Thursday, 25 May 2017

Another Brexit delusion


I must apologise for the nature of this blog. Picking on the Spectator is like pulling the wings off flies. One knows one shouldn't do it, it's picking on the helpless, yet strangely satisfying.

Matthew Lynn muses that "It remains to be seen whether EU tariffs or other barriers are imposed on British-made cars. But even if they are, there are still many ways in which the industry can play to its strengths. It can break free of Brussels regulation to take a lead in new technologies such as hydrogen, electric and driverless cars. And it can focus on selling upmarket vehicles to global rather than European customers".

Firstly one might remark that we already do sell upmarket vehicles globally, to those few places that can afford them, and that most definitely should not be at the expense of European trade. But actually what is significant here is the mindset of "Brussels regulation".

When it comes to alternative fuels and driverless cars, we are in fact talking about a number of technical standards. In this instance, UNECE, Geneva. The specific regulation will need to be uniform across the world and will depend on a number of other dependent technical standards, not least internet connectivity. This is one of the main areas where the EU is a subordinate to international organisations, adopting their work wholesale as the basis of their regulation. In that regard, there is no question of dumping "Brussels regulation" because we adopt it one way or the other. If not through the middle man then directly from source.

This blog has argued that Brexit gives us an enhanced voice in these such bodies having acquired the right of proposal and an independent vote. That though is only useful insofar as we have the wit to play the game well. As yet, there is little acknowledgement that these forums even exist.

Lynn muses that in order for the UK motor industry to reinvent itself we must deregulate. He says "First, access to the EU comes at the cost of compliance with rules set by Brussels. Even when it’s not actively hostile to radical ideas, as it is with the gig economy, the EU is slow to permit anything new. And yet, after a century in which the internal combustion engine has not fundamentally changed, a revolution looms. Electric and hydrogen power promise a complete step change; the driverless car will transform the way vehicles are used and owned. If the UK is flexible and fast to deregulate, it can steal a lead in those technologies".

Straight off the bat, all but the London Toryboy set will have worked out that without conformity to standards then there is no exporting to the EU. Asserting that we must deregulate is effectively to say we must jettison all of our motor vehicle exports to the EU. I don't know what that is as a number but we can safely say it's a big one we cannot afford to lose.

But then again, as automotive standards are increasingly global, deregulating is likely to impact all of our trade, not least since countries with comprehensive FTAs with the EU are moving toward complete alignment with UNECE and EU requirements.

Lynn argues that "we need to diversify away from stagnant EU markets. Greek car sales, not surprisingly, have fallen almost 90 per cent in the past decade. Italian sales are down by half. GM’s recent decision to pull out of Europe (by selling its Vauxhall and Opel marques and factories to Peugeot) implied that American bosses think Europe’s overcrowded market hardly worth bothering with any more".

Both brands' share of the European market has been shrinking for some time. In 1990, they held a combined 11.5%, but by 2016 this had fallen to 6.5%, according to carsalesbase.com. There might well be a reason for this. It's only very recently has Vauxhall shed its reputation for poor build quality compared with German brands. Vauxhalls are notorious stinkers and let's face it, ugly as sin.

What we are seeing in the UK is a move away from the ownership model where there is a much higher turnover of new stock. The profit comes not from the car itself but from the financial products and leasing deals. Owners are now wary of cars since they can be mechanically sound but rendered worthless by an expensive computer fault. If you have a credit rating and you have a stable job, owning a car makes very little since since you get stung for bills. Vauxhall has to compete in a new business environment. The market no longer wants cheap and cheerful.

Whether this model remains intact after Brexit is anybody's guess. Brexit is going to hurt and the Tories look like they're going to make it hurt more than it has to. It is unlikely that we will get a sector specific deal and the question of rules of origin still remain a huge concern. We might see a reversion to the norm where more people take the risk of owning in which case Vauxhall has a shot at survival. There might well be a market for more basic cars since we will all be considerably less well off for a decade at least. To me that sounds like a reversion to the pre-EU norm of driving badly made British cars, where Mercedes is once again a bosses car - and not for us plebs.

Lynn says that "manufacturers need to concentrate on countries that are growing. The Chinese market for vehicles is exploding; so is that in Vietnam, now the 35th biggest market in the world, and, closer to home, Poland, now the 25th". In this we might note that Poland is in fact a member of the EU and the EU has a comprehensive FTA with Vietnam. It remains to be seen whether we can replicate that, but that certainly won't happen if we are moving away from the EU regulatory standard. As to China, forget it. China, despite perceptions, does not do free trade. Placing a product on Chinese markets is expensive and deliberately bureaucratic.

If there ever was an economic argument for Brexit it is that we can use our freedom to trade to augment, not substitute, our existing trade. Deregulation hasn't been a serious proposition in any sector for a long time, especially not now that we are increasingly moving to global models of regulation. The only way we can possibly deregulate is if we are intent on becoming an internal market with few imports or exports of cars. This is the very opposite of what Brexiteers promised.

As ever, we have cleverdick London hacks prating on about things they know next to nothing about. Though this is the norm for the Spectator, you would think with something so pivotal, upon which much depends, they would bother to look beyond their own bubble for information. But then, as I keep having to remind myself, London Tory media has nothing to do with imparting information. It's about reinforcing narratives and upholding the tribal scriptures.

The truth of the matter is that outside of the single market UK car exports are going to suffer. Without some kind of customs agreement we are going to be hit with rules of origin and a number of other tariff concerns where components are imported from outside the EU. We're going to have to work hard just to maintain the exports we have. There are ways and means to make Brexit pay off but we'll have to play a far more sophisticated game through the international regulatory organisations. It is not going to be an easy hit - and not by any means guaranteed. One thing's for sure though; if our politicians are getting their information from The Spectator, we really are in trouble.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The era of hyperglobalised terrorism


If there is one serious point I would make about Manchester, it is that all the pet theories from the usual suspects about multiculturalism have to go in the bin. They are long establish narratives, largely derivative of those mooted by Kenan Malik/Melanie Phillips. Like Brexiteers they settle on a narrative and rinse it dry and never really update their thinking. Their observations are based on a particular era spanning into the Blair administration on a narrow set of second and third generation immigrants from Pakistan/Bangladesh.

These narratives need cannot be applied anymore. What we are seeing, as much as we are seeing hyperglobalisation of trade and migration, with the mass adoption of smartphones and the explosion of their use in lesser developed states, we are also witnessing the emergence of hyper-globalised terrorism, and what we are seeing in Europe right now might well be the new norm and we might have to get used to the idea that there isn't much we can do about it beyond that which we are already doing. If we want to go further then we really do need to have a broader debate about internet regulation and cross border transmission of data.

In this, as much as May has her own illiberal suggestions, we actually need to look to the International Telecoms Union, and perhaps move toward a new global body for internet trend surveillance. This is going to have to be joined up with NATO because we need the Rivet Joint air assets over known terror hotspots. In that respect we need to seriously reconsider severing cooperation with Europol. While we are at it, we really need to take a second look at the Geneva Convention and make the case that the loopholes need to be closed. It is obsolete law.

We can piss around til the cows come home with internal community level policy - which is only partially successful, but that is not the whole of the solution by any means (assuming there is one). Around the time of original theories on multiculturalism, the sort bandied about by Kippers, we had a rough idea of where the threat was coming from. That no longer applies. There is no longer the same predictability and technology means these ideas take on a life of their own without Saudi/Iranian sponsorship.

Further to this, we are also going to have to rethink our national media strategy and press regulation. A lot of the mass focus histrionics lasting for days at a time, ie beheading videos featured in the tabloids, means ordinary people are unwitting tools in spreading the propaganda. It's going to be a thorny issue since it is going to raise questions about civil liberties and the same people stamping their feet today are the same people who will complain. Especially when it comes to press and social media regulation. We might very well have to look again at internet anonymity.

