragraphs of it, gift-wrapping a policy for the IEA so that they could save face. He knew full well that we objected to him putting his name to an IEA press release earlier this month, yet he went ahead and published a Flexcit based article for the IEA without reference to it or the author. He didn't ask us because he knew full well how we would react.

When Ben Kelly came to us, he was fully enthusiastic and a valued member of the team and someone we counted as a friend. We counted him as one of our volunteers but when it became apparent he was having financial difficulties we paid him £2000 from our small donations based budget. Neither Richard or I hesitated in doing so and for once I didn't even have to sell the idea. So you might think that would buy us some gratitude and loyalty. Evidently not. The IEA has published three articles lifting concepts from Flexcit but has no intention of apologising for the abysmal way Richard North was treated and now they have no problem salami slicing his work under the names of those bloggers we licensed the material to. In any other field than politics this would be readily identified as theft.

The rationale for this theft is that the name Richard North is toxic and it means that good ideas do not get traction because of who is saying it. But then the reason Richard North is so sour and unpleasant to these people - and that goes for Daniel Hannan and all of the SW1 Toryboys, is because they are thieves, and devious individuals who have manoeuvred to ensure that he does not have a voice.

Now, for reasons that escape me I am meant to be grateful that our work has been stolen and is gaining exposure without attribution - and adding to the credibility and prestige of people who have taken food from our mouths. IEA cronies become well paid spads. Veterans of Vote Leave take well paid roles in various think tanks - but Richard North has his state pension despite being the thought leader of contemporary eurosceptic thinking. So yes, I am angry, yes I am bitter and yes I feel deeply betrayed by people we have given so much who never in a million years would have come up with any of this had they attempted this alone. And now Roland Smith and Ben Kelly feel entitled to take offence at being called thieves. As it happens, there is a general rule in life. If you don't want to be called a thief, don't steal other people's property. I thought that was a fairly simple premise. Evidently not.

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