One thing is for certain, anyone peddling the usual theories, pretending there are straightforward measures simply hasn't understood the atomisation of the problem. It is a global problem requiring massive international cooperation and stricter border controls are no real defence. They may add to the illusion of safety, but that's the fullest extent of their value.

It's no good saying "it's time to get angry" and demanding half baked measures. Just look at Brexit. Our politicians haven't a clue. The very last thing we need is a government going off half cocked. The last time we did that in response to a terrorist atrocity we ended up fighting two pointless wars. What we need is a much more thorough public debate and to tune out the noise-makers who've been grinding the same axes for twenty years.

Manchester


In 2015, 1732 people were killed on British roads. 22,137 were seriously injured. If this were aviation we would have banned flying by now. We don't because despite the massive tragedy every single year we recognise that the car delivers the maximum possible personal liberty.

As it happens we do not tolerate these incidents lightly. Billions annually are spent looking at ways to improve designs, increase standards, improve roads. The system, though, is not perfect. We only get safer through small increments as we learn each time.

Liberty is something way pay for in blood and treasure. We accept the risks as a consequence. To eliminate risk is to eliminate freedom.

That is why some truly evil people would deliberately put us at risk. They lack the means to conquer us but they can make us build a prison for ourselves - to voluntarily surrender our liberties. Or at least they can if we let them.

In a modern and open society we can never defeat their means. We can only defeat their goals. No high-tech aeroplane or bomb can kill an idea. Only vigilance, bravery and neighbourliness comes close to making us safe.

We can cry out for revenge, we can demand an eye for an eye, we may seek to salve our wounded pride. That has only ever brought more death, more instability, more expense. Three wars later and still atrocities are part of modern life. Some say it's cause and effect. I don't think so. What we do know though is that it doesn't work.

In the end, the perpetrator of this crime against humanity is dead. There will never be justice. The only way we can ever win is to show them time and again that they will gain nothing from it. We will not be our own jailers.

What then is to be done you may ask? Take heart maybe? Take heart that our enemy has no power over us, and of the billions of people on the planet, most of them are better than this. Were humanity as bad as it feels sometimes we would see many more of these attacks. I won't turn to hate my fellow man for the actions of a few.

For all that we can eliminate the conditions in which hate thrives, we still find it growing among us. We can deprive it of certain means and opportunities - and sometimes we can use our military to that effect, but we can never expect complete safety from the darkest instincts of man. We won't be safe even if we do build a prison for ourselves. This is a lesson we will learn time and again - and fight wars because of it.

All we really can do is continue to speak up for liberty and peace - and lead by example - even if that makes us vulnerable. To you that may sound trite, perhaps even resigned, and perhaps it is. But unless you have an idea that doesn't demand that I hate another, that's really all I've got. Liberty is our greatest vulnerability but it is also our greatest strength.

You can keep your dementia tax, Mrs May

 
Returning to the subject of social care for the elderly, there is a typically Tory assertion that elderly care for home-owners is a handout - and a handout for the wealthy. Some have it that the middle classes have been hooked into the welfare system and treat this as a form of state funded assurance.

Some factors to consider here. Average annual cost is about £25k for an average care home stay of about two and a half years. Utilisation seems to be under ten percent of pensioners - to my surprise. It's an expensive do though, and elderly residential care by 2020 is going to cost close to ten billion per annum. In the broader estimation of public spending it is not vast but significant.

Theresa May's policy will come back from the dead eventually. Dubbed the Dementia Tax, it's mainly going to affect those who have misfortune. That's why it is unfair. Rightly or wrongly we have socialised this risk. Pensioners have paid tax all their lives and those who stand to inherit also pay tax. If you have a typical middle class income you can expect to pay around 25k in a single year. So yes, there is a justifiable sense of entitlement.

What May is now saying is if you happen to be one of the unlucky ones, well, fuck you. Your assets will be liquidated and passed on to Beardie Branson or some other care provider. We are doing away with socialised risk. If you've built something and paid tax all your life, you'll pay a penalty if you get sick.

Whether socialised risk is right or wrong is really not any of the government's business. It is there to carry out our instructions. It would appear from the outcry that the public have decided that on balance it is better if we have that level of provision. They pay for it so why not? We socialise it because the costs are wildly unpredictable - which is more of a problem than universality. 

Libertarians have it that this undermines the notion of personal responsibility. This is a uniform trait to those on the right who frequently exclaim "why should I pay in my taxes so that x can do y". I have been known for similarly robust posturing myself in a former life.

For me it comes down to one estimation as to whether we believe in the family institution. The idea that a family has continuity, a stake in society and over generations, the means to accumulate wealth and contribute - to be citizens rather than grazing on the land. This policy shatters all that. Though there may be a cap, the moment you do away with socialised risk it then creeps ever upward where on a long enough time-frame everybody is robbed of everything.

So it comes down to an estimation as to whether you think the middle classes should be liquidated (bearing in mind that whatever savings are made will not be returned to us in proportionate tax cuts).

Were it that my generation and those younger had equal opportunities to the previous generation you could make that case, but now, for most, home ownership is just a pipe-dream. Now you can say that there is then a lottery whereby it comes down to luck as to whether you stand to inherit anything or not, but look where the balance of unfairness is. Are we to condemn all of the next generation to a rent based housing sector? And do we really want to see that which was built liquidated and handed to corporates?

You can say it is a middle class subsidy - a handout for people who don't need it, but that's really a question of whether you value having an intergenerational class who actually give a fuck about their surroundings and have a bond with where they live. Take a walk down any street. You can always tell the rented house because it's the one with the shabby gardens and the broken gutter. Our history of social housing tells us what happens when everybody on a street is renting. Those which were not purchased under right to buy are now demolished. Bradford, where I'm from, has seen entire streets ripped down. Some entire estates have been demolished.

The social make up of the UK since World War Two has been defined by socialism and universality in care. We are told this is unsustainable and I rather suspect it is, and if we can break these costs out into separate silos such as matched payment assurance then that's both sensible and inevitable, but if we take the churlish libertarian view that no risk should ever be socialised, particularly in social care, then we are turning our backs on what has defined us for nearly a century. 

When people make their plans and live their lives they do so on the basis of a certain understanding. A bargain struck with society and we all in some way bend to that. This is the social contract. Now we ought to know by now that the social contract is not worth the paper it's written on, and government will from time to time rip it up - but only if we let it. This time the people are saying no. 
 
More to the point, if we do away with intergenerational continuity we are then in a state where more of us are forced to spend our income on rent, meaning that when we do retire, given how pointless pensions are now, given how savings under-perform, there is an even bigger bombshell down the road. 

This though all points to the inherent problems in a socialist society. Politics becomes a question of who is the entitled to what slice of the pie. In this there is no more effective lobby than the British middle class who managed to force a policy correction out of the PM in a matter of hours. It is fundamentally that which creates spineless politicians where generally the most is taken from the those with the least representation. Elections then become a barrage of give-aways.

In that respect, if we want to fix politics the local aspect of tax must be corrected where annual budgets must be submitted for public approval. The way it works now is everything goes to a central fund upon which many a promise is made. That which is notionally supposed to fund NI concerns has become general taxation. Without properly compartmentalised budgets the public cannot choose those risks it wishes to socialise. Personally I don't see a problem fully privatising the GP system and letting the market have its way with that grubby little cartel. There are your savings. There is no reason why it couldn't be free to the less well off either. 

Frankly I wouldn't want Britain to turn into a libertarian utopia because then we have an every man for himself society where everyone is on the make and the only ones covered by their own financial arrangements are those best able to conform - and that there are no social obligations beyond self preservation. This is all predicated on the somewhat bankrupt idea that a low tax, small state economy necessarily increases individual wealth.

In actuality, in the modern world there is no real alternative to big government. We have seen in India, where there has been a rapid growth in wealth, new developments are built but without the compulsion to provide proper infrastructure, you find skyscrapers with no sewage system. Gurgaon, India, is a boomtown of millions without a citywide system for water, electricity, sewers etc.
 
Without regulation, without planning, without a mandatory system to pay for upkeep of local facilities, infrastructure rapidly become decrepit, devaluing assets and property and harming trade. The state of roads in Africa is one of the chief reasons cited for poor agriculture exports. Private interests do build roads but not to any particular standard and only insofar as it directly benefits their interests. There is such a thing as the common good and if the free market was ever going to step in, it would have by now. This is why it is so necessary for Africa to build a tax base beyond mineral wealth.
 
In the UK where we have mature systems of governance we have layers of planning and rules where every externalities of every decision is weighed up. Many would like to see it all chucked on the bonfire but we wouldn't get very far without it. You can argue that some rules are obsolete and unnecessary but any reform has to be done with surgical precision rather than a machete. The net result of it though is a first world country with, cynicism aside, first class infrastructure.
 
As to how much of this should extend into the social sphere is a question for politics. The dynamic is the same whereby a system of welfare provision reduces the externalities of poverty and hardship and that has an overall intrinsic value. Ultimately it costs more down the line if people lose everything. So why let that happen?
 
We know there is an upper limit on tax tolerance, we know there is such a thing as the Laffer curve. We know there are increasing demands and rising costs. Some difficult choices have to be made. Our red lines are that a level of basic social care should be as close to universal as possible. That's a tall order. The only way out of this mess is to adopt a pro-growth agenda. 

If the public are ever going to consent to a further erosion of universality then they need the means to fend for themselves. In this I would ask why Filton Airfield close to Bristol, closed in 2012 still hasn't has a single house built on it? When is the credit system going to be fixed? Why aren't we being ruthless about all the barriers to housebuilding? Why are our pensions swallowed up in management fees? Why can't you get a decent return on savings? 
 
All I see is the gradual encroachment of corporates who, on licence from the government, are able to syphon yet more of what we have without our consent. When the means of self-reliance have been dismantled, you cannot expect people not to fight to keep what they have.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Brexit: dangerous games


There has been a terrible atrocity in Manchester, the details of which are not yet fully confirmed. Sad though these deaths are, one has to observe that the next week will be taken up with media incontinence since the media can only deal with one subject at a time. That means Brexit will be buried even further in an election where this pivotal issue is already woefully neglected. This blog will make no diversion on account of events since Brexit is still the most pressing concern.

We are now at a crunch point. David Davis says he is prepared to walk away from the table without a deal. The EU, it would appear, is taking that threat very seriously. It is therefore a political artefact that this government believes the UK can walk away from the table.

There has been much discussion as to what this would entail. In basic terms it means that, since all of our present relations with the EU are tied up in EU membership, we would have no formal relationship with the EU. That means no trade agreement and an immediate suspension of the multitude of cooperation programmes and an end to automatic recognition of UK institutions including those certification bodies that allow for trade and authorisation of goods and services. Residency rights are cancelled immediately, for those here and abroad.

This means a termination of airline passenger rights and free passage between ports. It means customs inspections and it means tariffs are reinstated. All treaties and agreements therein cease to have effect.

The debate around this tends to centre only on tariffs and those remedial measures we would take to ensure that ports do not become congested. This, though, does not even begin to touch on the multiplicity of other issues from food safety to counter-terrorism. In that respect nobody has a full picture of the full impact. All that we can say with absolute certainty is that the consequences would be far reaching and profound, throwing many systems into chaos, and in some cases, bringing them to a complete stop.

This is what we refer to as the cliff edge. Dangerously though, the Brexit cult within the Conservative Party has convinced themselves that there is no cliff edge. Through obfuscation and denial they have built up an elaborate belief system based on a number of self-deceptions.

One of those being that the half of UK trade is not with the EU and therefore already trades on WTO terms. This is incorrect. The UK is a member of the EU which has a number of agreements with other countries. There can either be comprehensive free trade deals or a number of treaties or individual sector specific agreements. The USA, for example, has around fifty of them.

Dr Lee Rotherham, ramping up the propaganda for Conservative Home, has it that "What people forget is that what are referred to as “WTO terms” are accompanied by a range of other agreements that build on them and further facilitate trade. There will be no default to simple “WTO membership” terms between the UK and the EU unless one of two things happens: either a trade war breaks out, and no deal on anything at all is reached; or the Department for Exiting the EU engages in an Animal House-style party for 24 months, and declines to leave the building".

This is a key misunderstanding among Brexiteers. WTO terms most definitely does mean an absence of any formal agreements with the EU, and though there are is a basic framework that allows the UK to continue exporting to the EU, there is nothing that compels the EU to automatically accept our goods as compliant even if we continue to conform to standards and there is nothing that obliges the EU to grant us free passage at the borders.

The suggestion that WTO terms "are accompanied by a range of other agreements that build on them" by definition is not the WTO option. Those "other agreements" would have to be negotiated with the EU. But here we are talking about a scenario where the UK of its own volition terminates all formal arrangements with the EU. There are no "other agreements".

In the most basic terms we are talking about flicking the off switch on forty years worth of mature governance systems from public health to maritime surveillance and nuclear safety. There are no defaults except for much looser global conventions which again do not oblige the EU to make any special concessions for third countries.

Whether or not this is something known to the Tory Brexit cult is unclear. We know that their general understanding does not usually extend beyond tariffs which is why they have adopted Professor Patrick Minford as their poster boy. To them everything else is just pesky "red tape" they intend to chuck on the bonfire. These individuals are either operating from a position of obstinacy and ignorance or they are engaged in an elaborate ideological deception. In either case, it is quite malicious.

The ultra Brexiteer wing of the Conservative Party is one that believes in universal disarmament where tariffs are concerned, dropping all of our protectionist measures, seeking to move us to an ultra low tax, regulation lite economy. Superficially, to a conservative like me, this is appealing, but it falls over on close scrutiny in that whatever planned reforms we have in mind, we cannot afford to dispense with roughly half of our trade - and consequently that will require a high level of conformity with our nearest and largest customer.

Like it or not, the EU is a regulatory superpower and we do not operate in a vacuum. The EU will continue to influence our laws and we will have to conduct our affairs in recognition of the fact that the EU is a power in its own right. It will not cooperate with the UK if the UK enters a race to the bottom to become a European tax haven. It has been able to wield significant influence over Switzerland to prevent them doing the same. Further to this, were we to have that "bonfire of regulation", UK goods would be treated as higher risk and subject to more checks and inspections.

As much as this is undesirable there is very little point since the rest of the world tends to adopt global standards which are catching up to Brussels so that the rest of the world can enjoy enhanced trade with Europe. There is little merit to deregulation and most surveys of UK business indicate they do not want it. If there is any streamlining and simplification they would like it is the UK domestic tax code, which we were never prevented from reforming even in the EU.

As to whether there is any merit in a no deal scenario, on balance it is something to be avoided at all costs. Tory Brexiteers suggest that whatever barriers the EU restores, the UK can reciprocate. They have not thought this through. The UK is dependent on food imports and any barriers we erect would effectively result in higher costs for UK consumers - the very opposite of what they promised.

In some instances, we may see firms moving their manufacturing to the UK to service the UK market but by the same token, a number of banks and factories would relocate to the EU as the EU is the larger market. Without any formal agreements, buyers of UK produce would be forced to find alternative suppliers either within the EU or in countries which have formal trade agreements with it. Meanwhile we would lose tens of billions in trade in services - which ultimately hits the City - which finances much of our social sector.

In that regard I rather suspect this is the motive behind the Tory Brexiteers - to destroy social welfare and move us to a us model of private care and health provision. What they have not been able to do in government, they can effect by way of a total severance from the EU - where we can no longer afford much more than a basic NHS. Again, I could almost be persuaded by that but not if it comes at the cost of everything else.

There is no question that a no deal Brexit will result in a deep and long recession. How can it not? It will shatter consumer confidence, inward investment will plummet and we would struggle to restore relations with the EU. It hurts them too. Having broken away from the EU by way of tearing up treaties our credit rating turns to junk and then we will find that in a world of interconnected trade agreements and global treaties we do not have that ultimate sovereignty so craved by Brexiteers.

We do not know as yet what settlement figure the EU has in mind. Some have suggested as much as 100bn Euros. Possibly more. As I understand it there is no suggestion that we would have to pay it in a lump sum. But were that so, we could borrow it. We'd have to. Measured against the £240bn in EU trade per annum that we stand to lose, there is nothing in a self-immolation Brexit that would make it worth it.

In a pure rhetorical sense, no deal is better than a bad deal, but how bad would it have to be to be worse than a no deal Brexit? There is a suggestion that a deal could have a punishing exit cost -and that we would not enjoy anything close to the same participation the single market, but that would be a consequence of our decision to leave rather than EU obstinacy. In that respect, we should be prepared to swallow some unpalatable compromises. No deal isn't really an option.

There are those who argue that any deal with the EU is de facto a bad deal because it comes with certain conditions and certain future obligations. That though is the nature of having a comprehensive agreement with a regulatory superpower. Every trade agreement carries obligations. This attitude is not a reasonable one. It is born of an intense phobia of cooperation with the EU and an irrational hostility to regulation.

In many respects it is that hostility to regulation that is driving their no deal ambitions. If you read the output of Tory think tanks such as the Institution of Economic Affairs, they see regulation as a petty incursion on liberty rather than a facilitator of trade with its own inherent utility in removing the negative externalities of cross border trade. They have never grasped its purpose or the necessity for it which is why they repeatedly recommend a one in, one out policy whenever the government expresses a wish to deregulate.

Put simply we are dealing with profoundly dishonest, ill-informed, obstinate and stupid people. Countless efforts have been made to get this across to the government and to Tory grandees, but ultimately they are in hock to a tribal conformity. Before the referendum, noted Brexiteer Owen Paterson was open to the idea of a staged Brexit utilising the EEA agreement as a departure lounge. Because this approach is at odds with Tory scripture (based on some yawning misconceptions of the EEA) he found himself ostracised from the Tory clique to a point where funding for his vanity think tank was threatened.

And this is ultimately what's wrong here. It is well known that the IEA and Conservative Home et al are part of a London network who are all in some way kept afloat by the same handful of Tory donors, many of whom have a commercial interest in a hard Brexit. They are the ones calling the shots, they can buy conformity - or the Tory clan can bully people into submission. That's how it works. Those who are not true believers are simply intellectual and moral cowards like Owen Paterson.

This is not being driven by rationality, knowledge or wisdom. This is being driven by idiotic ideologue zealots who have not updated their knowledge of the EU or developments within it since 1992 and are fighting old tribal battles as old as euroscepticism itself. That this toxic clan have managed to capture the ear of the PM is deeply alarming. David Davis believes and so does Boris Johnson. It is an article of faith.

In any other circumstances I would have to hold my nose and vote Labour. Something that goes against every fibre of my being. But these are not normal circumstances. We have a Labour party that is manifestly unfit to govern with a front bench whose collective IQ would not rival a potato. The idea that Diane Abbott would be put in charge of anything more substantial than a tea trolley is too disturbing even to contemplate. As much as this iteration of Labour would wreck the country, they will probably make a balls up of Brexit too. For that reason I find myself unable to vote at all.

Over the last few days we have seen that Theresa May is a politician way out of her depth. She has no natural ability for government. She is surrounded by yes men and zealots. That she would even allow the suggestion of a no deal Brexit speaks to her inability to comprehend the task at hand. In any negotiation a threat has to be credible. That she believes "no deal" is a credible threat tells us all we need to know. Additionally the continued insistence that Brexit can be accomplished inside two years tells us she does not reside on this planet.

There is always the outside chance that this is just electioneering and signalling to the electorate, but if you are not by now deeply worried then you simply haven't been paying attention. If this government believes its own rhetoric then there is no longer any doubt. We are screwed.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The rise of the British kleptocracy

About six or seven years ago you might have found me spouting all kinds of libertarian claptrap. I put it down to being young(ish) and stupid and intellectually lazy. It wasn't until I entered a serious study of regulation did I really realise exactly how intellectually bankrupt it is as a philosophy. We can take much from it for guiding principles but as a model for society to run on, fuhgeddaboudit.

I am also tempered by a realisation that we are being screwed. I think even back I the day I would rail against "crony capitalism" but at the same time I still favoured maximum privatisation. I would often cite many of the NHS scandals involving deaths from negligence. As it happens, care standards in the private sector fare little better when put to scrutiny and all the while we see "care barons" creaming millions off the top. 

To a point I still see a requirement for council cuts if only to shed the pension liabilities accumulated by New Labour. That era did nothing to endear the public sector to conservatives. But what we see instead of modernisation and streamlining is service amalgamations which is neither efficient nor good for democracy.
 
One of the more alarming examples is Bath police station. Bath, a city in its own right with its own policing needs, losing its own police station, instead being serviced by Keynsham near Bristol. This leads to much of a police officers time will either being spent processing criminals or making the 25 minute journey between the two cities. The move could turns police into expensive taxi drivers for recidivists.

One other "efficiency" was case load for drugs rehabilitation. I recently spoke with a former caseworker who resigned in disgust. The system as was allowed caseworkers to select a manageable load with the authority to remove disruptive "clients" who could potentially cause others in the group to relapse. With drug addicts you can only help the ones who have hit rock bottom and want to be helped. This trial programme has a one hundred percent success rate. The accountants though saw fit to interfere with the day to day management, insisting that a group of thirteen be expanded to twenty three. The aim was to reduce the numbers sent to prison. 

That aim of itself is laudable in that prison has limited uses, but ultimately it was a cost saving measure over any real policy decision. The result being that caseworkers were lumbered with addicts who were not ready, actually did belong in jail, and were so disruptive to the group that people seeking genuine help stopped attending. The result is addicts going untreated, where packs of addicts working together can steal up to £80k worth of goods in a single day.

This story will be familiar to most public servants who will have had the rug pulled out from under them, sabotaging good work. The withdrawal of universal school meals is actually a false economy in that a lot has been invested to make it work, contracts have been signed and ending them has consequences. When it comes to cuts everything is done to a short term agenda riding roughshod over years of financial planning.

Being a hardcore libertarian and largely oblivious to this kind of case, I hadn't really through through what I was advocating. The assumption being that cuts to service would be accompanied by proportionate tax cuts. That's the thing about Conservatives though. They are quite keen on reducing the size of the state and cancelling services, just not so keen the the aspect you need to make it all work. Tax cuts. 

Everywhere you look now services are taking a cut. Legal services are cut to the bone and if you land yourself in trouble you find that justice is really only for those who can afford it. On top of these we see parks going to ruin, potholes unfilled and roads ungritted in severe weather. 
 
Understandably this prompts people to ask why it is they can always afford to splash out on diversity officers and eye-watering CEO payoffs and all the other stuff which is standard fare for The Taxpayers Alliance. But then the TPA just loves that as a propaganda tool to help the Toryboys build up consent for cuts. Working class Tories are being screwed by the system and still they beg for more.

The phenomenon of the public revolving door and crony salaries is one well documented over the years and every year produces a new crop of headlines. There is a cosseted class of technocrats who seem invulnerable to efficiencies and people are bloody angry about it. After a two decades of a golden hello culture and platinum pensions, right wing populists have all the righteous indignation they need to push for further cuts. I certainly didn't complain when Bristol city council was pruned of a few thousand people. 

As it happens though, the overall headcount probably didn't shrink in any meaningful way. The headcount is disguised by outsourcing, usually to tier one consultancy groups known for having their hands deep in the till. The story of this managed decline is charted well in the back pages of Private Eye.
 
Someone on Twitter today remarked that this is not a recession. This is a robbery. The centralisation, confiscation and trashing of our local services has nothing to do with reducing the size of the state for ideological reasons, nor is it it especially a response to the financial crisis. It is all part of the trend where you pay ever more for ever less - until such a time where the state feels it has no obligation whatsoever to its citizens. 

One way or another they will privatise the NHS in full. Toryboys might well be delighted but it would stand to reason that in those circumstances we be allowed to keep what we pay in National Insurance. But that's not going to happen is it? We're going to have to pay twice. This is a Tory kleptocracy. 

I rather suspect the destination is the same as the USA. Go to any US city and you will find clean and pristine city centres but if you go off piste you will find a shabby, run down street scene where the street furniture has not been renewed in more than twenty years, the pavements are cracked the weeds grow from the gutters and the playgrounds demolished by vandals and the weather. But you WILL pay for it nonetheless.
 
We are told that Conservative policy is to bring about greater fiscal responsibility, encouraging us to be more frugal and to invest - just like the generation that came before us. Except of course your pension vanishes the moment you go to collect it, inflation eats away at your savings and if you're younger than me and working class you can forget about getting on the housing ladder. Especially now that Theresa May is going to make sure your home ends up in the hands of Beardie Branson. That's not what the policy actually is, but it's the eventual destination. This is not a pro-growth agenda. This is just a manoeuvre to take the rest of what is left.
 
You would think this would be fertile territory for a working class movement like Labour but I think most people understand that there is no magic money tree and we're not in a position to be borrowing heavily - and not for the sort of wasteful spending we see from Labour. Warehousing people on welfare and bloating the public sector isn't the answer. It's part of the reason we are here to begin with. Aside from Corbyn's renationlaisation hobby horse, I don't really see much difference between this Labour and Blair's Labour.
 
The short of it is that over the years our property has been appropriated by the state, centralised and sold off. We don't own our councils. They are corporates with ultimate authority, more beholden to central government, effectively part of a surveillance and control system. They are not of us, they are alien to us. Corbyn is no more interested in reversing this trend than May. There is nothing a leftist loves more.

If Britain is to build a genuine civic democracy (assuming we are not already too late) then we need to "take back control". As much as we fought for the right to say no to the EU we must also do the same to ensure Westminster cannot take more of what is ours. Theresa May's authoritarianism and anti-market approach is just another permutation of the command and control economy. If we are to have democracy at all then it is the people, not the government who must be sovereign. 

This is ultimately what The Harrogate Agenda is designed to address in recognition that Brexit of itself does little. While the EU may provide the means and the opportunity for our government to fleece us, unless we shitcan the system we live under, we are no better off for leaving. 
 
In a way it is sad that Cameron could never bring substance to the Big Society idea. Britain at its best was when there was a balance between public participation, voluntarism and an integrated state. When I say integrated, I mean one which depended on public participation and actively invited it. We have replaced that now. 
 
A recent Radio 4 clip illustrates what I'm talking about, where volunteers at a school sports day were given different coloured t-shirts to indicate their level of security clearance. It is this sort of corrosive paranoia that has destroyed community youth activities. Voluntarism has been purged. This gives rise to an insular, antisocial and lonely society where people are prohibited form participation. Just how government likes it. 

They tell us the current economic model is unsustainable. If the state the financier and provider then I have no doubt that it is. Social care and childminding has to be a community effort - as it once was, rather than administered by state registered operatives. If we do not fund a way to rebuild communities then they surely will take the last of what we have - to make us all isolated economic units in a soulless managerial landscape. In order for that to happen, local authorities need to be by the people, for the people - and not outstations of Whitehall. Unless we become local government we will be servants of it. Serfs on the land.
 
We must give up this tainted notion that Westminster can provide solutions. We should have learned by now that all it does is take and the more power we lend to it, the more it screws us. Put a red hat or a blue hat on it, it's all the same. Garbage in, garbage out. Very occasionally you might need to ask it for help, but in return they will rob you of your property, your dignity, your birthright and anything else that isn't nailed down. They will reduce you to a number, they will erase your heritage and demolish your democratic rights. If we do not draw a line in the sand now, then Britain as a decent and fair country is finished.

Economic competence is not on the menu


Generally I disapprove of the leftist tendency to shout "Tory scum". Largely because it's a knee jerk reaction based on an illiterate strain of anti-Thatcherism that crosses over into outright bigotry. Don't get me wrong, Tories are indeed scum, but it's important to understand exactly why. The lack of precision on the left is what irks me.

At the heart of the Tory tribe there is a boorish crassness that believes in its own scriptures. The inner circle of Toryism is one that demands absolute conformity to them. From its advocacy of the WTO option as a Brexit avenue to the time honoured canards about free markets and deregulation, there is no original thinking going on.

In that regard it is little different to the hard left currently running the Corbyn cult. Their activists are the prison guards, the enforcers; the jobsworths who would escort the Jews to the gas chambers if they were told. It's why all activists give off a strong whiff of fascism. They suspend their critical faculties for the good of the tribe.

In all this it's all too easy to mock the Labour party for having fantastical economic ideas but Tory think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs have been recycling the same material for three decades. They don't devise policy, they simply reinforce scripture. A classic example is their obsession with deregulation. Every survey of UK industry has said that they want to keep regulation broadly the same post-Brexit citing the utility of harmonisation and its relevance to trade. It is therefore odd that a think tank primarily concerned with economics would have so little clue.

From them we get the same tired responses to every problem every time. Free markets! This is more a brainless bleat than a political point of view. Case in point being the oft repeated assertion that free of the EU we can suddenly stop subsidising agriculture, citing New Zealand as their poster child. The obvious point being that New Zealand has no direct neighbourhood competition. They work with Australia to fulfil block contracts with China. Were we to drop subsidies it would have to be in conjunction with the EU or we'd be priced out of European markets - our closest and largest market. No trade analyst that I know of thinks this is a viable avenue for the UK - but in the Tory boy circle jerk, the scriptures say that all subsidy distorts markets therefore subsidies are baaad m'kay!

It's true there are certain generalities about free markets which should be observed and any Conservative party ought to be guided by these principles but in a world of massive interdependency where absolutely everything hinges on regulation, things are a little bit more complex than scriptures allow for. What the IEA and Adam Smith Institute do, when not deep throating each other (which is most of the time), is promote the Janet and John free market principles as the solution to every problem.

Where it gets particularly toxic is their approach to the NHS. Now straight off the bat you won't get any argument from me that there is room for the private sector to massively enhance the NHS but for the Toryboys nothing short of total and immediate privatisation will suffice. Little do they realise that they are not opening the door to the capitalist paradise they envisage. Instead they are bringing about a corporate predator state and are actively applauding it.

In their minds all human concerns take a second place in pursuit of their utopian ideals. They are no different to the Corbynistas. Like the communists they have no moral base. They are imbued with a certitude that all they need do is rip down all of our institutions and let the full force of the market have its way with us. This is why Professor Patrick Minford is their Brexit guru, despite there being bits of lemon peel floating down the Thames with a better grasp of trade policy.

What I find especially loathsome about these people is how they seem to relish the anger and resentment they cause. They cheer on every cut to every service upon which many people depend, when never in the history of Tory cuts has it ever resulted in a low tax small state. At a certain point it starts to look like pure malice.

Not for nothing do I repeatedly refer to these types as Toryboys. Everything in their ideological arsenal is pure hypocrisy. It's always of interest and amusement to me that those who most favour cuts to social provisions are thirty something well-to-do able bodied types who never once in their lives will have to depend on state services for anything. At the core of it is an assumption that anything that doesn't affect them directly isn't a problem at all - and if they snatch something away then the free market will provide. Such zombie like devotion to scripture should be treated as a mental illness.

In most respects Toryism is no more sickening than any other party tribalism. I have a searing contempt for all of it. That said though, the thought engine of the Tory party is financed by a very few donors acting only in their direct commercial interest. They are more than happy to shaft the entire export sector so long as their business interests are served. It is as corrupt as it is wrongheaded.

What makes it all the more rotten is that it enjoys credibility because if its legacy prestige, but when you put IEA material up for close scrutiny (on Brexit and regulation especially) we find that it is no more credible than the fag packet agenda of Ukip or the maths of Diane Abbott. How they have managed to evade similar public ridicule escapes me.

It is, though, not without its supporters. CapX, City AM and the Telegraph never hesitate to advance that agenda, preying on the ignorance of their readership. The Tory militant tendency. The factphobic hard-Brexiteers and free market puritans. Worse still we have a new generation of MPs about to join the herd, blissfully unaware of what they are actually joining, unwittingly putting a sanitised face on an agenda to asset strip the UK.

For years the Toryboy circle jerk have largely been viewed as cranks better suited to Ukip. Theresa May's suspicion of them is well placed. Her mistake though was to swallow the Brexit kool aid that originates from that very shop.

As it happens, I am not opposed to free markets in principle, but the dogmatic pursuit of these principles is dangerous. In pursuit of these ideals we have all but dismantled our ability to produce tanks, aircraft and ships. We have lost a good deal of institutional knowledge which is why our most recent procurements are dogged with technical faults. The free market tendency tends to only measure that which you can put an asset price tag on. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

What is further depressing is the polarisation in British politics whereby the moral collapse of the left have made the Tories seem virtuous and competent by contrast. It causes those on the right to unquestioningly soak up Tory tribal dogma. This is dangerous because we have a government following scriptures of people who have not updated their thinking since they first came to politics. If the worst instincts of Toryism prevails in Brexit talks then we will have no export sector to speak of and will have little recourse but to cut every government department to the bone.

While this thought may give your average toryboy a full blown erection, a collapse of civic institutions would destroy much of the governmental infrastructure that supports trade, and all the while defence will take another pruning. That means cut numbers of F35s, A400Ms and a mothballed carrier - and the jobs that go with them. You cannot act as a "global Britain" with no global reach. We'd have little more international standing than Ireland.

You could persuade me that Britain does need a radical shake-up but this needs to be done with intelligent holistic policy. We need original thinking, not dogma. This is something our political class and its parasitic apparatchiks are no longer capable of. A scorched earth Brexit is no medicine to any ailment. In that regard, since economic competence is not on the menu at this election, your vote is next to worthless.

The Tory attack on Britishness


Tories on Twitter are defending the so-called Dementia Tax. A few things I would note about this. Elderly care will be privatised in full. Elderly people will be tricked into signing a rotten contract. If you give them permission to take even part of your assets, they will take all of them and slap you with a bill. That is the inevitable conclusion to this policy. Also you won't actually get good care if you receive it at all.

Any provider will be on a work to rule schedule to ensure the basic KPI's are met but that's all. The system will largely depend on immigration and whatever sub-minimum wage illegal immigration they can get away with. They only have one goal in mind - to take everything you have. If you expect it will play out any other way then you are ignoring twenty years of history. Just look at what they did to pensions and how massive chunks of your money vanish in "management fees". It disappears the moment you go to collect it.

Some ask why people shouldn't be force to sell their homes. Well the simple answer is that those who do own their own homes tend to be less of a burden on the state. They've paid for the care through their taxes and since only a fraction will ever need long term care, this is the system we have to hedge against losing everything. It's part of the social contract. More to the point, there's no way it actually costs what they say it costs. The bulk of the costs prop up the bureaucracy behind it. That won't be any less under a private regime either. When it comes to bureaucracy, private sector efficiency is a myth. They do what the water companies do and inflate the costs deliberately when striking a price with the government.

Given how the housing market has been distorted out of all recognition, destroying inheritances will also end any hope of the next generation getting on the housing ladder. Are they going to do anything about that? No. Having to work to your grave is exactly where they want you and they don't want you living independently of the system.

Even if you are a libertarian who thinks we should have low taxes and a small state, look at the current tax burden. It hasn't come down in any meaningful way. You've cheered on all the cuts but where do we get to the point where fewer state services results in lower tax and smaller government? Answer: never. Not in a million years.

Imperfect as the current system may be it at least keeps the money in the family. Libertarians are always telling us that money should stay in the hands of people who earned it. Liquidating those who needed care just means the money vanishes into either Richard Branson's wallet or indirectly to some far east investment fund. In what way is that better? You can argue that tax is theft but the state giving licence for the private sector to take what you have is also theft.

I am open to argument that the system needs reform but there needs to be a more intelligent overlap policy if you are changing the social contract. Robbing a generation of their assets is no way to go about it. And by the way, please don't get me wrong, I still favour market based solutions and I know the system does need a reboot. I know it's unsustainable. But I know a daylight robbery when I see one.

In this Britain needs to show a bit of backbone because this is the final assault on private property and it is an attack on who we are. There is something about Britain that makes it open to markets and free trade. But then we carve out certain exceptions. Territory upon which commerce may not trespass. In some respects that holds the UK back in that there is considerable scope for NHS reform which is being stifled. That though speaks to a certain national instinct which should not be overlooked.

In this I'd cite Jeremy Clarkson. Stay with me on this. He says "In Britain, Mr Normal sees a Ferrari as a reminder that his life hasn't worked out quite as well as he had hoped. And he sees its driver as a living embodiment of the good-looking kid at school who got the girls, and the sixth-former who nicked his packed lunch on a field trip. "He believes that if he can inconvenience a Ferrari driver, just for a moment, it's one in the eye for the rich and the privileged. It's 'score one' for the little man."

"This is not true in other countries, though. "A Ferrari in America is a spur, a reminder that you need to get up earlier in the morning and try harder," Clarkson says. "In Italy it's a thing of beauty to be admired. Elsewhere it's a dream made real."

He's half right. We do tend to frown on vulgar displays of wealth. His reasoning though is flawed. Perhaps it stems from our religious mores and our social development that we view commerce as something inherently grubby and corrupt by nature. I feel the same way.

A couple of years ago I went down to Portsmouth for a job interview with a telesales company to do software development. The history of the firm was a meteoric rise of two entrepreneurs. Parked outside was the owner's BMW i8 sports car. I'm not a fan. It was that which turned me off the idea of working for this firm. It turns out they buy up personal data looking for mobile phone contracts about to expire. They have a cold calling sales team offering "special tariffs" since they've bought up air time of their own. I happen to know a little bit about this system and it largely involves hard selling and a degree of dishonesty. It is a model that depends on the gullibility of buyers.

I've seen this before with a gas supplier, going door to door getting people to switch. These salesmen would go out in brand new Range Rovers. Somehow, somewhere, somebody is being fleeced. I've also worked in private health where telesales operatives are trained to talk up the prospect of privatisation to sell insurance plans. And when it comes to our legal profession we see an industry that routinely bankrupts their clients. The whole system relies on preying on the fears of people and exploiting vulnerable and gullible people.

In the USA, this is endemic to the culture. They have no scruples about it. It is a culture built on the principle of caveat emptor which spawns a predatory business environment where everybody is fair game. London is a bit like that which is why everybody there is on the make and doesn't make room for other people.

So when I see an expensive sports car I don't see an innovator or an entrepreneur. More than likely I am looking at a parasite who wouldn't lose any sleep if a pensioner was made homeless to pay for his toy.

Obviously one cannot be a purist about these things. All of us have to make our own peace with the universe because we are all on some level hypocrites. I know I am. I've worked for many of these companies for their enrichment and my own. There are, however, lines I will not cross. And that is why I am suspicious of elderly care privatisation. I would rather live with an imperfect system than open the door for wholesale theft of property

The fact is that Britain is a compromise between the special and the economic. We don't like exploiters, we don't like frauds and we want the system to be equitable. We respect the rule of law but increasingly we see that the capture of government by corporate interests uses law against us to imprison us and fleece us. While government gradually robs us of our liberties, corporates slowly acquire everything around us until nothing is our own and the spoils go to they who conform.

I think this is ultimately what "neoliberalism" means to me. It is not capitalism or market based commerce. It is a sanitised and legalised daylight robbery - and a massive transfer of wealth to the already wealthy. Toryboys cheer it on as though it were the living embodiment of Thatcherism when in reality its a corrosive confidence trick that will ultimately leave us with nothing. When the multinationals have taken all we have they will decamp and go elsewhere. That is why when I see threats to leave the UK on account of Brexit, I just think "off you go then". It may mean a lower standard of living for some, but most probably won't notice the difference.

The way I feel about it now is that unless we draw a line in the sand and carve our something for ourselves then we will be left with nothing. Just an empty society where everyone is picking each others pockets. The Tory dream of an ultra liberalised economy may have superficial appeal but its a smokescreen for a fire-sale of UK property be it public or private. One way or another they will take what you own. Neoliberalism is no respecter of private property. If it cannot steal what you have it will legislate itself the power to do so. Theresa May speaks of a fairer society and wears the clothes of an anti-liberal, but she won't stand in the way of the trend to appropriate the national estate. Her social care policy tells us that much.

You don't have to be a Corbynista or even a socialist to recognise that we are being conned. Never in a billion years will I vote for a socialist party. What I want though is a robust government that will stand up for the social contract that offers the people a protection against rampant vulture capitalism - while ensuring that honest commerce can take place without impediment. That is not this government and it is not the Labour party either. I cannot think of a time when the public have been so badly served by politics.

That inherent Britishness I spoke of is an instinct of where the line is between the two extremes. I believe it is that which ultimately swung the Brexit vote. There is a British equilibrium that makes up our collective character and it has for centuries defined our institutions. If we do not act to safeguard this then Brits will lose all that they have that's worth keeping. Let it always be the case that Brits sneer at vulgar sports cars. The day we lose that is the day we lose our moral centre.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The old world order won't go without a fight


I don't really follow US politics but I do like to keep an eye on it. I get the impression that America is a country in flux. It would be tempting to say that US politics has not looked this ugly in living memory - but that would be to ignore an entire era of civil strife, riots, beatings and interracial divides. One might even say that civil unrest is an integral part of the American picture. I get the feeling though, that this time around, America is disintegrating. 

Watching the rise of the alt-right as a political reply to the social justice agenda we see that this is a no holes barred fight to the death. The "social justice" agenda, known for its policing of speech and thought is little more than a power play for control of civic institutions. There is a hefty left wing bias on US campuses and if you have any ideas beyond the accepted realm of permissible conservatism you keep them buried if you want to keep your job. I rather expect this is also true for parts of the government. Over the years the state has become institutionally left wing and does not take very kindly to democratic interventions.

If I understand it correctly the state is at war with itself. The Federalist blog would have it that a slow motion coup-d'etat is underway.
Complicit with the authoritarian nature of the administrative state is factions within the United States intelligence community both inside and outside the White House. They have engaged in a campaign of selective leaks and plots to undermine the president of the United States and weave a media narrative of Russian influence, conspiracy, and now obstruction of justice. With their media allies, they have leaked information and intelligence that — while lacking any actual criminal element — has allowed a narrative to arise that casts a dark shadow over the White House and those who live and work in it.
In this it must be difficult for Americans to choose a side. It was assumed that Trump we be a wrecking influence which was actually part of the appeal, but it rather looks to me like Trump has no aptitude for, or interest in, governing. Even ignoring the smokescreen of hysteria, the Trump administration does not come off well. The very idea that a seventy year old man-child represents the USA abroad is as terrifying as it is depressing.

Still though, it should not be forgotten that this coup is not an urgent and principled manoeuvre against a superbly unfit president. Any Republican president, competent or no, would be facing this left wing establishment revolt.

The American Conservative skilfully argues that it is this embedded deep state that has made US institutions so mistrusted and indeed hated, and even if it succeeds in removing Trump the deep fragmentation of American society does not go away. The Federalist has it that "We may already be past the point of no return. Some in the White House made it a point to seek dismantling the administrative state, but it appears the administrative state is more than capable of fighting back and seizing additional power through leaks, obstinacy, and partisan rancor — ensuring its survival".

In effect the slow creep of big government, now captured by the left, has brought about an all powerful tyranny to America which is fundamentally at odds with the values and mores of its people. If the Trump administration cannot bring it to heel, then America is on course for a bloody reckoning. We will have seen the republic transformed into a technocratic leftist dictatorship that is immune to democracy. Government by the people, for the people, this most certainly isn't.

As to how it will go, I can't really say. The deep state may well remove Trump but I have a hunch Trump will ride the storm for at least a term. In two years there will be congressional elections and the window for substantive reforms is then closed. They just have to keep the president on the run until them, eroding his approval rating with a barrage of histrionics.

One way or another, the Trump administration will be out of power eventually, and when that happens there will be the usual triumphalism, with left wing politicians talking about closing the door on a "dark chapter", an aberration to be glossed over and forgotten. We have already seen how this works with the EU taking the election of Macron as a mandate and an affirmation of liberal politics when in fact the schism is still there. The French simply didn't want Le Pen.

Here in the UK, remainers look on in remorse, often exclaiming "I want my country back", sorrowfully lamenting that Brexit has divided the country and if only that beastly verdict could be overturned we could go back to our blissful slumber and pretend the economic and social disparities do not exist.

Across the West we see these divides, with regions turning on their capitals, which is ultimately why I think the EU is a dead man walking. Western leaders have become adept at self-deception, failing to fully acknowledge or recognise the deep dissatisfaction at the non-performance of government. Like the US deep state, the EU is skilled at evading and fending off threats from democracy. This is why they will be the most surprised and shocked when it all comes crashing down.

Whether or not the US deep state will be defeated by democracy or by other means remains to be seen. All we know is that the continued trajectory of Western politics points to an overall collapse.

The US deep state shares many commonalities with the EU. Both are deeply protectionist and territorial entities cut off from the people they notionally serve. In order to rise through the ranks you have to swallow the climate change agenda wholesale and believe what they believe. It spawns a closed off culture with values entirely alien to the people, but is ever more intent on imposing its moral and social agenda on the people.

We find that it funds junk science to find conclusions in keeping with its own social and economic agenda, manifested in the form of Ed Miliband's energy bill of 2008, which was a crippling blow to the billpayer. We saw similar measures from Obama about the same time. This is all wrapped up in the UN agenda which is largely a hive of leftism.

In this the public has a long memory. The Brexit vote did not appear out of thin air. The Guardian is presently leading a US inspired smear campaign of anyone with ties to the Leave campaign, suggesting Russian influence, looking for financial ties and suggesting links between Russian diplomats and Farage. There are a lot of very stupid people willing to believe it. It suits them to believe that Russian subversion is more responsible for Brexit than their own manifest failings.

The truth of it being that we remember what was done to British fishing. We remember our landscapes being vandalised by wind turbines. We remember what EU regulation did to small businesses in the 90's. We remember the hikes in energy bills. We remember the conning to deny us a referendum on Lisbon. We remember the floodgates to immigration being opened without our consent. The list of gripes is long. It doesn't occur to them that on balance we would rather not be in the EU and vote that way if given the chance.

Western technocracy has become bloated, arrogant, democracy-phobic and corrupt. Moreover, its subversion of moral norms, more acutely seen in America, is beginning to have a uniquely corrosive effect.

Whether or not Brexit marks a change in the tide remains to be seen. Brexit may have started something but we haven't seen a change of mindset among our political class. Mayism is the usual timid economic tinkering with a dash of paranoid authoritarianism. The all things to all people rhetoric tells of yet another managerial administration with no ideas of its own and no particular desire to depart from the norm because it doesn't see that it is part of the problem. Unlike the US deep state the British establishment doesn't need to mount an insurrection because there is no direct threat to it.

This is ultimately why Ukip was a failure. Ukip only ever saw Brexit as the destination. Having failed to galvanise any kind of movement, having failed to popularise ideas and having squandered so many chances, its support has melted away when, if it had been competent, it could still be calling the shots and making demands.

Ultimately though, this is the conundrum that haunts this blog. The analyst in me is looking for a stable and intelligent Brexit but there are days when I think the harder the Brexit the better. While it would have a calamitous economic impact, it would bring about the political reckoning we so badly need. There are those on the right who wouldn't hesitate for that reason alone, but I'm not convinced things are yet bad enough that we need be so drastic. There is still a great deal of potential in a more intelligent Brexit.

Ultimately Brexit is about restoring the civic health of the nation. It is not and never was an economic consideration. The real question is how far we have to go to purge the cancer from the system. And whether we can afford not to. The great pity for America is that their last revolutionary hope is a stone cold moron with no real aptitude and no direction. His influence will be easily erased and America will have to revisit this contest later down the line. France also has a reckoning to come and Italy also.

What we are seeing is the the final days of the order that has existed ever since the Second World War. The election of Trump is significant, and Brexit is more so. These are, though, just battles against a world order that will not go without a fight. There are powerful forces at work to stifle democracy and the battle is only just beginning. I have a feeling they won't let a little thing like Brexit get in their way.

Theresa May's Brexit fraud


Theresa May has warned that Britain will face “dire consequences” if it does not secure a clean departure from the European Union. The Prime Minister said that if the Tories win the general election her Government would “not seek to fudge this issue - to be half-in and half-out of the EU”.

She committed the Tories to taking Britain completely out of both the single market and the customs’ union, and cutting net immigration into the UK to fewer than 100,000 a year, something she failed to do in her six years as home secretary.

The Telegraph offers some select quotes:
“If we fail, the consequences for Britain and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we succeed, the opportunities ahead of us are great.
“I have negotiated for Britain in Europe. And I know that the best place to start is to be clear about where you stand and what you want".

“That is why I have been clear that we do not seek to fudge this issue - to be half-in and half-out of the EU.
“The British people made their choice. I respect that. And I respect the view of other European leaders who agree we can’t be half-in, half-out either.

The manifesto makes clear that Mrs May would consider paying a “fair settlement” to leave the EU to cover the UK’s obligations to the EU. It says: “There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so it will be reasonable that we make a contribution.
This is actually nothing she has not said already. The Tory line is that there is no hard or soft Brexit. Only Brexit. This is a rhetorical line swallowed by virtually all Tories but it doesn't sit well with reality. 

We are not permitted to know which of those specific European programmes we might want to participate in. We can take a few guesses though. If the UK wants to sell pharmaceuticals to the EU and have some influence over the framework it will want a seat at the European Medicines Agency. If we are to have a carve out for the sake of continued frictionless trade for Northern Ireland that will mean implementation of all European food standards and some degree of involvement in the European Food Safety Authority. Given that we lack the capacity to restore full control over aviation matters we will need some involvement in the Single European Sky. 

As the list of economic concerns reveals itself during the negotiations we will find ourselves tied, if not for the interim then for the foreseeable future. If we want to maintain the same levels of trade with the EU then the standards and regulations we adopt by way of her repeal bill will be permanent. This is immediately at odds with her assertion that we will “take control of our laws".

In fact, the only way to ensure that we are not half-in and half-out of the EU is to abandon most of our trade and cooperation with Europe. As a former member of the EU we will need a long lead time to dismantle our joint programmes. If we are cancelling any on the spot then we will have to buy our way out. 

All of this agenda completely ignores the Swiss experience where they have found that all the barriers to trade and cooperation have over the years forced them to drop many of their red lines or put them in a position of having to operate to EU rules with virtually no input. 

I could quite easily go into more detail but I'm starting to get deja vu. I am nearly certain I have written this exact article before. If May is reiterating her Lancaster House speech then I am making exactly the same points now, only with less will to live. 

Effectively May is exploiting the ignorance of the public, the complete absence of Brexit debate and the collapse of opposition to effectively hold off any serious examination of the issues. By now though, she probably knows there are trade offs and uncomfortable compromises. I just don't think she realises how many she will have to make and how little leverage she has. The EU can be flexible but it cannot break its own rules, nor indeed WTO rules. If May believes even half of what she is saying then we are in trouble. 

May states "I have negotiated for Britain in Europe. And I know that the best place to start is to be clear about where you stand and what you want". She's right about that. The EU thinks the same way. They have been clear where they stand, in that the integrity of the single market must be upheld with no exceptions, and there is a uniform view on this. They have listened to what May ways (ie the impossible) and they have said no.

As to May's target of cutting net immigration into the UK to fewer than 100,000 a year, nobody serious thinks this is likely and anyone who has looked at it in any detail sees a way forward that will not significantly harm the economy. It is entirely the wrong approach. 

If we had even a halfway competent opposition they would be making mincemeat out of this. They would score with it too because this is the most serious aspect of this election. They have, however, vacated the field. 

The core assumption at the heart of May's Brexit policy is that we can wrap this all up in a short time and move seamlessly to a far less involved FTA without consequence and that this will meet the needs of British business. 

Knowing as little as they do, imbued with a sense of misplaced confidence in their own abilities, steadfast in the belief that "no deal" is an option, willing to bicker over something so inconsequential as the financial settlement, with time running out, much of it already wasted, one gets a sense that there is a strong possibility of Brexit hitting the rocks. Should that happen we are then at the mercy of the EU as to how far they will let us slide.

This is the outcome most favoured by May's Brextremist back-benchers but as we point out on LeaveHQ, one can say unequivocally, that the UK could not survive as a trading nation by relying on the WTO Option. It would be an unmitigated disaster and no responsible government should allow it.

There are two basic possibilities here. Either May is undertaking an elaborate deception or she simply does not know what is involved. I rather get the impression that it's both - which is absolutely inexcusable. Between the arrogance of David Davis and the ignorance of May, we have the most toxic combination possible leading us out of the EU. 

May has already squandered a number of opportunities and by her rhetoric has closed a number of doors a burnt a number of bridges. At some point there will have to be major u-turns. The real worry is that this government is neither honest nor pragmatic enough to admit that they've got it wrong and deliver a catastrophic exit.

Were that we had an issue literate media, capable of prioritising they would leading with this all the way up to the election. That May is openly lying about what is possible should be the story of the century. Instead it falls to this humble blog among others to state it for the record. 

Whatever else is in the Tory manifesto is completely irrelevant. Whatever spending May has in mind will take a severe pruning on the back of the Brexit she will most likely deliver. While some Tories may delight in that prospect, the cuts will fall where they always fall; defence - which is already cut to the bone. As much as that ends Britain as a serious country (which is entirely lost on the Tories) that's also votes on Tory strongholds. And that's the only silver lining to this - a complete annihilation of the Tories. It is no less than they deserve.